Fellow student Luke Loeffler and I both presented Richard Serra and Nancy Holt’s 1974 “Boomerang” audio/video piece to separate classes at CMU. A delay line is used to throw Holt’s voice back at just the right speed to where her brain becomes confused and her speech and comprehension slows. She is filmed on live television as she explains the experience.
We made a simple Pure Data patch which replicates the experience. Plug in a microphone and headphones (preferably closed ear types) and give it a shot.
EDIT: The original patch was using a 100 ms delay. Later on I was told the original piece used 283 ms, calculated form research into cognitive perception, etc. I have updated the speed and, indeed, the effect is much more pronounced.
I took the Pd patch and then made an RjDj scene which can be run on an iPhone or iPod Touch. RjDj is a “reactive music” environment that runs live, interactive songs.
Install RjDj on the App Store and download Boomerang from the Soundtrips section. The effect works really well with earbuds, just make sure to turn up the volume. You can also make recordings and upload them to RjDj if you create an account.
Here is a transcription I made of the original video as source material:
Yes, I can hear my echo and the words are coming back on on top of me. The words are spilling out of my head and then returning into my ear.
It puts a distance between the words and their apprehension or their comprehension. The words coming back seem slow. They don’t seem to have the same forcefulness as when I speak them. I think it’s also slowing me down. I think that it makes my thinking slower. I have a double-take on myself. I am once removed from myself. I am thinking and hearing and filling up a vocal void. I find that I have trouble making connections between thoughts.
I think that the words forming in my mind are somewhat detached from my normal thinking process. I have a feeling that I am not where I am. I feel that this place is removed from reality, although it is a reality already removed from the normal reality. The words keep tumbling out because I want to hear them. I want to hear my own words pouring back in on top of me.
It is …
- some sound samples are played: footsteps, several short snippets of a woman’s voice
It is … I am hearing other things … coming in on me. There is something else besides my own that I am hearing. The words become like things. I am throwing things out into the world and they are boomeranging back. Boomeranging. Boomeranging back. The words bounce and come again, I hear an empty space. My voice or the microphone system lost a word or two that I spoke.
- voice off camera
- the video signal cuts off and there is the sound of tape being rewound
I just had to wait for 60 seconds to come back on. Which makes me think about the difference between instantaneous time in words and delayed time. Instantaneous time is an immediate perception, whereas delayed time is more like a mirror reflection. Reflection. Reflection. A mirror reflection. Delayed time puts another …
I don’t hear my own voice again. I’ve lost the words.
- delay cuts off
- voice off camera: “We ran out of tape, just keep talking”
So now, since they’re changing tape.
- delay returns
Now I think it’s starting to work again, but for a while I heard only my own voice at the time that I was speaking. But now I hear my own voice slightly delayed coming back in on top of me so that I am surrounded by me and my mind surrounds me. My mind goes out into the world and then comes back inside of me. There is no escape. It is a constantly revolving, involuting experience. Sometimes I find that I can’t quite say a word because I hear the first part of it come back and I forget the second part or my mind is stimulated in a new direction by the first half of the word.
The lights are shining down on me while I am speaking about these things. These lights contribute a rather substance, substance-less reality to this situation. The light in it’s immateriality is like the sound in its immateriality. The light hits me and reflects off of me into the camera. The words leave me and are reflected back into my ear and into your ear. You are hearing and seeing a world of double reflections and refractions.
Time in this isolated capsule of television experience is cut off from time as we usually experience it.