It was a cold and dark December night, but the merry bunch who braved the rain were immersed in sound and curious delight. The Fiction of Science called for works based on science, real or fictional.
—Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville, MA kindly hosted the second in the series of shows. At the front of the show was a continuous performance by Metabolic (see below) that was an audio/visual play on science and abstract expressionism.
Once visitors passed the performance space, two rooms contained 10 pieces reflecting on a variety of themes including perception of reality, sensory illusion, collaborative sound making, sensory (dis)pleasure, and fantastic futures. Read on below.
Marcelo Coelho & Co / Metabolic / Metabolic - Study I
Sean Michael Dorian / Metabolic / soundcloud.com/bembian
Jeff Lieberman & Giles Hall / Slink & Little Dripper / bea.st
Michael Dewberry / Imperfect Tense / dewb.org
Morgan Packard / ColorChoirCube / morganpackard.com
Chris Chronopoulos / Methuselah's Muse / Chronopoulos
Alan Argondizza / Lock Eyes / argondizza.com
Jason Livingston / Future Earth Sounds / Jason Livingston
Carly Nix & Zachary Katz / Happy-0-Meter / nixellany.tumblr.com
Andy Kelleher Stuhl / Listen to Us / akstuhl.net
—Metabolic is a series of visual studies on the unraveling of chemical reactions through space and time. This is an ongoing collaboration between artists Marcelo Coelho, Nickolas Peter Chelyapov, and Sean Michael Dorian.
Using a custom designed tabletop and macro camera rig, they create real-time visuals effects using a variety of responsive materials, such as water, ferrofluid, ink, iron fillings, and soap. In a form of puppetry, the artists animated the materials by hand within the confines of a petri dish, where they move, react, shatter into pieces and coalesce, generating an infinite variety of forms and behaviors.
This performance lasted the duration of the show and the sound was first generated by a Max/MSP program written by Sean Michael Dorian, which used computer vision to detect the fluctuating shapes in real-time to sonify their movements. Several people in the audience speculated as to whether there was a microphone in the petri dish.
Subsequently, Prone (Tim Davidson) performed more abstract interpretations on his custom-built Eurorack modular synthesizer. And finally Carly Nix, Jason Livingston, and several friends added a completely analog layer of metal saws and bows.
—Imperfect Tense is the latest and smallest in a series of augmented/functional tensegrity sculptures by Michael Dewberry. A tetrahedron of stainless steel rods and piano wire floats over hidden contact microphones and effects processors, inviting gallery visitors to play with a range of ethereal and percussive sounds.
It was a light and elegant piece over a large oblong platform lit from above. As such, the piece commanded an almost ritualistic approach. Visitors would advance toward the piece slowly, then caution would turn to smiles as they coaxed sound of out of the piece. It was particularly fun to see several people play it simultaneously.
—These two works by Jeff Lieberman and Giles Hall shared the ritual room with the Michael Dewberry piece above.
Slink is a vertically oscillating spring backed by a strobing array that is faster than the eye can perceive. The spring appears to freeze in time and space into a sine wave. Periodically it can appear to be split in the middle, or phase horizontally.
Little Dripper, a work in the tradition of Harold Edgerton, is a water fountain where individual droplets of water appear to freeze and undulate in the air. This piece exhibited what appeared to be the slowing, freezing, and reversal of time, and also invited viewers to place their hands in the path of the drops. At times, the drops appeared to come out of a participant's fingers and flow back into the pump.
Experiencing both pieces brought Clarke's third law to mind, as the technology was indistinguishable from magic. The eye saw one thing, as the mind wondered, "but how?"
Future Earth Sounds
Lock Eyes is an artwork that traps the gaze of the participant. When you look into the eye, ominous rhythmic and droning music emanates from within. As you pull your face closer, the sounds intensify and you feel the reverberations; the eyeball is locked comfortably in your hands.
Jason Livingston's piece was one of the more humorous in the show – he built a miniature atomic bomb that housed a Twinkie and a cricket. A tiny viewport with a magnifying lamp along with a stethoscope allowed a peek and listen into a post apocalyptic future.
This work by Carly Nix and Zachary Katz presented small teddy bears suspended in jars of jello (brains!) that make rhythmic sounds when pressed. Multiple viewers can play multiple bears simultaneously for a sort of teddy bear jam.
From Carly: “Object narratives inform behavior in a recursive feedback loop, cutting grooves that become the tracks of our lives. By combining common objects in uncommon ways and inviting interaction with the absurd, we ask the audience to break free of cultural routines, be joyful at the myriad possibilities of life, and celebrate the strangeness of existence itself.”
Listen to Us
—Marcel Duchamp claimed, “One can look at seeing, one can’t hear hearing.” Drawing on the work of other sound artists, “Listen to Us” counters Duchamp’s fiction with its own fiction: that hearing can be split, shared, resonated and amplified to the point where we can no longer hear anything outside of each other’s hearing.
“Listen to Us” consists of a pair of headphones which has been split in half. Each half has had a tiny microphone inserted into it, pointing into the listener’s ear. Between the two earpieces, a hidden computer and audio interface begin the performance by sending impulse sounds into the listeners’ ears. The reverberations of these sounds are picked up by each microphone and passed as impulse into the other participant’s ear. The cycle repeats itself rapidly (in a sped up version of Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting in a Room”) until the sounds have become distorted by the properties of the listeners’ ears. The space that is sonically realized is a merging of these two ears, and the sound, we can claim, is the sum of the distortions at play anytime the two participants listen to one another.
Besides the two participants, another person or group can listen in on the sounds as they take shape by simply plugging another set of earphones or loudspeakers into the interface. The participants then become a spectacle, hearing each other’s ears as the sound of their hearing-together is revealed to the observers.
From Morgan – "The physical environment isn't the container for social interaction it once was. People at bars don't strike up conversations with strangers, they stare at their phones... The world inside the gadgets is becoming as big and important to them as the physical world.
The ColorChoir project is an attempt to transform the role of the mobile phone from something that fractures real-world physical spaces to one that creates them. It does this by turning phones into voices in a unified choir, controlled by a single conductor. When several phones' browser apps are connected to ColorChoir, each device plays back part of an evolving, rhythmic, musical composition, by way of a web based synthesizer. The sound from one device combines with the sound from another, bringing everyone nearby into a shared physical space.
For the Curious Sound Objects show, I built a controller for the ColorChoir conductor system, a single, large, padded, featureless orange cube. An accelerometer inside the cube detects rotational orientation. Holding the cube in different ways changes the music played from each of the phones. The choice of a large, featureless object to act as a controller for a computer music performance is deliberate, and also serves the goal of bringing people together in to the same space. I didn't want to offer small, detailed controls that require focus, concentration, delicate and precise movements, taking participants' attention away from the people around them. I wanted to encourage simple, easy, large, expressive, even goofy movements."
—Methuselah's Muse by Chris Chonopoulos is an experiment in generative music using cellular automata. A 4-foot monolithic pillar is crowned by a grid of backlit buttons. The grid is running an interactive Game of Life simulation with birth, death, and input events triggering various audio samples. A single cell dies from isolation, so for slow input the grid appears as a simple 2D keyboard. But faster input or polyphony cause neighboring cells to interact and evolve, leading to emergent phenomena like gliders, oscillators, and methuselahs - each with their own unique musical signature. The resulting chorus is surprising yet tractable, an abstract soundtrack to our own ongoing story of emergence.