In developing the work, Kirkegaard collaborated with scientists to gather his sounds from natural rock arches in Utah and Arizona.5 The subterranean sounds were pitched up to make them audible to humans, and Kirkegaard attuned them to the space and played them through four speakers on the first floor (fig. 6). He also took above-ground recordings that played through four speakers mounted on light poles on the fourth floor (fig. 7). In essence, he transferred the vertical acoustic landscape of the southwestern desert to another space. These sounds of the earth seemed particularly appropriate to the building, which houses the Departments of Geography and Earth Science as well as the Dartmouth Sustainability Office. The atrium’s ambient noises included the HVAC system, many people moving to and from classes and work, a concurrent opening and slamming of doors, and the ding of the elevator.
Transmission was the most controversial work in Resonant Spaces. This may have been more a consequence of reluctance regarding any alteration of the sonic environment at the site than an objection to this particular work. Initially, the Fairchild Atrium Committee was concerned about disruption to the numerous students studying in the space, and to sensitive equipment used by faculty in adjacent laboratories. To assuage fears, we used sample sounds to run a simulation a few months in advance of the show, and spoke with faculty and staff then. At the committee’s request, we also agreed to shut the work down for several days during reading period and finals. During the installation process, Kirkegaard gave an introduction to the work and answered questions. We received many positive responses to the work—for example, from a class of introductory architecture students. However, this was also the only work for which we received substantial negative response, including the show’s one incident of vandalism (the work was unplugged). In an email, one student described Transmission as “quite annoying” and complained that she had been driven out of her favorite study place by the “constant background moaning.”6 Still, large numbers of students continued to study in the space throughout the term, though we have no data on whether that number was a decrease from the average. Furthermore, despite some objections to the work from occupants of the Physical Sciences Center, Transmission was frequently praised in press coverage of the show—particularly by Susan Apel, who wrote several features on the exhibition.7
In distinct ways, Alvin Lucier’s 5 Graves to Cairo and Jacob Kirkegaard’s Transmission strongly integrated their sounds with their settings, making the visitor more attuned to both the auditory and visual aspects of the environment. For the engaged audience they could be spectacularly successful. However, for visitors who encountered the works when coming to their locations to socialize, to study, or for other purposes besides experiencing Resonant Spaces, the works could be either too discrete or too noticeable, transforming from sound into noise. Christoph Cox, in “Sound Art and the Sonic Unconscious,” argues that sound art gives the listener access to a virtual dimension of sound.8 This is the sound that is always in the background and that we perceive imperfectly—for Cox: noise. This great “ocean” of noise is actualized into meaningful sounds, like music or speech. By attuning us to ambient noise and by complicating the boundary between ambient and intentional sound, Lucier’s and Kirkegaard’s work can help us recognize this perceived but unheard world.