Vox Nihili

Spencer Topel, VOX NIHILI, 2016

IDEA: A physical sound art piece exploring the boundaries of perception and physics to create an imaginary landscape of singing, statue-like instruments.

WHAT: In latin: 'voice of nothing'. The installation is comprised of an ensemble of five elecromagnetically-prepared hybrid acoustic-electronic instruments arranged on monolith pedestals. The idea is to exploit and highlight the acoustic resonator particular to each type of instrument, using compression drivers for the flute and clarinet, and transducers on the violin, cello, and piano. Together they form an ensemble of spatial sounds and forms, which gradually over the course of several minutes reveal the specter of a female singer.

To achieve this effect, a process called cross-component convolution synthesis is used. It allows an artist the ability to mix sound components from different sources in precise and granular ways. In this work, the primary source was a single melismatic phrase sung by a soprano, and the secondary sources were the instrument recordings of the same phrase. Pauses between small episodes evoke poetic-like structures, and melodic parts appear as incomplete fragments, becoming comprehensible at fleeting moments within the context of other fragments, but only as shadows of a music not audible.

WHY: As physical objects, Topel is interested in how instruments can be both tools to make music and also sculptural objects. When sounded, they produce a spatial profile that strongly resembles the playing of the actual instrument, and it is this quality that amplifies a sense of vacancy or emptiness, where just as a disembodied human voice emphasizes absence of a body, a listener expects to see a human musician performing an instrument. This is most apparent toward the climax of the cycle, when the instruments start to overtly come together as if they are playing chamber music. 

BY: Spencer Topel

Spencer Topel, VOX NIHILI (detail), 2016

Spencer Topel, VOX NIHILI (detail), 2016

Spencer Topel, VOX NIHILI (detail), 2016

Spencer Topel, VOX NIHILI (detail), 2016

Spencer Topel, VOX NIHILI (detail), 2016

Spencer Topel, VOX NIHILI (detail), 2016