This article is part of the series 3 years of freedom — a report on my stay as a post-doctoral researcher at the Media Lab of Aalto Universiy.
In continuation (and abstraction) of my research in Tangible Auditory Interfaces, I examined the nature of raw materials by means of sonic investigations. Central questions in this project were
- What is the nature of materiality?
- What is are inherent gestalt of digital and physical materials?
- How can methods incorporating hearing add to the quality of knowledge gained in the process?
I intended to investigate how digital-borne raw material can be handled, i.e. formed and carved, just as done every day with physical material. As induction of feedback is seen as a valid method to learn about an element and it, by nature, does not require prior knowledge about the material under examination, I chose it to investigate two examples of material, both ranging in different extremes of the materiality continuum: Paper and Code.
Vellum [2011 – 2012]
Vellum is the paper-part of the investigation, carried out as a performance. It is a collaborative work carried out together with the media artist Erich Berger to whom I am grateful not only for insightful discussions on the theme but also for his friendship and support within the last three years. Vellum was presented as part of the 2012 Cumulus Conference held at Aalto University.
In Vellum the characteristics of paper as raw material is sonically exposed by means of both artistic and scientific approaches. The fundamental principle of audio feedback is applied, initiating a dynamic process in which the material articulates itself. In the performance, the artists bring intense spatial soundscapes into existence, consisting of a multitude of different feedbacks all originating in the paper itself. They break up, fade away and abruptly change character, revealing a complex sonic vocabulary.
The central element of the Vellum setup are three vellum loops mounted on the ceiling. Each of these probes has a contact microphone attached and is closely positioned to a loudspeaker. It therefore serves as an acoustic coupler, closing the loop between microphone and speaker. Due to its nature in feedback, the piece is highly sensible to the environment in which it is presented; it reacts to even tiny air movements.
Chip interpretations / BetaBlocker [2010-2013]
Chip Interpretations is the code part of the material investigation. It is a collaborative work carried out together with the code artist and musician Dave Griffiths. The project was carried out as artistic research practice, combining artistic research with several performances. The project was finalised in an article for the Computer Music Journal where it will be published early next year. I would like to thank my collaborator and friend Dave for sharing his uplifting way of being and his unusual way of thinking about the world that surrounds us all.
Chip interpretations is an attempt to sonically examine digital raw material and is the code part of the investigation of raw materials. Within three years of artistic research and performance practice, we investigated the sonic gestalt of (a specific form of) digital material, utilising a fictional CPU that treats arbitrary input data (encoded as a series of 8bit values) as its program on which it generates continuous sonic output. We gained understanding of the CPU’s behaviour by applying data sets consisting e.g. of random values or parameterised waveforms and listened to its output. In another attempt, we implemented small programs in the machine’s assembler language aiming to trigger specific behaviours (e.g. output an impulse or sawtooth waveform).
Further, the project undertook a practice turn; it was used in a number of international performances. We invited artists to accompany us in both the conceptualisation and the performances themselves, which resulted in a broad variety of creative applications. This step towards artistic practice turned out to be crucial in order to get familiar with the CPU’s sonic specificity. I honestly enjoyed this part of the project the most. Working with such great artists such as Sara Hildebrand Marques Lopes, Dave Griffiths and Tom Hall made the difference for me; We managed to really break up the research part and turn it into artistic practice on various levels. Among others, this was reaching the audience and connect them with such an abstract theme as CPUs and their inner workings. Below this article, I gathered some photos of these performances.
Further, the project undertook a practice turn; it was used in a number of international performances. We invited artists to accompany us in both the conceptualisation and the performances themselves, which resulted in a broad variety of creative applications. This step towards artistic practice turned out to be crucial in order to get familiar with the CPU’s sonic specificity.
Conclusion and reflection
Identifying my interest in materiality and working on it for an extended period of time was a highly rewarding task. It allowed me to gather interesting people around me and try out new methods of research and investigation. I personally enjoyed the most interacting with the guest artists. Working with such great people as Sara Hildebrand Marques Lopes, Dave Griffiths and Tom Hall made all the difference for me; we managed to really break up the research part and turn it into artistic practice on various levels and I had to explain the theme of the project to people not familiar with the concept of computation. It was, at times, a frustrating endeavour. But the reward was not only that they learned about computers and their inner workings but also that I gained a better understanding of the subject on my side. This lead to performances that reportedly managed to reach the audience.
Oulipop rehearsal at live.code.festival
Chip Interpretations with Tom Hall