Virtual architecture

Diana Klaosen takes a sound journey through urban space

Sound Mapping, Hobart Wharves

Sound Mapping, Hobart Wharves

Sound Mapping, Hobart Wharves

Sound Mapping is a participatory work of sound art made specifically for the Sullivan’s Cove district of Hobart in collaboration with the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Participants wheel four movement-sensitive, sound-producing suitcases around the district to realise a composition which spans space as well as time. The suitcases play “music” in response to the geographical location and movements of participants.

The prime mover behind the project is Hobart-based musician Ian Mott. Mott holds a BSc from the University of Queensland and a Graduate Diploma of Contemporary Music Technology from La Trobe University. His prime artistic activity is designing, developing, building and composing for public interactive sound sculptures—currently in collaboration with visual designer Marc Raszewski and engineer Jim Sosnin. Ian is also a specialist in real-time sound spatialisation and the real-time gestural control of music synthesis and interactive algorithmic environments.

“Sound Mapping”, as Mott explains, “creates an environment in which the public can make music as a collaborative exercise, with each other and with the artists. In a sense the music is only semi-composed; it requires that participants travel through urban space, moving creatively and cooperatively to produce a final musical exposition. Music produced through this interaction is designed to reflect the environment in which it is produced as well as the personal involvement of the participants”.

Sound Mapping uses a system of satellite and motion sensing equipment in combination with sound generating equipment and computer control. Its aim is to explore a sense of place, physicality and engagement to reaffirm the relationship between art and the everyday activities of life. For Mott, “Digital technology, for all its virtues as a precise tool for analysis, articulation of data, communication and control, is propelling society towards a detachment from physicality”.

Sound Mapping, Hobart Wharves

Sound Mapping, Hobart Wharves

Sound Mapping, Hobart Wharves

For music, the introduction of the recording techniques and radio in the early 20th century broke the physical relationship between performer and listener entirely, so that musicians began to be denied direct interaction with their audience (and vice versa). Sound Mapping addresses this dilemma, for Mott believes that “while artists must engage with the contemporary state of society, they must also be aware of the aesthetic implications of pursuing digital technologies and should consider exploring avenues that connect individuals to the constructs and responsibilities of physical existence”.

The Sound Mapping communications system incorporates a single hub case and three standard cases. All the cases contain battery power, a public address system, an odometer and two piezoelectric gyroscopes. The standard cases contain a data radio transmitter for transmission to the hub and an audio radio device to receive a single distinct channel of music broadcast from the hub.

Prior to the project’s commencement, Mott anticipated that “the interaction between onlookers and participants will be intense due to the very public nature of the space. The interaction will be musical, visual, and verbal as well as social in confronting participants with taboos relating to exhibitionism. This situation is likely to deter many people from participating but nonetheless it is hoped the element of performance will contribute to the power of the experience for both participants and onlookers”. From my observation, these are precisely the reactions that the project did receive.

There is some precedent for Sound Mapping. Mott explains: “Participant exploratory works employing diffuse sound fields in architectural space have been explored by sound artists such as Michael Brewster (1994) and Christina Kubisch in her ‘sound architectures’ installations (1990). Recently composers such as Gerhard Eckel have embarked on projects employing virtual architecture as means to guide participants through compositions that are defined by the vocabulary of the virtual space (1996)”.

As a participant myself, I found three-quarters of an hour of wheeling a quite heavy suitcase rather draining. I think of myself as reasonably fit, but I reached the stage where just dragging the case was as much as I could do, despite Mott’s repeated urgings to swing and swerve the trolleys through space in more creative patterns, so as to generate more varied sounds. Not an activity for the frail.

I have to say, however, that I liked the concept of the work very much and was struck by the visual and aural impact of the piece on the several occasions when I encountered groups of engrossed participants making their way around the wharf area. Certainly, well executed public events such as this one enliven the sometimes staid atmosphere around Hobart. It is good to see art-making genuinely getting out into a wider and participating community. The lively nature of Hobart’s wharf area over summer—Tall Ships and all this year—made it a good venue for such a project.

Sound Mapping, A Sound Journey through Urban Space, by Ian Mott with Marc Raszewski and Jim Sosnin, in collaboration with The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, January-February 1998, Hobart

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 45

© Di Klaosen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 1998