Summer 2001

CD Insert / Squall

Sonic weather

Maria Blondeel, Peter Cusack, Gordon Monahan, Shawn Korgan, Chris Watson, Charlie Summers, MSC Harding, Federico Marulanda Rey, Joe Banks, and Alan Lamb

Entire CD

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1. Maria Blondeel, “MOS 1994”

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“MOS 1994” was made by projecting slides of moss where the luminosity of each slide was dependent on meteorological conditions. The light from the projector was converted into a corresponding sound using photoelectric resistors that control sound generators. For example, a rise in luminosity produces a rise in pitch.

2. Peter Cusack, “Wind In Boat Rigging, 1”

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“Wind in yacht rigging, recorded at Walberswick, Suffolk, UK, 5 January 2000.”

3. Gordon Monahan, “Long Aeolian Piano”

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For this recording, Monahan stretched fifty-foot-long piano wires of various thicknesses through an upright piano to an anchored pegboard. All sounds heard on this recording are produced by wind-induced vibrations on the strings, in this case forty-mile-per-hour winds. The sounds are not amplified and can be heard acoustically up to seven hundred feet away. The installation was a collaboration with Thaddeus Holownia and was constructed on his farm in Jolicure, New Brunswick, Canada beginning in 1984. Recording engineer: Michael W. Huon. Postproduction mastering: Gordon Monahan.

Installation of Gordon Monahan’s “Long Aeolian Piano.” Photo Thaddeus Holownia.

4. Shawn Korgan, “Rocky Mountain National Park”

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This is a recording made on 16 February 1999, through the use of a special receiver, of natural radio emissions that occur in the very-low-frequency (VLF) radio spectrum of approximately 100 to 10,000 cycles-per-second (0.1–10 kHz). There are three types of sounds: crackling, chorus, and whistlers, all of which are disturbances in the magnetic field surrounding the earth, i.e., the magnetosphere. The constant crackling sounds are created by individual lightning strikes occurring within the United States and beyond up to several thousand miles away. The “chorus” results from charged particles from the sun colliding with the earth’s magnetic field and interacting with it. Whistlers are the occasional descending notes when the leftover energy from a lightning strike stretches out in the earth’s magnetic field. As Bill Taylor of Raytheon writes, “Lightning causes heat, light, and sound in one tremendous, quick crash. At the same instant, it produces radio waves, including those throughout the audio frequency range. Sometimes these audio frequency radio waves go above the atmosphere, where they travel through the magnetic field and ionized gas above the atmosphere. This causes the wave’s paths to follow the magnetic field lines, which makes them travel back towards the atmosphere after traveling tens of thousands of kilometers, where they can reflect and echo back and forth between the northern and southern hemispheres.” This recording is a live stream of activity recorded on the Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in Northern Colorado. Located above the timberline, this is the highest continuous paved road in the world. Korgan made the recording between 7 and 8 am MDT at an elevation of 12,100 feet during a major geomagnetic storm.

5. Chris Watson, “Olananoo”

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This is a live recording made in September 2000 in the Maasai Mara in Kenya.

6. Charlie Summers, “Cockpit Recording”

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These are edited sounds from one flight by Charlie Summers in a specially modified T-28 single-engine propeller plane flying directly into a thunderstorm for the purpose of making various meteorological readings. The recordings were made both inside the cockpit and by a video camera attached to the underside of the wing. For further information, see the interview with Charlie Summers in this issue of Cabinet.

7. MSC Harding, “Arthritis — It’s in the Bones!”

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Recorded at Balham in November 1998. Licensed from Ash International, published by Touch Music.

8. Federico Marulanda Rey, “Signals”

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Three sound sources, all of them extra-atmospheric, are used in “Signals”: data received by the radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico; a radio signal from Pulsar B0329+54; and a recording of the magnetosphere of Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon. The original data captured by the Arecibo observatory is approximately 1.42 gigahertz (billion cycles per second). Scientists have extracted a band from this source and shifted it down to the audible 0-10 KHz range. The results, posted at, were used in this piece. Pulsar B0329+54 beams pulses of radiation along its magnetic poles, detectable on Earth by radio observatories. Samples of radio waves emitted by this and other pulsars can be found at The sound generated by Ganymede’s magnetosphere was recorded using an electric dipole antenna by the Galileo probe on its first flyby of Jupiter’s satellite. The spacecraft sent back a spectrogram indicating the previously unknown presence of a self-generated magnetic envelope around the moon. The magnetosphere shields Ganymede from the magnetic influence of its parent body; it is the first known example of a magnetosphere within a magnetosphere. The original sound source, approximately forty-five minutes of Plasma Wave Experiment observations, was transformed and compressed to sixty seconds by scientists running the experiment in conjunction with NASA. The resulting sound has been made available at [link defunct—Eds.]. These three found sound sources have been further processed digitally for the present recording.

