Review: Six Microphones – S/T

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The premise is incredibly elegant: six microphones are pointed at a set of loudspeakers, while an algorithm adjusts the amplitude of the microphones over time. Hums of feedback thicken in the air, negotiate a constellation between themselves, then reform as dictated by the change in microphone sensitivity. No players are physically present. It could be said that nothing is “performed” per se. Rather, Six Microphones is the amplification of circumstance; an aggregation of the chaos that bristles imperceptibly in the air, collapsing the infinitesimal tides of air pressure into a deceptively tranquil ballet of tones and pulses.

Due to the volatility of microphone feedback, even the smallest changes in the environment can cause gigantic shifts in the profile of the sound. An audience member leaves the room; the temperature drops by half a degree. These minor instigations of imbalance would be drawn into the loop and amplified, causing the feedback to flail and recoil as though the floor beneath were quaking open: new tones seeping into life from the altercation between frequencies, new throbs emerging as two pitches press together. Whether triggered by changes in the environment or an adjustment in microphone amplitude, these moments of recalibration are beautiful to observe. The system tumbles out of equilibrium, releasing its constituent vibrations into disarray before a new homeostatic formation is established. At these moments, the system feels alive. It perceives the change, quivers with the uncertainty of thoughts and instincts in conflict, and then settles into a new solution. I have to remind myself that this is merely the environment rebalancing itself, and not the audible strains of a conscious entity solving a problem.

Pietrusko remarks that there is no version of Six Microphones outside of its spatial context, nor a definitive iteration of the piece. The process of composition here isn’t the preparation of musical gestures, but the construction of a situation: the design of the loudspeakers, the exact placement of the microphones and speakers, or the definition of those 5376 amplitude set points. Perhaps it extends to the space Pietrusko chooses for the performance, or how many audience members are permitted into the space. Yet it’s astonishing to think that, with Pietrusko’s years of painstaking planning, the sonic outcome is just as influenced by his choices as it is the idle tweak of the gallery thermostat. As far as the system is concerned, the forces of intention and accident hold equal precedence.