Soundless Music is a live experiment staged as a series of public concerts. Its aim is to investigate the psychological effects of infrasound.
Each concert features new works by Sarah Angliss and Roddy Skeaping, as well as compositions by Glass, Pärt, Parsey, Skempton, and Tanaka.
Live music, performed by the pianist GéNIA, is mixed with electronic sounds, a video installation by Ravi Deepres and occasional, deep bass tones.
These are supplied by an infrasound generator, designed for the event by the National Physical Laboratory.
While they experience the show, audience members take part in a series of subjective tests conducted by psychologists Ciarán O’Keeffe and Professor Richard Wiseman.
The first Soundless Music concert (titled Infrasonic) will take place in the Purcell Room, London, on 31 May 2003.
At first glance, Soundless Music seems absurd: a concert of inaudible sound; an exercise in engineering emotions; a scientific study of the paranormal.
These apparent contradictions aren’t lost on the project team – nor on the friends, work associates and journalists who have asked the inevitable question: Is this group really planning to stage a silent concert? (the answer is no).
Rather than silence, the focus of this project is extreme bass sound – to be more precise, a low-pitched vibration known as infrasound. The scientific study of infrasound has a long and interesting history, some of which is summarised in this chapter.
This project investigates infrasound’s psychological effects, putting to the test some fascinating claims about infrasound and mood.
Independently, musicians and psychologists have discovered infrasound may be linked to our mood in two strikingly different contexts. One is in sacred organ music.
The other is in sites of ostensible hauntings. Could infrasound be having similar effects in these two settings? This is a question we are exploring in a series of live concerts.
Featuring electroacoustic piano music laced with infrasound, the Soundless Music concert series (aka Infrasonic) is the largest public experiment of its kind.
To put this event in context, it’s worth considering some prevailing theories about infrasound. No end of claims has been made about infrasound’s unusual effects.
Type ‘infrasound’ into any internet browser and you’ll see this mysterious phenomenon has been associated with just about everything, from beam weapons to bad driving, with varying degrees of authority.
It’s been woven into our sacred music, implicated in apparent hauntings and blamed for ‘the fatigue of modern living’ in our cities.
Sadly, few of the more flamboyant claims about infrasound are backed up by a hefty dossier of evidence.
Psychologists and musicologists share a fascination with the emotional effects of infrasound but generally, in their research profiles, have let it fall between the cracks (leaving conspiracy theorists populating the internet, free to sweep up – and reassemble – the bits).
So it has become the stuff of junk science – a topic to file in the same box as dog telepathy and faked moon landings.
Couple that with tremendous (largely erroneous) hype over infrasound’s toxic effects and cautious researchers may opt to avoid the subject altogether.
This heady mix of disapproval has strengthened our resolve to put certain claims about infrasound to the test.
As much a recital as an experiment, this is a project that uses science to make an engaging contemporary concert, and music to engage people in the process of science.