Joint forces: A Collaboration Between Sound Art and Visual Art in a Technological Experiment

A fibre-optic sound installation

In collaboration with Maia Urstad

The installation “01001” is a visual representation of the invisible universe of information
circulating in our global telecommunication systems; airwaves, broadband, telephone
signals and digital radio/TV transmissions. Invisible waves of voices and noise are
constantly flowing through us without our being aware of anything other than the final result – e.g. when the mobile phone rings or websites appear on the computer screen.
We have collected signals from this global network and transformed them into a sonic web using fibre optics.

A new, nation-wide digital system for television transmission is currently being rolled out for a large segment of the Norwegian population. The analogue system is overloaded and will be shut down in a few years’ time. The change in technology is in some ways comparable to the transition from LPs to CDs. One of the methods involved in these new developments is fibre optics. Fibre optics is used in many different areas.
Optical signal transmission expends only a small amount of energy and can therefore be used in the transmission of TV signals, for telecommunication and sizable digital signals. Despite its relatively short history, fibre optics is now used globally as a medium for
transmitting electronic messages/signals.

From this global context, we are collecting and processing sound in order to illuminate the fibres in our installation as an object – which is presented at a local level and also as a site-specific work in a gallery or a public space. When sound frequencies activate the fibres’ luminescent properties, the light and sound interact and meld together to form a pulsating object. The invisible becomes visible. The work will also function as an artistic expression independent of this background information.

The installation is site-specific and is constructed on location and adapted to the venue in question. A version of the installation was on display at Kaunas Art Biennial, Textiles 2007, at the National Museum’s Zilinskas Gallery, from 30 November 2007 until 2 March 2008. The installation received honours from the international jury during the opening of the biennial. In November – December 2008 we extended the installations length from 10 to 30 metres. This was exhibited at Bryne Railway Station during the Article Biennial in November 2008 (http://www.article.no )  as one of the main art projects for Stavanger– European Capital of Culture 2008 (http://www.stavanger2008.no)  and at the outdoor exhibition “Interval” in Bergen December 2008 (http://www.curate.no)

The installation’s sound is composed using multiple channels and filtered through a specially designed interface that interprets the sound and translates it into light. This transformer works with the light’s energy, the frequency spectrum, the sonic dynamics and the phases in the sound design and holography, i.e. the space created by the sound’s multiple channels. It utilises these parameters to create light in the processed fibres of the installation, which comprise its visual representation. Telecommunication activities serve as raw material for the sound composition, i.e. sounds recorded before and after passing through a broadband network; the tapping from a pc keyboard, telephone signals, voices, numbers, fragments of telephone conversations and interference / “ether noise”, referring to the un-audible and invisible universe of signals soaring through the air at all times.

With light sources connected to both ends of the fibres, the sound is able to create many different fields of light. The audio frequency range and variation in amplitude activates the light in a subtle way and produces nuances in “colour” and intensity. Even during moments of silence the fibres can be illuminated by transmitting a frequency below the speaker range, making the sound “visible” without hearing it.

These variations in light are created by variations in the sound composition – subtle changes in frequency and amplitude generate a pulsating response in the light. Different types of sound material also generate a wide range of intensity. The composition process has been enriched with new parameters as tools for an audiovisual expression, where vision and hearing meld together in one indivisible object.

The installation is a spatial experience. The audience is invited to enter the fibres and spend time inside the installation. When presented in a black box, the installation offers an atmosphere of contemplation and curiosity. In a black-box setting we generally control the different elements of the installation in order to reduce unforeseen influences such as noise from outside and uncontrolled light sources. We determine the size of the exhibition space and construct it ourselves in order to make the space as soundproof as possible. Installing the artwork in public space is another intriguing challenge. At Bryne
Railway Station –and during Interval under the Bergen City hall, the installation is influenced by a series of unpredictable elements such as noise and light from uncontrolled sources and the contemplation is exchanged with the ability of converting the public space into an other experience.