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Psychoacoustic Cinema (2018)

An installation at the James Turrell Skyspace The Color Inside

Conceived and executed while a member of the Rolling Ryot spatial sound collective. Created and performed in collaboration with Kyle Evans and Lyman Hardy III, and Barna Kantor. This project was generously supported by Landmarks UT, the City of Austin Cultural Arts Division and Big Medium.

Project Description


The human sensory system is an evolutionary marvel. It accepts environmental stimulus and delivers it to the brain where electro-chemical signals are interpreted, as perceptions of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. We rely on our senses for survival, communication, and entertainment. We rarely take objective, intellectual notice of them in our waking lives…until our ability to sense is somehow disrupted.

James Turrell’s work is deeply influenced by his interest in perceptual phenomena. His work with color fields – in particular the Skyspaces – play at the edges of the Ganzfeld effect, a natural response of the human visual system to generate hallucinated images when deprived of visual stimulus. This effect has been reported since the days of Pythagorus whose followers spent time in caves in order to generate the visions through which they expected to receive wisdom. These hallucinations are colloquially known as “the prisoner’s cinema”.


In the early 1960s cognitive scientist Roger Shepard discovered an analog to the Ganzfeld effect, an auditory hallucination known today as the Shepard tone. Whether crafted as scales or glissandos, this psychoacoustic phenomenon fools the human ear into hearing a perpetually rising or falling scale or tone. Psychoacoustic Cinema takes the Shepard tone as its foundation, much as The Color Inside leans on the Ganzfeld effect.

The Compositions

We perceive a marvelous analogy between Turrell’s color field effect of pure and imagined colors and the Shepard tone’s smear and blur of tonal pitch and direction. Is the sky blue or green? Is the tone I’m hearing rising or falling?


Each composer has taken his own approach to sonic interpretation of the Skyspace color experience. In three distinct segments, the work exhibits each composer's personality while exhibiting common elements: drones, minimal rhythmic content, and Shepard tones.


Each audio segment is also a generative work that evolves with the timing and color values of the Skyspace performance. A light sensor collects data in real time from the Turrell installation’s LED lights. This live stream of numbers is used as input to control parameters that shape the sound performance. Each composition uses this data in unique ways.


  • Arduino

  • Sparkfun RGB sensors

  • Max

  • Ableton Live

  • Various synthesizers and effects

photos by Neal Johnson, Thomas Meredith, Barna Kantor

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