Dear Quantum, Sound Performance


Electroacoustic performance with real-time quantum fluctuation at CTM Festival
featuring Muiredach O’ Riain 

Video Still: Zoe Kahlert

The performance piece aimed to contemplate both quantum physics and sound art practices. An ensemble of radios were set up, similar to John Cage’s piece “Imaginary Landscape No. 4” integrated real-time quantum fluctuations to guide the selection of radio channels. The entire spectrum of radio frequencies exist at all times, yet only one channel was “collapsed” by quantum noise and audible at any given moment. This was to draw a parallel to the indefinite possibility of a quantum state (and the popular debate between Copenhagen, Many-Worlds, de Broglie interpretations). Sonification of quantum randomness was infused subsequently, and a self-referential and reflexive spoken text addressing quantum and the performed sounds. The whole piece existed as an intersection between experimentation and artistic expression.

Reflecting on ways which quantum potentially differentiates itself from classical paradigms (classical music, classical physics and classical computing), O’Riain and I approached the piece with an intention of liveness. That is, to be coherent to the real-time aspect of quantum fluctuations, we performed only using live sonic materials i.e. without any pre-recordings or sampling methods. We opted for music temperament free from any conventional structure by not using any “mtof objects” in Max/MSP, so that all quantum random values are translated directly to frequencies in hertz instead of MIDI values, breaking away from the default classical 12-TET standards.

O’Riain’s expertise in harmonic series enriched my ongoing inquiries of randomness, noise and entropy. His synthesiser, crafted for just intonation and combination tones, unveiled new modes to interpret instances of wavefunctions and hence probability amplitude—elements at the heart of quantum superposition. We also resonated with Cage’s attempt for the absence of self and authorial footprint, and ventured further by expressing the continuous shift of self/identity through the mapping of the root note with quantum randomness as well. Sonifying (potentially true) randomness, we ask if quantum would possibly shed light to a contrast in the narrative that current classical computing and AI is leading, especially on the creation of future knowledge and foundation of reality.

Image by Alicja Hoppel

Image by Alicja Hoppel

Image by Alicja Hoppel