Playing around with sound

The annual Tone Deaf festival hits the Kingston music scene for its 14th year

Professor Rogalsky’s Music 255 class experimenting with their “Sound Installation” project.
Image by: Anna Maria Li
Professor Rogalsky’s Music 255 class experimenting with their “Sound Installation” project.

In what began as a class assignment, Queen’s music students and their professor have created a complex music installation — complete with a grid of bells, a microphone and a sequence of changing sound effects.

“Soundbox Installation” was exhibited at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts as part of Kingston’s 14th annual Tone Deaf festival. 

Queen’s professor and Tone Deaf organizer Matt Rogalsky and the students in his Music 255: Electroacoustic Music Composition class constructed the piece as part of a class project.

The Tone Deaf festival provides local artists with the opportunity to present their work to the Kingston community.  

This year, the festival presented the Soundbox Installation along with five ticketed performance pieces highlighting Canadian artists. 

The sound installation draws inspiration from British artist Stuart Marshall’s 1971 work, “Tape Loop Delay Grid.” In Marshall’s work, performers moved through a grid of instruments and played each as they encountered them. 

Using a delay audio effect — which creates a repeating echo — each performer built upon the sounds of the performer before them to create a layered texture of sound.

“Soundbox Installation” adopts a similar technique. Students are tasked with creating a set of sound effects inputed through a single microphone set in the centre of the room.

The sounds are then played through one of four speakers in each corner of the room. 

“The experimental structure … gives the audience freedom to interact with it without the knowledge of what it is you are doing,” Luc Ricci, ArtSci ’16, said. He’s a student in Rogalsky’s class. 

A grid of bells surrounds the microphone. Participants are invited to experiment with sound using the instruments provided, their voices or any other objects. 

“You must be active within the space in order for it to work — if you are willing to engage with it, it invites you to make more sounds,” Rogalsky said. 

The microphone leads into a network of delays. Sounds produced by the audience are then processed with various sound effects and emitted back at the participants from various points within the room. 

Working in small groups, the students generated a block of 

effects which, combined with the delay effect, produced unique sounds. Rogalsky then arranged the effects to ensure that they’re constantly changing.  

The installation produced a wide range of sound, ranging from delicate, wind-like sounds to eerie cries. 

The project provided an opportunity for the students to engage with installation art, Rogalsky said.

“The idea [is] that you set up a situation within a gallery and then people come into it and have to decide how to engage with it,” 

he said. He added that it challenged students to negotiate various effect programming and to engage with delays, filters and reverberations. 

Queen’s Geography adjunct lecturer Katie Hemsworth and PhD student Alexandra Paderson were among the audience members who experimented with the installation. 

 “We were making vocal sounds and it sounded like birds, or some sort of machine, [with] the effects completely reshaping the sound,” Hemsworth said.

The Tone Deaf festival has two concert nights remaining. Female soloists Caroline Park, crys cole and Raissa Simone are performing at the Agnes Etherington Arts Centre on Friday evening. 

The festival will then close on Saturday night with an experimental spoken word performance by renowned artists Nobuo Kubota, Kaie Kellough and Skin Tone at the Grad Club. 

“Soundbox Installation” will be on display at the Art and Media lab in the Isabel Bader Centre for Performing Arts until Nov. 13.


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