Sounding Space: The Olduvai Cliff, Sam Griffin in collaboration with Guy Wood and Jo Wills

Mon 16 January 2012 6-9pm

  • The Olduvai Cliff Installation at the AF Project Space, January 2012
  • The Olduvai Cliff Installation at the AF Project Space, January 2012
  • The Olduvai Cliff. Installation at Gallery Vela, London, July 2011

Launching a new series of events exploring the relationship between sound and space, an installation from artist Sam Griffin, in collaboration with musicians Guy Wood and Jo Wills flooded The Architecture Foundation’s Project Space with a sea of bass.

For one night only – and on the day statistically noted to be the most depressing of the year, ‘Blue Monday’ – the AF reverberated at 111Hz, a frequency known to induce endorphins in human physiology. Here, sound was used to transform the physical environment, creating a temporary, invisible, yet penetrating architecture.

Griffin’s sonic topography reacted to the space in which it was inserted, creating a changing aural landscape as much felt as heard, as its frequencies – carefully calibrated in response to the specific dimensions of the AF Project Space – refracted in stereo around the space.

The installation’s title referenced the apocalyptic Olduvai Theory – which suggests industrial civilisation will have a lifespan of less than 100 years due to overpopulation, economic burnout, and the depletion of natural resources. The theory’s author, Richard C. Duncan, noted 2012 as the tipping point, or cliff, after which we should expect ‘an epidemic of permanent blackouts worldwide… [until] finally the electric power networks themselves expire.’ 

Sound and light combined for the psychologically darkest evening of an allegedly apocalyptic year. 

Architecture has long served as a vehicle for broadening the horizons of sensory experience, and the spaces we have designated for moments of ritualized sensory activation, rapture, often posit themselves as total environments, gesamskünstwerks – which require the intervention of the human body, and in particular sound, to allow them to function.

111hz and its surrounding frequencies are known to alter human brain function, inducing a temporary switch in dominance from left to right hemispheres. This effect stimulates the portion of the brain that governs mood, and stimulates the release of Beta-Endorphins – the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of wellbeing and relaxation. It is also worth noting that as a sound, 111hz is easily within the human vocal range.

The Olduvai Cliff is therefore composed of two interventions in the gallery space, one visual and one acoustic, acting in concert to re-propose the architecture of the gallery as a space of ritual behaviour and expanded consciousness. The acoustic properties of the gallery environment are exploited via a sound composition that combines the resonant frequencies of the room itself with an arrangement built around the pleasure-inducing frequency of 111hz; thus creating reverberations that are felt as much as heard.

This crypt finds its visual focal point in a neon outline of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Projection – the flattened version of the polyhedral shape created by the mathematician to display a map of the world. Here it is re-purposed as a religious symbol – geometric shorthand for Fuller’s holistic acknowledgement of the finite nature of natural resources, the dangers of fossil fuel use, and the necessity of regarding Spaceship Earth a single interdependent ecosystem; with the resultant Dymaxion Map serving as a footnote in Fuller’s quest to point out the fragile nature of human existence, and to devise strategies to avoid a cataclysmic future.

This preoccupation with ideas of progress vs eschatology, faith and the shortcomings of human exploitation of the environment are echoed in the title of the installation: The Olduvai Cliff is a reference to the predicted moment of imminent Malthusian catastrophe within the Olduvai Theory, an extrapolative analysis that suggests a combination of fossil fuel depletion, a peak in global food production and population growth will lead to global energy and health crises within the next 20 years.

Sam Griffin 

Download press release here