“Sound is ephemeral, fleeting, but some sort of a physical manifestation can help you hold on to it longer in time. I'm sure of this; I've always thought the sound that you make is just the tip of the iceberg, like the person that you see physically is just the tip of the iceberg as well.” – Yo-Yo Ma
What is Sound was not Ephemeral?
In this alternate acoustaverse, sound does not dissipate away. It does not get lost in the air around getting absorbed away, losing amplitude and energy; eventually disappearing out of existence. Sound does not have luxury to that kind of ephemerality. You might live in a world where everything said between two people gets recorded only in their memories and recording devices. The sounds of people speaking, stick around in this world. Every sound is permanent. The sounds of machines drilling, cars honking, dogs barking, trees falling, musical instruments playing, choirs singing – they are all real and permanent. Once created, they have form. They occupy space in a cloud like – bubble like mist all around us.
“Vermillion Sands” by J.G. Ballard, is a collection of short stories. Couple of them that I found the most interesting were Singing Statues and Venus Smiles which capture the relationship between sound and form.
Though the sonic sculptures in Venus Smiles are sculpted and then end up generating sound, their growing nature, inspired my thoughts on the inverse idea of sculpting the form itself with sound.
I was also inspired by the governance and dystopian aspects of minority report.
Inspiration mood board in the form of images:
Two nascent ideas that informed a lot of the concepts around Permanent Sound –
· Noise Pollution (Thinking consciously about the constant generation of sounds all around – machines/humans/industries etc.)
· Information Permanence (Thinking about the lack of privacy and ease of connecting massive amounts of information, photos, opinions etc. to each individual in the age of the internet and centralized social networks).
I wrote many short stories built inside this sci-fi world of permanent sound and explored the different aspects of an individual, ecosystems and governance at scale through the different stories. These can be found in the world Bible here.
A tangible soap foam structure that gets generated in response to a sound source. This foam sculpture is filled with helium and once the sound source stops, the sculpture rises to the ceiling, as a representation of the sound.
Video demonstrating the concept.
What you Need:
1. Helium Tank (Link)
[Can also be found in any party store near you.]
2. A non-stick container to create your base (example - Oven cake pan) (Link)
3. Big Bubble mix (Link)
4. Vinyl pipe (any kind)
(More things for sound responsive chopping of foam sculpture)
5. Stepper Motor (NEMA 17) and Motor Driver (A3967)
6. Arduino nano to control the motor driver. (Some wires, breadboard/pcb)
7. microphone and laptop for serial communication
Steps to Make:
1. Hot glue one end of the vinyl pipe, closing it, and then hot glue it to the base Pan in concentric circles starting from the center as shown in the image.
2. Use a needle that you can heat the tip of, to make holes in the vinyl pipe at every 3-4 cms.
3. Mix 8 parts water to 1 part dish washer soap and a tablespoon of Big Bubble mix powder. Pour it over the oven pan with the pipe glued in it.
4. Now you can blow into the pipe and start creating foam sculptures.
5. Plugging the tank of helium to the other end of vinyl you can generate a foam sculpture that will fly up to the ceiling.
I created the sound responsiveness by connecting a microphone to a laptop where I used p5 js to identify when the microphone volume was above a threshold.
Every time the microphone volume reduces below a threshold, it is detected as silence and a serial message is sent to the Arduino nano connected to the stepper motor placed next to the foam sculpture.
(Great tutorial on serial communication using p5 js and Arduino nano’s to communicate to each other - https://itp.nyu.edu/physcomp/labs/labs-serial-communication/lab-serial-output-from-p5-js/)
I experimented with different materials and dimensions for chopping the foam sculpture and ended with a single straight rod like design. This was mounted on the motor that swiped left to right every time silence was detected.
I also created a digital version of the installation where I demonstrated two things.
a. Input through a microphone creates blobs that then move around a detected face.
- Face detection - https://kylemcdonald.github.io/cv-examples/FaceTracking/
b. A marker on a guitar can be tracked and can play all the music ever stored inside the guitar (Because of the concept of permanent sound)
- Marker Tracking - https://kylemcdonald.github.io/cv-examples/MarkerTracking/
Thank you for reading this report and thinking about the shapes of sound with me.