Some Thoughts (Part1)

How do we perceive our environment through sound & how can we interpret that for an audience?

The more I think about this the more difficult it becomes. Despite many years of designing and operating lighting systems to interpret music for bands somehow the prospect of representing the auditory presence of a place seems overwhelming. Maybe because it is not a specific place but a concept of process . The vOICe has a very simple algorithm that it applies equally to all that it sees initially I was intrigued by this idea and wanted to come up with a way of turning the auditory image of a pace into some sort of projected representation of the place but the more I thought about it the less satisfactory this approach appeared to be in terms of conveying the essences and feeling of a place, I found myself wanting to stand in a darkened room and throw buckets of coloured light around to represent the specific place.

In order to fully understand the problem we need to look at the qualities of light. The two main qualities are Intensity and colour.

INTENSITY: how bright is our light? Traditionally louder sounds are equated with brighter lighting, as with the vOICe but in reverse as it transforms areas of higher intensity into louder sounds.

COLOUR: Light, as with sound, is made up of different frequencies. Low frequencies (with a wavelength of around 430 nanometres) that appear as violet to us could represent low frequency sounds and high frequencies (around 630 nanometres) that appear as red light could represent high pitch sounds.

Thus with a combination of intensity and colour we could represent the sound-scape of a place but would it really tell us anything about the place?

There are many other qualities to light which affect our perception of place such as:

DIRECTION: lighting from above or below can have an immediate effect on our perception of a scene. Light directly from above we associate with ethereal heavenly bodies and from below with hellish demonic underworlds. Is this a learned cultural reference or does it have an even deeper perceptual meaning, either way the association goes back thousands of years. Horizontal lighting helps our perception of objects in space hence its use in ballet and dance.

SIZE: we rarely thing of light as having size but it is very relevant to what we see. A small light source such as the sun in the middle of a cloudless summers day will produce very sharp defined shadows which emphasizes textures in surfaces. An overcast sky on the other hand will produce a soft diffuse light that envelops shadows and hides texture. But this is not what we think of when we imagine these scenarios. Asked to think of a cloudless summers day we will usually conjurer images of soft warm flowing golden light and an overcast sky will be represented by cold sharp steely images. How do these representations come about? Well for hundreds of years artist and photographers have depicted them this way, from Constable to the impressionist summer days were represented as soft warm and lazy. Ask a modern photographer to take a portrait on a summers day and the first thing they will grab (after the camera) is a warming filter, they will then probably stick a large light diffuser above the subject to soften the shadows probably adding a golden reflector to soften and warm the shadows even more before adding a light behind the subject to provide as hazy highlight to the hair and shoulders, job done.

SHAPE: Does our light act as one large round beam or is it many small shards, such as sunlight through woodland leaves?

MOVEMENT: is our light static or dose it shimmer? Does it flicker and jump like a fire or sweep like a search light?

Not surprisingly I have found myself thinking in rather theatrical terms. I also find myself thinking about the visual representation of environment rather than the auditory environment, and with other project members being a musician and a dancer I find myself thinking in terms of performance. A structured performance within a space with a lighting design and cues and rehearsals and lots of lighting equipment. But this is not what the vOICe does, it does note care for size or movement or direction or even colour it simply takes one static monochrome image of one small part of our surroundings and converts that to noise then it does it again. Some how our brains can take that noise and from it form an impression of our surroundings.

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