Pat Noecker Brings Sound Enlightenment to Knockdown Center
A pre-speaker-installation view of Long Term Exposure
Courtesy Knockdown Center
"It felt like a soft wave overtook me and carried me into a fuzzy womb. I thought about a forest and then about masturbating."
"I was on a boat on the sea and then drifted off into nothingness."
"I emerged with tears…heartbreak, reconnection, dreamy thoughts, past things, people, future feelings."
Surprisingly, these are not the recollections of a group of Burning Man attendees, or escapees of an emerging New Age cult. They’re reactions people had after listening to a "sound bath" performed by artist Patrick Noecker (who also goes by the artist name Raft) last year at the office of now-defunct web magazine Hopes&Fears. For the piece, Noecker tried to test whether playing tones tuned to 440 Hz, the standard frequency for the A note that most people use when they play music, affects people differently than playing 432 Hz frequencies, which some musicians have argued is a more relaxing listening experience, to the point where it’s sometimes referred to as "the God note."
The experiment inspired him to keep exploring frequencies. His one-night show Long Term Exposure, on July 17 at the Knockdown Center, is a continuation of this work. The installation consists of ten amps placed in a circle around Knockdown’s huge former factory space, with a mat and pillow in front of each. Noecker will play a series of tones for two minutes at a time, altering the frequencies and movement of the sound through a Moog smartphone app. "Part of the joy of this piece for me is trying to get the sound to move," Noecker told me in his sun-dappled Sunset Park studio’s backyard, where two cats roamed among plants and musical equipment. "To me it’s profound."
Noecker, originally from a rural farm in Nebraska, moved to New York City in 1998. Since then, he’s worked with bands that exist on the fringes of music and performance. For years he played bass in These Are Powers, the band to which he traces Long Term Exposure’s inspiration. "There was zero standard tuning in that band. My E string was tuned to 432 Hz," he says. "The sound work I’m doing now is definitely an extension of how I was using the bass in that group as a medium."
Years of touring and recording led Noecker, who is now 44, to seek a less gear-intensive performance style. "These Are Powers always had the biggest van anywhere when we showed up," he says. "We carried our own PA because we wanted to do it right. It cost a lot of money to do that." He found the style he now implements in 2012, when he was asked to perform last-minute at Williamsburg venue Zebulon but had no instruments on hand. He ended up running his cellphone through his effects pedals, distorting and remixing voice mails and whatever other recordings he found on the device. He called the new performance method Cellphoneism. "I’ve been playing bass with the cellphone. It’s a total analog-digital blend," he says. "I am the corpus callosum that mediates those two."
"This is a very functional way to get away from all the overhead costs [of touring]," Noecker explains. "The other part of it is — what is the most banal, evil, human-destroying, commerce-laden object I can get my hands on to make art with? And that’s [a smartphone]." Using a cellphone has also allowed Noecker to take advantage of advanced software like Moog’s Filtatron app, the filter he’ll use on Saturday.
One of Noecker’s goals with his current project is to move away from the attention-grabbing multimedia antics that dominate sound art and music today. "A big part of my mission when I perform is that I become invisible," he says. In a recent essay for Periscope magazine, Noecker describes his motivation for the new direction. "I feel a dependency has developed between music, art, and sound, exposing something about our current condition, or at the very least, my own. The inability to be minimal, the need to be hyperactive all of the time," he writes. "As I recalibrate my own existential demeanor, I feel I’m headed back inward."
Noecker hopes that projects like Long Term Exposure will allow audiences the open space needed to interpret their own experiences, to hear what’s contained in his sounds without being bombarded by other stimuli. "Let [sound] create it’s own imagery instead of trying to spoon-feed [you] whatever imagery you’re seeing," he says. "I’ve gone from trying to visualize sound to just letting it be invisible."
Noecker’s experiment at Hopes&Fears last year was inconclusive. He found that, although more people reacted positively toward the 432 Hz frequencies, nearly as many enjoyed the more "standard" sounds of 440 Hz. It will likely be the same this weekend; what matters is that his audience gets a minute away from stimulus to just listen. "We all vibrate differently," he wrote in a follow-up article about the experiment. "The question is, what is best for you? I suggest finding out."
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