Making Sense of Sensorium. — Principles of New Media.

In his book “The Language of New Media”, Lev Manovich attempts to contextualise and analyse the new media revolution and the “shift of all culture to computer-mediated forms of production, distribution, and communication.” Which has had an immense impact on all stages of communication, and it causes us to rethink of our definitions and values when comprehending the media of today as compared to that of old.

Under the chapter of “Principles of New Media” he reduces all principles of new media to these fundamental to five — numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability and cultural transcoding. As so aptly summarised, these principles  “should be considered not as absolute laws but rather as general tendencies of a culture undergoing computerization”

Manovich’s principles offer us some handles in helping us analyse the function and systems of our projects and how it relates to the topic of new media, which I will elaborate further on. But before that, I would like to elaborate more on the concept and mechanism of Sensorium.

Sensorium explores the sensoral phenomenon known as “Synesthesia” in which a stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. In short, when an individual’s particular sense is stimulated, the individual may experience multiple or an alternate sensory experience. For example, indivuals may sometimes “see” a certain colour in response to a certain letter or word.

This is achieved by allowing viewers to experience a “sensory” overload and a disconnection with common objects and behaviour much similar to Synesthetes. Viewers would hear certain sounds, and see ink-drops  (of a particular colour) when they interact with the work. This is done through setting up light-sensors beneath the object that would respond to the changes in the object placement and provide a feedback accordingly.

Now back to Manovich’s principles and how does it relate to Sensorium?

1. Numerical Representation

Manovich describes that all new media objects are composed of digital code and thus can be subject to algorithmic manipulation. In short, media becomes programmable. 

Similarly, Sensorium utilises Arduino system that are programmable as the brain of the art work. In addition, the use of LDR sensors also mean these readings are being actively translated into binary data script for the Arduino system to process.

2. Modularity

New media objects are ‘object-oriented’ composed of parts made up of smaller parts reminiscent of a “fractal structure”. These elements are assembled into a larger scale object but continue to maintain their separate identities. This also allows for augmentation of the smaller areas and portion of independent parts.

The different mechanism of Sensorium is modular and is made up of smaller parts. This includes the code, the software, the hardware or even the way the installation is experienced.
For example, in terms of hardware, the receiver is modular in that the use of an LDR results in a particular experience for the viewer. (The selection of this component by us as the main receiver) By changing the receiver, such as using a different sensor it would alter and augment the set up of the work.
However, what is unique about our project is that this would not ultimate affect the outcome of the experience as the output (the colour dropper and sensor) remains the same.

The modularity allows us to control and decide on the type of experience and objects that we want to create for our viewers.

3. Automation

Another characteristic of New Media is its ability for automation as a result of the modular structure and numerical coding where the computer now takes over the role of operations.

Sensorium uses an Arduino system to allow for Automatic feedback and responses to be generated for the user. This allows for the system to run with the absence of a human to physically change the system accordingly.

This automation is limited however, due to certain contraints in the system in Sensorium created. Such as, the need to top up ink fluid in the dropper and also replace the water in the tank once it becomes too murky and cloudy. 

4. Variability

Manovich mentions how “a new media object is not fixed once and for all, but something that can exist in different, potentially infinite versions”

In this principle, Sensorium allows for a diverse range of variability despite its simple output. The system of Sensorium is fairly direct. In  short, it invites viewers to move and interact with certain objects. For example, should a viewer lift a box, this would trigger the light sensor and cause the ink dropper to release ink drops (coloured) into the tank. A sound would also be heard. Regardless of how high you lift up the object, or interact with, the output remains the same. However, certain factors that would affect the variability in the experience of the work includes:

– Duration of the object being held. The longer it is lifted up, the more times the ink drop would occur and the longer the corresponding sound would be heard.

– Prior participants. The presence of other viewers would mean that the ink in the tank would be visible to the viewer and thus affect the experience of the viewer.

– An amalgamation. Due to the nature of the system, all 3 inputs can be happening at the same time and would allow for trigger of multiple drops to happen at once. The way in which the ink drop clouds drops and forms also is another variability of the project.

5. Transcoding

A digitisation of what we define as ‘culture’. Manovich talks about the interplay between both the “computer layer” and the “cultural layer” of this digitisation. And the combination of the two results in new experiences created.

When computerised, the experience is changed when the reaction creates a disassociation, of what is known and replacing it with something that detaches them from the space.

Sensorium plays on these experience, through a similar disassociation. There is a disconnection experienced (between the object seen, touched as well as sound heard and the colour ink seen). The physical is being digitised through the sensors and is being read as data and the subsequent result or feedback is converted again to a physical experience to be felt. As such, what we come to know or think, through a disassociation, creates new meanings.

Other Works that inspired Sensorium:

Lenses by Hush

A installation that converts light sensors and refractions to sound.


