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Ears of Dead People
Release date: 25.08.11
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Caroline Kraabel
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Caroline Kraabel (born 1961 in San Francisco) is a London-based American composer, improviser and saxophonist. She is known for her research into the implications of electricity related to recording, synthesis and amplification. After living in Seattle, Kraabel moved to London while in her teenage years, at the end of the punk era.[1] There she took up the saxophone and became active in London's improvised music scene, eventually developing a style based on the physicality of the instrument, extended techniques and acoustics. She has performed solo and collaborated with John Edwards, Veryan Weston,[2] Charlotte Hug, Maggie Nicols, [3] Phil Hargreaves, and the London Improvisors Orchestra[4] among others. She has also organized and conducted pieces for Mass Producers—a 20-piece, all-female saxophone/voice orchestra[5] and for Saxophone Experimentals in Space—a 55-piece group of young saxophonists, as well as with her two children during walks through the streets of London. Recordings include Transitions with Maggie Nichols and Charlotte Hug,[6] Five Shadows with Veryan Weston, Performances for Large Saxophone Ensemble 1 and 2 and Performances for Large Saxophone Ensemble 3 and 4 with Mass Producers and a solo work Now We Are One Two. Caroline Kraabel has been hosting a weekly radio show on London’s Resonance FM [7] and is the editor for the London Musicians Collective's magazine Resonance.



Ears of Dead People
A text by Caroline Kraabel,12 July 2005, London (UK)


This recorded music is for the ears of dead people only.

I offer and hope, with love and respect, to make carefully prepared short recordings of acoustic saxophone music, composed for the purpose, each one to be played back once only through headphones worn by a particular dead individual. The recordings will then be erased.

Neither I nor anyone living will ever hear these recordings and even I won't know what they sound like, because the microphone will be placed far inside the saxophone, in an acoustic microcosm that human ears cannot enter.

Please contact me if you would like to commission a recording.



18 July - 1 August 2005 , London (UK)


Having this idea wasn’t the hard thing. trying to contain it and then explain it - that’s what’s going to be hard.
I wrote down the barest outline, a description of what, physically, should happen. I felt proud of my accurate simple statement about a process. Usually knowing intentions weakens the idea and its audience, and stating intentions is almost a definition of failure.
But night after night I couldn’t sleep for thinking about this idea and for wondering how I would feel if someone I love died and I read this bald text offering to play unheard music to them through headphones.
I realised that it’s not enough that those who choose to put this idea into practice should accept it, because we all die and anyone who sees the text might be grieving. I must do all that I can to persuade everyone that my suggestion, a mild but heartfelt protest against death, is not only born of respect and sorrow for the dead, but in a small way exemplifies this respect. I also decided to suggest that other people than myself might make recordings like these at the request of their loved ones; and to offer what help I can to such people, including as extensive an explanation as I am able to make.


Recordings peel away like outgrown skins from the moments they are born with, though a lizard-skin, having been part of its former possessor, would tell you more about the lizard than any recording would about its subject. Sound or vision recordings made in instants often outlive (or outlast - recordings have little need to aspire to life) the people who feature in them, and those who initiate them, and the intentions of all. This, along with the identification many listeners or viewers experience, of the recording with its subject rather than with a time and point-of-view, means that recordings chip away at the relevance of the real complete flesh-and-blood human individuals who feature in them. Recordings almost always depend for their own relevance on a presumed continuity - not among those recorded, the significant aspects of whom are tacitly or overtly assumed to be preserved, but among the listeners or viewers, who are not recordings and therefore are vulnerable to change. There is a heartless complacency in taking for granted overall continuity among the consumers.


These living consumers and creators of recordings constantly seek to acquire more up-to-date recorded sounds and images, generating a continual reprinting and multiplying of each frame of the recent past - prints aglow with the pathos of novelty, instantly outdated and replaced. Access to recorded media necessarily means that our faculty of memory is in part externalised as we store in recordings information which previously we’d have had to choose to remember, or been forced to forget (who really remembers the precise contours of even much-loved voices and faces from their distant past?). We also import recordings into our neural memories, installing their second-hand images as experiences alongside those from our non-media lives.


What I’m trying to say is that functionally, recordings are OF the dead and FOR the living. I mean that even where the subject of a recording is still alive, the recording exists independently and indifferently; the audience is presumed to continue even though individual members die or come to harm, even between recording and dissemination.


This seems to me unjust to the living as well as to the dead, and although we cannot really redress the basic injustice, maybe we can give the dead something which is usually reserved for the living.


It is possible to make a recording that outlives its parent moment only briefly, ensuring that it doesn’t leak into the limbo of undifferentiated digital or other information. Perhaps not quite a living recording, but one renouncing too lengthy an undeath.


And it is possible to choose to play that recording only to the ears of a dead individual who had asked before dying to have it made.


Explanation of the parameters


This should be a private act, not part of the public celebration of the life of the person concerned, and distinct from, for example, choosing recordings to play at such celebrations.


It is only to be undertaken if the person who has died has specifically asked that it should, and if the grieving survivors accept this.


The recordings should be made as close as possible to the time that has been chosen for playing them back.


The recordings should be fairly short - perhaps between three and ten minutes.


It is important that the recordings should be of music rather than of speech, which is too coded and accessible to the speaker and other survivors.


It is important that the music recorded be original, because it ought not to have been heard before. And it is important that it be played acoustically, so that it comes from the body of the person performing it - and so that there is not the danger of using pre-set (pre-recorded/heard) sounds.


The machine/s used to make and play back the recording should be portable and have an input for an external microphone and a headphone output - mini-disc, audio or videocassette (without vision), DAT, or stand-alone hard disc recorder.


There are several ways to ensure that the performer does not hear what they do in the same way as the microphone does (in fact, no mic ever hears what the player or the acoustic listeners hear anyway...). Please use a small microphone and if possible, place it far inside the instrument (including in the mouth for voice). Feel free to experiment with trial recordings to find techniques and levels appropriate for these mic placements, to avoid distortion as much as possible. If you find that these trial recordings are too similar to what you are hearing as you perform, try wearing earplugs to block some of the sound you are receiving. (obviously, avoid monitoring your performance through headphones; monitor by checking the levels on the meter)


The chosen recording should be brought to where the dead person is and played once at a moderate volume into their ears using closed headphones. If it is felt that headphones are not appropriate, the recording could be played through loudspeakers placed in the same room as the dead person, after other people have left the room.


When it has been played, the recording should be erased as effectively as possible, preferably by filling the medium with recorded silence (ie: recording with the input level at minimum). Some digital media retain information after instructed to erase or delete it - be aware that a computer, for example, may still contain some of this information right up until you get rid of the computer and beyond. I suggest erasing the material in order to ensure that it will never be played or heard again - if it were to be buried, for example, it’s conceivable that it might be dug up and heard sometime in the future; whereas destroying the medium seems unecessarily rough treatment.


Please feel free to contact me if you would like any help - I’ll do all that I can.


If you’d like me to make such a recording for you, please let me know.





[ar041] CAROLINE KRAABEL | Ears of Dead People





CAROLINE KRAABEL | Ears of Dead People
12 July 2005, London (UK)

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Picture by Marek Tuszynski. Design by Aniana Heras