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nightstrings#1 (aka wall of midi)

interactive sound installation exhibited at paris international symposium on electronic art 2000.

a short description

Light sensors are fixed to the side of a public building, members of the public are invited to activate these using torchlight which generates a sonic output. The work is an exploration of the relationship between input and outcome, which in this case is complex and unclear. Despite this complexity, users are able to derive some obscure sense their function within this complex system. The work addresses themes of interactivity and generatively in the context of group-based activity, and also questions the notion of intentionality and its opposite in the use of complex tools.

watch clip


about the project

An array of light sensors is fixed to the side of a public building, members of public activate these sensors using torchlight. This activity is then fed into generative music/sound processing systems that produce a sonic output. This output is not just a series of sounds that are triggered at predefined positions. Instead streams of data are generated, that are mapped to a series of complex parameters. Hence, there is a complex, uncertain and evolving relationship between input and outcome.

When shown in Paris the work was fixed to the central column of a light house boat. Normally a source of light, the boat became a source of sound. and instead of being the source of light, light in this case was returned to it.

The work is a multi-user interactive sound installation that is to be situated in a public space. It is a new work, which is third in a series exploring emergent forms of social interaction and their relationship to technological evolution. It addresses the themes of interactivity and generatively in the context of group based activity.

Gradually people discover how their actions are being translated into sound. But the system throws out inconsistencies that challenge the participant, encouraging a re-evaluation of their relationships to the environment. The mapping of action to re-action is not fixed but is subject to change. The user derives a sense of interacting with some conditional system whose behaviour is complex. Additionally, being multi-user, each user is aware of the way their input affects that of their fellow users. Central to the piece is this notion of feeding into some complex structural system.

Here i wanted to explore ideas relating to how people learn about and make sense of their environment in both a physical sense, but more importantly in cognitive terms. In a sense I am interesting in what happens when people can't fully understand the relationship between their actions and an outcome. For example, if we pick up a physical object we learn how it handles, as if it has a series of finite possibilities. In this system such a model can become indefinitely distorted. How do we cope with such a mechanism? Here then I am interested in a system we can never fully 'master', and to extend a means of exploration employed by the child to explore their environment.

Following on from previous work in this field, this work will continues the exploration of public space, activity and interaction. First in this series was Atrium (Sheffield Hallam University April 1997) where the playback of electronically generated sound was controlled using radio link, questioning the distinction between the audience and the performance. RemoteSystems (Pond Forge, Sheffield 1998) addressed the fragmentation of space into a series or remotely connected bits. Sound is grown into public space, its pattern determined by the activities of an unsuspecting leisure community. The work is conceived as a piece of 'kinetic graffiti.


some quotes that seem relevant and inspired me at the time:

When the system is used by musicians or students of music, they tend to apply what they know. However, it is best to go even further than one knows - even making mistakes with the hand one can find new and interesting sounds. I have discovered two categories of people who tend to produce interesting results. The first category is children between ten and twelve years of age. They are revolutionary - they do not have preconceptions, and at the age of twelve they have alert mental capabilities that have not yet been stultified by school or family. The second category is those adults who have never played a musical instrument. Iannis Xenakis, Determinacy and Indeterminacy, 1996.

Pragmatists want our culture to get rid of that self-image and to replace it with a picture of machines that continually adjust to each other's behaviour, and to their environment, by developing novel kinds of behaviour. These machines have no fixed program or function; they continually reprogram themselves so as to serve hitherto undreamt-of functions. Richard Rorty, Truth and progress 1998.




© mark fell, modified August 03, 2007, at 05:39 PM edit print