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Between Air and Electricity: Microphones and Loudspeakers as Musical Instruments

Cathy van Eck
Publisher / Label
Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication year
Type of publication
Number of pages



List of Figures viii
List of Schemes xi
Acknowledgements xv

Introduction 1

1 Beyond the curtain: the "true nature" of microphones and loudspeakers 9
An empty stage: listening according to the Konzertreform 9
A concert at home: the invention of sound reproduction technologies 11
Storage of air pressure waves 12
Transportation of air pressure waves 13
Amplification of air pressure waves 13
Between air and electricity 15
A standard, almost perfect amplifier and loudspeaker 16
Microphones and loudspeakers: the musical instruments of our age? 18
The "true nature" of microphones and loudspeakers 19

2 reproducing – supporting – generating – interacting: four approaches towards microphones and loudspeakers 25
Made for music: concepts on musical instruments 25
Violins, mixing desks and spoons 28
Piano lessons or a phonograph: how sound reproduction technologies entered the living room 29
The instrumental phonograph and the reproducing radio 32
Semantic acts of sound creation 34
Hearing voices through the noise: completely satisfactory recordings in 1902 35
Electricity, bodies and diaphragms 36
Reproducing: one sound system for all music 38
Supporting: the same sound but louder 38
Transparent technology 41
The record as a copy of the concert and the concert as a copy of the record 43
Generating: music without musical instruments 45
Interacting: resonance and resistance 49

3 The sound of microphones and loudspeakers 55
Acoustic feedback: an electro-mechanical oscillator 55
The tuning fork: an early sine wave generator 59
Transforming sound into a researchable object 61
Hermann von Helmholtz: tuning fork experiments 62
Hermann von Helmholtz: tuning forks reproduce human vowels 64
The tympanic principle and the tuning fork principle 66
Alexander Bell: metal rods reproduce sound 68
Alexander Bell: metal plates reproduce sound 70
Richard Eisenmann: an electric piano with tuning forks 72
George Dieckmann: a piano string oscillator 74
Bechstein-Siemens-Nernst-piano: piano, radio and gramophone through the same loudspeaker 76

4 movement, material and space: interacting with microphones and loudspeakers 83
Acoustic feedback: from mistake to music 83
Quintet by Hugh Davies: changing the distance between microphone and loudspeaker 84
Pendulum Music by Steve Reich: introducing silence 88
Bird and Person Dyning by Alvin Lucier: listening as a performative act 91
Green Piece by Anne Wellmer: interacting with another sound source 93
Mikrophonie I by Karlheinz Stockhausen: amplification only 94
Speaker Swinging by Gordon Monahan and Three Short Stories and an Apotheosis by Annea Lockwood: moving loudspeakers 99
coffee making by Valerian Maly and 0'00'' by John Cage: everyday actions amplified 105
Inside Piano by Andrea Neumann: musical instruments and contact microphones 108
Apple Box Double by Pauline Oliveros and Shozyg by Hugh Davies: new instruments through amplification 110
Nodalings by Nicolas Collins: acoustic feedback through objects 113
Rainforest by David Tudor: every loudspeaker a different voice 115
Aptium by Lynn Pook, and Merzbow: the audible becomes feelable 119
Music for piano with amplified sonorous vessels by Alvin Lucier: interaction between microphones and small spaces 122
Loudspeakers in brass instruments and focused loudspeakers: interaction between loudspeakers and small spaces 124
…..sofferte onde serene… and Guai ai gelidi mostri by Luigi Nono: interaction between loudspeakers and performance space 127
Acousmonium by François Bayle: loudspeaker orchestras 131
Performances by Eliane Radigue and Der tönende See by Kirsten Reese: sound unified in space and dispersed in space 134
Audible EcoSystemics by Agostino Di Scipio: closing the acoustic feedback loop again 138

5 Composing with microphones and loudspeakers 145
Beyond musical instruments: a hybrid of approaches 145
The Edison tone tests: no difference 147
Nothing Is Real (Strawberry Fields Forever) by Alvin Lucier: a piano in a teapot 149
Windy Gong by Ute Wassermann: singing through the gong 153
snare drum pieces by Wolfgang Heiniger: invisible beating 155
tubes by Paul Craenen: musicians, dancers and technicians 159
Open Air Bach by Lara Stanic: speeding up a sonata 163
Resistances and resonances of microphones and loudspeakers 166
The future of microphones and loudspeakers: between air and electricity 167

Appendix Biographies 171
Bibliography 177
Index 189