Thursday, May 22, 2003


'Infrasound' is a sub-sonic bass system which utilises bodily sensation to reproduce the aural impact of bass notes which actually resonate at a lower frequency than is strictly discernible to the human ear. Or something like that. As we all know, sound is airwaves anyway, but the basic issue is that -- channelled in a certain way and in a wider aural context -- infrasound gives us the capacity to respond to notes we can't hear as such, though we may pick up 'overtones' in combination with the physical resonance. Anyway, as you can tell, I'm way out of my explanatory depth here, and hopefully a sonic engineer will sort out the misconceptions involved in this rather sketchy description. I'm consoled that a certain press office couldn't really explain it either!

The point is that the innovative South Bank Centre in London has a couple of upcoming events that put infrasound into action. The focus is a Ravi Deepres film installation on 31 May: "This concert for piano, electronics and visuals is also a live psychology experiment. Some of the music is laced with infrasound (extremely low-pitched sound). A giant generator, in the auditorium, will produce some of the deepest bass notes ever performed while questionnaires monitor the audience's reaction. Featuring piano music by Debussy, Glass, Part, Satoh and Tanaka. Including the world premiere of a piece specially written for the experiment." This event is repeated twice (from 3pm), with a discussion in the middle.

Looks good, huh? There is also a dramatic warning notice about side effects and pregnancy (basically they shouldn't occur, but don't try to sneak unborn kids into the auditorium, OK?)... A friend who has 'heard' an infrasound-assisted performance gave the metaphoric description of 'experiencing sub-bass particles'. Apart from melting subcutaneous fat in the brain, then, it seems that infrasound lends new sense to the popular refrains "you had to be there" and "did the earth move for you?"

Meanwhile, when NFE is in a less jocular mood, we will offer a much more satisfactory, learned musicological discourse on this development. As always. (No doubt most of you already know this stuff, since it's been kicking around the electronic music labs for literally *weeks*)... The nearest I've got so far is this NOAA definition: "Infrasonics is the study of sound below the range of human hearing. These low-frequency signals are produced by a variety of geophysical processes including earthquakes, severe weather, volcanic activity, geomagnetic activity, ocean waves, avalanches, turbulence aloft, and meteors and by some [hu]man-made sources such as aircraft and explosions."

You have been warned. The old sub-woofer may never sound the same again.

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