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Between Air and Electricity


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements Introduction 1 Beyond the curtain: the "true nature" of microphones and loudspeakers An empty stage: listening according to the Konzertreform A concert at home: the invention of sound reproduction technologies Storage of air pressure waves Transportation of air pressure waves Amplification of air pressure waves Between air and electricity A standard, almost perfect amplifier and loudspeaker Microphones and loudspeakers: the musical instruments of our age? The "true nature" of microphones and loudspeakers 2 reproducing - supporting - generating - interacting: four approaches towards microphones and loudspeakers Made for music: concepts on musical instruments Violins, mixing desks and spoons Piano lessons or a phonograph: how sound reproduction technologies entered the living room The instrumental phonograph and the reproducing radio Semantic acts of sound creation Hearing voices through the noise: completely satisfactory recordings in 1902 Electricity, bodies and diaphragms Reproducing: one sound system for all music Supporting: the same sound but louder Transparent technology The record as a copy of the concert and the concert as a copy of the record Generating: music without musical instruments Interacting: resonance and resistance 3 The sound of microphones and loudspeakers Acoustic feedback: an electro-mechanical oscillator The tuning fork: an early sine wave generator Transforming sound into a researchable object Hermann von Helmholtz: tuning fork experiments Hermann von Helmholtz: tuning forks reproduce human vowels The tympanic principle and the tuning fork principle Alexander Bell: metal rods reproduce sound Alexander Bell: metal plates reproduce sound Richard Eisenmann: an electric piano with tuning forks George Dieckmann: a piano string oscillator Bechstein-Siemens-Nernst-piano: piano, radio and gramophone through the same loudspeaker 4 movement, material and space: interacting with microphones and loudspeakers Acoustic feedback: from mistake to music MOVEMENT Quintet by Hugh Davies: changing the distance between microphone and loudspeaker Pendulum Music by Steve Reich: introducing silence Bird and Person Dyning by Alvin Lucier: listening as a performative act Green Piece by Anne Wellmer: interacting with another sound source Mikrophonie I by Karlheinz Stockhausen: amplification only Speaker Swinging by Gordon Monahan and Three Short Stories and an Apotheosis by Annea Lockwood: moving loudspeakers MATERIAL coffee making by Valerian Maly and 0'00'' by John Cage: everyday actions amplified Inside Piano by Andrea Neumann: musical instruments and contact microphones Apple Box Double by Pauline Oliveros and Shozyg by Hugh Davies: new instruments through amplification Nodalings by Nicolas Collins: acoustic feedback through objects Rainforest by David Tudor: every loudspeaker a different voice Aptium by Lynn Pook, and Merzbow: the audible becomes feelable SPACE Music for piano with amplified sonorous vessels by Alvin Lucier: interaction between microphones and small spaces Loudspeakers in brass instruments and focused loudspeakers: interaction between loudspeakers and small spaces .....sofferte onde serene... and Guai ai gelidi mostri by Luigi Nono: interaction between loudspeakers and performance space Acousmonium by Francois Bayle: loudspeaker orchestras Performances by Eliane Radigue and Der toenende See by Kirsten Reese: sound unified in space and dispersed in space Audible EcoSystemics by Agostino Di Scipio: closing the acoustic feedback loop again 5 Composing with microphones and loudspeakers Beyond musical instruments: a hybrid of approaches The Edison tone tests: no difference Nothing Is Real (Strawberry Fields Forever) by Alvin Lucier: a piano in a teapot Windy Gong by Ute Wassermann: singing through the gong snare drum pieces by Wolfgang Heiniger: invisible beating tubes by Paul Craenen: musicians, dancers and technicians Open Air Bach by Lara Stanic: speeding up a sonata Resistances and resonances of microphones and loudspeakers The future of microphones and loudspeakers: between air and electricity Appendix Biographies Bibliography

Promotional Information

An overview of how microphones and loudspeakers have changed music over the past 100 years through artistic experiments and innovation.

About the Author

Cathy van Eck is a composer, sound artist, and researcher in the arts with an interest in relationships between everyday objects, human performers, and electronic sound. She holds a Ph.D. of Leiden University and is lecturer at the University of the Arts in Bern.


This is a genuinely fascinating and under-represented area of compositional research and activity, and the strongest portion of van Eck's book is the riveting overview of the repertoire. * TEMPO *
There is much to like about Between Air and Electricity ... An interesting feature of the book is a website ... There are a lot of examples and new text on the website, and one could spend numerous hours there alone. * Journal of Sonic Studies *
The book was a combination of amazingly thoughtful critiques of pieces and techniques ... with new pieces and new ways of looking at (or listening to) equipment ... Anyone who is working in the area of sound art, interactive electronic composition or sound studies needs to read this book ... Van Eck brings a mature approach to the study of electronically produced sound, and I see a myriad of future scholarship written using the concepts and ontologies she developed for this book. * SoundEffects *
One of the most informative aspects of this book is its citation, and discussion of, documents and patents published many decades ago ... A succinct, well-researched text. * Computer Music Journal *
The subjects of this book, microphones and loudspeakers, are observed from an interesting and unusual perspective ... The opportunity for the author to exchange ideas with many different artists ... makes this research extremely lively and rich. * Musica Elettronica (Bloomsbury translation) *
It is obvious that the influence of technology is a key issue in the study of music. Van Eck goes one step further: she explores the conscious use of speakers and microphones themselves as instruments ... An ambitious book. * GROOVE (Bloomsbury translation) *
Van Eck offers a captivating history of the development of loudspeakers and microphones and their fundamental influence on music practice-and the world beyond. In addition she covers an exciting collection of music, which she uses to analyse their fluid identity as a composing method and a musical instrument. * Gonzo Circus (Bloomsbury translation) *
The large number of female composers represented here is noteworthy - it seems as though the allegedly male-dominated field of electronic music is just as much in the hands of women. (Bloomsbury translation) * Positionen *
The book is worth reading and aimed in particular at an audience without technical expertise ... A particularly informative addition is the accompanying website (, where you can find not only audio and video documents discussed in the book but also numerous examples of other relevant works ... This book's originality lies in its dedication to these unconventional interactions with technology. * Dissonance (Bloomsbury Translation) *
Cathy van Eck takes us on a wondrous journey from pressure waves to electric currents and reveals behind the curtain of technology historical narratives, cultural ideologies and artistic imaginings that bring its norms and capabilities into a new light. Her book draws out insightful connections between standards and possibilities, and permits the timely questioning of technological determinism and instrumental inevitability. * Salome Voegelin, Author of Sonic Possible Worlds (2014), Listening to Noise and Silence (2010), and Associate Professor in Sound Arts at the London College of Communication, UAL, UK *
Between Air and Electricity fills a long standing niche. The text sets itself apart from the many technical books on microphones and loudspeakers, as Cathy van Eck gives refreshing and well-articulated insight into the artistic potential of working with these mediums. * Katharina Rosenberger, Associate Professor, University of California San Diego, USA *
In the hands of creative sound artists and composers, microphones and loudspeakers have challenged and changed our traditional definition of the musical instrument as well as the relationship of performance gesture to sound. Cathy van Eck's groundbreaking book systematically explores these alternative and radical new uses, finding four key approaches - 'reproducing - supporting - generating - interacting' - to help us navigate. Using a wide range of practical examples she shows how musicians and sound artists have explored this new found land which lies Between Air and Electricity. This book will be essential reading for practitioners and writers in music and media arts, as well as anyone interested in how things work in experimental art and music made with technology. * Simon Emmerson, Professor of Music, Technology and Innovation, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK *

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