Digital Landscapes

Speed, texture, and intensity are the three primary elements that I focused on in creating this audio-visual music video. The visuals began with reality, but quickly intensifies as the audio speeds up and the visuals distort and saturate. Throughout the piece, the audio shifts back in forth between quiet and loud, heightening the listeners awareness of the stark dynamic contrast.


Audio Walks with Janet Cardiff

Janet Cardiff is a sound artist who employs narration and binaural sound recordings to present her audience with an experience that is part fiction, part reality. Her website describes her technique:

…the sound of my footsteps, traffic, birds, and miscellaneous sound effects that have been pre-recorded on the same site as they are being heard. This is the important part of the recording. The virtual recorded soundscape has to mimic the real physical one in order to create a new world as a seamless combination of the two. My voice gives directions but also relates thoughts and narrative elements, which instills in the listener a desire to continue and finish the walk.

Her 2004 piece, “Her Long Black Hair” is an excellent example of her work. A scene is described in New York City as the audience is directed to move through the city. Throughout the piece, Cardiff narrates the scene about a polar bear exhibit as she once witnessed it, and occasionally interweaves these experiences and observations with parts of fiction.

Cardiff: You can see the polar bear here on the left if you look down the alley. See the glass in the blue water? Walk over to the gate on the left so you can see him better. He’s swimming back and forth in Figure-Eights

[Recorded chatter from a crowd at the zoo]

Male Voice [Presumably the polar bear]: I was caught and taken back again. He took me to the black smith sho, where he had a ring made of Iron, which I wore on my right left.”

A polar bear from the Central Park Zoo in the 1980s.

Although I am unable to directly experience the audio walks the way they were intended to be experienced, I can see the audio-walk would be effective with physically experiencing the environment. If it weren’t for her decision to layer the narrative with recorded sounds from the environment, the listener would most likely experience the narration as a separate experience, isolated from the environment. But with the recorded chatter of the audience, the listener can be keenly aware that they space they occupy is the space that Cardiff wants them to experience. The listener does not directly interaction with the audio, but passively participates by following the instructions and observing the space they occupy along with Cardiff’s commentary. The layered sound effects in tandem with the presence of the real-life sounds make her work an effective augmented reality experience. It’s a beautiful poetic blend of spoken word, sound, fiction, reality, and passive participation from the audience.

Group 4: Proposal Update

Project Proposal 1, Stress:

Focusing on emotional sustainability, this installation is inspired by brain activity and stress. The installation would be open-air and immersive, allowing users to walk into/through the work. The form would be inspired by the brain and the connection of neurons where lights would represent neurons. By using relaxing sounds and cool colors, the installation will begin as calm. With user input, the installation will begin to change and intensify with colors and sounds, signifying stress. The installation will be divided into ~5 sections, each section can handle input by one user.

Theme: Emotional Wellbeing and Stress sustainability

# of Users: ~5

Input: Kinetic, some form of activity, for example drumming

Output: Lights and Sound

Form: Open-air, immersive, inspired by brain

Current questions and future considerations:

  • How literal should the form be? Inspired by the brain, or resembling the brain
  • What other types of inputs can be used by the user?
  • How can we encourage user interaction?
  • Does the output convincingly represent stress? Will users get it?
  • How can the interactivity or input and output symbolize stress better?
  • How will it be viewed from the inside compared the the outside?
  • What types of materials could be used?

Bill Fontana, the Sound Artist

Bill Fontana is a sound artist who works with found sounds found in our natural world. His work, according to Wikipedia, uses the “urban environment as a living source of musical information, all with the potential to conjure up visual imagery in the mind of the listener.” Fontana’s approach to his work involves a variety of techniques, such as transporting live sound from one context into another context. In an interview with Peter Traub from Networked Music Review, Fontana describes this reasoning behind these sound transportations:

In fact all of my sound sculptures are involved with not making random relocations but are carefully considered juxtapositions. For example… the sound of the sea from Normandy sent to the facade of the Arc de Triomphe during the 50th anniversary of D-Day. If one goes through the whole list of projects over the years, all the relocations have a conceptual link to the site. I am interested not only in the acoustic impact that a site has on the relocated sound, but also on the conceptual and psychological effects over time.

Fontana’s approach to sound is interesting. It’s not music that he is interested in creating, but rather sites of experiences that allow an audience to, through the perception of sound, think and feel about the original and transported destinations of the sounds. Fontana describes his objective to make his work happen through sound:

Besides the physical differences between sound in the air and vibrations in solids and underwater, most people find their everyday acoustic worlds hidden by lack of attention, and iTunes. I wish to bring these hidden aspects to the foreground.

What I find interesting about Fontana is how and why he cites Marcel Duchamp as an influence. Duchamp is famously known for his conceptual art that radically challenged the notion of art is and isn’t.

Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain challenged the conventions and definitions of art. (Source)

This is interesting because Fontana is described as a sound artist, not a musician. Like his predecessors, such as John Cage, Fontana has pushed the boundaries of the expectation and uses of sound. But with Fontana, music is no longer a concern for his pieces. It is simply called art, which I find more appropriate and in line with his objectives. The aesthetics of sounds are used in a manner to evoke the listener conceptually.

(Ultra) Light Network

(Ultra) Light Network is a light installation that encourages participatory behavior with an audience. As audience members approach the structure, the intensity of the light increases. This encourages group interactivity, allowing multiple people to participate at once. The form of the structure allows members to walk underneath, allowing audience members to experience the installation from a variety of angles in a more immersive capacity. In general, most of the installations exhibited at iLight explore light as an interactive sculpture, providing playful, beautiful, and delightful experiences. But if we were to think of effectiveness in terms of informing the audience about a topic or probing the audience to think about a topic, I’m not exactly sure if we can describe these installations as “effective.” It depends if we’re looking at these installations as explorations of concepts or as tools with an objective of informing an audience; is the audience supposed to walk away with a different understanding of a subject or are they supposed to have a delightful experience with light? The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but it presents the creator with an objective to think about.

