TransAcoustic Festival, Auckland, 8th-11th December 2005 - documentation

The TransAcoustic festival was held in Auckland 8-11th December, 2005 and combined the artistic and musical talents from performers and composers from Australia and New Zealand.

photos of the event can be found on the Documentation section of the TransAcoustic website, and also at

TransAcoustic Festival Seminar - Stella Brennan session - Stella Brennan
TransAcoustic Festival Stella Brennan seminar held at the Auckland Art Gallery Auditorium on Saturday 10th December 2005. Presentation of her paper "Visual Musak - from Lava Lamp to Screensaver"

Visit to listen to a recording of the Stella Brennan session

Trans-Acoustic is a four day Festival where the centuries-old desire to fuse sensory impressions together was given an experimental platform.

Image generated to sound is now common practice, however TransAcoustic Festival examined the unique interface that results from the transformation of image or optical information into sound.

"There is only one place in the world where light and sound affect each other mutually in a way that goes well beyond any technology or physics: in human perception. This is where the synaesthesia of sound and vision comes into being."
Heike Helfert

Seeking to underline the acoustic perspective in a predominately visual culture, the Festival offers an inspiring synaesthetic experience to the public with seminars, performances and screenings on the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th December 2005 at The Kenneth Myers Centre and the Odeon Lounge.

Although interest in synaesthetic experiences peaked in the early 20th century, people had been thinking about combining music and colour for a long time. Pythagoras, who wanted to mathematically order the universe, is responsible for dividing western music into octaves. He also found ratios for harmonic relationships, which he tried to apply to colour theory. In the 1600s, Isaac Newton divided the colour spectrum into seven colours to match the musical scale, and also experimented with harmonic relationships in colour.

Early abstractionists including Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee were particularly interested in representing music in their paintings, and kinetic sculptor and film-maker Len Lye often spoke of composing figures of motion in the same way that music is composed.

Cinema provided artists with a sympathetically temporal medium. Experimental cinema history is riddled with abstract films that try to replicate musical form, including characters such as Lye, Norman McLaren, Oskar Fischinger and the Whitney brothers, a legacy that continues in contemporary music videos and VJ culture. Not to forget colour organs and the psychedelic light shows of the 1960s that spawned today’s stadium rock presentations.

Although most synaesthetic activity at this stage had been an unrequited infatuation with sonic form from the world of optical experience, James Whitney tipped the balance with films that married the two, refracting light from a swinging pendulum onto unexposed film to generate both images and sound. Similarly, experimental composer Steve Reich made music by swinging a microphone over a speaker to create sweeping feedback. Avant-garde composers also experimented with visual scores as a way of loosening the relationship between composer and performer.

Translating linguistic and scientific information into sound is an area of exploration that has become increasingly common in the last few decades. Although pinging radars and blipping heart machines are familiar examples of translating data into sound, many more applications are now being found where, through sonification, activity that might be imperceptible visually can be tracked aurally. In the creative industries, sonification is particularly apparent in computer gaming where the sonic experience needs to correspond with the players actions, resulting in generative and interactive compositions such as Amon Tobin’s soundtrack for Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.

The Trans-Acoustic Festival is a timely opportunity to consider new ways of using our ears to reconsider the experiences usually intended for our eyes.

Excerpt from essay by Andrew Clifford
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