PITCH by RUTH MONTGOMERY with artist BUFFY BOYLE
Newcastle-based artist Buffy Boyle owns highly successful street wear brand, Paradice, which has amassed over 250,000 followers to date. Paradice has become a rival to brands such as Hype, often knocking their popularity into second place. Although profoundly deaf from birth, Buffy wears a cochlear implant, his artistic vision and creativity is strongly driven by the heavy Rave Culture, DJ/Electronic Dance, and House music scene. In turn, his clothing brand is also based around these genres.
For this project, Buffy was chosen to visually interpret ‘pitch’ by drawing, painting, and collaging on three large separate canvases. Pitch describes how low or high a note sounds. I wanted to include this topic because the concept of very high and very low sounds can be tricky for some deaf people to naturally pick up and understand. In scientific terms, sounds are made up of vibrations or waves: the higher the frequency of the wave, the higher in pitch the note will sound; the lower the frequency of the wave, the lower the note will sound.
The first canvas shows a painting of a realistic-looking landscape showing the mountainous land, sky, and ocean. Imagine that the land represents middle pitch – it is where we build our houses and communities, and where the right level of oxygen is for humans to thrive. The higher up we go, the higher the pitch becomes – as we climb higher and higher, the air gets thinner making it harder to breathe. Being closer to the sun exposes us to extreme brightness and discomfort, which is similar to the discomfort that hearing people experience when hearing very high pitched sounds. On the opposite end of the scale, diving deeper into the water represents lower pitches as the light fades away until there is eventually no light left. Sounds become so deep that they are felt and heard through the lower parts of the body and hearing.
Buffy’s collection not only represents pitch through light vs dark/high vs low, but also through physical size.
When I was very young I remember wondering why a big cat’s roar was deeper and louder than the one of my own cat at home. It was later that I realised that the pitch produced was connected with the physical size of the animal. This had previously never been explained to me as I was a very good hearing aid user, and for hearing people pitch is a very natural concept to understand. As a deaf person, I often had to figure out a number of concepts (including the concept of pitch) by myself.
The technique that Buffy used for this canvas is called ‘pointillism’ – a technique which is defined as using many small dots in a pattern to form an image. This canvas depicts a number of animals (including humans) at various intervals to illustrate their individual pitch ranges. The yellow line represents ‘middle C’ at 440Hz (this is around the middle of a piano keyboard). Here, two people are standing to show that their vocal range ‘comfort zone’ is around here. Smaller animals can be seen above the humans, representing higher pitches. The sound that a mouse produces is a high-pitched squeak; a bird will produce a high-pitched chirp, and so on. Thus, the smaller the animal, the higher up its pitch range is. The opposite can be applied to larger animals which produce lower sounds – for instance, a lion will produce a deep, low-pitched roar. The Humpback Whale – one of the largest creatures on the earth – can be seen right at the bottom of the scale.
In Buffy’s third and final piece of work, the same colourful lines seen on the second canvas appear again, though this time are representing octaves. Again, the yellow line represents ‘middle C’, where instruments in the middle-high registers (such as the flute and violin) can be heard. Just like animals, the smaller the instrument, the higher pitch, and the larger the instrument, the lower the pitch. For instance, the piccolo (a small flute) can be seen at the top, whilst the huge double bass, tuba, kettle drums can be seen at the bottom.