Sound installations, settings, beckon listeners

A wooden pipe organ with rotary speakers designed to power household organs.| Photo courtesy of George Rahi.

Sound artist and instrument builder George Rahi and keyboardist and composer Robyn Jacobs will be performing a concert with the installation pulses // patterns at the Western Front on Dec. 14.

The installation features a set of rotary speakers connected by a MIDI interface to a wooden pipe organ, reconceiving these separate musical inventions and bringing them together in a dynamic sound installation.

“The pipe organ has this sculptural quality already by its mechanics of pressurizing and releasing the air of the room through the pipes as tonal jets. Additionally, the rotary speakers add spin and velocity to the sound waves that creates different effects depending on where the listener is in relation to the speaker,” says Rahi.

Taking on an ‘outsider role’

Rahi grew up in a musical and culturally diverse household. His father immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon in the 70’s during its civil war, while his mother, of Polish, Scottish and mixed European descent, was a piano teacher. Rahi started playing the cello at a young age but says that it was a natural curiosity that led him to exploring the less ‘classical’ aspects of music. He became more interested in electronic music and how music and sound worked in the way that it did.

“In a very self-directed way, I got interested in the mechanics of instruments and a kind of understanding of the technology,” says Rahi. “I’ve been doing a lot of research just out of my own curiosity about how instruments work and the physics of sound. So that sort of interest started to permeate how I approached music.”

Rahi says that his conflict with ‘belonging’ in the U.S. and having a diverse, hard to pin down cultural background allowed him to take on a kind of ‘outsider’ role musically, something that encouraged his more unconventional, forward-thinking approach to sound art and music as a whole.

“I feel like I’ve taken that outsider position in a lot of the ways that I approach my music and art projects as well, having, in a strange way, the freedom to experiment a little bit. That is, if I wasn’t already kind of embedded in a certain cultural framework for how I approach these instruments as a form of expression,” says Rahi.

Sound and space

Many of Rahi’s installations and projects are found outdoors, in public spaces. And although Rahi’s sound installation at the Western Front is an exception to this trend, a recurrent theme in his works is the consideration of how a sound installation, as well as its listeners, interact with the setting in which it’s found. Drawing on his background in human geography, Rahi discusses the goal behind his project Soundwalk, a pre-recorded, guided tour through privately-owned public spaces.

George Rahi, sound artist and instrument builder.| Photo courtesy of George Rahi.

“I think that Soundwalk is a way to interrogate how space is organized and bring attention to the other qualities of the space that we aren’t immediately aware of, especially using sound as a way to tap into other forms of meaning in the environment. I think that’s an interesting technique that Soundwalk as a practise promotes,” says Rahi.

From his automated, 100-year old piano performing Aphex Twin’s ambient Aisatsana in Hadden Park to his combination of a wooden pipe organ with rotary speakers designed to power household organs, Rahi’s works show a constant curiosity in what the environment and space of his instruments have to offer to the experience as a whole.

“I’m definitely interested more so in having a relationship with a place to work or just to the city in a broader sense,” says Rahi. “There’s a shared connection to the environment that we’re looking at together.”


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