negative expanse (2017)

For amplified string quartet and 8-channel speaker environment

Composed by Jon Kulpa

Performed by Friction Quartet

Commissioned by Sounds of Science Commissioning Club

Audio production and installation by Jeremy Wagner

Commissioned by Sounds of Science Commissioning Club and Friction Quartet, negative expanse explores through sound what might exist at the event horizon and interior of a black hole.  Throughout the piece, the amplified quartet interacts with sampled sounds and other electronics played through eight speakers positioned around the space (4 on the outer perimeter facing inward, and 4 at the center facing outward). The players begin at four corners outside the audience, conveying a scene outside the event horizon where matter is becoming exponentially redshifted as it falls inward. To coordinate events when the players are physically spread out, a cueing system was constructed, sounding in the players' headphones, marking entrances, cutoffs and details in between.  The audience was encouraged to walk around the three-floor atrium of the UC Berkeley Hearst Memorial Mining Building as the piece was performed to observe the experience from different vantages.

Twice during the piece, electronic music takes over, allowing each player to physically move their position towards the center.  The music gradually becomes more frenetic and high-pitched to depict the infinite blueshifting of energy.  Time sometimes folds back on itself, a counterpoint involving the arrow of time.  Ultimately, the quartet converges upon the center of the performance space (inside the inner ring of speakers).  There, the music speculates about what happens to energy as it approaches the central singularity; upon reaching this inevitable point of infinite density, time is nearly frozen except for quantum particles zipping in and out of existence and tunneling into other universes. 

Programmed as part of Spaced Out at the UC Berkeley Hearst Memorial Mining Building

Special thanks to Eric Paulos (UC Berkeley Department of EECS) for supporting the event and Silvia Matheus for video documentation.

Additional Project Images