The Night Sounds consists of four corrugated metal water buckets, each approximately half-full of water, which are suspended from the ceiling by piano wire. The buckets are each placed in the corner of an 8′ to 12′ square space in the room. Attached to the top of each is a length of piano wire whose tension is supplied by the weight of the bucket, and is regulated by the amount of water in the bucket.
Striking the piano wire is a thin cord attached to a small motor, which strikes the string once every revolution of the motor. A micro-controller controls the acceleration/deceleration and overall speed of each motor independently. The speed of the motors varies widely, from only a few revolutions per second (simple ticks) to several thousand revolutions per second (in the audio range, causing complex interference patterns between the frequency of the motor and the resonant frequency of the piano wire). The buckets themselves serve as a “sounding board” to amplify and radiate the sounds.
The sounds produced are designed to “coexist” with other environmental sounds in the gallery, and thus the piece does not require complete isolation (but a reasonably quiet location is best). The patterns of the piece as well as the nature of the sounds is modeled after crickets and cicadas found in the Midwest, both here in Chicago, where I now live, and also in Western Pennsylvania where I grew up. In both these locations, these sounds are ever-present in the summer, literally at times taking over the entire landscape with their sonic intensity.
The means of sound production in this piece is, for me, highly organic, and extremely spatial in nature, with the metal buckets themselves serving as the resonators and sounding boards for all the sounds produced.
- Shawn Decker is a composer and artist who works with interactive computer-based performance and sound and electronic media installations and also writes music for live performance, electronic tape, and for film and video. His work has been frequently performed, seen, and heard in the US and Europe. Decker is an Associate Professor in the Art and Technology and Sound departments at the School of the Art lnstitute of Chicago and was co-director of ISEA97.