Sympathetic Resonance

This project was created for the Smack Melon Gallery in the DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) section of Brooklyn, NY.  The gallery, formerly a coal hopper used to power machinery in the area’s industrial heyday, is located beneath the Manhattan Bridge, which carries cars, trucks, and subway trains that pass over this post-industrial area every three to four minutes producing intense swells of noise – peaks rising above the usual urban soundscape 480 times a day on average. Along with the visual dominance of the bridge itself, the flux of sonic vibration created by passing trains is a defining feature of this now residential neighborhood.

Many recordings were made of the swells of sound, each in a different space, from the giant coal hopper and the main gallery to closets, cracks, crevices and small pipes found in the cavern under the sidewalk. Although all recordings capture the “same sound” (that of the train), each one sounds different because of physical variations (size, shape and material) unique to the space in which it was recorded.  The recordings were then played back from speakers hidden in the gallery at random intervals and at a volume level calculated to match that of the real train.

The resulting composition, interleaving prerecorded and live sound, was conceived as a conversation between the real and it’s reflected manifestations. It turns our attention to the materiality of our physical surroundings and to our situatedness within a particular context.  We are coerced into listening to what is always already there as the architecture sings back the familiar song of the train in countless resonant voices.

The title of this project refers to the property of sympathetic resonance (or sympathetic vibration), a harmonic phenomenon wherein one object vibrates in “sympathy” with another not due to any external agency.  In this case the building vibrates with the catalyst frequency of the train crossing the bridge.