The Drum and Silk: The experience of imitating wind as sound

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"When the wheel is turned the wind is heard to roar."

Nineteenth century theatre attempted to capture wind as sound, activated by a hand-rotated wood and cloth mechanism. This essay responds to Griffero’s characterisation of wind as a quasi-thing, positing the theatre wind machine as an interface between the real and the ephemeral in our perception. The wind machine is a theatre sound effect, designed to produce an impression of wind through sound. During play, it activates an atmospheric feeling, enveloping the player in an environmental sound and requiring them to engage with this affect in order to navigate their way through the performance. I begin by examining theories of sonic affordance, and how wind might be imagined as the result of human action, with a consideration of Grandville’s hurricane bellows - a visual depiction of wind as the result of an operable mechanism, before moving to the earliest description of the theatre wind machine itself in Moynet’s L'Envers du Théâtre. The ephemeral nature of wind as sound is traced through descriptions of the theatre wind machine’s voice from late nineteenth and early twentieth century sources, as well as my own reflections on the sensory experience of its performance. I propose that the wind machine puts the sound of wind both within and beyond one’s grasp during performance and offers us a new way to understand the potential of grasp itself.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
JournalVenti Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023

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  • sound
  • theatre
  • performance

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