Murmur

5.1 surround sound installation with projected video
Visuals by Amanda Justice
Duration: 10’ 59”
Year Produced: 2012

Murmur is a dynamic and immersive installation created from audio and video field recordings of starling murmuration—when thousands of birds swarm together in an elegant fluctuating cloud. All of the sounds in this piece were made by digitally combing field recordings of starlings and very short (.25-2 second) audio samples of solo orchestral instruments: specifically the flute, bassoon, and bass clarinet. The beautiful video, created by Amanda Justice, was used as a score– it visually provided me with the parameters for organizing these individually sculpted sounds into timbral clouds.

Though composed of many individual sounds, each timbral cloud also attains a collective ‘flock’ or ‘swarm’ identity. The immersive nature of this audiovisual installation allows the viewer to enter into the center of the flock. As the
timbral cloud shifts, the flock identity also shifts– creating a new mood, logic, and sense of place. In each of the three passes of the video, a novel way to organize sound is explored and a timbral cloud of distinct character emerges. Each timbral cloud then gradually shifts until it becomes a new entity.

The word, murmur, itself derives from the Latin for ‘rustling’. In its inactive form it means “a low, indistinct, continuous sound: “the murmur of the waves”. As an action, it describes the hushed utterance of an individual “an indistinct, whispered, or confidential complaint”. It conjures both an anonymous grouping (the crowd) and the individual (the whisper).

Throughout the composition this piece, I was intensely interested in the relationship between the individual and the flock/swarm/crowd. Where are the thresholds when we shift perception from the individual to the swarm? How does a flock or crowd attain a character or style? When does a crowd become a place?

Murmur was originally realized as a 5.1 surround sound installation with three channels of projected video. But its form has proved quite flexible and it has been exhibited in several variations: as a purely sonic composition, as a performative sound + video work, and as an audiovisual installation.