An Immersive Sound Ride Across Frontiers of Sonic Spaces
“Frontiers: expanding musical imagination” is the theme of this year’s Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival. It is also the motto and inspiration to composer Marcelo Gimenes’ sound installation Embodied iSound, an invitation to reflect upon the limitless abilities of human’s musical creativeness: where we come from, where we are going to.
Another source of inspiration comes from the work of Musicians Without Borders, an international organisation based in Amsterdam that promotes programs and activities with local musicians and groups in communities that suffer from the effects of conflict. In MwB’s own words: “using the power of music to bridge divides, connect communities, and heal the wounds of war”.
Embodied iSound is based on these ideas. Music is “organised sound” (Varèse 1968), of course, but it is also a medium through which we all communicate. It is therefore important to understand how this communication happens, why and what we communicate through music. The general idea of the piece is that we can only achieve a better understanding about these questions by mentally, physically and emotionally experiencing what happens when we cross (stylistic, geographical, and historical) musical frontiers. For that reason, the piece requires that members of the audience become active participants (as opposed to just passive listeners) of the musical experience, controlling the sound that is produced from the space where it is projected. Embodiment is not just about the body, it is about action and participation.
Technology is what allows participation, mediating what happens between the physical world (the sound), our minds and personal enjoyment. To achieve that, the piece is supported by a distributed computer system called Levinsky which includes a smartphone app running on participants’ iOS devices and a server running on a desktop computer.
To better clarify how the installation is organised, Figure 1 below shows a sketch of the space on the ground floor of the Roland Levinsky Building known as the “Crosspoint”. Participants holding their smartphones are invited to walk around this space while they listen to the piece.
Figure 1: The Crosspoint
Data generated by the smartphones is continuously sent to the server. This includes the participants’ proximity relative to the six columns where six beacons are positioned (one in each column), gyroscope and button taps. In the other direction, participants receive instructions from the server in the form of vibrations, flashes and changes of colour on the background and the button of their devices. Figure 2 below shows the interactive view of the app.
Figure 2: Levinsky Music interactive view
In summary, the Levinsky computer system works as a hub where performance data is transmitted, received and processed. As ‘real instruments’, smartphones become an extension of the performers’ bodies. The server, in the other end of the chain, processes the control data collectively produced by the performers and sends back instructions when appropriate. The expected result is that the movements of the performers (the audience) and their instruments (the smartphones) will determine the sound that is more salient (proximity to the columns/beacons), how it is processed and positioned in the loudspeakers (gyroscope) and what sound is produced (taps on the button).
Embodied iSound was conceived as an interactive experience supported by a two-way communication between the music engine and the performers. Movement and perception are intimately interconnected: what you (the audience/performer) hear influences the way you move and the way you move determines what you hear.
Welcome to this embodied listening experience.
Have a nice journey across frontiers of musical imagination.
If you want to know more about the installation and the Festival:
- Read the Festival’s brochure.
- Listen to the soundtrack of the sound installation: