New Delhi’s gallery ONKAF comissioned international sound artists and musicians to produce works for their Life Inbetween series, running 03-12 October. My contribution, the 09:30 min. track Psyche – A Model of Infection is now available on ONKAFs website and on YouTube.
The Greek word psyche, analogous to the Latin spiritus, originally meant breath as well as soul or spirit. The invisible and ephemeral phenomenon of inhalation and exhalation connects the inside and outside of the body, it is both a carrier substance of language and of airborne diseases and also a sign for the liveliness of bodies.
Breath is the starting point of this work: a single and solitary breath, recorded with a throat microphone. The inside corresponds to the body of the individual in a symbolic isolation, which becomes a social reality through the distancing measures against the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This isolated sound, a reference to the desire for interaction with others, is linked to field recordings. These sounds were recorded during the recent years in places that are no longer accessible or difficult to visit due to travel restrictions (a collage of street sounds from Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Tokyo and Warsaw). Due to the currently unbridgeable distance, the acoustic reminiscences of these places are charged with nostalgia.
On a further level of the work, an interplay of four different waveforms produced by analog oscillators unfolds in the stereo image – sine wave (left channel), triangular wave (right channel), square wave (half left) and sawtooth wave (half right) appear in a fixed frequency ratio and form a chord. At minute 03:45 a noise signal begins to modulate the first oscillator, the random voltage distribution ‘infecting’ the homogeneous sine wave. The resulting ‘symptoms’ are fluctuations in frequency, a distraction from the normal or ‘healthy’ state. This audio infection is passed on to the next oscillator, while maintaining the characteristics of the sinusoidal oscillation – it is no longer the same noise signal, but a ‘mutation’. This process is repeated until all four oscillations are infected. At the end of the cycle, the output of the last oscillator is fed back to the first – an exponential growth of modulations/infections that changes the characteristics of the whole system.
What remains is the sound of breathing, but no longer as an isolated sound event. By using a vocoder, the sound of breathing becomes the envelope for the collected field recordings, a hybrid sound event that refers to the singularly plural dynamics of the social.