In Bass Affects, Jo Burzynska invites an embodied and multisensory engagement with the emotional resonances of low frequency sound, which can be listened to, or remain unheard. Its installations stir and lull through their exploration of the nexus between the exciting and disquieting effects of the bass spectrum. Created largely from field recordings Burzynska has made in recent years of external low frequency phenomena, the sounds used are drawn from nature and human-made sources. These include the Pacific Ocean and electrical storms, to Lulworth Wind Farm, and Sydney Town Hall’s Grand Organ that possesses one of the world’s lowest pitched (8 Hz) pipes.
Low frequencies (below 200 Hz) are a much mythologised and misunderstood region of the sound spectrum. These frequencies – that are felt in the body as much as heard with the ear, and as infrasound (below 20 Hz) often on the threshold of hearing – move in mysterious ways. Bass tones are present in our body, in respiration and the beating of our hearts. In nature they emerge from the surf, and in the rumblings of seismic activity and storms. They’re emitted by machines in the industrial world. Humans actively use low frequencies in spiritual and cultural practices from bullroarers and church organs, to the beats of music we dance to. Attempts have also been made to harness them as weapons.
Yet historically, public research into the effects of low frequencies on humans remained limited. This deep void came to resonate with the repetition of findings from unreliable studies, misinformation, and far-fetched anecdotes, amplified by their regular repetition in sensationalist media coverage. Much of the purported physiological effects have now largely been disproved, with relaxation effects emerging as more likely than adverse health impacts. However, low frequency sound has become newly weaponised in attempts to discredit wind turbines, fanned by the fossil fuels industry. Such emotional manipulation and its psychological effects appear more forceful than any previous endeavours in sonic warfare.
From the sublime to the annoying, the wondrous to the threatening, context has come to direct more emotional power than the bass vibrations themselves. In Bass Affects, low frequencies from natural, devotional and industrial sources combine and converse, creating an expanded contextual spectrum that encourages a more open low frequency listening.
Jo Burzynska would like to thank Grace Kar Man Chan for making the Grand Organ roar; Malcolm Riddoch for his assistance with the recordings; and Sydney Town Hall and Lulworth Farm for providing access.
At: Audio Foundation
4 Poynton Terrace Auckland New Zealand
Opens: Friday 6 August 2021, 5.30pm
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12 – 4pm
Closes: Saturday 4 September