Squeezing Sorrow from an Ashtray


1.  Title:

"We know the air is filled with vibrations that we can't hear.  In Variations VII, I tried to use sounds from that inaudible environment.  But we can't consider environment as an object.  We know that it's a process.  While in the case of the ashtray, we are indeed dealing with an object.  It would be extremely interesting to place it in a little anechoic chamber and listen to it through a suitable sound system.  Object would become process; we would discover, thanks to a procedure borrowed from science, the meaning of nature through the music of objects."   — John Cage


2.  Voice, Computer Animation

We've been working on ashtrays for a couple of months now. Basically, we put an ashtray in the chamber and subject it to a series of pulses of a specific frequency. Sensors placed around the chamber pick up the resulting sound waves. This information is sent to a computer which mathematically subtracts the original pulses, so whatever is left over is the sound of the ashtray. So far we've tried eleven ashtrays and found most of them don't really produce much in the way of sound. One ashtray though produced a remarkably coherent set of information that could only be described as musical.


3.  Shot/Counter-Shot (ashtray and scientist)

Q: So that's the ashtray in question.

A: Yes, it's a crystal ashtray produced in Vienna around 1906.

Q: Why do you think this ashtray produces music while the others you've tested barely emit noise?

A: We think it has something to do with the crystal lattice structure. But keep in mind the ashtray doesn't emit its music directly. Rather it produces a series of inaudible sound waves which we translate into mathematical formulae.  If we discover pattern and coherency in these formulas we can translate the information into a traditional music score. With different algorithms we might have found all the ashtrays produce music.

Q: Can we hear some of this music?

A: Sure.  [Music plays for 2 min.]

Q: Why is the music so sad?

A: The ashtray, after all, comes from Vienna, before the wars.

Q: What will you be working on next?

A: Goblets.


[To see this video, click here.]