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Recyling sound

Last weekend at the Worcester Music Festival, Liminal’s new project, Organ of Corti, was one of the main attractions. The organ replicates the part of the inner ear for which it is named. It is an instrument that makes no sound of its own but recycles ambient sound; a ‘sonic crystal’ of four-meter high cylinders that absorb, refract and modulate sound. As you step inside the organ you don’t leave the aural environment but participate in its reprocessing by means of body movement and your own ears’ unique configuration. No two people will hear sound in the same way.

Helen Frosi’s short essay explains the project’s aim:

The Organ of Corti does not sound out to the caress of fingers nor the pumping of pedals. Instead one is asked to participate – to become both composer and performer at once – by moving into and through the instrument. By shifting one’s own body through space and structure the multi-dimensionality of the sounds emitted becomes apparent . One becomes aware of the magnitude and duration of the world’s hum – whether naturally created by the gush of a waterfall, or by man in the bustle of commuting. […] Such acoustic surprises, created from the known world, resituate and ground the listener within the aural environment. Through once dulled senses, the ears listen consciously, actively once more – cutting through the noise and hyper-stimulation of contemporary life. Listening via the Organ of Corti transports one to a world moulded in and from sound. That is what it is to listen to one’s self listening.

Helen Frosi (SoundFjord, London), ‘Listening with Open Ears’, A Guide to the Organ of Corti, edited by Frances Crow and David Prior (London: Liminal, 2010), pp. 3-4.

Romantic critical theory describes poetic creation as a radical combination of perception and creation, external and internal impulses:

[ …] of all the mighty world
of eye and ear, – both what they half create,
And what perceive; […]
Wordsworth, ‘Lines [Tintern Abbey]’ (1798), ll. 104-06
Poetry is sound heard and unheard, as Keats reminds us. Most of us have developed carapaces over our ears in order to survive twenty-first century life, though nineteenth-century writers felt deafened by contemporary life too. But as readers of literature our ears are always open to sound and rhythm. We just have to learn to work the filters.
Photos: Hilary Weeks, August 2011

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