31 December 2008

Introducing the Liminophone:

soulignons l’existence du liminophone. C’est un appareil qui permet de voir comment l’eau monte et surtout de savoir s’il faut donner l’alerte ou pas.

The Liminophone is an instrument that synchs with coastal data from the buoys around urban waterfronts, generating algorithmic real-time compositions.

Each buoy becomes a polyphonic instrument, a character that changes with very subtle fluctuations every six minutes.

Everything is in real time.

Limen, the greek for ‘harbor’, describes the sheltering place of an indented shoreline; the commerce of a Thessalian marketplace; the liminal space of a controlled environment in which our understanding of existence is in transition. Forms of transit could be abstract—commerce and commodity-trade, the beginning of alienation and individualism—or actual, in travel between points.

Phone, the greek for ‘cry’, or a human sound, recognizes that this particular sonification of oceanographic data is not a completely mathematical expression of wave data. It is, rather, an attempt to ‘hook up’ the ocean data, in real-time, to a sound system, in order to create a performance environment that will allow the waters to participate with the musicians in a real-time composition.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Coastal Ocean Observing and Prediction Station (CO-OPS) buoys are an in-water network of tidal-data gathering stations. They register nine categories of data every six minutes: predicted and observed water levels, and the resulting difference; water temperature; wind speed, gust and direction; air temperature; and barometric pressure. These data provide a picture of ocean conditions at each location. By translating this environment into musical events, the Liminophone creates a performance space that simulates human experience of the ocean, factoring in seasonal changes-- the ocean is most wild and active in its cold period from November to April, when few people are there to experience these extremes.

The ocean, ever-changing, ever-moving, unconquerable and unpredictable, is a great constant in human history. Each time we put a toe in the surf, we touch Odysseus’ sea, drops of Heraclitus’ river, Melville’s ocean. The same water that washes our shores eventually reaches all points, earthbound and atmospheric. The ocean is one tangible connection to our planet's long-suffering existence. The sets of information we have to inform our visits to this ever-present wilderness have grown, yet to be immersed in the great waters of our planet is to put oneself into the hands of an unknown entity whose intangible depths, though combed and spelunked over many millennia, can never be completely known. The infinity of space, the relativity of time, and the unsustainability of life—the challenges of this universe and perhaps others—can be faced here, on this planet, albeit in small scale, in recognizing the unfathomability of the sea.

As a swimmer, I am taking steps to evolve toward thriving in bodies of water over long periods of time. In trying to relate to the creatures of the sea, adapting to their watery environs, training my body to move in an aquasphere for as long as possible, I strive to conquer varying distances, temperatures, and the wiles of tides and currents.

As a winter swimmer, I'm fascinated by the experience of the cold ocean, the changes it has caused in my body, and the incredible underwater visibility that only occurs, on these Atlantic beaches, in the depth of winter. The ocean has seasons as distinct as our blossoms of spring and colored leaves of autumn. The incredible variety of life we encounter close to shore from spring through January is just the meniscus of a massively complex ecosystem. The slightest variations in weather either within or without the ocean create a completely different underwater environment.

A body of water is just that-- a living, changing organism of great complexity, strength and also fragility.

I swim to be in the wilderness, miles from civilization. And I swim in the City, because the wilderness comes even to the threshold of our doors.

Over the past year, I’ve grown accustomed to checking in with the two buoys nearest to my training-grounds, either to ease my concerns before swimming, or afterward, to see just what I’ve accomplished, especially in the dead of winter. Comparing the experience of sensation with scientific data teaches me what, if anything, I might expect each time I dive in. Some things, on the other hand, can never be explained or predicted—like the terrible cold of slick, low-salt ocean, or the strange underwater atmospheres I experience, on a number of occasions, or the strange ways in which the taste of the water shifts, or the prickly feeling of unseen danger one has just before swimming through a large swath of invertebrates. All living things in the water- perhaps, even, the water itself- seem to give off a vibration that travels, like sound, over great distances underwater.

The Liminophone is my attempt to engage the ocean on dry land, in a language that I grapple with daily in my endeavor to describe what I can’t sketch out with words. It is also my greatest hope that in duets with the singing harbor, urban musicians and audiences will have an intimate encounter not just with the nearest body of water, but with the wild, the unknown, and the great certainty of change.

the liminophone is under development, in collaboration with guitarist-composer-programmer Nick Didkovsky (www.punosmusic.com, www.doctornerve.org)

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