Bird and Person Dyning (1975) is the worst piece by Alvin Lucier

Concept for fictional installation


In the days before and at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself strolling by the Zentrum Paul Klee a lot. Flanking the museum to the left and the right, there are small patches of flowers and other plants and among them, solar-powered probes, shaped like abstract flowers. These probes (the use of which until this day I haven’t found out) give out beeps in seemingly irregular intervals, but in different pitches. Being that we had received the assignment to plan the presentation of a sonic artwork in a public space, I made a mental note of the situation. I imagined a sort of interplay between these pseudo-natural-looking probes, the real plants found in the patch and a completely alien object, like a loudspeaker. Alien only in optics, not thematically, of course, there is a link in function between these types of objects, the emission of tones. For a long time, I chewed on this idea, not knowing what exactly to try to say with this set-up. In the end, I figured out a very simple scenario, elaborated on further below.


The idea of this alien object in a pastoral setting is augmented by a further, unseen object, a microphone, completing the circle between two tone generators (probe(s) and loudspeaker(s)). This microphone picks up the beeping of the probe and feeds it back into the loudspeaker, generating a quick feedback composition on the spot. There would have been multiple loudspeakers, each being assigned to one specific probe. As it was clear early on that this project would never be completed due to the pandemic, I have spared myself and the reader from a full technical implementation of this installation, a short diagram will suffice:

The sound of the probe is picked up by a clip-on microphone, sent to a small computer and converted to digital audio via audio interface. Then in an audio processing software, presumably PureData, as it runs on small embedded systems, the audio path is bifurcated. One path is bandpass-filtered exactly to the frequency of the probe’s beeping (to be determined in beforehand). This minimizes the chance that another probe will trigger the process. Then, an envelope follower smooths out this signal, turning it into a gain signal for the original input. Some equalizing of the sound will also be made, with settings determined during the process of setting up the installation. This means, that there will only be sound as long as there is any input.
Not included in the diagram would be a mechanism to turn off the audio after a certain time, so that the feedback doesn’t go on indefinitely.


The title came to me right before going to Zentrum Paul Klee to record and take pictures. It obviously alludes to Alvin Lucier, a pioneer of (among other things) feedback composition and Sound Art/Sonic Art. In the course of the Sound Arts bachelor programme, my colleagues and I have been exposed to his vast body of work on several occasions, among which always was Bird and Person Dyning (1975). This work for me is the perfect antithesis of what I want my art to be; overly reliant on performative gesture, slow, extremely delicate and in a sense trope-ridden with its presentation of a nature versus technology theme. Nevertheless, I respect the work and the title of my piece can also be considered an homage. In my opinion, art should reserve space for on-the-spot decision making, a process by which I often let myself be taken hold of when considering or improvising titles.


As the piece couldn’t be realised in the intended locale due to the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, I have attempted a “fake” realisation of the piece. I visited the location briefly and installed a Genelec loudspeaker in the plot for a quick photo op. Several minutes of audio (ambience and beeps) were recorded on scene on my phone and arranged in the studio. To simulate a stereo recording, two tracks of unrelated ambience were binaurally panned left and right to give a semblance of a realistic stereo field.

The feedback sounds, intended to be the result of the interaction between the beeping and the temporarily installed loudspeaker, were also produced in the studio. A haphazardly constructed but expedient setup was made from a stack of books, a Shure SM 58 dynamic microphone and a Genelec 8020D speaker, of the same make which was expected to be used in an actual realisation of this work. With the microphone routed into Ableton Live running on a Macbook Pro via a Steinberg UR22 audio interface, the aforementioned beeps were played over the loudspeaker. The input from the microphone was altered live in gain and also equalized during the recording process, to keep the feedback from going out of control. These tones were then also spatialised with the same binaural panner (AMBEO Orbit by Sennheiser) as the field recordings. The result of this process is a short documentation of 56 seconds.