Blind Sound Walk I

Marshall McLuhan, in his “Visual and Acoustic Space,” tells the story of Jacques Lusseyran who was accidentally blinded in elementary school. Lussseyran, talking about being blinded, says:

“Sounds had the same individuality of light. They were neither inside nor outside, but were passing through me. They gave me my bearings  in space and put me in touch with things. It was not like signals that they functioned but like replies…”

After this quote McLuhan goes on to postulate that in modern society we are much more visual than aural. He says that this was not always the case and that before the collapse of oral traditions sound eclipsed sight, and we lived in a primarily audible universe.

I decided I wanted  to see what it was like to be blind. My wife and I went to South Williamsburg and helped each other do blindfolded walks around that neighborhood:

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At first it was scary, the fear of falling down or getting run over or something else outside of my control happening overshadowed the experience. After a little while of walking though, my brain/body realized Kiori (my wife) wasn’t going to let anything like that happen. Once I could let go of the fear I started to analyze sounds: oh there is a truck, oh someone is walking past me, a car over that-a-way is honking it’s horn. I was also involuntarily putting together a mental image of what I thought the space I was walking through looked like. After a little while longer of walking I let go further and this analyzing of sounds and visual imagining passed away. I found myself in a wash of sound, sound coming from everywhere of all various types. It was such a rich world, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

After completing our route we switched, Kiori put on the blindfold and I led. This time around for me the sounds had such less precedence. I found myself totally absorbed visually and not even really paying attention to the sounds. It was a completely different world! I realized how visual I really am. The way I imagined the route looking when I was blind was totally different from how it looked in reality as well.

Shapes as audio

In an attempt to translate the visual world into audio I wondered what if the shapes of objects could be contours of a sound wave. As an experiment I took the contour of an oak leaf and turned it into a wave form.

I first found an outline of an oak leaf online then cut it in two:


Next, using computer vision (openCV in Cinder), I analyzed the image for feature points:

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Using javascript I converted these points from a csv into a table that Max/MSP could use as a waveform. Since some of the points are over/under each other (and with a waveform you can’t have more then one value happening at any given point in time) the waveform in max has some interesting striations:

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With an oscilloscope the wave coming from the synthesizer looks like:

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It sounds real buzzy:

But in layers and with some filtering it can have a nice effect:



Sol Lewitt – wall drawings as audio, test 2

I started looking at work by Ryoichi Kurokawa, an artist whose work I really like, and whom I feel mixes audio and visual worlds really well. His work flow is to story board his entire concept (sometimes just in his head), work out a rough video, make audio for that video, then edit the video and audio together precisely. This process can take months.

I made a quick animation with Sol Lewitt’s wall drawing patterns simulating Kurokawa’s work flow, but with very little (read none) story board or revision.

What would the world we see sound like, if we could hear it?

Two weekends ago I went to Dia:Beacon with my wife (a dancer) and a bunch of other dancers. Dia is a wonderful modern art museum just north of NYC in Beacon. The dancers had a performance planned in the museum, the intention being to “bend public space, but not break it.” This meant that they would interact with each other, the art, the space, etc., but if it became noticeable to general museum goers the dance would fade away, disappear, break apart. If a random museum goer stood still for 10 minutes they would probably notice something out of the ordinary was going on, but otherwise the movements would be too subtle to stand out. I participated in this some, but not being a dancer I didn’t dive in fully, though it really did provide a new way of experiencing a museum. This opened me up to experiencing the museum in other ways too, outside of the dancers’ parameters.

This manifested itself at the Sol Lewitt exhibit. The exhibit was comprised of many of his wall drawings, where he writes out directions, then teams of other people draw the actual drawings later on. When I first saw the pieces in the exhibit I was immediately struck by how computational they looked. It seemed to me that this guy was taking the world of generative computer art and recreating it by hand. This made sense since just like you give a computer step by step instructions of what to do, he was giving step by step instructions of what to draw.

One of the drawings consisted of 4×4 grids of lines; vertical, horizontal, diagonal up and diagonal down:

These patterns would alternate from square to square based on a numbering pattern:

Whole walls were filled up with these patterns:

Since I was in this mental space of experiencing things in new ways I wondered what would these drawings sound like if each of these numbers was a scale step of a major scale. I started singing the drawings in my head and was pleasantly surprised to find that many of them were actually nice melodies:

That is the first 4×4 grid played on piano (and drawn) from here:

I started wandering around the museum and whatever direction (straight, sideways, diagonal) I was going I would listen to my movements in my head as the corresponding pitches in Lewitt’s directions. I then started experiencing the other art work in the museum as music, and then the architecture. I even started seeing the nature outside and wondering what the trees would sound like, what about the infinite changes in angle of branches? It was quite wonderful. I decided then that this was what I wanted to research next… What would the world I can see sound like, if it could be audible?

Healthcare – Medicine Wheel

After lighting upon the medicine wheel I realized I had found my vessel for the final proposal. My mind immediately came up with a form for it. I thought of a large circle perpendicular to the ground that people could walk through. It would be covered with acrylic tiles showing peoples stories in health care. The acrylic was hard to see so I wanted something underneath of it. The visuals I had experimented with before were nice, but not logistically possible. I thought back to how I felt about going to see the doctor: that the industry thinks of me as blood work data, as statistics, as a bottom line really. How could I interweave this into the project? Maybe I could put the acrylic overtop of healthcare data, global, and personal?

I thought it would be great to have the data there as the base, since that’s the industry, that’s the story that the world tells. But healthcare is not about these numbers, its ultimately about us living and dying, getting sick and healing. These stories should lay overtop of that base. People could walk through the circle, and lights from within it would shine through the various layers, light being such a multi-faceted symbol: feeling lighter or heavier, shining light on a subject, healing light, etc.

I tried it out on top of my bloodwork report…. and unfortunately you can barely see the acrylic images at all:IMG_2580

My mind searched more, but I really liked this idea. I thought about trying out etching the images on black acrylic, and then perhaps trying the words on opaque acrylic. In this video I’ve taken an etching in black and put it on top of laser cut text from my blood work report. I then shine light through it.

I knew I had it. My proposal would be a large circle people could walk through and trigger light to shine through multiple layers of acrylic, telling multiple stories, called the Medicine Wheel. Part of the circle would be uncovered and unfinished, to signify that we can and are still writing this story. Our health, our societies, our places in the universe are in constant flux… perhaps the Medicine Wheel can once again help guide their direction.