Step Into The Cave Of Sound

Inspired by Werner Herzog, new interactive sound installation explores the power of music and technology on our psyche.

The Cave of Sounds (project documentation) courtesy of Tim Murray-Browne 

Why did the earliest humans gather to make music? The Cave of Sounds, a new interactive sound installation that opens at Watermans Gallery London, Nov 1-3, explores the power of music and technology, seeking to answer this very question.

The Cave features eight new musical instruments, each of which can be played, by intuition, by the audience itself. All the instruments feed into a network, which keeps them on the beat and in key, and avoids that multimedia group show cacophony we’ve all witnessed. The instruments, each created over ten months by one of the sonic arts and coding enthusiasts at London’s Music Hackspace, a community of musicians and technologists subverting tech to make music founded in 2011, are hi-tech, but otherwise Tim Murray-Browne, Composer in Residence with Sound and Music at Music Hackspace, thinks the Cave of Sounds isn’t much different from a prehistoric hootenanny.

“I became interested in prehistoric music and art after seeing Werner Herzog's film The Cave of Forgotten Dreams as well as reading Christopher Small's book Musicking," says Murray-Browne."Some of the earliest human artifacts found have included musical instruments such as bone flutes from 40,000 [BC]. Why, with all of the challenges of life back then, did people feel the desire to make music?” 

Overall installation 1, Cave of Sounds at the Barbican.

He decided to reboot Herzog’s cave with 2013 music technology. He issued an open invite to the maker community and ended up with 8 talented sound art/tech and programming folks. Music Hackspace members Dom Aversano, Sus Garcia, Wallace Hobbes, Daniel Lopez, Tadeo Sendon, Alex Sonom, Panagiotis Tigas and Kacper Ziemianin worked on the project for ten months, creating 8 instruments for which piano lessons are not required. 

Each sounds vaguely fantastic. There’s the shadow puppetry-inspired Animal Kingdom by Daniel Lopez, in which shadows cast on a plinth are read by a camera inside that creates animal sounds and melodies. Campanology, by Dom Aversano, allows one to create tribal rhythms based on the historic mathematics describing English churchbell-ringing patterns with a Kinect-controller. In Kacper Ziemianin’s Lightefface, an array of 24 light sensors each control a harmonic of a drone instrument, played by shining two lamps and swinging flashlights. The handheld Sonicsphere (by Panagiotis Tigas) has an embedded gyroscope and accelerometer mapped to a processed piano sound over a melodic pitchspace. Sus Garcia and Alex Sonom created Rockmore, a homemade theremin run through a pitch tracker. Wind, naturally, is a flute controlled by moving your arms through “an invisible cylindrical grid of melodic notes around your body” by Murray-Browne himself. The Generative Net Sampler (Tadeo Sendon) samples sounds from the internet when one moves through invisible trigger zones. Joker was, at one point, a hat, but Wallace Hobbes ended up making it a mask.

Joker,Cave of Sounds at the Barbican. Photographer Lucia Molina Pflaum.

It’s a percussive instrument in which one taps their fingers on conductive tape to complete an electric circuit with your body. 

Rockmore, Cave of Sounds at the Barbican.

The Cave’s creators give gallery visitors next to no instruction, letting them discover the instrument's possibilities for themselves. Some approach the instruments one by one for a few seconds, while “others get sucked in and are quickly performing,” says Murray-Browne.

Those lucky enough to get their hands on the Sonicsphere or Joker may not realize they’re tapping into the same urges as our cave-dwelling ancestors, but that’s the beauty of Murray-Browne’s cave--one can imagine a bone xylophone or animal hide drum once elicited the same kind of wonder.

Murray-Browne is currently in talks about bringing the Cave of Sounds to more venues soon. 

And he’s “very much open to new opportunities” so here’s hoping we’ll all get to cave jam in our town soon.  

If this work piques your interest, check out Murray-Browne's 2012 piece Clear Noise, where the artist teamed up with arts and technology collective Seeper for an interactive installation at Le Cube, Paris, focusing on the way electromagnetic radiation is read from the brain using an Emotiv EPOC EEG sensor to estimate the participant’s emotional state.

"This is represented visually through four rings orbiting a central brain, each created procedurally as an organically evolving form, and sonically through a responsive soundscape," explains Murray-Browne. "Each ring represents the strength of a different mental state sensed by the brain sensors: noise, frustration, excitement and meditation. As the wearer focuses their mind and reduces the noise, these rings converge into a single point."

To see this represented visual, check out the resulting project here.