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Concept: Space and the Body

The inspiration for this concept came from the desire to build a piece where a sound would react to the presence or actions of a human being in space, consequently giving the sound more of a personality or presence despite its lack of a physical body. Hopefully the observer will feel more connected to the piece as they have to physically engage with it.

My idea is that a very small speaker (taken from an answering machine) would be suspended along with a Kinect camera above a stepladder. A quiet, ethereal sound is played from the speaker. The observer becomes intrigued by this sound that they can only just about hear, and steps up on the ladder for a closer listen. At this point, the observer enters the plane tracked by the camera, triggering the sound to quickly die away, as if fleeing their presence. The sound slowly returns back to its previous volume several seconds after the observer leaves the tracked plane.

The concept addresses an issue that I have about working with sound. Coming from a visual arts background, I have always been used to manipulate media with my hands or in a very kinetic way, with physical feedback. Audio is intangible in comparison, and it frustrates me that I can’t grab ahold of it and stretch it out, then fold it back in on itself. For me the concept highlights sound’s fleeting nature and lack of physical presence, drawing attention to the fact that the speaker is a mere tool to portray sound, rather than sound itself: once the audio signal disappears, the speaker becomes useless.

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One of the problems I had building the prototype was that the small speaker I used was so quiet, it was practically inaudible. To resolve this I had to normalise my sound file, bringing it up to a higher volume which would work in context.

The practicality of hanging the speaker and camera is also somewhat of an issue. Both would have to be connected to a computer running a Max patch, which could be troublesome if the cables are not long enough. I wired the small speaker myself so its cable could be much longer, but the one attached to the Kinect is of a fixed length. One possible solution is hanging the speaker and Kinect from the light rigging in the Strode Room, mounting a Mac Mini alongside. A bluetooth keyboard and mouse could be used to control the computer, whilst the very long VGA cable could connect the Mac to the projector for the initial setup of the installation, before being removed once it is activated.

 

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