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Once Reflected: Learning from Musicians

Creative Commons 'BY-SA' version 4.0 license

What does it mean to listen? The omnipresent hum of the grid and the ubiquity of cheap headphones connected to devices that store a lifetime’s worth of music has changed the way sound shapes our world. It is no coincidence that these shifts in our auditory culture have come at the same time as late capitalism’s hold on our collective consciousness has become stronger than ever. Can an attempt to listen anew help us understand anything about the way our world is shaped for us and the power we have to reshape it?

Musicians was a sound installation, that may also be considered an instrument, comprised of 21 speakers embedded in five wooden sculptures. Each speaker played a single unique, unchanging sine wave, with all 21 sine waves occurring within the span of a single octave. The sculptures coaxed listeners to move about the room, where they noticed changes in their sonic environment that occurred not as a result of changes over time, but as a result of changes in their location in the space.

This paper explores the various paths, critical, artistic and material, that led to this work. Just as important, it considers what it might mean to listen and what lessons may be learned from work that restructures the way we perceive the world. The hope is that by providing a static, unchanging environment, Musicians demonstrates how perspective can drastically alter perception. Applied metaphorically to our social and political lives, this is a useful way to challenge hegemonic structures that seek to define the way we understand and talk about the world. It may also allow us to understand how in a complex system, different perspectives can be simultaneously unique and equally well suited to understanding.

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