Via this work, I suggest a new materiality that fuses the corporeality of sculptural form and transmateriality of digital media processes. Within this hybrid architecture, sound acts as the binding agent informing and being informed by both physical form and digital processes, acquiring a body and a system of behavioral response.
Laying on this framework, I describe HIVE as a family of primitive artificial sound creatures that exist in a purely acoustical Umwelt. Their morphology, consisting of tightly packed internal horns within a honeycomb geometry -acting as acoustical waveguides- is formed by the single purpose of embodying sound. Their voices are formed in a constant dialog with their habitat, drawing from and influencing the soundscape of their environment. Visitors can observe this interaction, albeit not without impacting this acoustical ecosystem.
HIVE was produced in 2016 by Sölen Kiratli and Akshay Cadambi and debuted in Santa Barbara Center for Art, Science, and Technology (SBCAST) in December of 2016.
The conceptual foundation of HIVE lies on two biological notions: umwelt -coined by the Estonian biologist Jakob von Uexküll- and biophony, coined by the American musician and soundscape ecologist Bernie Krauss.
What is a tick’s perceived world like? What is the world of a gastropod, or a plankton?
These are only a few of the many questions that Uexkull asked in order to understand an organism’s relationship with its environment. The model he developed, umwelt, examines the subjective experience of the surrounding world by the individual organism through its specific sensory and motor network, defining the world that ‘conceptually’ exist from the point of view of different organisms.
In short, different species in the same ecosystem evolve to pick up on different environmental signals. For instance in the blind and deaf world of a tick, the essential signals are temperature and the odor of butyric acid. For a knifefish, it's the electrical fields. For HIVE, it is the sound field.
II. Organism and its Morphology
HIVE is an artificial organism that exists in a purely acoustical Umwelt. Its only mode of sensing and responding to its environment is through sound, which is thoroughly reflected in its morphology. HIVE is comprised of an exoskeleton that houses the sound viscera, and several vibration sensors extending from it. The exoskeleton is algorithmically generated for the single purpose of embodying and projecting sound and have many versions due to the procedural nature of algorithmic (parametric) modeling.
Morphologically, it is composed of an internal structure of tightly packed horn-like tubes. These tubes act as acoustical waveguides. They amplify, filter, and diffuse the sound from a multi-channel audio system that is attached to the exoskeleton. As a result, this artificial organism generates a 360˚ divergent sound field around itself as a device for livelihood, defense, and communication.
The sounds from the multi-channel audio system move and shift around the organism, forming many spatio-temporal choreographies. The organism, thus, comes alive with the ‘kinetic’ soundfield that is projected through an otherwise inanimate body.
The transmitting of input and output signals, as well as power, is carried out by a main artery resembling an umbilical cord.
While Uexküll had asked the questions: “What is an organism’s relationship to its environment?”, American musician and soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause’s question is: “What role does sound play in this relationship?”
Krause argues that every natural habitat has its own sound signature: “an instantaneous and organized expression of insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals.” This signature contains an enormous amount of information about the diversity and fitness of species in it. The sounds that are generated by organisms in a given habitat, which he coins as biophony, is one of the 3 pillars of soundscape ecology, along with geophony and anthrophony.
Krause further argues that species evolve to establish and maintain their own vocal bandwidth, so that their voices are not masked by other sounds. In other words, sonic spectrum is partitioned in biomes and each bandwidth is claimed by a certain species, as their vocal territory. And, many species rely on these territories for communication, for the purposes of mating or survival.
What does it mean for the organisms in a habitat, when anthropic noise begins to mask their vocal territories? What would this mean for an organism whose only way of communicating and observing the world is through sound?
IV. HIVE - The Installation
Inspired by the notions of umwelt, acoustic ecology, and biophony, HIVE’s voice ‘evolves’ within a constant dialog with its habitat, drawing from, and influencing the soundscape of its surroundings.
Soundscape projected through a quadraphonic speaker setup placed on the periphery of the installation space interacts with the soundfield that HIVE emits, creating a sonic foreground-background, figure-ground, organism-environment dichotomy. The interaction occurs via call-and-response-like sonic events between the ‘organism’ and its 'environment'.
The audience walking within this sound field disturbs the field, not only passively by absorbing or refracting the waves, but also through the vibration sensors extending from the organism hidden under the floor. Sensors pick up the human activity in the form of ground-born acoustic signals and feed these back into the environmental soundscape composition, eventually affecting HIVE’s vocalizations.
While the audience walking within this soundfield become aware of their impact, we intended the extents and nature of this impact to be not immediately apparent, imploring the audience to take their time to explore this soundfield, and eventually be more spatially and acoustically aware of the environment.