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Exploring the unheard, unseen, and unfelt with Samuel Hertz

The recipient of our 2017-18 DARE Art Prize in partnership with the University of Leeds, composer Samuel Hertz will return to the Howard Assembly Room on 29 January to present the outcomes of his research in an event comprising a talk and two performances, entitled What must have been a painted landscape…,

Over the course of his DARE year, Samuel’s investigations into low frequency sound have seen him transforming a building into an instrument, accompanying opera singers with an industrial tapping machine, and tapping paranormal investigators for their theories about sound in “haunted” places. He gave us the lowdown on his concluding event:

“Developed over the period of the past year, the pieces that I’ll be presenting demonstrate several approaches in my research within the hidden, yet enormously powerful, landscape of infrasound (soundwaves—both man-made and naturally occurring—below the level of human hearing).

At the centre of the evening is a talk detailing my approaches and methodologies, and the findings of my specific research, which is bookended by two sound performances: an acoustic composition entitled body split and hand remained untouched with the exception of itself for piano and chimes, and an electronics performance entitled Beachfront Property.

Samuel Hertz (electronics and water), Kieran Blyth and Wilfred Amis (electric guitars) performing GUNSLINGER in the Howard Assembly Room, February 2018 © Opera North

body split… was developed primarily during my residency at the Visby International Centre for Composers (Sweden) as a companion piece to the previously-performed composition GUNSLINGER, and finished during my residency at The Tetley, Leeds. Taking as its inspiration the bounding and leaping patterns demonstrated by infrasound’s interaction with different atmospheric layers, body split… attempts to capture the fragmented ways that infrasound is made available to global sensing devices. In the piece, different levels of activity at different timescalings overlap, interact, clash, and collaborate. Underlying it all is a fairly consistent rhythmic structure, which becomes arrhythmic due to ‘zones of silence’ and ‘ducting’—two concepts drawn from atmospheric infrasound studies demonstrating the peculiar ways in which infrasound appears and disappears with atmospheric influence.

Historical evidence of Zones of Silence collected by Samuel Hertz

In this piece, the piano parts are scored in ways that mimic, transcribe, and literally trace the trajectories of various models of the movement of infrasound, while the chime acts as a time-keeping device alongside. The piece itself consists of five sections, mirroring (but not describing) the five main atmospheric layers (including the Exosphere).

Beachfront Property, by contrast, approaches infrasound from the physical dimension—concerned with the ways in which near infra- and infrasound interact with the body as well as with more ethereal and occult aspects and relationships.

Samuel Hertz at the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford © Alice Parsons

Combining sounds and images collected at residencies and development periods including Visby International Centre for Composers, Elektronmusikstudion, (Stockholm, Sweden), the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, and Skálar (Seyðisfjörður, Iceland), the association is made between the supposedly ‘haunting’ presences of infrasound resultant from its ubiquity, and its physicality—the large, global and industrial processes that contribute to its production and circulation around the world.

Beachfront Property combines electronic elements including low frequency transducers and architectural acoustics measuring instruments with subwoofers to produce infrasound on various different scales and in different locations in the concert hall, as well as working with electronic material and environmental field recordings within human range. Rather than focus on the ‘inaccessibility’ of infrasound, this piece approaches sound instead as a vast continuum within which our sensibility to sound at different frequency ranges changes from moment to moment.

What connects these two pieces is an insistence on being able to come into both physical and imaginative understandings of the unheard. The broader framework of my research places this closer look into the realm of infrasound into the context of climate change—both in the sense that infrasound can be used as an indicator to measure changing climates, as well as encouraging the idea that a greater appreciation for the unheard, unseen, and unfelt creates a more nuanced understanding of the interactions of elements outside that of human perception.”

Samuel Hertz presents What must have been a painted landscape… in the Howard Assembly Room from 7.45pm on Tuesday 29 January. Free tickets for the event can booked via Eventbrite.


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