Cathy van Eck – Between Air and Electricity: Microphones and Loudspeakers as Musical Instruments


Bloomsbury Academic, ISBN-13: 978-1501327605, English, 198 pages, 2017, UK

Reversing the role of specialised technologies from tools to agents is an approach shared by inventors from the past, artists of all times, and contemporary experimental makers. Cathy van Eck is a sound artist who has extensively researched how microphones and loudspeakers can be used as musical instruments. They have an anonymous stage presence and an inscrutable functioning, compared to the gestural cause-and-effect in playing classic instruments. Moreover, altogether they represent the quintessential and universal audio interface between humans and digital/analogue machines. Van Eck explores historically and technically how to compose with them adding their specific qualities to the final outcome. Starting from the celebrated experiments by Stockhausen, Tudor, Lucier and Pook, she analyses the design of the involved electric signal, beyond the classic acoustic feedback, using the ‘origin of sound’ instruments, which have aesthetic implications on composition. To quote van Eck the “relationship between the body movements of the performer and the resulting sounds is not anymore obligatory […] but can be composed”. This book resonates with the author’s homonymous research project, articulated into twenty-eight compositions realised from 2006 to 2013. She uses different approaches in ‘inducing’ sound in installations and performances, but all structured combining three main categories: movement, material and space. What she’s ultimately composing is a conceptual cartography which “makes audible what was supposed to remain silent”.

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