Fireflies Alight on the Abacus of Al-Farabi
Many of my works focus on the visualization of sounds and the media technologies that circulate around this theme: phonograph, telephone, radio. "Fireflies Alight on the Abacus of Al-Farabi" centers on a visualization of the oldest music-theoretical device, the monochord, used since the times of Pythagoras to study and explain the mysteries of sound, music and the universe. The monochord is essentially a vibrating string that can be divided into various proportions to sound the different notes of the scale, the way the vibrating guitar string sounds higher when it is shortened. By measuring the ratios of the lengths of the sections, the proper tuning ratios of music can be discerned. Among the many accomplishments of the 10th century Persian mathematician Al-Farabi was the derivation of the entire 17-note musical scale by the subdivisions of a single long vibrating string. In my installation, one very long piece of music wire is made to vibrate at a very low frequency. In its flow and turbulence are contained a myriad of partial vibrations. A number of small loops of monofilament are allowed to dance upon the wire, each one ceaselessly seeking a point of rest on a harmonic node, a theoretical point of stability. In a sense, the wire is a machine for calculating its own harmonics. No resting place, however, really exists, as every move and displacement of the other loops upsets the fragile harmonic balance. Since the loops touch ever so lightly upon the wire, they act as tangents that mark off a certain harmonic between two loops, giving rise to the many harmonic elements in the sound of the wire. These sounds are picked up by contact microphones and sent to loudspeakers. As the loops dance around, they intersect a beam of green laser light and so light up, revealing to our eyes the patterns of vibration in space. There is no equilibrium, only change, and harmonies are just passing hints at an order that can only exist in the mind. I imagine these truths to be revealed to ancient philosophers in the dark hours of night as the glowing insects undertake their rituals on the mathematician's monochord.
Paul DeMarinis Paul DeMarinis has been making noises with wires, batteries and household appliances since the age of four. He has presented his installations, performances and public artworks widely. He teaches art at Stanford University in California.