Joseph Ott (1929-1990):  Five Environmental Projects

Five Environmental Projects consists of five descriptions of physical situations - passages or rooms - in which electronically produced sounds are activated by a person moving through the environment. Ott explains his motivation and concept in notes, "My concern, interest and enthusiasm lies in the prospect of conceiving of situations (and carrying them out) wherein the "audience" can freely manipulate and construct their own personalized experience. This is my main concern now. I think what I envision would not even be considered music by any traditional standards (but should be, perhaps) because it can be a sound experience in every sense as profound and by its nature as personal as any traditional conceptions have been", July 14, 1970.

The first two projects consist of a tunnel and a maze. A variety of sounds are continuously and repetitively transmitted through a large number of loudspeakers mounted in the walls and ceilings. As the participant walks through, his experience could be likened to that of a waiter hearing snatches of different conversations and voices as he walks through a crowded restaurant. The sound texture is created and affected by the mixture of sounds between loudspeakers, and by the spill-over effects from other parts of the tunnel and maze. The participant controls the length of his personal "sound composition" by the speed at which he travels through the environment. The third project provides a similar experience with radio transmitters instead of walls and loudspeakers. The participant is given a portable radio receiver and constructs the sound experience by walking through a series of small, overlapping, radio transmission areas.

In the fourth project, a suspended series of steel balls set in motion by the participant function as electrical switches which control and activate the pitches on an electronic organ. A second set of steel balls controls the tone colors, or organ stops. A rhythmic dimension is added by the sound made when the steel balls contact.

Light and color, as well as sound, are used in the fifth project. The environment described is a circular room with electronic sensors in the walls. As an object or the participant moves towards the walls, a pitch is activated. The volume of the pitch rises in proportion to the participant's proximity to the wall: the closer the participant goes to the wall, the louder the pitch becomes. These sounds in turn activate a series of different colored lights. The intensity of the lights corresponds to the intensity of the volume of sound. A kaleidoscope of color and tonal clusters and intensities is created as the participant moves throughout the room.

The room also includes a "dead spot", or an area in which the participant may stand without activating the sensors. It is suggested that a group of participants be placed inside the room within this "dead spot". No prior directions or descriptions of the room's qualities are to be given. The overhead lights are then turned off, leaving the room in darkness. As the participants becomes uncomfortable and move or make sound, the sensors are activated. The participants discover and create both an individual and a group sound experience by exploring the environment.

Five Environmental Projects PDF