Distance Music is my name for a new paradigm for large-space outdoor concerts where music constructs itself differently at each audience member’s location. It is an immersive experience that uses the time it takes for sound to travel over a distance to create rhythms and melodies. The paths that each audience member chooses to walk determine their personal musical adventure.
The music has two layers: the shifting ground (cantus infirmus, lol) and musician bubbles. The shifting ground music comes from a set of radio-controlled, loud acoustic instruments called “sounders,” placed precisely throughout the concert area on points that share a common denominator of distance, which I call the primary interval. A musician bubble is created by one or more live musicians performing within the concert area in counterpoint to the shifting ground. They can be heard only when the listener is near enough to their performance.
THE SHIFTING GROUND
The shifting ground is the primary construction component of Distance Music. Since the speed of sound is constant at air temperature, each note’s arrival time will be proportional to the distance traveled from its sounder. When all sounders receive a command to play their note, listeners hear them all, not as a chord – but in the order from closest to farthest as a melodic “constellation.” As the audience members walk, their constellation morphs because pitches emanating from sounders they’re walking towards move to the front and pitches becoming more distant move backward. Opposite points around the installation will have an exact retrograde relationship. All these constellation variations exist simultaneously to be discovered by the walking audience! By consciously witnessing the continual changes in melody, they enjoy the time-space continuum of sound: a physical feature of everyday sound that is ordinarily imperceivable or unnoticed.
Since sounders are set up separated by distances multiples of a primary interval, listeners in places that share that quality will hear pitches arrive in integer multiples or, in musical terms: a meter. A ‘beat’ can be felt at these metrically stable locations, allowing me to compose an additional layer of counterpoint there. These soloists or small chamber ensembles playing there are called “Musician Bubbles” since they will only be heard when nearby. Not only do musician bubbles create a more profound musical experience, but they also provide personality and human connection. Optionally, I can furnish the ensembles with a remote radio set up as a metronome.
Walking towards a musician bubble, audiences can control the speed of how rhythmic chaos builds into order. Leaving one, audiences can control the speed at which music returns to metric chaos.