(in)visible sounds

Published on June 2nd, 2007

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From 02-06-2007 until 14-07-2007

In this exhibition the visitor enters the world of invisible technology. This is the world which employs the electronic fields, radio waves, frequencies and air pollution that are present around us.

Erich Berger, David Haines & Joyce Hinterding, Rob Davis & Usman Haque, Informationlab (Ursula Lavrencic & Auke Touwslager), Olga Kisseleva, Brandon LaBelle & James Webb, Semiconductor, Theodore Watson

The Netherlands Media Art Institute presents in collaboration with the 5 days off festival the exhibition (in)visible sounds . In this exhibition the visitor enters the world of invisible technology. This is the world which employs the electronic fields, radio waves, frequencies and air pollution that are present around us.

(in)visible sounds

Invisible technologies are a part of our lives even if we are not aware of them. The rise of invisible networks had such an impact that it changed our manner of communicating, working, learning and playing. Many of our daily experiences are shaped by invisible structures based on technologies employing electromagnetic fields, radio waves and wireless networks. Whether it is computers, television networks or mobile communication instruments, many of the tools we take for granted have an invisible body that we do not consciously interact with or even think about because it is invisible for the human eye. But when technologies disappear from sight, they also disappear from our consciousness, and although we are surrounded by a whole world of invisible structures, we no longer experience our environment as constructed. We interact with invisible technology in every realm of daily life, be it through mobile phones, the TV set, radios or even electronic kitchen appliances, without actually thinking about them or knowing about their functionalities. The interest in objects is therefore shifting from the technology itself to the value they have for shaping our experience: we are no longer interested in the way a tool works but in what social or cultural status it signifies. As a result, we become increasingly removed from the technology and its influence on our daily lives, actions and thoughts. To break the cycle, the exhibition (in)visible sounds goes in search of invisible networks that exist around us. Artists visualize those unperceived yet very present technologies. Some literally expose both analogue and digital networks, while others make use of exactly the invisible, surprising us with the amount of information passed on and possibilities opened up by invisible networks.

Working with sound and the specifics of the location is the main interest of artist and writer Brandon LaBelle. For his project Radioflirt (2007) he has worked together with artist James Webb, whose work explores the realms of magic, exoticism and alienation and impossible environmental phenomena. Radioflirt lets the user hear the secret narrative of the building. Utilizing a series of mini-fm radio transmitters located throughout the building, visitors are invited to follow traces of incomplete messages, hidden whispers or trembling static that appear as an ambiguous and secret narrative. Radioflirt is an intimate radio experience that aims for the heart and explores the emotional geographies of listening.

Semiconductor makes Sound Films which reveal our physical world in flux. Since 1999 UK artists Ruth Jarman and Joseph Gerhardt have been exploring many processes of digital animation to produce experimental films and live animation. Earth Moves (2006) is a continuation of their exploration into how unseen forces affect the fabric of our world. The south-east of England is explored through a series of five audio controlled photographic panoramas. Semiconductor collected sound recordings and photographs on location along the A23 at Pease Pottage, Witterings NT reserve, Findon Valley, John St Brighton and the Adur Valley cement factory. The sounds were used to re-animate the landscape at each location. The results are captivating images and sound that seem to reveal a different reality usually hidden from us. The limits of human perception are exposed, revealing a world which is unstable and in a constant state of animation as the forces of acoustic waves come into play on our surroundings.

Rob Davis is a systems developer in the Psychology Department of Goldsmiths College, University of London, particularly interested in systems that are contingent upon the environment and the entities that inhabit it, and the adaption within such systems. Usman Haque is an architect who has created responsive environments, interactive installations, digital interface devices and mass-participation performances. His skills include the design of both physical spaces, and the software and systems that bring them to life. Evolving Sonic Environment III is an acoustically-coupled analog neural network, consisting of a society of devices whose behavior collectively changes in response to the pitch ascendancy or descendency that each one detects. In contrast to earlier versions of the project (which operated at much higher frequencies), humans will be able to participate more directly in the adaptation process by making sounds of their own. Each device can output at any one time a rising and/or descending tone: however, if a device hears too much of one type of tone it may get ‘bored’ and slowly modify its behavior. On the other hand, they may all coalesce in an equilibrium where they are all ‘content’ with the state of pitches in the room. This ‘contentedness’ may get disrupted when humans enter and start making their own sounds, thus perpetuating the evolving acoustic characteristics of the space. The system will remain active for the entire duration of the exhibition, so there will be many Gigabytes of data for analysis which, it is hoped, will demonstrate that adaptation has occurred over both short term and long term occupancy of the space. If this is so there should be correlations between occupancy and acoustic spectrum patterns that may change over the weeks.

