Author: GPL

Test 2

As with the work of his compatriot Erik Satie, humor and nascent Dadaism are blended in Alphonse Allais’ once-off music. But unlike Satie, known for his precision, Allais seems to have taken little care in constructing the joke. In our times we understand not to confuse deafness with silent-ness. If it weren’t for that problematic, Allais’ score might be a masterpiece of minimalism. However, as the French would term it, Allais’ art was lacking a discours philosophique. There was no theoretical framework behind it, and appears to have been tossed off as a joke (Gann 2011). So his humorous invention of silent music was unnoticed and forgotten. A note from the author reads:

Great sorrows being mute, the performers should occupy themselves with the sole task of counting the bars, instead of indulging in the kind of indecent row that destroys the august character of the best obsequies.” (Whiting 1999:81)

Whiting also mentions an earlier title: “Great sorrows are mute; incoherent funeral march.” This fits in well with the tempo indication: Lento rigolando (slow, laughing). Allais had discovered something, and created the first empty musical score. Later, Hindemith would do something similar, in a parody of Wagner (Fonseca-Wollheim 2013). Neither of them felt that silence in itself was worth pursuing. It was only a tool for humor.

Is it performable? Absolutely. Yet the lack of rests or notes or a time signature suggests invisibility, or even suppression, because everything “musical” has been deleted from the score: time signature, rests, clefs. The horizontal lines of the staff read like a funeral march along a street. Allais, a master of the visual and textual pun, would have enjoyed the comparison.

Test 1

As far as I know, this is the first completely and intentionally silent piece in Western music. Humorist and journalist Alphonse Allais’ score to Marche Funèbre is subtitledFunérailles d’un grand homme sourd (funeral for an important deaf man). The score is twelve bars, on four staves, with no notes, and no rests: a conceptual silence printed in a rectangle, written long before Cage. It is meant to be seen, and definitely intended as a joke, as it is dated April 1st, 1897.

Quiet Spheres

Quiet Spheres, an artwork by Guy Livingston, which is currently orbiting the earth

My artwork consists of two parts: a musical instrument which remains on earth, and five spheres which travel into space. The electronic musical instrument vibrates below the reach of human hearing. But as soon as the miniature spheres are placed on the surface, the sound becomes audible, and you can hear the music.

The five spheres are made of five different materials (steel, silver, pearl, howlite, lodolite). Each sphere has its own mass, color, reflectivity, and texture. Each also has its own sound when placed on the instrument. While in their transparent space gallery, they will move around in microgravity, rotating around each other, bumping into each other and into the sides of the cube. Each one influences the others, in an ever-changing artwork, a slow dance. And they make tiny sounds, which only they can hear.

The five spheres are voyaging on the International Space Station, and will stay there for the duration of the mission. Meanwhile, back on earth, I have also built a musical instrument, which ‘activates’ the spheres. Imagine a flat board with five speakers embedded in it. Each speaker is vibrating on a low frequency, too low for human ears to hear. But as soon as one of the tiny spheres is placed on its speaker, the sound is suddenly audible.

The musical instrument is called the “QSI” (for Quiet Spheres Instrument). While the spheres are traveling on the ISS, the QSI will be silent, even though it continues to vibrate at low frequency. But when the spheres are re-placed on the instrument, its vibrations will be suddenly audible. The spheres will bounce up and down on the speakers, creating a buzzing sound, and also a visual demonstration of their activity.

materials used in Quiet Spheres

The QSI project deliberately illustrates several concepts – one is my admiration for the random, never-repeated motion of the bouncing spheres; and the other is my interest in silence. Why would silence be important to our understanding of our relationship to outer space? The moon, after all, is essentially silent. But the sun is not, nor is the earth. The International Space Station itself is quite noisy. Yet space itself is silent, and I like to imagine that the QSI provides an illustration of that – when we remove the spheres from the instrument, it is like removing the atoms from a bell jar – we create a vacuum – whether scientific or artistic.

This artwork is inspired by vibrations, cycles, and the attraction and repulsion of bodies in space. The spheres themselves have a mysterious quality – they contain the possibility of making music, but only do so when placed on the instrument. The instrument plays its own eternal music. Indeed the spheres will become voyagers, not telling their story until they return to earth. Their constant bumping during the trip will ensure that they have slightly changed. Their sound will be different when they return to us.

Moon Gallery

I tried to incorporate some themes of silence and movement, quietness and activity, into my artwork. Although I have been designing artist boxes for years, this is the smallest one I ever made, at just under 1 cubic centimeter. “Quiet Spheres” is inspired by the 5 LaGrange points in outer space, which are gravitationally ‘neutral’ in relation to the earth and the sun (or the moon). My artwork is part of the Moon Gallery, which is currently orbiting the earth every 90 minutes on the International Space Station.