N A G A R A S # 2

NAGARAS ("drum" or "kettle drum") is the title of a series of eight photographs shot on an expedition into the deserts of Oman in December 2008. The work explores a sonic phenomenon that only occurs in a few deserts around the world: The Singing Sands. These particular desert sounds have been witnessed for many centuries by various travelers, including Marco Polo. "Nagaras" is one of the words used in early tales and rumors to describe the phenomenon:

"Between these plains is a small hill in which there is a line of sandy ground, reaching from the top to the bottom of the hill. They called it 'Khawajeh-reg-rewan'. They say that in the summer season the sound of drums and 'Nagaras' issues from this sand." (Memoirs of Babur, 1590)

“...And so I came at length to the other end of the valley, and there I ascended a hill of sand and looked around me. But nothing could I descry, only I still heard those 'nagaras’ to play, which were played so marvelously." (Friar Odoric, 16th century)
The photographs aim to capture momentary visual fragments of the millions of sand grains which, in joint movement, emit such "marvelous" sounds









Jacob Kirkegaard's works for the present exhibition were inspired by two eminent figures in the history of sound studies, Athanasius Kircher and Ernst Chladni,  and their experimental approaches to exploring and visually manifesting sound generated from matter in motion. While Kircher subjected liquids to vibration in order to demonstrate how music "moves" matter (and by extension the mind), Kirkegaard works with the vibrations within copper, iron and brass plates to show how each material can "mirror" its own resonant characteristics. Vibrating metal plates were also used by Chladni, who coated them with sand in order to examine the different visual patterns created by different frequencies; this aspect is further explored in Kirkegaard's photographic stills of the "Singing Sands" phenomenon, where the medium of sand is represented both as a source and as a trace of sonic vibration.

In his book "Phonurgia Nova" ("new ways of sound production"), the Jesuit physician and scientist Athanasius Kircher (1602 - 1680) analyzes and illustrates how different "humors" or temperaments are affected by musical vibrations: Each matter and each person will be "moved" differently by the same music, according to their different resonant characteristics. Kircher “proved” this in an experiment with five glass goblets, each filled with a different liquid (water, wine, blood, etc.) representing the character of one of the five "humors". When a moistened finger was rubbed around the rims of the glasses, producing a musical tone, each fluid was set in a different degree of motion.

Jacob Kirkegaard's PHONURGIA METALLIS ("sound production through metals") takes up this proposition of Kircher's. Three metal plates (copper, brass, and iron) are caused to vibrate through their own subtle resonant activity, which is being amplified and played back simultaneously. Even though the three plates are of exactly the same size and will "mirror" the same sounds from their environment, they turn out to be "affected" in different ways, for each matter has its own resonant "humor".

The question of whether there is a (visible) connection between sound, vibration and physical matter was explored more scientifically by Ernst Chladni (1756-1827), a German musician and physicist who is often referred to as the "father of acoustics". Chladni observed that when a metal plate covered with sand was made to vibrate by running a violin bow across it, a pattern emerged in the sand, which would visualize the nodal regions of the vibrations. In this way Chladni managed not only to prove that sound affects physical matter in a measurable, repeatable manner, he also created a visualization of sound.

The photographic work presented in this exhibition can be understood, in a number of ways, as an artistic reference to the "Chladni plates". NAGARAS ("drum") is a series of attempts to look more closely at sound through the traces of movement in sand. However, in contrast to Chladni's symmetrical, documentary and predictable representations of "frozen" patterns, Kirkegaard's still images of momentary patterns were shot while the sand was in rapid motion, actively emitting sound from within itself. They attempt to visualize the rare and fleeting process of natural sound production known as "The Singing Sands".

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