Music of the Spheres

Darrin Verhagen, RMIT University |

Sound – Darrin Verhagen  Image – Richard Grant  


“The listener is in search of information. The ubiquity effect is based on the paradoxical perception of a sound that we cannot locate, but we know is actually localized. … Often it is important to know where a sound comes from; sometimes it is vital information that we need to determine whether to flee, to attack or to remain motionless. The uncertainty produced by a sound about its origin establishes a power relationship between an invisible emitter and the worried receptor. The ubiquity effect is an effect of power…”

Augoyard, J-F.,  & Torgue, H., eds. Sonic experience : A guide to everyday sounds  (translated by A. McCartney & D. Paquette). McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005.


Music of the Spheres plays with this effect – with the emitter both visible and invisible; known and unknown. It is the ambiguity and multi-layered contradictions to be found in the audiovisual relationships which give this piece its particular dynamic.  Designed to be back-projected as duplicates on nine large, street-facing windows for Melbourne’s 2014 White Night Festival, the work runs two competing lines of multisensory logic.

Firstly, there is a sense that the sound the listener hears is the force of the object being witnessed. The windows shudder and stress from the waves of energy pouring from the rock’s frenzy or the violent field within which it spins. Simultaneously, the soundscape also offers musical gestures to which the footage has clearly been edited – perspective shifts, a moving camera – video clip tricks to ‘explain’ sonic moments. The sense of this second audiovisual relationship involves sound operating freely in front of the screen/window, rather than being trapped behind it. An external, controlling, (whilst still potentially unfathomable) order runs alongside an internal, dangerous, bewildering chaos.

The paradox, then, is not simply between the localization of sound versus a failure to completely identify its source – which is the powerful modus operandi of much science fiction sound. In this case, it is also spatio-temporal and taxonomic: the problem of a sound design trapped on one side of the glass (the rock is loud/threatening), whilst a musical score plays with structure on the other (where the rock is actually mute/harmless). In one, we’re under attack. In the other, we’re in complete control (or at least in confident hands). Sustaining both is perceptually complicated given that they are driven by the same soundtrack. The tension between this intrinsic and extrinsic logic can do one of two things. The confusion and instability has the potential to amplify an active sense of threat, and hence the listener’s terror. Alternatively, the failure to reconcile the two may simply turn the experience into one of sheer, gleeful stupidity.

Your choice…      Enjoy.


For full screen, high volume, headphone listening…

Music of the Spheres on Vimeo. Music by Darrin Verhagen & images by Richard Grant.

Bio: Darrin Verhagen is a lecturer and researcher in multisensory experience. He teaches “Sound and Vision”, “Score and Sound Design”, and “Art, Music and the Brain” in the School of Art. He runs the Audiokinetic Experiments (AkE) lab in the Sculpture, Sound and Spatial Practice Studio using motion simulators and 4D cinema seating to create and audit works which explore the relationship between hearing, vision, movement and vibration. His postgraduate research has focused on musical extremes – the delicate instability of lowercase sound for his Masters, the brutality of Noise for his Doctorate. His soundtrack practice features music and sound designs for contemporary dance, theatre, installation, film, television and computer games. He has released over 20 albums of material internationally, traversing a range of styles, and performs his audiovisual live shows locally and internationally. He was the founder and curator of Dorobo records, which showcased Australian sound art for 15 years.

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