We search for a sound — our sound

David McKeown is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Trinity College Dublin. He's also one of the advisors for SOUND CHECK, and we asked him to write the following guest post to explain what the exhibiton means to him.

A small, crawling, but unusually articulate child finds a pot in the kitchen. He finds a wooden spoon. 

Wallop. “This one is out of tune, I’ll try another.” Another pot comes falling out. All the pots come falling out. “Yeah that’s better, the most expensive ones sound the best.” His mother looks on and smiles, “We think he’ll be a drummer.” He won’t; he’ll let everyone down and become an academic, but for now, the country’s press has assembled in the kitchen and they have questions.

“How would you describe your sound?” a crouching interviewer asks. 

The Mogees exhibit at SOUND CHECK (above) lets you create sound by banging pots, pans and even chickpeas. 

“Well, I don’t like to put a label on my art, but if you were to push me, I’d say it is a fusion between early punk and the sound of a non-stick coating being removed from a Tefal frying pan.” 

“Do you think it represents the voice of your generation?” asks another. 

“That’s for you to say, not me. I’m just banging pots; you’re buying the records.” 

“It is more than just pot-banging though, right? You are communicating something?” 

“When has a sound not been a communication? Our words, our screams, our footsteps. Our output into the world. A disturbance we create, which can be felt, which can be measured and amplified. There is an order to my pot banging, there is an intent.” 

“I see, that’s very deep.” the reporter replies. 

She pauses for a second as the child places a sieve on his head. “Actually, what? There is an intent to pot banging?” 

“Yes, intent. The intent to make a sound and not a noise. We create and recognise patterns. We have made pots of all sorts of shapes and sizes. We search for a sound — our sound.”

“Won’t we run out of patterns?” asks a reporter, looking at a pot, thinking about hitting one. “Won’t we run out of pots?”

“No! That’s the beauty of it. The patterns are almost infinite and you can alter a pot in all sorts of ways to make new sounds. In fact, that’s what we have always done. It evolves, it is alive. The shape and material of a pot, the tension of the strings on your pot, the width of the pot tubes — it all changes the sound in subtle ways. There’s pots on computers.” 

“Computer pots?” asks a reporter who struggles with analogies.

“Yep, fully electronic pots, mimicking traditional pots and their spoons. Looped and mixed to sound like pots you could never play. An orchestra of pots on a silicon chip.”

“Is it hard to make your own pots?”

“Almost anything can be a pot if you hit it hard enough, or gentle enough. I bet you could make a pot if you tried, a pot unique to you. How does that sound?”

The child then wandered off. Leaving the pots as they were. Some roadies would clean them up. Later in life, when the fame and reporters had left, he would be asked to curate an exhibition about hitting pots. 

Unfortunately, he wouldn’t remember this incident, so would find it hard to write down his childhood views  — but he did hope that the exhibition would encourage the people who came to pick up the spoons and play with the pots.

David is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Trinity College Dublin and the co-founder of Dublin Maker, a free-to-attend, community-driven event where inventors and makers from all ages and backgrounds come together to showcase their creations at individual booths in a carnival atmosphere. Dublin Maker’s mission is to entertain, inform and connect the makers of Ireland, while inspiring the next generation of Ireland’s makers and inventors.