Riccardo Giacconi

In Thin Air is a series of works on background noise, focusing on the fluid and gradual articulation between figure (language, sign, message) and ground (white noise, unperceived stimulus).


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In Thin Air (Santa Caterina)
sound installation, 2009



“A now-famous anecdote tells of Cage visiting NASA’s soundproof room at Harvard University. Expecting absolute silence, he instead heard two sounds: one high and one low. The first, he was told, was his nervous system, the second his circulatory system. Even silence could not be silent.”





The organ of the small church of Santa Caterina, in Banna, was used as a machine instead of an instrument for sacred music. Being the organ electrically driven, I employed masking tape to block its lowest and highest keys so that they would constantly produce a sound.

The result was a continuous background noise within the church, at first hardly ascribable to the organ. The noise was composed by a low rumble and a high-pitched hiss, the two sound limits of the organ – the closest to human inaudibility.


Exhibited at Fondazione Spinola Banna per l'Arte, Banna, Italy (2009).










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In Thin Air (Duo)
two-channel sound installation, 2011




Installation view, Galleria A+A, Venezia, Italy



The installation comprises the recording of the most low-pitched sound emitted by the two most low-pitched wind instruments of the classical orchestra: the contrabassoon and the contrabass tuba. Such sounds are the limits of the orchestra, the closest ones to inaudibility.

Each sound source within the installation reproduces a low-pitched, dull and continuous sound, not immediately noticeable. They resemble background noises produced in everyday life environments: fridges, heating and ventilation systems, motors.

In thin air presents a variable intensity:
 in a sinusoidal trend, it ranges from hardly perceivable to very loud. This range (from maximum to minimum to maximum again) takes 12 minutes to be completed, and it repeats itself in loop. The perception of the space differs depending on the moment of the sound range when the viewer enters the space.

The work is both readable and non-readable, depending on the moment when it is experienced. The distinction is gradual: the sound continuously covers the intensity range and oscillates between its two statuses: figure and ground.







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In Thin Air (Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation)
sound installation, 2011





Sound installation composed of background noises recorded in the empty exhibition space of the Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation (“Resistance and Deportation History Centre”) in Lyon, housed in the very building previously used as the headquarters of the Gestapo Nazi police, during the German occupation.

The sounds are reproduced with a variable intensity: in a sinusoidal trend, they range from hardly perceivable to very loud. This range (from maximum to minumum to maximum again) takes 12 minutes to be completed, and it repeats itself in loop. In this way, the perception of the space is different, depending on the point of the sound range when the viewer enters the exhibition space.


The installation was presented in Lyon at Les Subsistances, as part of the Résonance program of the 2011 Lyon Biennial.