Labyrinthitis

November 7th, 2008 | music, researchmaterial

I’m currently listening to LABYRINTHITIS, the new piece by Jacob Kirkegaard, and I want to reproduce a bit of the blurb at Touch for you, because the idea behind this is kind of fascinating:

LABYRINTHITIS relies on a principle employed both in medical science and musical practice: When two frequencies at a certain ratio are played into the ear, additional vibrations in the inner ear will produce a third frequency. This frequency is generated by the ear itself: a so-called “distortion product otoacoustic emission” (DPOAE), also referred to in musicology as “Tartini tone”.

By arranging the tones from his ears in a composition and playing them to an audience, the artist evokes further distortion effects in the ears of his listeners. At first, each new tone can only be perceived "intersubjectively": inside the head of each one in the audience. Kirkegaard artificially reproduces this tone and introduces it, "objectively", into his composition. When combined with another distorting frequency, it will create another tone… until, step by step, a pattern of descending tonal structure emerges whose spiral form mirrors the composition of resonant spectra in the human cochlea.

Paradoxical as it may sound: we can listen to our own ears. The human hearing organ – still often perceived as a passive unidirectional medium – does not only receive sounds from the outside, it also generates its own sound from within itself. As a matter of fact, it can even be “played on”, just like an acoustic instrument.

LABYRINTHITIS rewards perseverance: the first couple of minutes are very much what I imagine tinnitus to be like, and I think dogs all over the area were howling and covering their ears with their paws. And those early tones do do something strange to your brain. But within three minutes, the promised tonal structure begins to materialise (depending, I find, on your position in relationship to your speakers — haven’t tried it on earbuds yet), and big cathedral organ notes will echo around the vaulted chambers of your head.

Anyway. Just wanted to get the blurb down, really. Interesting, no? No? Oh, please yourselves…


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