Composer Susan Alexjander’s work is about the interconnections between light, sound and our universal stories. She’s a presenter, musician, and perpetual student whose CD’s and film soundtracks have achieved international acclaim in galleries, publications, and performances.
Divining the Sounds of Elements
The soundscape consists of translated frequencies from the first 83 elements. The original frequency, in the form of a radio wave, is called a Larmor Frequency and comes from the nucleus of each atom. No one quite knows why an atom emits this nuclear vibration but they are used scientifically in magnetic imaging (among other things). Five elements emit no Larmors: neon, argon, iron, nickel, and promethium, so alas, are not represented.
Although the Larmors are originally on the electromagnetic spectrum, I feel fine about ‘pretending’ they are sound. Mapping radio waves to sound reveals relationships of all the elements together. So although the pitches by themselves are fascinating, it is their combination that creates exciting harmonies and motion….the stuff of life.
The Larmors are in the range of megacycles, so during the ‘mapping’ process of converting them to sound each high number is octavised, or cut in half, at least 10 times to reach an audible range. The resultant sound frequencies are most often microtonal, that is, not found exactly on a keyboard. My software can create the exact hertz number (or frequency) on my Yamaha DX7 synthesizer. Once the pitches are collected into the synthesizer then the artist hat goes on. From there it’s a process of intuitively finding just the right combinations of sounds that feel harmonious and beautiful. The close, tight intervals often create shimmering effects.
There has been no attempt to consciously put hydrogen with oxygen, or carbon with a chemical mate, in this design. Rather the intent has been to let the ears rule and find the pathways of beauty to be revealed. After combinations of sounds and rhythms were found, they were downloaded onto tracks using Digital Performer software on a Mac, cut and spliced, switched around and combined, etc. to create the 11 minute sound design.
Included in the soundtrack is part of a piece I completed at Banff, Canada some years ago that was based on a design of the five Platonic Sacred Solids. The rhythms are derived from sound samples of rocks hitting each other. Anyone who has been to Banff knows that the quartz granite rock there is quite magical.
Portland Oregon, 2009