Lawn Sports as a Kind of Musical Notation

In my last post I introduced the lawn sport Circles and outlined some ways that I hoped to turn the game kit itself into a sonic sculpture. Since then I’ve made some headway. I found some cake pans at the Goodwill Outlet which carry a wonderful resonance and I’m mounting and microphoning those on the kit as bells. Additionally, with the help of the ideaLAB staff (thanks Jesse and Iker!), I’ve succeeded in creating a motion triggered audio board, so that soon, as players approach the center of the court, digital chimes will sound.

The idea is, as I mentioned before, to make an audio recording of the game. The kit becomes an instrument of sorts that each team plays together, to create a provisional composition contoured by the rules of the game. Here, I want to rearticulate something I wrote -- incorrectly, I believe -- on last week’s post. What I said, and what I think isn’t quite right, is that, by audio recording a match, I would create a “sonic abstraction” of the game. I don’t think that is accurate. In fact, I wonder if almost the opposite is true. I say this having pondered over some words by Salomé Voegelin, an artist and writer out of the UK.

Voegelin, in her book Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art, is at pains to enliven the concrete and sensuous nature of sound. She identifies a reflexive habit critics and other listeners have of interpreting sound via its visual corollaries. She laments that we often ask, what is the thing that makes the sound (or what does the sound mean) and not, rather, what is the sound itself? I hear a pop, so do I imagine a gunshot or a car backfiring? Does my interpretation have different political or cultural meanings? These are the types of questions Voegelin is not as interested in -- at least in the way such questions may short circuit a deeper appreciation of sound’s material immediacy. Rather Voegelin might be more interested in asking, what is the physical, affective, or emotional experience of listening?

So Voegelin argues against abstraction, in that she tries to resist the types of visual substitutions and significations that people often use to zoom out from sound’s immediacy in order to tether sound to discrete objects catalogued in their intellects. For Voegelin, such abstraction risks stifling the more fluid pleasures and fantasies of listening to sounds which remain partial enigmas.

This leads me to a suggestion that is almost opposite of what I said before, about a recording being a sort of “sonic abstraction” of the game. It is not the sounds which are abstract, it is the game, which is, after all, only an invented schemata, a notation system. Sound is material, literally stroking our smallest bones. It is the touch of agitated air. To capture it is not to capture a representation of Circles, but to capture sounds whose origins only happen to lie in a non-linear lawn sport.

Written by Luke on August 7, 2017


Bill on August 12, 2017


Fascinating...has that aspect of ephemerality that occurs in live Theatre...


I totally agree! And though the sound sculpture won't be done until the 20th, feel free to stop by tomorrow (8/13) at 4:30 pm, Curtis Park to check the game out! :)

Kirk on August 22, 2017


You mention your last post but there's no byline (except at the end) to know who you are, where you work or what you do? This sounds interesting but there's no information to put it into context.


Hi Kirk,

This was from the Maker in Residence that the ideaLAB hosted earlier this summer. Here's some more info about him, and I've linked his previous post in the blog above.


Hector Bravo on September 8, 2017


Hi Luke, The project sounds interesting. I am curious: What kind of hardware are you using? From the picture it looks like some king of TI microcontroller.


Hi Hector,

It is a Sparkfun Wav Trigger - 16 sample polyphony, and can store hundreds of sounds. No real coding required. Really easy and fun to work with!

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