A response to “You are What you Carry”

In Chapter 4 of Jan Chipchase’s “Hidden in Plain Sight,” Chipchase discusses our habits and tendencies that we’ve developed in relationship to our every day products and how these concepts change as we transition into the digital realm. Chipchase defines two key concepts: the center of gravity, which are the places “where portable objects tend to cluster”, and the range of distribution, which is the distance people are willing to let objects stray when they are out and about. These ideas are useful in thinking about how people relate to their objects that they carry with them, such as their keys and their wallets, and these ideas are connected to how we perceive risk and convenience. He then expands these ideas into the digital realm, discussing how digital technology has made it easier for us to be connected to multiple objects at a time, transcending time and space; now we can be connected to our music libraries, our banking information, and so on. Technology also now affects how we navigate the world; by giving us a heightened sense of security in navigation, GPS affords us the ability to explore an area without having to do prior research.

These concepts, especially applied in the digital realm of the world that we inhabit, are interesting in that they seem more applicable now that we have high-powered smart phones. Digital maps existed in the earlier days of the web, but now that we can carry technology in our pockets, it expands our need to understand how technology and the experience beyond are intertwined. In the professional realm, I’m curious about why terms such as user experience and digital product design are increasingly becoming ubiquitous even in more traditional contexts such as basic web design. User experience is of course an important concept to always keep in mind in the design of anything, but Chipchase’s concepts give us more facets of design to think about. Should we be reserving the term user experience for design that has a larger set of considerations?

John Cage, an experimental music pioneer

In History of Experimental Music in the United States, American composer John Cage describes the nature of experimental music, provides a historical account of how composers have tried (and arguably failed) at creating experimental music, and gives his perspective on how one would approach composing experimental music.

What is the nature of an experimental action? It is simply an action the outcome of which is not foreseen. It is therefore very useful if one has decided that sounds are to come into their own, rather than being exploited to express sentiments or ideas of order. Among these actions the outcomes of which are not foreseen, actions resulting from chance operation are useful. However, more essential than composing by means of chance operations, it seems to me now is composing in such a way that what one does is indeterminate of its performance.

Cage expressed a frustration with many current attempts at experimental music because he was observing that many composers were still adhering to formal methods of composition. He didn’t believe that these composers were truly experimental because their methods of creating music still involved too much of a method of control, which fell in the traditions of music. Experimental music, he believed, had to operate with unforeseen outcomes. Cage provides an example of how he would approach musical composition with indeterminacy:

I take a sheet of paper and place points on it. Next I make parallel lines on a transparency, say five parallel lines. I establish five categories of sound for the five lines, but I do not say which line is which category. The transparency may be placed on the sheet with points in any position and readings of the points may be taken with regard to all the characteristics one wishes to distinguish.

This form of composing is interesting because it allows the composer to give form to music without restraining it. The person performing the music can interpret the composition in a myriad of ways. Not only did Cage believe in the liberation of music through sound, but he was ardent in trying to liberate music from traditional compositional methods such as beats and time signatures.

In his piece, Cartridge Music, Cage demonstrates his experimentation with multiple layers of sound that explore rhythms and intensities. These rhythms, however, are not bounded by beats, but I describe them as rhythms because there is a conscious use of gaps between the sounds. Sonically, it resembles Luigi Russolo’s Risveglio di una Citta in that the noises seem to exist within the physical and organic world. With each sound, I find myself trying to visually pinpoint what the objects being used to make the sounds may look like. Are the sounds made from metal, are they spring like, or do they look like bicycle chains? The sounds do not sound completely foreign.

His music sounds like it could have been created from bicycle chains. Source:

Cartridge Music is musical, especially if we think of music as organized sounds. But I wonder if I only think that because I am given the intellectual context for the sounds. There is a level of intellectual capacity that is needed to appreciate Cage’s work, but that’s only because one needs to be able to break away from the traditions of music. Perhaps that level of effort wouldn’t be necessary if we had been viewing music through a different angle to begin with. Nevertheless, Cage is able to move away from the traditions precisely because he is, as we discussed in the last class, aware of the traditions.

Response to Jan Chipchase’s “The Anthropology of Mobile Phones”

In Jan Chipchase’s TED talk, “The Anthropology of Mobile Phones,” he makes several observations and predictions on human behavior and the future of mobile devices. The first observation he notes is that humans have a tendency to carry three objects: key, money and mobile devices. This, according to Chipchase, meets our basic needs. This is still true today, but what I find even more interesting is the idea that humans delegate tasks, especially those that go beyond our basic needs. Smart phones, in many ways, are devices that handle delegated tasks. We use them to record notes, take pictures (and store pictures), to send us reminders, to automate tasks; smart phones compute tasks that we don’t have to use additional mental energy for. Chipchase also argues that because of immediacy, things will move much more rapidly around the world. Today, over 1 billion people are users of Facebook and, as of 2016, an estimated 2.1 billion people use smart phones. Content, images, banking are all being processed and shared at rapidly growing rates; all of this has occurred within 10 years of Chipchase’s talk. Another point he made was that street innovation will be a greater force that will have to be anticipated for. Though this may be true in developing markets across the world, it’s hard to see on the surface whether street innovation can be observed on a global scale. In some ways, app market places, are a place for innovation. Products such as Uber and Venmo have radically changed other markets in the world and have all came from free market innovation. But arguably, innovative apps do not come from the “street” level (developing world markets such as India); the barriers to entry are still limited by financial backing. Never the less, the tools to innovation are increasingly becoming more prevalent for people across the world.