odd kind of sympathy…

Kyma International Sound Symposium (KISS2011) Porto, Portugal

Brigham Young University New Music Concert March 2016

In life, each of us plays an essential part, but most of the time it’s not easy to see what effect we might be having on each other or on the world. In this piece, each person in the audience holds a small bell. Some of the soft sound from that bell is audible but most of its partials lie above the range of human hearing. Four microphones placed around the audience capture the sounds from the bells and Kyma transforms the sound and makes it audible.
“…odd kind of sympathy” is a quote from Christiann Huygens who built the first pendulum clocks. Around 1636 Huygens had mounted two pendulum clocks on a piece of wood, trying to build a seaworthy version of his clocks that could be carried on board ships to address the longitude problem. One day, he was sitting there, staring at the clocks when he noticed that, within 1800 cycles, the two pendulums would synchronize with each other, swinging in exactly opposite directions to one other in what he called “an odd kind of sympathy”. It turns out that the two pendulums were loosely coupled through the shared wood mounting, and the movement of each pendulum was affecting the other; each time a pendulum swings, it slightly adjusts the other pendulum’s rate until they converge on the same frequency, swinging in opposite directions from each other so their effects on each other cancel out and reach a kind of equilibrium state.
At several points in this piece, the sound level from the audience acts as the coupling between two or more oscillators. If the audience members ring their bells loudly enough, there is enough energy to synchronize the oscillators to each other in anti-phase — the odd kind of sympathy observed by Huygens.