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Without Beginning, Middle or End: Transforming sounds in motion

by David Eagle

Sound installations do not need to have a clear beginning, middle, or end. Time and music is experienced differently, and I think the listener is not as conventionally judgmental. The expectations of both the listener and the creator are different–the passage of music, or sound, is not as goal-directed. When we walk along a path and listen–for instance, in the mountains or a forest–we do not expect a contrived climax to arrive, rather we experience and immerse ourselves in the environment. This is the way to experience a sound installation, to listen openly and without expectation, to listen both spatially and temporally.

Since the formality of a concert is not present during a sound installation, listeners may become less inhibited and able to focus their attention for longer spans of time. There is a quality of openness in the experience, similar to listening to an improvisation. The audience can inspire the performer’s work and can also provide sounds that may be used in the piece.


Where does a circle begin?

In my sound installation, Paths, eight speakers are arranged in a circle around the listeners. And like a circle (and unlike most compositions), Paths does not have a clear beginning, middle, or end. It immerses the listener within a texture of moving sounds–sounds from the environment, imagined sounds, instrumental sounds, voices and spoken words. These sounds are always moving, following different paths, being transformed along the way, and transforming the listener in the process.

Paths is an interactive work in which the artist, who is also the performer, uses a visualization map to create sonic gestures and textures, many of them using chance and aleatoric techniques. Gallery visitors are encouraged to ask questions and talk with the artist who is really part of the installation. They will listen, explore and walk around as the sounds are processed, transformed and diffused live. I think their participation in this installation can be compared to the way they would experience a sound walk.


David Eagle composes chamber, orchestral and electroacoustic music and in recent years, has developed interactive approaches to composition, improvisation and multimedia. He teaches theory and composition and is Director of the Electroacoustic Music Studio at the University of Calgary. His sound installation Paths will be part of the Sign Waves Phase I series beginning June 28, 2002 at the Art System Gallery in Toronto.

photo courtesy David Eagle : David Eagle performing with the axi0