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Artifact, Artefact, Ectoplasm

August 1, 2011

I like making music move me. As abstract and exciting as that sounds, usually it just means I stand close enough to speakers to make my sternum vibrate. It is something I like, but couldn’t necessarily explain. But I decided that there was no way three sentences could be passed off as an essay in these dank summer days. So I prodded. Why do reverberations, and the ability to produce them myself, fascinate me? And as I tried to get to some kind of answer, I kept meandering. Of course, I also turned into a river.

But where I ended up was at ‘artifact’.  A word with an interesting double life. Scientific journals will tell you it is ‘false’ data, a function of the machine being used to measure a sample rather than the sample itself. But we more commonly know it as a remnant of something past and almost forgotten. Where these two meanings meet, in my humble and long-overdue opinion, is when you try to characterize infrasound. And that means it’s time to bring out the ghosts.

Infrasound is, like its second cousin infrared light, something that we can’t technically perceive. I could blare it at you but you wouldn’t hear anything. You would, however, feel the vibrations as they reverberate through you. You might even feel someone or… something.

Specifics! – you say. Fine. Infrasound is ultralow-frequency sound. It might be part of the sound energy that makes my sternum move when I am standing close to a speaker. There are reports of it triggering supernatural experiences, sensations of being watched. If at the right frequency, it can match the energy patterns given off by the human body and there is some (unfortunately sketchy) evidence that we are actually able to connect these frequencies to the idea of a living thing. So, when you are experiencing this certain type of low frequency sound, you don’t feel alone. Instead, you feel what you would normally feel when someone looks at you – the resonant frequency of the human eyeball, 18.2 Hertz, washing over your face, or shoulder, or exposed midriff.

But how can you separate the artifact (scientific mistake) from the artefact (historic remnant)? How to know if your ghostly experience is the product of energy emitted by some kind of spectral being, or just created by the way your room channels the vibrations from your dishwasher? You can’t. You just can’t. You can’t even know that a spectral being isn’t using the vibrations made by your dishwasher to send you messages.

Ah, ambiguity. Fancy meeting you again.

And now it’s time for the incoming Segway attached to a Ferris wheel (yes indeed, we are coming. full. circle.).

Schloop.

I like music to actually move me because of the blur. All of a sudden you aren’t just receiving vibrations, soundwaves, infrasound, what have you, you are emitting them too. You are part of the music, or come to think this. A sense of connection that is as much artifact as it is artefact. Artifact in the sense of an error, a mistake, a random happening caused by the positioning of your body close enough to speakers, creating a sensation that is likely amplified by the shoes you are wearing. Artefact as well, possibly, because no one can tell you that the song you’re hearing isn’t partly your own.

And, of course, ghostly because you are creating infrasound and taking it in. All that, and ectoplasm, because ectoplasm is fun to type. And fun for séance mistresses of the 1920s to produce from their noses and/or nether-regions (if you do anything after reading this besides cry softly to yourself about the three minutes of your life you just wasted, look up ectoplasm production. For this, you are welcome).

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