9. Joe Banks, “Theophany”

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Recordings of the intense thunderstorms that swept southern England during the autumn of 1995. Banks states: “This was a simple analogue recording of longwave radio signals radiated by lightning strikes during a very close electrical storm. These clustered surges were, from the point of view of the recording equipment, infinitely loud and arbitrarily short. All that was required from the engineers was to suppress their instinct to protect the receiver from these brutal signals. The sound of this track seemed not so much a record of a natural phenomenon as a record of the equipment’s inability to capture it accurately. These sounds could not be less human, less similar to Greek Orthodox composer John Tavener’s composition of the same name, where a basso-profundo voice expresses Tavener’s concept of divinity.”

10. Alan Lamb, “Primal Image”

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This recording was made by using abandoned telegraph wires in the Australian outback. Lamb placed contact microphones on the wires that pick up not only the vibration of the wind but also birds landing on the wire and various bits of detritus blowing in the wind. Lamb gives the following account of the resulting acoustic phenomena: “The natural frequencies of the wire are determined by the integer harmonics of the fundamental in very long wires such as telephone wires, which are also very thick (three millimeters); the fundamental is well below one Hertz (1 Hz). Thus, only the higher harmonic frequencies fall into the auditory range. The very high harmonics (for example 250 Hz and above) become so crowded they cease to have discrete frequencies but rather tend to beat together, creating second-order frequencies of lower pitch. In effect, the relationships to the fundamental are lost and it becomes more useful to consider the length of the wire as a family of interacting segments, each with its own fundamental within the auditory range. This leads to an understanding of the choir-like quality of wire music in which the sound is made up of numerous ‘voices,’ each competing for harmonic dominance. Dominant harmonic patterns become established by the combination of segments into coherent’ ‘eigenvalue’ frequencies (that is, possible frequencies under a given set of conditions of wind and wire) which give rise to great crescendos up to 120 decibels or more in dynamic range. Conversely, as coherence is lost following wind shifts and tension changes (as mentioned below), decrescendos are heard while new coherent patterns start to emerge. The same principles are in operation to produce high-order, low-frequency beats that generate an equivalent complexity of rhythm and pulsation. It is of great interest to me as a biological scientist that these principles have much in common conceptually with those underlying the generation of coherent patterns in biological systems (for example, in the development of the body plan of the embryo and in the function of the brain). This, one assumes, is why wire music sounds organic, and perhaps why it resonates so deeply with one’s emotional being. Similar principles are to be found in many other natural systems, and it is probably not too far-fetched to suggest that wire music is an aural embodiment of some of the most fundamental dynamic laws of the universe.”

Telephone wires used in Alan Lamb’s “Primal Image.” Photo Alan Lamb.

Cabinet wishes to thank Stephen Gaboury for engineering the CD.

Joe Banks is a sound artist and graphic designer based in London.

Maria Blondeel is a sound and installation artist based in Ghent, Belgium. Her work has been shown in galleries, museums, and festivals in Europe, the US, Canada, and Asia.

Peter Cusack is a musician and sound artist living in London. He has long been fascinated by wildlife and environmental sounds and plays guitar, bouzouki, and live electronics.

MSC Harding lives in London where he runs the record labels Touch (with Jon Wozencroft) and Ash International. He is also the UK Ambassador of Elgaland-Vargaland.

Shawn Korgan is the leader of INSPIRE Team 32 of Northern Colorado. He lives in Gilcrest, Colorado.

Alan Lamb is a sound artist and biomedical research scientist living in Perth, Australia.

Federico Marulanda Rey lives in New York. He is a PhD candidate in philosophy at Columbia University.

Gordon Monahan is a Canadian sound artist living in Berlin. Since 1978, he has created sound installations and performances at venues such as the Kitchen, the Walker Art Center, Donaueschingen Musiktage, and the Sony Center, Berlin.

Charlie Summers is a research scientist and pilot for the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

Chris Watson lives in London. He previously worked with Cabaret Voltaire and The Hafler Trio, after which he became sound recordist for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

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