Installation and performance for brass ensemble and fluorescent lights with magnetic ballasts
Farewell to a Dying Light bids a poetic farewell to an obsolescent sound: that of the fluorescent lights and their hum, once so common in the urban soundscape and in the private sphere. Their characteristic buzz, undesired but mostly unnoticed, is the most common translation of the idea of electricity into sound, yet we soon won’t hear it anymore: fluorescent lights as know them, with magnetic starters, are being phased out in favor of silent and more efficient LEDs, CFLs or electronic starters, transforming that hum into an audio relic of the 20th century.
By equalling the lights and live musicians and making them partners in music, the installation also raises, albeit in a very subtle and metaphoric level, the question of what are the limits of humanity. Can a ubiquitous sound — created by humans and part of their daily lives for decades — be something estranged from the idea of humanity?
The work consists of five magnetic ballast fluorescent lights scattered in a darkened space, each one of them microphoned, equalized and amplified. Their hum is subtly filtered so that there’s a hint of a changing harmonic background coming from them, one note for each light. The sequenced lights will be accompanied by a recording of a composition specially written by the artist for this installation, with extremely long notes and just intonation techniques similar to the ones employed by La Monte Young, producing a range of psychoacoustic effects (mostly frequency beatings) that lead to a solemn, meditative mood. The french horn and the trombone were recorded at the Elektronisches Studio at TU-Berlin, and were wonderfully played by Elena Kakaliagou and Hilary Jeffery of the Zinc & Copper ensemble.
The installation is driven by a computer and includes a seat equipped with tactile transducers, allowing visitors to not only hear but also feel the drone with their whole body, inviting them to “enter inside a sound” as once suggested also by La Monte Young.
This work was made possible thanks to the kind help of the coordinators of the Elektronisches Studio at TU-Berlin, Paul Schuladen and Henrik Coler.
Upon request, the composition for the installation was extended and rewritten for the full Zinc & Copper trio, which includes the microtonal Tuba of Robin Hayward. In the live version, premiered at the Audiovisionen concert series in the Zwinglikirche in Berlin, I trigger the lights in real-time.