Seesaw installation by Alvin Lucier in Max/MSP

December 6, 2009

From December 21, 1983 though January 18, 1984 Alvin Lucier exhibited his ‘Seesaw’ sound installation in the Film and Video Room of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The installation aimed at having the visitor experience sound waves as a physical presence.

In a small Max/MSP project I set out to recreate the experience.

The idea is to have two sine waves generated in a quiet room, one at a fixed frequency of 256Hz, the other sweeping between 255.8 and 256.2 Hz.

A spinning is noticed that accelerates to once every 5 seconds as the sweeping oscillator frequency drops from the reference 256 to 255.8 cycles per second. Movement is from the speaker with the highest frequency to the one with the lower. As the sweeping oscillator raises its frequency the sweeping reverses. For full experience the room must be free of reverb.

For now my patch requires manual operation of the sweeping oscillator. In the original installation the sweep down 0.2 cycles, up 0.4 cycles past unison and down to unison again would take 3 minutes. Automating this will be for version 2 of the patch.

The spectroscope window provides on screen visual feedback about the (slow) beats occurring.



Alvin Lucier: Reflexions Reflexionen; Interviews, Scores, Writings 1965-1994; MusikTexte; Köln, 1995

2 Responses to “Seesaw installation by Alvin Lucier in Max/MSP”

  1. Olivier Nijs Says:

    As far as I understand this patch. It’s some sort of binaural beat.

  2. Nice work! I love seeing realisations of Lucier’s work in max/msp. I attempted to replicate your patch and also added a line object for the sweeping frequency. Lots of fun, thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: