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Sam Griffin: The Olduvai Cliff

On the 'Blue Monday' of the year of the supposed apocalypse, the sound artist plays with reverberating bass at 111Hz, the frequency known to induce endorphins in human bodies

Launching with an unsettling sonic installation from artist Sam Griffin, aimed to create a 'communal transcendental experience', London's Architecture Foundation will be running a new series of events exploring the relationship between sound & space. In collaboration with musicians Guy Wood and Jo Wills, the project space was flooded with a sea of bass for one night - on the day statistically claimed to be the most depressing of the year (16th January), ‘Blue Monday’. Griffin set off soundwaves reverberating at 111Hz in the Foundation, a frequency known to induce endorphins in human physiology, to transform the physical environment into a temporary and invisible architectural structure.

I came across the relationship between 111hz and certain buildings after reading about 'archaeoacoustic' research that Paul Devereux had been conducting at neolithic buildings, where they found that the interior spaces of these buildings were resonating at between 110 and 112 hz, which is pretty strange coincidence, when you consider how old they are.  

The installation’s title, The 'Olduvai Cliff' is in reference to the apocalyptic Olduvai Theory – which calculates the lifespan of industrial civilisation as less than 100 years due to overpopulation and the depletion of natural resources. Richard C. Duncan, who devised the theory, noted the year 2012 as the tipping point, or 'cliff', after which we should expect ‘an epidemic of permanent blackouts worldwide'.

We spoke to Griffin about working with sound in art and his research behind 'archeoacoustic' theories which helped form the installation...

Dazed Digital: How did you first get into working with sound and what processes did you have to go through to discover the correct frequencies at which to play with?
Sam Griffin:
I've been working with sound for about three years now, and the installation that is being shown at the Architecture Foundation is a continuation of a project that Guy and I originally worked on for a show in Paris in 2009. I started working with sound after becoming interested in the acoustic properties of buildings that are used to create various kinds of communal transcendental experience - be it a Neolithic burial chamber, a Gothic church, a concert hall, or even a rave. In each case, sound plays a key part in activating the experience of being within these particular architectural spaces.

I came across the interesting relationship between 111hz and certain buildings after reading about the 'archaeoacoustic' research that Paul Devereux had been conducting at Cairn T and at other neolithic buildings, where they had found that the interior spaces of these buildings were resonating at between 110 and 112 hz, which is pretty strange coincidence, when you consider how old they are.   

DD: Have you tried out this frequency yourself and what were the results?
Sam Griffin: Yes I've tried it many times - I'd say it's gotten more potent the more we've developed the score of the sound element in the installation, as it's grown to use more properties of the rooms it has been shown been shown in previously. The piece now uses the resonant frequencies and harmonics of the height, width and length of the room, so it can be almost oppressive at times. It's a bit like the sonic equivalent of eating too much dessert - it can be quite cloying.

DD: Do you think there is a danger to the human body in playing with sound on such an epic scale?
Sam Griffin: Well, it's great to have the Architecture Foundation space to house the installation, but for the resonant parts of the score to work, the space actually can't be too big. The original spaces where this kind of phenomenon was observed are actually quite intimate. But the sound system we are using on this occasion is the most powerful so far, so it will be really interesting to see how this affects the space and how this in turn affects the people who come along.

DD: The formula for 'Blue Monday' takes into factors like weather and economic issues… how much do you believe in the accuracy of such a calculation?
Sam Griffin: That's a difficult question to answer, as it's probably different for everyone, but I do like the idea of statistics singling out this kind of emotional nadir that falls in the middle of winter. The formula for finding the date of Blue Monday is also calculated in part by adding mathematical expressions for the weather and for debt together, so then maybe our exceptionally mild winter has been offset by the severity of the current financial crisis?   
DD: What do you think will be the biggest / most important changes to come in your life for 2012?
Sam Griffin: I will be a 33 year old skateboarder from March 23rd onwards. Thank goodness for Osteopathy.  
DD: What else will you be working on?
Sam Griffin: I have a solo show at Gallery Vela in March, and then have work showing in The Draughtsman's Contract - a touring show that starts at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh in May and continues on to Berlin and other cities later in 2012.