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Six Microphones
Bandcamp Reviews
Six Microphones
  • The premise is incredibly elegant: six microphones are pointed at a set of loudspeakers, while an algorithm adjusts the amplitude of the microphones over time. Hums of feedback thicken in the air, negotiate a constellation between themselves, then reform as dictated by the change in microphone sensitivity. No players are physically present. It could be said that nothing is “performed” per se. Rather, Six Microphones is the amplification of circumstance; an aggregation of the chaos that bristles imperceptibly in the air, collapsing the infinitesimal tides of air pressure into a deceptively tranquil ballet of tones and pulses.

    Due to the volatility of microphone feedback, even the smallest changes in the environment can cause gigantic shifts in the profile of the sound. An audience member leaves the room; the temperature drops by half a degree. These minor instigations of imbalance would be drawn into the loop and amplified, causing the feedback to flail and recoil as though the floor beneath were quaking open: new tones seeping into life from the altercation between frequencies, new throbs emerging as two pitches press together. Whether triggered by changes in the environment or an adjustment in microphone amplitude, these moments of recalibration are beautiful to observe. The system tumbles out of equilibrium, releasing its constituent vibrations into disarray before a new homeostatic formation is established. At these moments, the system feels alive. It perceives the change, quivers with the uncertainty of thoughts and instincts in conflict, and then settles into a new solution. I have to remind myself that this is merely the environment rebalancing itself, and not the audible strains of a conscious entity solving a problem.

    Pietrusko remarks that there is no version of Six Microphones outside of its spatial context, nor a definitive iteration of the piece. The process of composition here isn’t the preparation of musical gestures, but the construction of a situation: the design of the loudspeakers, the exact placement of the microphones and speakers, or the definition of those 5376 amplitude set points. Perhaps it extends to the space Pietrusko chooses for the performance, or how many audience members are permitted into the space. Yet it’s astonishing to think that, with Pietrusko’s years of painstaking planning, the sonic outcome is just as influenced by his choices as it is the idle tweak of the gallery thermostat. As far as the system is concerned, the forces of intention and accident hold equal precedence.

  • Massachusetts-based landscape architecture professor and composer Robert Gerard Pietrusko has created something of an anomaly of feedback for installation and it’s quite unique in terms of its minimalist vibration. Stunting and dynamic logarithmic scaling, the work is split into six parts over four tracks.

    A lone tone, bright, extended, eventually circumnavigates into the abyss, leaving a residual echo where a secondary low-hum buzz begins to form from its ashes, but fades. And in this way these tones sort of mimic light in the way it shifts over the daytime hours from East to West.

    As a lover of all things minimal I must say, this goes farther than most, and as such may require an extremely patient ear as it is excruciatingly slow in transition of tonal quality. But therein lay the tension, the relationship of human to spatial sound source. In fact when it is stated that the piece “senses and responds to its environment in a deeply embodied way—it contains no representational model of music or of space” the truth is in black and white. If I stretch my imagination I could say this emotes, but is far from emotional. It is however, impeccably symbiotic – I just crave to actually “be there” to experience this as spectacle, first hand. To my ears (trained as they are) it’s more like listening to a beloved copy of Cheap Trick Live at Budokan than being in the stadium among a sea of people. A teaser.

    At any higher than moderate volume you will start to feel this in your gut, it’s low and slow with a trickle rather than a flow. One would imagine this type of work is hard to separate from its visual components as a pure listening experience it’s more of a disembodied set of psycho-acoustics than most out there at the moment. But if you are into deer-in-the-headlights hypnotic cadences this is a home run. With Taylor Deupree mastering here you get the sense of sound pressure/equivalence, living and breathing Hz.

    With over 70 minutes of dB frequencies there really is no need to consider the six parts separately as it’s really a longplayer. It certainly casts the relationship between sources (loudspeaker and microphone) in an interesting light, sometimes like oil and water, other times like a reflection upon the R.E.M. cycle.

    This selection of works has more in common with the robot painting work of artist Roxy Paine than it does with the musings of the great-grandfather of electro-acoustic minimalism, John Cage, in that much is left to improvisation, to happenstance. And sure, along the way Pietrusko seemingly is present, physically manipulating, shaping these sound waves like a sculptor. Though in the end it’s really the sonic reaction in space that is the complex kernel between the cadences.