EXPLORE: Distance Music
What is Distance Music?
Distance Music is a large site-specific, outdoor “meta-composition” where the composer creates musical sonic conditions through the distant placement of sound sources. Unique melodies are experienced at every different location in the concert site due to the various times required for the sounds to travel the distance from the sound sources to each listener. The distance organ, a set of MIDI-to-radio telemetry controlled, tuned, train horns, was created to create pitches loud enough to be heard across these large distances. This instrument, mathematically placed throughout the site area, are accompanied by live musicians. For example, if all the horns repeat short, simultaneous notes, the audience walks (or rides) to each pre- designed locus point to reveal gradual shifts in the melodies’ note orders.
This approach to music opens a new stylistic corridor in music that will appeal to a wide audience of people who like new music, new forms of minimalism, Earth Art, geometry and measurement, and natural sciences. It appeals to the curious, and those interested in expanding their sensory perceptions of time and space. It can be promoted either as a new music concert or as a fun science-based ‘show’ because it makes the science of sound propagation interactive (by changing position and listening). No one, as far as I know, has ever used geometry and the speed of sound to create engaging music.
A distance music composition begins with a geographic location and the definition of a specific audience walking-path at that site, which may circumscribe the organ locations spread across the locale. Using Google Earth, measurements between all possible train horn placements and architectural features are made, seeking a least common denominator between possible installation points and the walking-path called the “primary interval”. For example, sound requires 125ms to traverse 141 feet (at 70˚F). If 141 feet is found to be a common denominator of installation points and the audience path then 141 feet and 125ms becomes the primary time/space interval. 125ms is also the duration of a 1/16th note in 4/4 meter at 120bpm.
Each horn is tuned to either C4-D4-Eb4-E4-Gb4-G4-Ab4-A4-Bb4-B4 or D5. If all horns play simultaneously, a different seven-note melody will reside at every location since each location is a different distance from each of the horns. Points intersecting the primary interval arcs of 141ft and its multiples (282ft., 423ft., 564ft., etc.) would contain melodies with rhythm sets comprised only of 16th notes and 16th rests. Walking along the path would reveal cycles of gradual irregularity and regularity. Equidistant horns will be heard simultaneously. A kind of sonic sculpture inhabits the concert site’s atmosphere. Audiences explore the invisible aerial sculpture it by moving along the audience path, listening to the gradual permutations in the musical order. The melody freezes it’s order of pitches and rhythms when they stop moving. Those wishing to re-experience a favorite melody could simply revisit the location since the rhythm and order are a function of position that doesn’t change. The acoustic time-space continuum relationship, which has been around us our entire lives, is revealed, as long as the horns continue to repeat the same initial playback sequence.
The first use of the distance organ in Distance Music was attempted in October of 2014. This video describes the basic mechanics of the work:
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