A Synesthesia Installation

A tactile installation that uses motion and touch to create light, colour and sounds as outputs.

Singapore Night Festival Installations

Image taken from:

Orbit by LiteWerkz X 3M

This installation occupies a fairly large area, with transparent orbs/spheres lit up arranged around  a fairly larger sphere in the center. The idea is to liken the space to that of the solar system in space hence the name ‘Orbit’. The main form of interaction would be that audiences are invited to touch/move/spin the spheres. The spheres/planets would respond to those movements and touch by changing its light colour or flashing in different light patterns.

The installation offers audiences an immersive experience due to its set-up and scale. Just entering the space and looking at a field of lit up, semi-floating spheres was a beautiful sight. While visiting the installation, there were many others (mostly kids) playing with the installation and from a macro perspective, the lights flashing all at different times and spinning at different speeds creating a diverse imagery for audiences to behold. In a sense, while audiences are interacting with just a single sphere, there are also changing how the installation is being perceived as a whole as well.

I think the intention created for the audiences was to invoke that sense of wonder and awe at the unchartered beyond of being in Space. Likening the experience to that of orbiting and playing amongst the shining stars.

Upon a closer study of each sphere, I was able to identify that each sphere was mostly made up of LED strips attached within and I would think a motion sensor that picks up on the movement made to the sphere. The electrical circuits and wiring are hidden beneath the sphere in the rod that holds it in place which connects the sphere to the electrical plug and supply.

Graffiti Alive
Image taken from:

Graffiti Alive by Arup

So, having seen the critiques made by others in the class, I decided to choose an installation less spoken of and also an installation I felt was underwhelming compared to the other exhibits at Night Lights. Maybe from here I could draw some learning opportunities of some points to consider in my final project.

Situated at Armenien Street (beside the Substation), Graffiti Alive is a location specific installation that makes use of the graffiti art works along Armenien street and through motion sensors and lights, allow audiences to experience these works differently and see it in a new light (pun intended).

Image from:©-Gwen-Sin-1024×683.jpg

As I was visiting the installation, I saw a whole bunch of bulky equipment at the start and end of the street, accompanied by bright lights being cast on the graffiti wall. I did not quite understand the exhibit or the workings of it until I spoke to one of the volunteers present that I was suppose to work through the street and as I walked, the lights on the wall would then change colours and respond. I tried walking back and forth the street but there were minimal changes to the lighting. (It could have been due to the fact that there were others visiting the exhibit and could have messed up with the motion sensors)

I think the intention of the artist was to allow a personal experience for the audience to view and observe each graffiti art work in a new way and also provide some form of exposure to the street art scene in Singapore as Art like graffiti could only be enjoyed in the day due to lighting. By illuminating the space, the Artist wanted these works to be viewed and enjoyed in the night as well.

The set-up of the space was fairly elaborate with two huge balloon-shaped equipment (which I suppose is part of motion sensors) at the start and end of the street. As well as RGB spot lights set up opposite the wall. There were other smaller motion sensor devices placed along the wall as well.

Overall, I felt this installation was underwhelming as I thought that the artist would attempt to use some form of projection mapping on the wall to make the graffiti work come ‘alive’. I think that would allow me to experience the graffiti work differently instead of just different RGB lights cast on the artworks at different times as I walk across. Another would be how to best make use of motion sensors. I think it would be best to consider how people would and could they interact with the artwork and ensure that the system (the processes) would still work regardless. I wasn’t sure how the motion sensors would respond to the influx of a higher number of people and how the light cast on the wall would change as a result. But I suppose the bright lights did draw my attention over to this exhibit, but overall I still felt that it missed the mark for me compared to the other exhibits.


Introduction to Interactivity

GS Caltex Pavilion 

by: Atelier Brückner studio

Created for Expo Korea, the GS Caltex Pavilion was designed to take the form of an over-sized rice paddy fields with tall-illuminated glass blades swaying like grass in the wind. Users are invited to walk through the larger than life installation and interact with the grass by touching the blades and watching it change colours.

The size of the installation adds to a sense of wonder as guests wonder into this larger than life exhibit and experience a new perspective. I think the colour, lights and space of the installation plays into the intention of creating a sense of awe and wonder in the concrete jungle.


Out of Bounds 

by: Chris O’shea

Out of Bounds is an interactive installation that allows its viewers to peer through walls to explore hidden areas, engaging in ‘behind-the-scenes’ experiences in the Museum using an “X-ray Torch”. Participants simply shine their Torch around the walls and they are able to view the scenes behind.

The intention of the exhibit plays on our inner child-life ability to want to be able to have super-powers like X-ray vision. Coupled with the set-up of the exhibit, it allows the viewers to tap onto their curiosity and explore with the X-ray torch.