the listening well


"During our sojourn in the Belgian countryside we rehearsed and watched the fog. At night we all went to the well and sang and blew saxophones and trombones until unearthly columns of reverberated sound were generated. Suddenly, the Dutch guy's prized Ziljian cymbal fell, careening down off the walls to the endless bottom - beyond the Earth's center. We froze, the Music evaporated ; afterwards we listened back to the recording and howled and tried to imagine how that amazing cymbal would ever come to life again from inside the well...10 John Cage once said: 'Oh moon, why are you so contemporary ... dance of the peasants ...'."11

The LISTENING WELL is a public musical environment centered around a specially designed well. It shall serve both as a place of retreat from the mundane world, as well as a freely interactive public musical forum. It will, therefore, function alternately as a center of audition for ongoing sound "snap-shots" from around the world, and as an originally created live-electronic musical instrument for public participation. Housed in a structure architecturally and acoustically consonant with this project, the WELL will have the following general dimensions: 2.3m diameter, 1.3m height (above ground), 10 - 20m deep.

Intended primarily for selected outdoor sites - requiring a minimum of 80m2 surface area - the WELL could, in some cases, be adapted for indoor installation. Six high-quality full-range loudspeakers will be installed toward the bottom of the shaft, with additional speakers hidden outside. The visible portion of the well will be an artistically designed object12, made to be as accessible and as safe as possible. The entire site will be enclosed in a handsomely designed transparent housing to maximize the well's acoustic properties and to isolate it from external noise.
There are two Principle Functions and Uses of the WELL, and these may be independently selected or combined (additional functions may emerge in the course of the research).

1. In the first function - the LISTENING MODE - I plan to create a "monumental" sound-portrait of the world13 - a continuous but ever-changing mix of remarkable "sound-snapshots" of locations, events, objects, voices, animals and musics from every corner of the earth - drawn from my archive and from newly recorded sources. These shall be digitally stored, selected, and played alone and in groups of smooth sequenced mixes, themselves randomly composed i.e. selected and mixed. All sound "snapshots" (samples) will be stored on a large capacity hard disk, connected to an 8 channel digital audio-workstation.14 Another computer with a compositional program written in MAX will be employed as a kind of musical condutor and will select any 6 sound samples at a time and direct them to the workstation's six-channel automated mixer. Here, one, sometimes two, and less frequently more of these samples will be given audible prominence based on the status of the mixing-software in that moment. In any case, all sounds will be cross-faded in and out at varying velocities (between 15 and 60 seconds/per channel /null-peak and peak-null amplitudes) and a new cycle of selected sounds will occur every 2-5 minutes.

2. In the second function - the PLAYING MODE - specially designed software (presently in development) will enable the public to enter into direct musical dialogue with the WELL and its computerized music system. Any vocal call, sung tones or instrumentally produced sounds directed into the well will be "captured" and instantaneously "translated" through real-time processing (via looping, time stretching, delay, filtering, LF modulation etc.) into corresponding electronic musical responses. At the same time the live input from the public will be used to trigger multivoiced synthesizers thus generating larger musical structures and transformations. The intention, here, is to encourage further public input, hence producing a chain of engaging and creative dialogues between the public and the WELL'S electronic system. A limited number (1-6) of people may participate simultaneously, and concerts or recordings by professionals at this site would be encouraged as well. The electronic responses are all algorithmic music compositions written in MAX15 and developed by me since 1988. Technically, 1-6 hypercardioid microphones (automatically activated and gated to avoid feedback) will be connected to a Pitch-to-Midi device ("Pitchrider"), then in turn to a computer (with MAX software) and a Midi interface. This setup pilots one or more 16-voice Synthesizers/Samplers and is connected to a second automated 6-8 channel mixer/mixing program, bussed to the amplifiers and loudspeakers.


Acoustically the WELL itself can be viewed as a very unusual loudspeaker and echo chamber, since the sounds originating deep inside it will be transmitted "up" with a certain illusion of distance, reverberation and irregular frequency response; and the sounds directed into the well from above will have a natural series of echoed reverberations. To put the internally played sounds into sharper focus, a small reinforcement system of hidden external loud-speakers is planned, consisting of woofers and sub-woofers installed under the pavement (with grating openings) at the external base of the well, and small mid/high frequency range boxes hung 3 m above the well. Their response will be delayed and reverbed to match that of the internal system.


Wherever good fortune brings the WELL into being, its design will be created in collaboration with a selected local architect/artist whose aim will be to make a visually stunning object - here meant to include the well, its housing and the surrounding landscape - as well as the internal acoustic space that should comfortably and safely accommodate 25-50 people.

In conclusion, I am well aware that these works are all special avenues of my own - vital artistic junctions - where I confront some of the more pressing problems in musical research at the end of this century (i.e. digital technologies, automated music systems, music outside the concert halls, music as public works, natural-sound composition, human-digital interface, large-scale collaborative installations etc). Similarly I am well aware of the scale and costly nature of these projects, inevitably limiting them to few public or private realizations. Both the experimental nature of these works and their artistic/techno-logical/economic demands may seem to make them out of synch with our present global musical conditions - east, west, north, south - characterized by infinite expansion and contraction, as well as by mutual contamination, where national, stylistic and ritualistic borders are permanently blurred, if not wholly erased. Here we find a convulsive musical market place where Beethoven, The Beastie Boys, Tibetan Monks and John Cage are all being hawked and sold at the same trans-economic value. Here we are witness to confused mobs come to get a breath of music as the asphyxiated desperately seek air. Here, too, the sonic and musical pollution of our environment is mounting, the world population expanding, and the use of electronic sound amplification, out of control. Granted, that for many people today, music is their sole companion and palliative against the stresses of work, sociability, loneliness, and silence. Yet I hope that these proposals to create original islands of music, available to anyone anywhere, which I described here as simple "public works" will encourage a kind of listening outside of the din of the market place - a kind of listening well below the surface and a participation that goes beyond our relentless and often indiscriminate consumption of most of today's musical tonics.

SPATIAL CONTROL by Stefan Tiedje, Berlin 1994
Two computers will be seperately employed. One using Curran's newly designed MAX patches will control only the musical structures (time, density duration, timbre, register etc ) of the sampled and synthesized audio materials in the "Sound Library." To move these sounds in space a second computer with another MAX patch will be connected to a MIDI mixer or mixers with as many sends as there are loudspeakers. This has been successfully tested by me using two Mark of the Unicorn "Mixer 7s" to move seven sound sources through eight speakers.

10. From the collective memories of the group MUSICA ELETTRONICA VIVA, ca. 1968
11. From " I-VI" (The Norton Lectures, 1988), John Cage
12. At this time Anna Murch will be the artist responsible for a possible Listening Well, under consideration for installation in the USA; unfortunately her drawings can not be made available.
13. While related in concept to the MAGNETIC GARDEN, the music of the WELL has an entirely different compositional structure, stressing short term linearity and continuity, in contrast to the long term and complex developments of the former
14. Usually refering to software and hardware of multipurpose Digital recorders-mixers-editors-processors such as the popular Digidesign, DAR and Fairlight
15. MAX is a graphical music programing environment created by Miller Puckette at IRCAM in 1986. The Musical programs refered to here were written at my suggestion by Chris Dobrian and Tim Walters between 1989-1994

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