The Art of Binaural Location Performance

By Dallas Simpson

The realm of silence in the universe of sound, like the blank sheet of the writer or visual artist, represents the realm of nothingness from which all expression emerges as distinctions of sound. As we approach silence we move towards an infinity of no distinction in which all sound becomes unified, for this abstract realm of silence represents the unexpressed infinity of all the potentialities of sound. It is sublime, it pertains to the Divine. We should pay more attention to it, for it is indeed Golden.

As sound distinctions emerge from the infinite realm of silence, new realities become incarnate, they emerge through the generation of complexity, they express acoustic reality. This represents the realities of the sound bodies of the vibrating matter in air from which the sounds have arisen. This is the sound of the natural world, the physical universe in air, water or some rarified medium.

The rhythms of nature are rarely, if ever, uniform, the melodies rarely melodic or tonal, these are exceptions rather than the rule. Rhythm and tonality are the creative expressions of our conscious musical language. They represent a high level of logical complexity and abstraction and the vehicle through which new distinctions and hence new realities of both logical and abstract decription emerge.

In the above we notice a fundamental division or partition. Sounds pertaining to the world of physical reality will be generated by the vibration of physical matter in air. This vibration represents the reality of the physical object in the universe of acoustic soundspace. It is "its sound". We recognize the sound of the sea, trees blown in the wind, rainfall, birdsong, traffic and even the conformations of matter in space whch give rise to the expression of reverberation and echo to varying degrees. The distinctions of musical instruments each playing the same note represents the same fundamental expression of their "soundbody", their unique acoustic reality in soundspace.

But we also use the realm of sound to communicate information at a multiplicity of levels using languages expressed in sound. Vocal language. song, and music represent three forms for the creative abstract expression of physical, logical, intellectual emotional abstract and spiritual information. In music and sound art we operate at a very high level of abstraction, whereby vibrations in air are powerful communicators of abstract information � feelings of emotion, love, joy, ecstacy, sublimity etc.

In other words we can recognize a distinction between sound as representing the reality of an object vibrating in air and the use of the musical form � which may be generated by physical instruments vibrating in air � as a language or vehicle to communicate a variety of abstract information.

Since the eveolution of the electronic means by which we may generate and store vibrations, we have yet another realm or universe of all sound which exists within the acoustically silent realm of the computer memory, amplifier or processor. However, because the vibrations generated are not limited to the vibration of matter in air we have a realm within which "sounds" which have never been heard before, and which cannot be directly created in the realm of acoustic soundspace, may be generated and created. As the quality of the vacuum PREVENTS the expression of any sound reality, Note also that the vacuum only prevents the transmission of sound vibration, an object may vibrate in vacuo, yet no sound is transmitted, hence it cannot be expressed or perceived as a sound reality � the vibration has no transformation into a soundbody reality in vacuo.


Now, the creation of the virtual world of electronic synthesis has created or "opened up" a "space" which ALLOWS the expression of "silent vibrations" which could not be created with acoustic matter alone. But we can also "import" or transform acoustic sound realities into this silent electronic space! Furthermore, by employing an interface between the electronic realm and acoustic soundspace (speaker or headphones) we can transform the electronic reality so that we can hear them. Electronic synthesis is a new and distinct universe for the expression, transformation and annihilation of vibrations, it is distinct from our acoustic soundspace and has unique properties.

The recognition of the above partitions are dimensionally extremely important and they form the conceptual basis of my work as an acoustic binaural sound artist.

With this background I am now able to place into a coherent context the nature of my performance in acoustic binaural sound art.

I seek out a location. I perceive the sound universe of that location � this represents the acoustic reality of that space. But a large component of my perception of that space is visual and there may be tactile and olfactory components of that perception also. These latter perceptions have no reality in sound. They are literally non-existent in the acoustic soundspace. As an artist I may desire to explore that environment in such a way that I transform some of the acoustically invisible visual (or other) realities into sound.

This can only be achieved if we either vibrate the objects concerned to enable them to have acoustic reality, employ movement, or use another sound form ( eg language) to describe them. However any language is second-hand. It is not intrinsic to the absolute reality of the object so pure narrative description is generally avoided � the place must "speak for itself". Occasionally my response is vocal and this constitutes an intuitive reaction TO the soundspace as opposed to a description OF it.

And this forms the basis of my sound art. The choice of how I perceive and explore the environment is intuitive at the time and place of my observation. I do no "set up" objects in various configurations beforehand, the experience of discovery is then lost as an unfolding process � it is a fait accompli. Discovery and experimentation is part of the performance � it represents the jazz, the response to the matter � melodies of nature, to the physio-spatial melodies of that location at a particular time and place, for I may visit a location at different times of day and at different times of the year. But all the sounds perceived are acoustic and specific to the location at a particular time.

The binaural recording technique is unique in that a fair, if somewhat variable and limited, representation of human three dimensional perception of sound may be achieved. This represents my acoustic reality of that location and the art of my experience and communion with it.

Inevitably, the recording technique relies on sophisticated technology (portable digital recording techniques) and in presenting such a recording there are certain rules and criteria (which are by no means inflexible) which I have adopted as a referential framework for my art:

  1. That the most sublime recordings are those which have been perfected at a single location, using materials found at the location as instruments, in one continuous take, without rehearsal.
  2. That it may be necessary, for technical and personal reasons (adjustment of recording levels, sneezing, coughing, accidents, errors! Etc) to edit performances.
  3. Simple mixing and editing of recorded material allows the movement between locations and spaces or the combination or juxtaposition of locations with particular acoustic properties.
  4. Electronic processing (which represents the entry of a different universe of sound) will not be used, save occasional tonal correction for aesthetic and creative distinction or harmonization.
  5. Some recognition of the binaural apparatus as an instrument in its own right implies experimentation in recording techniques part of the creative performance.

My restriction on the use of processing actually forces the desire to seek out locations with special and unique acoustic properties. It promotes the discovery and experience of new locations and is an example of how an imposed restriction can be creatively, artistically, and spiritually liberating.

Ultimately, the whole emphasis of this artform is about the experiential art of listening � the perception of the soundspace, and the art of performance � the physical communion which results in the acoustic transformation from the realm of the invisible to the sacred act of Sublime Incarnation.

Dallas Simpson