I love sound art of all kinds.
But I find it very difficult to take when sound art ignores fundamental facts of acoustics, apparently just to attain a particular visual aesthetic.
Today on the wonderful Networked Music Review blog, I read of another example of a sound installation that raises this particular regrettable hackle of mine:
I’ve written briefly (and incompletely) about this problem before, in my blog post multi-speaker installation art works: my gripes and likes…
One day, after I’ve finished my thesis, maybe I’ll dedicate some time to properly writing an article on these kinds of sound art works and their sonic and visual aesthetics - both those that respect and those that ignore acoustics.
In the meantime, here’s the (hopefully well measured) comment I left on the NMR blog entry about this artwork.
As aesthetically spare as this installation appears to be, the effect is completely VISUAL. It makes very little sense ACOUSTICALLY to install loudspeakers in this manner.
This installation does not respect basic acoustics!
That is, unless it is intentional to remove all frequencies below about 1700Hz (if these are 8inch drivers), which doesn’t seem to make sense for an installation purporting to celebrate the sounds of the New York subway.
As Wikipedia states:
The major role of the enclosure is to prevent the out of phase sound waves from the rear of the speaker from combining with the ‘in phase’ sound waves from the front of the speaker. This results in interference patterns and cancellation, causing the efficiency of the speaker to be reduced, particularly in the low frequencies where the wavelengths are large enough that interference will affect the entire listening area.
So, if the spare aesthetic is desired, maybe the drivers should be small boxes or other small aesthetically pleasing units.
This basic fetishism for the form of the loudspeaker may feed some sort of minimalist gear porn sensitivities, but acoustically it is quaint at best, if not downright insulting.