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Cistern Voices (2011/2013)
real-time synthesis, 4 channel site specific recordings

total duration: ~150'

distribution via wave field synthesis

Cistern Voices was recorded on site inside of the Dan Harpoole Cistern at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend, Washington State, US, in May of 2011. The cistern is an unusual acoustic space positioned on a hill within an old military compound on the NE tip of the Olympic Peninsula between Puget Sound and the Straight of Juan de Fuca. The cistern is an underground cylindrical chamber 200 feet in diameter and 14 feet tall. It was built to hold 2,000,000 gallons of water but is now empty and possesses an acoustic decay approaching 40 seconds, depending on frequency and amplitude. It is a place I spent time at during residencies in 2010-12.

Cistern Voices approaches the cistern as a resonant cavity (a mouth) in order examine traces of the voices of 5 persons who lived and/or worked near the compound during the last 100 years. A real time synthesis program following a tape recording of the original voice of a person was used to extract the frequency and generate sine tone clusters in the space. These clusters are then left to decay and their aggregate effect to overlap in the cistern, occasionally recreating a semblance of the voice. The effort was not to re-synthesize a voice perfectly, but to explore the traces of a voice by reactivating lingering, inaudible frequencies that once might have entered this space.

When does a sound cease vibration? - Long after it escapes the range of human hearing.

The field work for this piece was done in 2011 and the final mixes were made at TU Berlin for the smaller Wave Field System in their studios using the original four channel recordings. Recordings were made with a microphone in each quadrant of the cistern

Cistern Voices

1. D. Willet (30:55)
2. B. Ruby (26:44)
3. R. Becker (30:51)
4. P. Burns (30:57)
5. J. Siebenbaum (30:21)

stereo mix of D. Willet (30:55)


photos (L to R): location of cistern, interior showing columns, working desk, exterior, entrance.

special thanks to Neville Pearsall for onsite recordings, Jean Paul Jenkins and Shane for companionship, the Centrum Center for the residency that allowed these pieces to take shape, and TU Berlin for WFS mix.