Client: University of Wisconsin Health Systems
Location: Madison, WI, United States
Completion date: 2015
Artwork budget: $6,000
Simone and Max
Staff Electric Company Inc.
University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics
Music box melodies, environmental field recordings, and pink noise loop asynchronously to form ever-new permutations in Sound Installation for UW Hospital, a generative sound composition conceived as an 'audioanxiolytic.'
The piece was commissioned by the University of Wisconsin Health Systems for UW Hospital’s surgical waiting room - a sunlight atrium space for waiting families adjacent to an arterial corridor, bustling with hospital staff - where it is currently installed. After approaching the hospital with our concept for the space, they became interested in making the environment more calming for visitors of patients undergoing surgery, and combating noise pollution from the corridor as staff made their way to other areas of the hospital. Sound Installation for UW Hospital envelops and inhabits the space, without raising questions of the identification or visual embodiment of its source. Transduction speakers, which use vibrations to project sound from any surface to which they are attached, were installed above the ceiling tiles, to allow for each transducer to remain inconspicuous, thus minimizing the aesthetic impact on the space and allowing for an immersive environment of sound.
An empirical approach, informed by research in perioperative nursing, music psychology, and psychoacoustics, resulted in a series of compositional constraints based on recommendations for music interventions in clinical practice. These included: slow tempi linked to resting heart rates, long, descending, diatonic notes, nonlyrical instrumentation, the incorporation of natural sonic ephemera, and a maximum volume-level of 60 dB. According to the literature, patients exposed to perioperative music interventions report significantly lower pain and anxiety scores, require less pharmacological medication, and even exhibit physiological changes such as reduced heart rates, blood pressure, and cortisol levels (See for example:thecmf.org/pdfs/article-4.pdf).
Undeniable links to the Western classical lineage are present, especially the appropriation of folk melody. In this case, we recomposed melodic fragments of German, Mexican, African-American, and Hmong lullabies - the four most populous cultures of Dane County (in which UW-Hospital is located) - and altered them to adhere to the constraints laid out in the literature. Lullabies, as semi-empirical melodies passed down through generations to soothe human infants, were selected for their relevance to the overall concept of an anti-anxiety music. The resulting work represents the first site-specific sound installation at a public hospital in the United States.