Notes for Paul Panhuysen's "The Galvanos" CD (c) 1998 Paul DeMarinis
What sounds cause the heart to skip a beat? And what stirrings within the heart cause one to break out into song? The two oldest theories of music, ever in conflict, keep returning to question why we love to listen to sounds that contain no useful information about our immediate environment, and why we are so moved by them. The one theory would examine the mimetic powers of music, its underlying structural parallels with the sounds of life- the melody of the voice, the beat of the heart, the kinematics of excitement and exhaustion. The other theory would invoke transcendental principles at work in the details - the divine proportions of musical intervals and their relation to celestial orbits, architecture and mathematics. The idea that noumena and phenomena unite in number lies at the root of our culture. From ancient geometer to digital cybernetician , there is a consensus that number is at the heart of all being, the ratios of musical tones carrying the same holy beat in the divine groove that circumscribes the universe.
The works of Paul Panhuysen presented here under the heading "The Galvanos" present a unique and important look at the complex interrelation of mimesis and number in music. Panhuysen has drawn materials from a wide variety of sound projects he has created over the past two decades and channeled them through numerically-tuned pairs of resonating wires. This creates a new re-presentation of sound that is dynamically filtered by what in effect is a mechanical system of hearing. Some of the appropriated material, like the singing of canaries interacting with humans in an electronic network or the woman's voice by the freeway from Tuli Kupferberg's tape, can only be thought of as music in the first theory. Other works, like "Spotvogels" and AIDA have number built into them.
All the works were created using a single scientific device, the galvanometer, to translate the recordings into mechanical vibrations and relay them to the strings.
Science and art pose as rivals when it comes to the job of interpreting nature, of assigning position to our perceptions within the realm of the physical world. Luigi Galvani, a professor of physiology at Bologna discovered in 1786 that freshly dead animal tissue could be reanimated by bringing it into contact with two dissimilar metals. This singular discovery aroused great attention at the time and gave rise to speculation as to the relationship among electricity, the life force, and animal magnetism. The terms "galvanic", "galvanize" and "galvanism" quickly made their way into many languages, assuming a variety of meanings ranging from electricity itself to fascination or hypnosis to electroplating. In her 1831 introduction to "Frankenstein" Mary Shelly relates discussing the implications of Galvani's experiments in reanimation of dead tissue with her husband and Lord Byron in the summer of 1816 and uses the term "galvanism", although she does not employ that term anywhere within the text of the novella. When, in 1820, J.S.C. Shweigger of Halle invented a device for measuring the flow and intensity of electrical currents, he named it the "galvanometer" in honor of Galvani. In this application it served as a type of indicating electric meter with a needle moving across a numerical scale of units to display voltage, current, or resistance.
The galvanometer acquired an early association with the electrocardiograph as a sensitive device for measuring the minute currents of life force emanating from the beating heart. The first galvanometer developed for this purpose by the Dutch inventor Willem Einthoven weighed nearly 400 Kg and had to be connected to heart patients via telephone lines. Further development brought the weight of the galvanometer to several hundred grams and with it brought new applications. By the 1950's The galvanometer was at the very heart of the electrocardiographic apparatus, again fusing life force, cellular potential and electromechanics into a unique automatic writing device. The motor-like galvanometers Panhuysen used in the present recordings were designed to move the stylus of the recording pen on an electocardiograph machine in a way that accurately replicates the precise living movements of that most vital of organs. But Panhuysen has detoured the delicate penmanship of this beat writing machine into a stimulator of sounds.
A resonant system has the property of accepting energy from outside vibrations which are precisely timed and phased with its own oscillation, and rejecting or canceling vibrations which are not. Invoking this principle, Nicola Tesla is reputed to have created a minor earthquake in lower Manhattan by devising a clockwork hammer to drive a pulse into a steel pillar in precise phase with the resonance of the neighborhood. In the case of music wire, the period of vibration is determined by the time it takes a wave to travel from one end of the wire and back again. This depends not only on the length of the wire, but also the material of which it is made, its thickness and tautness. Panhuysen has constructed a number of duochords, pairs of strings, that are precisely tuned according to numerical ratios established by the ancient Sicilian geometer Pythagoras. Each string is longer by one-third more than its mate, and the next pair builds recursively upon this ratio, building up a pentatonic scale. Thus the movements of the galvanometer playing Panhuysen's earlier work act more or less as heartbeats to animate and excite the very transcendental Pythagorean ratios of his long wires - tugging on heartstrings, so to speak.
These paired resonant frequencies create a series of "doubles" -both in the sense of filtered versions of, or variations on Panhuysen's earlier works and in the sense of pairs of strings. Like the doubles that haunt literature and art in the earliest age of electricity, they serve to remind us of the threads of perception, memory and matter that unite in music.
(c) 1997 Paul DeMarinis