Review: Ken Goldberg's Ballet Mori

Ballet Mori and the Acoustic Unconscious
by Anna Orrghen

April 18 is the 100-year anniversary of San Francisco's Great Earthquake.

How can we understand sounds far too sublime to be perceived by the human
ear? This question was brought to the fore by a team of American media
artists led by UC Berkeley's Ken Goldberg in "Ballet Mori," performed at
the San Francisco Opera House April 4 to commemorate the 1906 Earthquake.
Muriel Maffre, a principal dancer of the SF Ballet, danced to sound
activated directly by the movements of the earth. Seismic data from the
Hayward fault was transmitted to the opera house via the Internet and
transformed into a soundscape by composer Randall Packer using Max/MSP. All
in real time. The performance brought to mind Walter Benjamin's concept of
the "optical unconscious." Just as the technology of photography makes it
possible to see things normally invisible to the naked eye, Ballet Mori's
networked sound system facilitates a meditation on the "acoustic
unconscious." It allows the audience to hear the sound of the earth, which
cannot be heard with the naked ear. The result was a suggestive and very
beautiful synaesthetic experience that challenged the classical ballet
audience and ordinary patterns of hearing. Video clips are online at:

Anna Orrghen is a PhD Candidate in Media and Communication Studies at
Stockholm University. She is currently finishing her dissertation, which
explores the process by which a new medium emerges, with special attention
to the discourses of art and Swedish mass media at the turn of the 21st
century. She also works as a cultural critic in Sweden. e-mail: