sonovac [the sound sweep]

sonovac 2 sonovac box sonovac aboveimages of the constructed sonovac for the forthcoming sound installation…


The Sound Sweep – A Phonotextual Reduction


The Sound Sweep – A Phonotextual Reduction


Paul J. Rogers

Original text by J. G. Ballard




endless din of traffic

jostling horns

shrilling tyres

plunging brakes and engines that hammered

clapping of her phantoms

sourceless applause

tumultuous ovation

sounds of a door slam

partition collapsing

kettle whistling

a grunt or two

Madame Gioconda’s pitiful moanings

listen to her reminiscences and plans for revenge

applause was growing stormier

the boos and catcalls more vicious

‘They’re still clapping’ she shrieked

seven muted pads, the dull echoes of his footsteps across the floor.

a low threshing noise like blurred radio static

the repetition muffled them


voiceless condition

hooted with pleasure

ultrasonic music

the human voice – indeed audible music of any type – had gone completely out of fashion.

A greater range of octaves, chords and chromatic scales than are audible by the human ear, provided a direct neural link between the sound stream and the auditory lobes, generating an apparently sourceless sensation of harmony, rhythm, cadence and melody uncontaminated by the noise and vibration of audible music.


the majestic rhythms of Beethoven

the popular melodies of Tchaikovsky

the complex fugal elaborations of Bach

the abstract images of Schoenberg

raised in frequency above the threshold of conscious audibility

became inaudible

the human voice … its sounds were produced by non-mechanical means

neurophonic engineer

Radio programmes consisting of nothing but silence

the silence was golden

a pleasant atmosphere of rhythm and melody seemed to generate itself spontaneously around them

its frequencies were so high they left no resonating residues in solid structures

no need to call in the sound sweep

After an audible performance of most symphonic music, walls and furniture throbbed for days with disintegrating residues that made the air seem leaden and tumid, an entire room uninhabitable

One 30-second SP record delivered as much neurophonic pleasure as a natural length recording, but with deeper penetration, greater total impact

vocalizing on radio commercials




beautiful sonic matrices rich with seven centuries of Gregorian chant, overlaid by the timeless tolling of the Angelus

a mellow deeply textured hymn

draining from the walls of the Oratory all extraneous and discordant noises – coughing, crying, the clatter of coins and mumble of prayer – leaving behind the chorales and liturgical chants which enhanced their devotional overtones

buzzed softly with the echoing chatter of guests

confident male tones

repetitions of ‘dahling’

a dim insect hum

the ultrasonic trumpet he was playing

a brisk allegretto sequence

brilliant arpeggios

fantastic glissandos which raced up twenty octaves

escalators of electronic chords interweaved the original scale


sonic resonances will build up to a critical point

Mangon’s muteness

hatred of noise

one nearly finished symphony

Opus Zero


piano accompaniment

She wants to SING

Strangled sounds quavered in his throat




the sound truck

the traffic hammered along the flyover, dinning down on to the cobbled walls

regretted his muteness

the words leapt out from the walls, nearly deafening him with their force


trying to screen his ears

vicious sonic scars

muffled rhythms and intonations of her voice

the sounds of LeGrande’s abuse dinned the air

she hummed to herself melodically

you can hear complete conversations hours after they have taken place?

the abuse screaming out into the air

an old gramophone

playing operatic selections

murmured affectionately

trilled out a light recitative from Figaro

A place of strange echoes and festering silences, overhung by a gloomy miasma of a million compacted sounds

a pounding niagra of airliners

the piercing whistle of jets

the ceaseless mind-sapping roar that hangs like a vast umbrella

odd sounds

an unbroken phonic high

a nightmarish cataract of noise

the howling of cats and dogs

the multi lunged tumult of cars, express trains, fairgrounds and aircraft

the cacophonic musique concrete of civilisation

her voice had frozen

no sounds emerged

a faint squeak

‘. . . aaauuuoooh,’ Madame Gioconda heard herself groan

discordant sounds coming from the stockades





party noises

laughter and small talk


a continuous state of uproar

a crowd in a football stadium

voices chattered and whined fretfully

thin nervous tones

a baby bellowed

background murmur of countless TV programmes

patter of announcers,

monotones of race track commentators

the shrieking of audience sof quiz shows, all pitched up an octave

a shot rang out

screams and shouting

she heard nothing

a battery of washing machines chuntered to themselves

a cash register slammed

a dim almost sub-threshold echo of 60-cycle hum from an SP record-player

voice was gasping

Bartok all over the place

Paul Merril’s voice



unyielding bite of the tycoon’s voice

echoes of LeGrande’s voice

then he heard

speaking at rapid dictation speed

the cry spilt the air like the blade of a guillotine

a tremendous whoop of triumph

I can talk

his voice was gruff, then seesawed into a treble

let out an ear shattering shout. ‘I CAN TALK! HEAR ME!’

‘you gave me back my voice’

‘it’s a wonderful voice’

Sotto voce


a loud ‘Ole!’

incessant chatter

mouthing silently at the air like a stranded fish


a sonic revival


bolted out the traffic noises below

she’s going to sing in the middle of Opus Zero

an ancient sonic grand

it sounded like a cat being strangled

her voice will never reach it

enjoying a neurophonic experience of sufficient beauty and power





the gramaphone played scratchy sonic selections from Traviata

her spoken voice, unless she was being particularly sweet, was harsh and uneven


shouted at the top of his voice

hear anything?

nothing, no vibration at all

‘Fiivvveeee! . . . Foouuurrr! . . . Thrreeeeee! . . . Twoooooo! . . . Onnneeee . . . !’

‘she sang her greatest roles at La Scala. That’s the voice she hears, the voice she’ll probably always hear.’


Then he heard it screaming at him from the walls, violent and concise

tried to shout as the walls seemed to fall in on him, but his throat had frozen


Mangon could hear the sounds of the audience

a hubbub of well-heeled chatter

oblique atmospheric shifts cut through the air as the players on the stage tuned their instruments

he lifted out the sonovac

the audience quietened

a round of applause

a rhythmic ultrasonic pressure wave pulsed past

a strange mesmeric echo that held his attention

the wave form pulsing through the cue-box stopped, then soared off in a continuous unbroken crescendo

as the sound burst from her throat Mangon’s finger locked rigidly against the trigger guard

a shattering blast of sound ripped through his ears, followed by a slightly higher note that appeared to strike a hidden ridge half-way along its path, wavered slightly, then recovered and sped on, like an express train crossing lines

the voice exploded in his brain, flooding every nexus of cells with its violence.

an insane parody of a classical soprano. harmony, purity, cadence had gone

rough and cracked, it jerked sharply from one high note to a lower, its breath intervals uncontrolled, sudden precipices of gasping silence which plunged through the volcanic torrent, dividing it into a loosely connected sequence of bravura passages

the Toreador song from Carmen

she slipped into an extempore humming, then broke out of this into a final climactic assault

switching off their instruments

could hear individual voices in the intervals when Madam Gioconda refilled her lungs

someone hammered on the door

listened  for a moment to the caterwauling above, which was now being drowned by the mounting vocal opposition of the audience

his voice had died

still singing, her voice inaudible in the uproar from the auditorium

banging on the rail

a great white angel of discord on her homeward flight

in his ears the sounds of Madam Gioconda singing echoed like an insane banshee

he switched on the sonovac under the dashboard, turned it full on, then started the engine and drove off into the night


Wisdom is sold in the Desolate Market

What is the price of Experience? do men buy it for a song?
Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children.
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,
And in the wither’d field where the farmer plows for bread in vain.

William Blake