Erich Berger follows a rich tradition of video artists such as the Vasulkas, Livinus van de Bundt and Bas van Koolwijk who specifically investigate into the world of electromagnetism. His audiovisual installation TEMPEST (2004) takes its name from the U.S. government code word for a set of standards for limiting electromagnetic radiation emanations from electronic equipment. Every electronic device that is switched on, whether a mobile telephone, a laptop or a GPS receiver, generates constant electromagnetic emissions, even on standby. Hidden under the user-friendly surface are autonomous processes with their own dynamic, what British designers Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby called ‘The Secret Life of Electronic Objects’. TEMPEST utilizes the basic principles of the ‘Van Eck Phreaking’ technique to transform purely generative graphics into a tight and intense composition of sound, noise and light. Following a long tradition of subverting military technologies for creative purposes, Erich Berger creates an audiovisual piece in which the relationship between images and sounds is precisely determined by the electromagnetic emissions produced by the monitor. The graphics that appear on the screen in TEMPEST produce radio waves which, when captured using various radios tuned to different AM frequencies, become the sharp and vibrant sounds that go along with the images.

In their work the Australian artists David Haines and Joyce Hinterding make a connection between natural phenomena and our electronically saturated world. In the live sound and video installation Purple Rain (2004) they explore the world of data transaction: the digital video projection of a mountain avalanches in response to fluctuations in the television broadcast images detected by antennas. The more signals the antennas detect, the more raging and violently the snow collapses. The power of the avalanche thus depends on the amount of electromagnetic energy and communication data that reaches the installation room via the antennas. The false video image of an illusionary natural disaster is of intense sublime power. It displays the raging energy around us produced by telecommunication and satellite networks. Haines and Hinterding use the image of the avalanching mountain like a metaphor for the natural world as threatened by and interwoven with the power of invisible networks.

Audio Space (2005-2007) is an interactive 3D ‘augmented aural space’. In the installation, visitors can leave messages for each other in space in the form of text or sound. The user – wearing a headset made up of headphones and a microphone – hears all the sounds left in simulated 3D audio, allowing them to pinpoint the location of the sound and find it in the space. Interactive artist and designer Theo Watson turns the space into a memory of the people who have interacted with it. The user can respond to messages left by previous users or seed conversation for future discussions. The combined sounds create rich, evolving atmospheres for different parts of the room, and for the user it creates a superimposed sonic environment that seems tangible and very real. The visitor gets the feeling of walking in a space filled with the ghosts of previous visitors.

Olga Kisseleva is interested in the ways people use electronic information-gathering and data-processing technologies to visualize our environment. With Landstream (2006), the Russian artist found her own way to translate a continuous flow of digital information, a stream of waves and signals understandable for only a small scientific audience, into graphic images that anyone can read . For realizing Landstream she worked with scientists from Russia, the Sorbonne and Stanford to measure the density, quality and movement of electromagnetic fields around nuclear stations, airports, and other locations. They developed an experimental program to track and translate them into graphical images. Her colorful paintings are translations of those graphics and map the dynamic flow of electronic information through the landscape in real time. Besides the new images, Kisseleva also presents documentation of the work process in order to give the audience a new insight into what she calls the electromagnetic pollution that surrounds us. The poetic abstract images let us discover a new world.

Cell Phone Disco (2006) is an experimental installation made of flashing cells. By multiplication of a mobile phone gadget, Ursula Lavrencic and Auke Touwslager from Informationlab created a space for experiencing the invisible body of the mobile phone. The flashing cells consist of one or more LEDs, a battery, and a sensor that detects electromagnetic radiation transmitted by an active mobile phone. When the sensor detects EM waves it sets off the LEDs to flash for a couple of seconds. The installation has two parts: Flashing cells with sensors of higher sensitivity are used to detect electromagnetic radiation from active mobile phones. This way a mobile aura appears around the phone, revealing a part of its invisible body. While the user moves around talking on his phone, this aura follows the conversation like a light shadow through the space. Much less sensitive cells are used to create a canvas for an inkless marker. Moving the phone close to the cells leaves a trace of light, an electromagnetic drawing. Cell Phone Disco lets the visitor experience the invisible body of his or her own mobile phone, a function that we use but never consciously experience.

In addition to the works in the exhibition a selection of video works from the Institute’s own collection can be viewed on monitors. These afford insight into an important historic tradition.

During the 5 days off festival a Seminar and a performance program will take place in the Netherlands Media Art Institute.

5 days off is from 4 – 8th of July in Paradiso, Melkweg and the Netherlands Media Art Institute. Check for updates: http://www.5daysoff.nl

Thanks to:
Powered by Beamsystems ww.beamsystems.nl, Fonds voor Podiumprogrammering en Marketing, Mondriaan Stichting, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, VSBfonds, Australian Council, Maison Descartes en Steim

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