Visiting Artist Florian Hecker’s Sound Art Explores “Auditory Chimera”

Posted on April 23, 2014 by Anya Ventura

2011 MIT Visiting Artist Florian Hecker, a renowned sound artist, recently released the publication, Chimerizations, featuring an essay by MIT Professor of Anthropology Stefan Helmreich. The publication presented sonic work that Hecker developed during his residency at MIT, and was shown at the 2012 art exhibition dOCUMENTA(13) in Kassel, Germany.

Hecker creatively experiments in the field known as psychoacoustics, investigating the nature of auditory perception in relation to the mind and body. His “Chimerization” utilized the concept of the “auditory chimera” as point of creative departure. The piece first began as a collaboration with the Iranian philosopher and writer Reza Negarestani, whose “The Snake, the Goat and the Ladder (A board game for playing chimera)” formed the libretto of Hecker’s sound piece.

At MIT, the artist met with Bertrand Delgutte, a Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics, who studies the neural basis of auditory perception. Delgutte develops synthesized sounds called “auditory chimeras,” which, like the mythical hybrid animal, recombine the physical components of different sounds to investigate how we hear the sounds we do. The effect of this research has repercussions for our understanding of pitch perception and the ear’s ability to identify where sounds come from (“sound localization”).

Hecker recorded his piece within the sensory deprivation of Bose Corporation’s anechoic chamber, an echo-proof room insulated against the reflection of inside and outside noise. Here, MIT faculty and students recited Negarestani’s text, and the recordings were subsequently remixed by Hecker. The residency culminated in a performance at MIT’s Saarinen Chapel.

Florian Hecker performs at Saarinen Chapel. Photo: L. Barry Hetherington.