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Sound and Music Sculptures for the Fifth Space



For the last few years I’ve been interpreting paleoanthropology to conceive sculptural installations for the fifth space – my name for the spaces an hour or more outside urban areas.

The fifth space is my extension of the typology of spaces where most of us spend our lives: home (the first space), work (the second space), public plazas and businesses (the third space) and virtual spaces (the fourth space). I believe that with increasing urbanization, visits to 'fifth spaces' an hour or more outside urban areas will become more important for people. If this ‘fifth space’ is a valid and increasingly important space, can we imagine what kind of art is an important and responsible addition to it?

I am working on a series of sculptural installations that draw upon the roots of all music and to the human perception of pitch. Nearly all world music is based on the fractional relationships of notes to each other rather than to absolute pitch. We currently call these older tuning systems ‘just intonation,’ yet most musical systems worldwide have moved to 12-tone equal temperament scales where only some notes have preserved the simple fractional relationships to each other from which music began. This group of sculptures uses carefully tuned gongs and chimes that offer a range of random and performance-based sounds in just-intonation, including low frequency sounds conducted directly into the body. In practice, this means that the random sounds produced by wind and by untrained people striking gongs all sound melodic because of the selection of notes and careful attention to just intonation.

Low frequency sound has been a part of the human experience for hundreds of thousands of years – and one of the ways in which we feel a connection to nature. The hoofbeats of animals, thunder, crashing waves, hundreds of birds flying nearby and direct exposure to strong winds created an environment in which physical vibration merged imperceptibly with acoustic perception. I’m creating artworks that bring that feeling back.


While developing the ideas for sound and music installations for the fifth space, I spent some time in my workshop experimenting with several sound-producing setups created using simple materials such as sheets of metal and tubes. Photos and video from my experiments are seen below.


Through the selection and tuning of the gongs and chimes, I have been working towards an environment where nearly every combination of notes sounds enchanting. This makes it possible for unskilled musicians to explore sound with tremendous results, and for skilled musicians to create astute, curated soundscapes and experiences.


One of these musical sculptures is a walk-in arrangement of light and sound that functions as both a space to listen and a space to perform, projecting sound outward. Large gongs, tuned plates, and tubular chimes create a soundscape rich with harmonious overtones. Moveable wind strikers add random yet supportive flourishes. The largest gongs have fundamental frequencies below that of human hearing that can be felt directly or by standing in close proximity. These low frequencies create a powerful feeling that one is in the presence of strong forces.

Concept 1:

Concept 2:

By Joseph O'Connell


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