Rob Davis & Usman Haque, Evolving Sonic Environment

Artist in residence from April – June, 2007

Usman Haque is an architect who specializes in reactive environments, interactive installations, digital interfaces and performances. Robert Davis is Systems Developer in the Psychology Department, Goldsmiths College. Their knowledge is expressed in both designing physical spaces and making software and systems that bring these spaces to life.

With their installation Evolving Sonic Environment (ESE), Haque and Davis turn the process around. This time the immediate presence of the public determines the acoustic environment. Multiple units comprised of speakers, microphones and electronic printed cards, each of which emits a sound with a different frequency, hang on the ceiling. Communication among the units balances the sound and maintains the sensitive sonic ecosystem that has been constructed in the space.

Communication among the units takes place by means of sound rather than electronics. By simply changing the frequency range, at the beginning (input) or end (output), they communicate on a different channel. Because of this, various groups communicate in several frequency ranges, a coupling strategy similar to that found in simulated nervous systems.

As visitors enter the space they also influence the acoustic environment and the generation suddenly changes into a new sonic ecosystem. Outside of the space there is a representation of the behavior of the space, a visual real time frequency scan of the room. This can also be followed simultaneously on the internet. With these various components, Haque and Davis want to record and examine the history of a ‘society of sonic devices’. In contrast to the traditional approach of imitating neural processes, which generally involves digital simulations on a viewing screen, ESE is based on analogue components, and it is a physical installation in which the visitors themselves can see and hear how their movements and the sounds they make influence the nervous system.

During their residence Haque and Davis will be investigating to what degree the collective conduct of the units is influenced if the space is occupied by people and mobile objects, in order to be able in this manner to develop a ‘perception’ for the space. In previous versions of the installations Haque and Davis primarily made use of high tones; because of this, his or her relation with the work was not always clearly recognizable for the visitor. By working chiefly with low frequencies here, he now enables the visitor to more easily communicate with the work by means of whistling, for example, or other noises, and more quickly recognize his or her influence within the system.

behaves as a ‘people-sensor’, even though there are no detection sensors built into the individual units. Haque is looking at the extent to which an interactive space can be constructed, and the manner in which the space develops its own representation with the aid of a network of autonomous objects.

The objects operate like simple nerves, ‘cascading’ during high activity , and changing their threshold in long periods of low activity, apparently bored by the constantly repeated inputs. As soon as they have had enough input energy, on their own they suddenly emit a continuous sound comprised of varying frequencies.

ESE is in the tradition of complex analogue systems that transcend the boundary between art and science. From a technical perspective, ESE could have been built thirty or forty years ago. But although the technology has long existed, the concept is cutting-edge, and has even been given a positive reception in the field of artificial intelligence.

Evolving Sonic Environment
is a part of the exhibition ‘(in)visible sounds’, a show in which artists focus on the invisible technologies that are increasingly crowding into our daily lives.

(in)visible sounds’ is a component of the 5 Days Off Media festival.

Evolving Sonic Environment

Usman Haque

Robert Davis
Robert Davis is Systems Developer in the Psychology Department, Goldsmiths College, has an extensive background in both digital and analog electronics and has developed a number of electronic and computer based systems, mainly for research including: software/hardware for virtual reality based research; polygraphs for presence research; systems for precision colour and temperature measurement and generation; infrasonic/ultrasonic acoustical devices; random signal generation and processing for anomalistic psychology research; and a number of eye tracking systems for research in relation to addiction and schizotypy. He has experience with artificial intelligence systems, in particular with artificial neural networks in communications and signal classification.