"The winner of the PRS for Music Foundation's New Music award is liminal, with The Organ of Corti, a scientific art project dedicated to avoiding adding more noise to a noisy world by recycling existing sounds and reducing constant sonic pollution to a sort of impassive, near silent, but cleansing and possibly soulful hum" Paul Morley, The Observer, Sunday 19 September 2010
Organ of Corti (2010-11) Latest
Organ of Corti is an experimental instrument that recycles noise from the environment. It does not make any sound of its own, but rather it attempts to draw our attention to the sounds already present by framing them in a new way. Named after the organ of hearing in the inner ear, it uses the acoustic technology of sonic crystals to accentuate and attenuate frequencies within the broad range of sound present in road traffic or falling water. By recycling surplus sounds from our environment, we hope to challenge expectations of what might constitute a piece of music by adding nothing to the existing soundscape but rather offering new ways of listening to what is already there. This instrument is a device that, for us, rematerializes our experience of sound, inviting us to “listen to ourselves listen”.
On 16 September 2010, we won PRS for Music Foundation's New Music Award for our project Organ of Corti. One of five shortlisted projects our piece recycles sound in the environment by filtering incoming sound-waves through a lattice of 4 meter high acrylic cylinders, known as a ‘sonic crystal’ array. Depending on a listener’s position in relation to the array, the structure will attenuate or accentuate areas of the frequency spectrum to create an evolving sound environment that relies entirely on the sound energy already present in the place in which it is installed. In a world saturated with sounds, the Organ of Corti questions whether we need any more noise and instead, offers a frame through which to listen to the sounds that already surround us.
In the summer of 2011, Organ of Corti toured England, to the following locations:
- July 1-7: City of London Festival; Carter Lane Gardens, St Paul’s Cathedral (51°30'47.37”N,0°5'53.44”W)
- July 9-11: Lake District Summer Music Festival; Lay-by on A685 overlooking M6,Tebay Gorge (54°24'1.73”N,2°36'17.99”W)
- Aug 15-17: Cotswold Water Park; Lake 6, near A419 (51°40'6.43”N,1°53'34.48”W)
- Aug 19-21: Worcester Music Festival; Diglis Weir, River Severn (52°10'47.27”N,2°13'35.56”W)
- See Organ of Corti map for information on opening times, supporting events and directions
Taking its name from the organ of hearing in the inner ear, the Organ of Corti explores the wider implications of recent developments in our understanding of acoustics and the neuroscience of hearing (how we listen) on health, music and culture, including our attitudes to sound in architecture, planning and our environment.
The proposal for the Organ of Corti came out of a sustained period of research into the relationship between sound, health and wellbeing funded by the Wellcome Trust and developed in partnership with Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity. During this project, entitled Tranquillity is a State of Mind, we became interested in the physiology, as well as the neuroscience of hearing, and in particular, the process by which sound is physically mapped according to its frequency content along the length of the basilar membrane in the inner ear. We became fascinated by the fact that like so many organisms, our auditory system is predicated on the physical separation of sound into space and we began to explore ways of representing this on an architectural scale.
During this time, we came across the technology of sonic crystals and we were introduced to Keith Attenborough, Professor of Acoustics at the Open University and a pioneer in the development of this area of acoustical understanding. We were intrigued to discover that one of the problems the sonic crystal research teams were encountering in their attempts to apply the technology to general purpose noise barriers, was that when a sonic crystal array is successful in attenuating a portion of the frequency spectrum (a band-gap), a resonance is often created either side of the affected area. Like a tinnitus sufferer who hears sounds caused by the over-stimulation of hair cells either side of an area of damage to the basilar membrane, the resonances exhibited by the sonic crystals presented a similar problem for the acousticians trying to implement them in the design of noise barriers. For us though, this behaviour was both conceptually and practically appealing and we began to explore the creative potential of a filtering device that would utilize the resonance, as well as the attenuating effects of the sonic crystal arrays.
Our first idea was for a permanent installation that would recycle the sound of Diglis weir in Worcester. This project is called Cochlea Unwound and is currently in development. Organ of Corti is a portable version of this idea and was devised specifically for PRS for Music Foundation's New Music Award.
Organ of Corti has been made possible through the generosity of funders PRS for Music Foundation and Arts Council England. It is hosted by the City of London Festival, Lake District Summer Music Festival, Cotswold Water Park Trust and Worcester Music Festival. It has been developed in partnership with the Acoustics Research Group at the Open University, Vista Projects and Sustrans, with support from the Knowledge Escalator South West Proof of Concept Fund (administered by the University College Falmouth),City of London Pollution Team, Eden Arts, Friends of the Lake District, Cumbria Tourism, Worcester City Council, Worcestershire County Council, Severn Trent Water, Diglis Hotel, Worcester, Worcester New College and Mark Leahy. The design team are Liminal, Acoustics Research Group at the Open University, OMK Design Consultancy and Tandem. Sponsorship from Westmorland Ltd. Westmorland Hotel & Tebay Services. The project was developed at Space with support from The Dartington Hall Trust.
Thank you to everyone who supported us in the development of the project and through the Public Vote.