Drip Music with Mr. Coffee
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My intent in this piece was to explore what might loosely be called "dip music" of the kind done by George Brecht and John Cage in the 1960's. The elements I wanted to address were: (1) the water would be self sustaining in the sense that the supply would be something I didn't have to attend to during the course of the gallery installation, (2) I wanted the sound envelope to encompass only one basic category (e.g., not ocean, stream, bubbles and rain all mixed together), (3) I wanted a syncopated rhythm to be part of it, and (4) I wanted a subtle element of ongoing unpredictability, but not so chaotic that listeners didn't at least try to search for some pattern.

After some experimentation and testing (and burned hands!), a coffee maker and the sound of water dripping on coffee paraphernalia is what I came up with. Be careful if you hack a coffee maker, the near output is scalding steam.

The supply requirement was satisfied by asking visitors to "make coffee" if they wanted to hear any sounds. This also added a nice element of unpredictability since each "pot of coffee" was different in terms of how much water was used, it's temperature, etc. A large floor fan came on every few minutes and blew on the drippers causing the drops to veer unpredictably from their intended path and hit the paraphernalia in slightly different spots, often causing slightly different sounds. All these things combined assured that no two "performances" (pots of coffee) were ever exactly the same.

Each performance reminded me of a rainstorm. It begins with just thunder but fairly quickly develops into a downpour. It tapers off to a steady rain and then drizzles for the rest of the day. Finally, stillness with only a very occasional drop.

Performances lasted between 30 and 70 minutes. The one on the video above is over 61 minutes. The peak loudness is between 7 and 10 minutes. The drip rate then tapers off to a moderate level between minutes 14 and 22. After that, it gets very slow but still continues on for 40 more minutes. However, in order to keeps the file size manageable, after the first five minutes the rest of the video consists of only 3 samples of the dripping, one each during the above periods, and a single image with a time indicator.

If you'd like to hear or download the entire 61 minutes in QuickTime ACC compressed audio (21.7 MB), click here to go to a download page. There you can scrub along and sample various timeframes. But I'm sorry to say, since this file is fairly large it may take a while to download.

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