On the Generation of Sounds


Electroacoustic lecture-performance with video | 45'

Photo of Nicholas Brown at a lectern performing On the Generation of Sounds

Photo of Nicholas Brown below a video projection from On the Generation of Sounds

Programme note

On the Generation of Sounds is a lecture-performance after Robert Grosseteste in which biofeedback audio-control meets medieval physics of sound and motion. It was first presented at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, UK in October 2015.

The project is the second installment in Nicholas Brown’s ongoing Grosseteste Project, following his 2011 choral installation-performance, On the Operations of the Sun. It investigates Robert Grosseteste’s thirteenth-century treatise on sound and phonetics, De Generatione Sonorum in a context of live electro-acoustic musical performance. The sounds of the human voice are modulated by motion-sensing technologies in response to Grosseteste’s ideas, such as the relationship between the formation of consonants, vowels and different types of physical motion.

First video still from On the Generation of Sounds

For example, consonants are produced when we use our tongue or another part of the vocal apparatus to create an obstruction of the flow of air from our lungs. We stop ourselves from making a sound by building up tension in the mouth and then releasing it, to create a sudden sound surge.

In his treatise, Grosseteste makes the analogy of a falling body. There is an initial force that acts on the body in a horizontal direction and another force that acts in the vertical direction. The sum of these two forces is what he calls a ‘motus compositus’. He says that it is this coincidence of forces in time that makes a consonant possible.