P H A N T O M   B E L L

Site-specific installation. 33-minute composition, looped; 4 speakers, 1 subwoofer, color gels.
Commissioned by Espacio de Arte Contemporaneo, Montevideo, Uruguay, 2011

This work combines sounds that resemble tinnitus interpreted from tinnitus sufferers’ descriptions of the sounds they hear, with verbal accounts of their subjective reactions to their tinnitus. It was installed in a darkened cell in the museum - a former panoptic prison.

Phantom Bell explores tinnitus, a hearing condition in which people hear sounds that have no outside or inside physical source. Tinnitus is therefore not a sound that can be recorded or objectively heard. Perhaps therefore it becomes the most intimate sound of all. This work aims to portray a non-existing yet present sound.
When interviewing tinnitus sufferers about what they hear, Kirkegaard found that they don’t all hear the same sound. On the contrary, these phantom sounds are very individual and vary a lot from person to person. Some experience various extended tones and others abrupt noise.
Jacob Kirkegaard interviewed nine musicians, all of whom have tinnitus, and asked them to describe their tinnitus as precisely as they could in terms of pitch, frequency, timbre, loudness etc. Since tinnitus for most people is an unwanted phenomenon - a sound they would prefer not to hear - it became obvious to have them really concentrate on it and describe it in depth. From their descriptions Kirkegaard worked on producing a sound that would resemble their tinnitus as precisely as possible and played these sounds to them until they said, “Yes, that's how it sounds inside my ears.”
He also asked them to describe what associations their tinnitus evoked. And everyone could give vivid and precise descriptions. It could be a foggy space, a horizon with a thin sharp grey line. Or a metal tube with frost crystals on the edges.
From these extensive interviews Kirkegaard produced nine compositions. In each one the tinnitus sound that he had created runs continuously, overlaid from time to time with the voice of the person describing the associations connected to her tinnitus.