The Body Electromagnetic and speaker-instruments

Documentation of The Body Electromagnetic, performed by residents and the artist

My work with speaker design is a means to expose the closed system of interactions, flows, transductions that take place within a conventional speaker object. The sounding of these materialities and relations are what interest me. Opening up the conventional design of the speaker allows for expansion of the sensorial engagement with sound, to feel it more directly in the hands and to manipulate the objects to realise their function as filters, as contaminants, as actors in these soundings. These speaker-instruments are tactile, and form relationships with the bodies that intervene. Their transductions offer noisy, fertile disturbances and uncertainties. In some designs, magnets are mobile, unfixed from the coils, enabling different relationships to sound. At first I worked with copper spirals on transparencies that could be layered to mix the sound physically, and bent to form filters, as seen below in the first performance I did using them.

Excerpt from Red Room in Your Room online series March 4, 2021

This led me to design a number of different speakers that could be played as instruments. The first was The Body Electromagnetic created for use by residents in several social institutions in Denmark for people with dementia, blindness and psychological challenges. Inspired by Douglas Kahn’s work within Energies Humanities, I began to consider this area of my work in terms of energies, and the qualities that energy expresses- transformation, translation, flows, fields. Some of these speaker designs allow the human body to enter into the transduction process, and to allow the various materialities to voice themselves.

Later I incorporated porcelain substrates, which is a sort of contradiction, as porcelain’s is rigidity does not give in to the push and pull of electro-magnetic forces. As a result, movement of the copper itself was given a voice. The copper could sing, click, buzz, flop, whip against the rigidity of porcelain. The emphasis in these designs is a re-thinking of the control and domination over nature, as is present in many of our technological designs for harnessing the wild energies that exist with and around us. For me, such an inquiry is ultimately about how we relate with nature and how much we are willing to live in collaboration with our environments. The intra-actions of electrical and magnetic fields also produce a challenging model to think with.

recording session with speaker-instruments in porcelain
from Art Hub series Partly, curated by Ed Atkins and Steve Zultanski