Os­mo­sis: Trans­for­ma­tions Be­tween Sound Worlds


Session Title:

  • Through the Roadblocks: Technology and Orality

Presentation Title:

  • Os­mo­sis: Trans­for­ma­tions Be­tween Sound Worlds



  • Panel: Through the Roadblocks: Technology and Orality

    In a world where world­wide im­mi­gra­tion is in­creas­ing daily be­cause of so­cial in­sta­bil­ity and eco­nomic need, the is­sues of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ity have once more an acute im­pact on every­day life in many re­gions and coun­tries. Be­sides the press­ing prob­lems of vital re­sources such as liv­ing space and other fun­da­men­tal needs for phys­i­cal sur­vival, equally im­por­tant, and in­ex­tri­ca­bly con­nected, are the prob­lems of cul­tural sur­vival and of mu­tual un­der­stand­ing be­tween groups of dif­fer­ent cul­tural back­grounds. Be­sides the phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers of coun­try bound­aries or road­blocks, the in­tan­gi­ble bar­ri­ers of lan­guage, cul­ture, habits, so­cial sta­tus and men­tal­ity play just as im­por­tant a role in this con­text. “Os­mo­sis” ex­plores the idea of cul­tural in­ter­change and adap­ta­tion through an acoustic metaphor: It cre­ates a sonic en­vi­ron­ment where sounds from three dif­fer­ent sources “live” and change grad­u­ally by adopt­ing each other’s dis­tinct char­ac­ter­is­tics. In the purely acoustic di­men­sion of the pro­ject, three groups of sounds are ini­tially placed in dif­fer­ent re­gions of the per­for­mance space. As idi­vid­ual sounds start “mi­grat­ing” from their re­gion of ori­gin to one of the other two re­gions, they ex­pe­ri­ence the ef­fects of cul­tural os­mo­sis ob­served in mul­ti­cul­tural so­ci­eties: They im­part some of their char­ac­ter­is­tics to the sounds of their new en­vi­ron­ment, while they them­selves start adopt­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics from the sounds of their new en­vi­ron­ment. Three very dis­tinct types of sources were cho­sen for this piece: The fly­ing calls of hun­dreds of swal­lows (mar­lins) fly­ing above the city of Corfu in Greece recorded in July 2007 by the com­poser, the songs of Wed­del Seals recorded in Antarc­tica by ma­rine bi­ol­o­gists, and the en­coded mes­sages broad­cast by “Num­bers Sta­tions” for es­pi­onage pur­poses, recorded by short-wave radio am­a­teurs all over the world. Ori­en­ta­tion, mat­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween peer groups and ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity, are basic needs that lead to strik­ingly di­verse, even alien sonic worlds, in the en­vi­ron­ments of a small town, the antarc­tic, and dif­fer­ent coun­tries dur­ing the cold war.  When such dif­fer­ent sounds are brought to­gether, the bound­aries be­tween fa­mil­iar and alien be­come blurred, and a search for new ways of dis­cern­ing mean­ing in the maze of seem­ingly ran­dom meet­ings of dif­fer­ent en­ti­ties be­gins. The acoustic trans­for­ma­tions  of the sounds are per­formed in real time using spec­tral pro­cess­ing tech­niques im­ple­mented in Su­per­Col­lider, an ob­ject ori­ented re­al­time sound and music syn­the­sis en­vi­ro­ment. This re­al­i­sa­tion of Os­mo­sis is part of a larger pro­ject that in­volves re­al­iza­tions in in­ter­ac­tive in­stal­la­tions with dif­fer­ent media (sand, water, graph­ics syn­the­sis). In the in­stal­la­tion ver­sion of the pro­ject, vis­i­tors can in­ter­act with the work via a mul­ti­touch sur­face, using cubes or other poly­he­dral ob­jects whose sur­faces are im­printed with pat­terns cor­re­spond­ing to sound sam­ples and ways of pro­cess­ing them.

    The sam­ples have been pre­processed by ma­chine lis­ten­ing tech­niques rang­ing from basic am­pli­tude, pitch and onset de­tec­tion to psy­choa­cousti­cally salient fea­tures such as MFCC (Mel Fre­quency Cep­tral Co­ef­fi­cients) and other. The re­sults of this pro­cess­ing are saved in a sort of elec­tronic mem­ory of the sound “heard” by the com­puter. The in­ter­ac­tion of the vis­i­tors with the sys­tem pro­vides an ad­di­tional layer of mem­ory, which mod­i­fies and com­ple­ments the sys­tem’s “ex­pe­ri­ence” of the sound world. In this way, a cu­mu­la­tive his­tory of sound trans­for­ma­tions is formed, an al­le­goric “cul­tural his­tory” in this metaphoric world of sound ex­change. An­other layer of the work in­volves gath­er­ing of real-world en­vi­ron­men­tal data con­nected to the forms of life and com­mu­ni­ca­tion por­trayed by the sound sam­ples, and dis­play­ing these on video pro­jec­tions, to­gether with a vi­sual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of of vis­i­tor’s ac­tions. Thus, the purely metaphor­i­cal or po­etic as­pect of the work is linked to ac­tual cur­rent “real-world” is­sues. This work is the re­sult of col­lab­o­ra­tive work with grad­u­ate stu­dents and fac­ulty mem­bers of the De­part­ment of Au­dio­vi­sual Arts of the Ion­ian Uni­ver­sity as well as of the di­a­log with other sci­en­tists and artists.