Jason Kahn 
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Works for Radio
"San Antonio Beauty College"

Technique: low frequency sine waves, brown noise, bass tranducers, piezo speakers, amplifiers, cd players

vacant storefront
505 East Travis Street
San Antonio, Texas

February 21–March 20, 2009

I was invited to do a piece in a former beauty college in downtown San Antonio. Initially, the curator Ben Judson asked me to work in one of the cellar rooms but after seeing photos of the building's facade I decided that a piece taking advantage of the storefront's many plate glass windows would work better.

Other than taking along a couple very heavy duty bass transducers and a few dozen piezo loudspeakers in plastic housings, I didn't really know what I was going to do. Arriving at the site my ideas quickly fell into place--my basic premise was to activate the space in front of the beauty college in such a way that it didn't encroach on the existing sound environment while somehow accentuating it and creating a pocket of sound projecting from the storefront.

An inspiration for this piece was the book "Hörspiele für Architekten," which deals with how blind people orient themselves spatially through sound. One section of the book detailed how blind people hear a kind of sound vacuum as they walk by storefronts--literally feeling the field of sound drop around them. In "San Antonio Beauty College" I wanted to create a similar experience in a convex fashion, projecting a block of sound audible only when people walked by the storefront but extending no further than this (i.e., not blasting the entire street with sound).

I ended up affixing one bass transducer to two of the plate glass windows and worked with different frequency sine waves until I found the best tuning to vibrate the windows (50 Hz). This created the sensation of entering a physical sound entity when walking by the storefront. One felt the sound more than hearing it.

Under a concrete overhand above the storefront windows I mounted a series of piezo speakers in gray plastic housings. The advantage of these speakers is that they project high frequencies very well (and they are inexpensive). I wanted to find a sound which would accentuate two very loud ventilation ducts just up the street from the installation site. I wanted to integrate these ducts into the installation. After experimenting with different colors of noise I found that brown noise provided just enough contrast to the ducts without creating too aggressive of a presence (which would of been the case with white noise).

The low frequency sine waves from the transducers and the brown noise from the piezo speakers ran constantly, just like the ventilation ducts up the street. At times the piece disappeared in the sounds of traffic while during quieter times of the day it had more presence. The piece ran twenty-four hours a day for the lenghth of the exhibition.