Vermittlung Magazin

Put right ear to glass and listen

Liza Lim

ist Direktorin des CERENEM an der Universität für Huddersflield. Die Komponistin erhielt Aufträge von Institutionen wie dem Sydney Symphony Orchestra, den Salzburger Festspielen, den Donaueschinger Musiktagen u.v.m.. 2012 war sie Mitglied der Akademie der Künste der Welt in Köln.

The impulse to touch the world through listening lies at the heart of Pia Palme’s compositions: through her work one becomes acutely conscious of the tactile role of vibrating membranes in the production and translation of sound.  In ‘Bare Branches’ (2012), a requiem work for spatialised vocalists with percussion and electronics, the solo singers must locate themselves within a sonic score heard through headphones and reproduce the sounds they hear. A finely-tuned concentration is required and through this, the singers make available their bodies as a filtering device through which an intimate world of sounds unheard by the audience is brought forth into a space. The performer’s body is used as a highly calibrated bio-device for mediating sounds that are excited in the inner ear by the hidden membranes of the amplifying headset. The singer translates these private experiences using their vocal apparatus, manifesting their hearing in the act of performance for other listeners. This practice of acute perception and translation between and through the body, materials and a wider environment can also be seen in the deceptively simple work ‘Boundary layer’ (2013). In this work, the glass wall stretching from floor to ceiling in the Creative Arts Building at the University of Huddersfield is transformed into a listening station with the instruction ‘Put right ear to glass and listen’ written in pen on the glass. The structure of the inner ear is extrapolated to a glass membrane in a work that invites the listener to co-opt an architectural feature to listen to the sounds of a public space. As one presses up against the transparent surface with the ear’s skin suctioned onto the glass, the wall becomes a prosthesis to the body: filtering, muffling and amplifying sounds in unfamiliar ways and putting one in vibrating contact with the act of listening.


There may well be a visual element to the music but I think Pia Palme’s work also shows us a modality of perception of sound akin to the way deaf people might hear – the whole body becomes a giant eardrum in contact with the sensual reverberations of the world.