Into the Blue…

Marta Raczek

[November 2007.]

Audio Art combines sounds with forms and strategies taken from performance, installation and video arts, along with traditional sculpture. Such projects, first appearing at the beginning of the ’60s, were firmly rooted in the Fluxus circle. Since Audio Art is not beholden to a single formula and can take different forms, particular projects focus, not surprisingly, on distinct aspects of the genre. Among them are a number of productions that lay emphasis on audience participation in immersive environments. Laser / Sound Performance (LSP) by the Dutch artist Edwin van der Heide is one such activity.

The starting point for an LSP project is Nathaniel Bowditch’s theory of 1815, describing certain curves, later renamed Lissajous Figures after Jules Antoine Lissajous, who continued the research after Bowditch’s death.* In the recent past, the curves have been largely generated with an oscilloscope to which two phase-shifted sinusoid inputs (highly sensitive to the ratio a/b) are applied in X-Y mode. The phase relationship between the signals takes shape as a Lissajous figure. If the ratio a/b shows minimal diversity, it is possible to obtain a three-dimensional effect, with the curve itself seeming to oscillate. Nowadays the curves are largely the work of computer graphic software.

Bowditch’s theory inspired Edwin van der Heide to create an environment of singular beauty through precise correlations of image and sound. The curves serve to describe the visual formula in which two sinusoid inputs have been applied. The first depicts the horizontal movement of a point; the other, its vertical movement. The formula depends on both sine-wave frequencies and phase relationships. It should be pointed out that sine waves can also be used in the production of audible tones. It is possible, for example, to obtain an immediate counterpart of the image of all the frequency ratios in sound, as well as to its detuning and phase shifts. More significantly, through the use of lasers, the artist avoids the reduction of sound to two-dimensionality. This is a frequent problem when sound is correlated with two-dimensional images. The lasers, together with the tones, create a three-dimensional, constantly transforming environment. An image is generated by projecting a laser onto prepared fog or smoke. Both image and sound come from the same, real-time source: a computer which has been provided with special software written by the artist himself. This software does not act independently, as is the case in some Audio Art projects, but rather serves as a kind of platform enabling the artist to render decisions into audiovisual effects. Since none of the sounds or laser motions is pre-prepared, every show comprises a spontaneous performance.

Edwin van der Heide presented the LSP project at the opening of the 11th Academy for New Composition and Audio Art, within the framework of the accompanying Festival, both organized by the Society avantgarde tirol. A few minutes after 10:00 on the evening of August 17th, 2007, Casino Arena in Seefeld in Tirol was transformed into a space consisting of bright colors, extraordinary shapes and fascinating sounds. To describe the feelings such a space provokes is quite a challenge. The audience, having gathered at the foot of the Seefeld Schanze, stood in darkness listening to an Alpen horn. Thus did the Hungarian horn player, Jozsef Hars, announce the beginning of the show as a thick, white cloud of smoke surrounded the audience. The horn fell silent and two blue lasers spread all about the smoke layer, creating signal patterns which at first bore a certain resemblance to wind-driven clouds, with a range of sounds accompanying. Each change of laser direction was transposed into a modification of sound frequency and mode, creating a feeling in the audience of being caged within images and music, somewhat similar to an IMAX cinema, where the borders separating image, sound and space disappear.

One’s reaction to the performance’s visual and musical aspects depends on one’s comprehension and sensibility, of course. Each viewer will likely interpret the work differently. The range of possibilities is almost infinite: blue clouds, a story about space, planets and stars, having one’s body inscribed into a foetal sonogram, or perhaps even an experience similar to that of a techno-party where colorful lights play about the dancers’ bodies. The show is based on a range of colors — from shades of blue and green to vivid pink and violet — accompanied by a multiplicity of rapidly changing sounds, at times resembling a tidal roar, a flock of departing birds, electronica samplings. The performance’s overriding feature remains an immersion in an audiovisual melange. After the final sound and image disappear, the viewer is left craving for more.


*This family of curves describes complex harmonic motions best depicted as a graph of parametric equations: x = Asin(at + d), y = Bsin(bt).