The first course of my studies in Sound in New Media was called Understanding Media, Art and Design. Despite the promising name it was simply a general introductory course for studying in Medialab Helsinki. The main point was to get to know all the teachers, researchers and fellow students of Medialab.
However, the best part of the course was the final project, done together with other 1st year MA students of Department of Media, namely graphic designers and photographers. The project instructions were simple: with the group of 8 students, design and create an installation with the theme Metamorphosis. The exhibition was held in the Design Forum Showroom in the center of Helsinki.
The final project was a very nice opportunity to get to know other students of the department and form connections that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It was really nice to see other installations and hear about the processes of designing and creating them. The theme was sort of an art school cliche but it lead our group to some really interesting discussion, ideas, and – in the end – to our installation. The most interesting idea that we didn’t develop further was about invisible metamorphosis that happens to a valuation or perception towards a person and a product or an idea.
Metamorphosis of perception
I was thinking about metamorphosis of the perception while watching Tomahawk playing live in Helsinki. I knew I would appreciate the band and its music. I knew Mike Patton would be great and John Staniers’s world’s highest symbals would amuse me. I knew it was a superband but I wasn’t really interested in the other members of the band. Not until I asked my friend who the bass player was. “The bass player of Mr. Bungle”, he replied. The bass player of Mr. Bungle! It was a total metamorphosis to me. I couldn’t perceive the bass player as just a member of the band anymore. He’s one of my favourite bass players. Even though he didn’t play anything special that night, after finding out his identity my eyes and ears were following mainly him. It’s was interesting.
There are many similar situations: you find some information you didn’t know before and then your perception changes. I think it’s a very interesting concept and I need to develop it further at some point.
Your Personal Space
Our installation was called Your Personal Space. It was also dealing invisible metamorphosis. We wanted to create a space that would be isolated from outer world in a similar manner as a larva when becoming chrysalis. We wanted to create a cocoon.
But how to create a cocoon that would be interesting and really isolated from other installations in the showroom? We ended up with a quite radical idea: let’s have a coffin where the visitors can lay down, close the lid and experience their very personal moment. For some it would be a bit frightening but we thought we should do it. And so we did it. We painted the coffin white on the outside, black on the inside and put a mattress and pillow inside. We wanted to create a space that would resemble a cosy living room. The coffin itself was really comfortable. It was a bit frightening in the first place but after trying it out, I wanted to go there again and again. So, during the first time, I really went through an invisible metamorphosis. After the first time I didn’t have the same fear for being inside a closed coffin.
My job, with a fellow member of our team, was to design and install sounds inside the coffin. The idea was to create something soothing and meditative. And something that would also be interactive: the sound would be triggered when the lid was closed.
We came up with four elements for the sound design:
- Theta waves created with Max/MSP
- Sound of waves of an ocean, which generally have similar frequency to average heart beat
- Wind with some bird chirps to create a calming white noise background
- Sample of a heartbeat, to create an illusion of being inside a womb
These elements were played through a small laptop speakers which were installed behind the pillow in the coffin. The interactive system was built on top of Arduino. There was a button that was pushed when the lid was closed. The push triggered an Max/MSP patch which started playing the sounds. It was our first Arduino and Max/MSP project ever and we got it working! Unfortunately the button got broken during the test day. But then trying to solve the button issue we realised we need to hide the Mac Mini we were using as a source for the sounds. So, in order to make things less complicated and more maintainable we decided to record the sounds into a loop and play them from my good ol’ iPod mini (model from 2006). It actually worked very well. The fact that now the sounds were audible all the time didn’t matter, because the volume was very low and the the visitor could actually hear the sounds only after lying down and closing the lid.
I think the sound design worked really well. It was great fun and I think we presented a nice piece of art for the exhibition.