Sound as Place: Headphone Heterotopia
Sound as Place
Our sense of place is constructed by what we smell, see, touch, and what we hear. Sound is perceivable in 360 degrees of space around our physical bodies. Through hearing sound we can know and/or imagine that which we can not see, touch or smell. Sound gives us distance, extends context, and expands our reference of experience. Sound is the narrator of space.
We listen to sound through the tiny tunnels of our ears. It takes only one finger to close off these tunnels, severing our sonic dimension of perception. When we wear headphones, we close our ears to the immediate space around us, but we also open our ears to new space. We change our sense of place while we remain in the same physical location. This new place has no physical construct and no latitude and longitude. Headphones are hetertopias. Foucault coined the concept to describe a site linked to other spaces, while also in contradiction to those sites to which it is linked. A heterotopia is a real space, simultaneously mythic and real.
Headphones are doorways. They close you off to the surrounding world, while opening up a new world perceivable only through sound. As doorways, headphones are place. Like airports or train stations, their "placeness" is not significant in and of itself, but as a space between places. Between destinations.
Physical destinations around the world are known by their name, size, population, landscape, latitude and longitude, and by weather. My mother looks at the weather forecast for New York City everyday although she lives in Tampa. Knowing the weather of New York City gives her a sense of my place. By translating weather data from New York City into sound and sending that sound through headphones, you open a door to New York City.
(A project with Gian Pablo Vilamill)
Headphone Heterotopia plays with how our sense of place is constructed by sound. With headphones, cities around the world can be heard through generative melodies based on current weather conditions (temperature, humidity, wind direction, length of day, etc).
Using a php url scrapper to parse data from online weather sources (www.pxweather.abbett.org does all the work of retrieving, parsing and organizing weather data into xml for you!), we call and retrieve weather data through a Lantronix Xport (serial to Ethernet module), and send the resulting numeric data to Arduino. Arduino translates this numeric data into midi values and plays back a corresponding musical sequence. Gian Pablo has done great work developing a circuit that produces musical sounds from Arduino using simple voltage-controlled oscillators and the AD5206 digital pot. With this general set up, we can map weather to music. For example, temperature values could be the frequency range of notes, length of day could be the length of melody, wind direction could effect panning, and other weather variables (humidity, heat index, uv index, etc) could effect envelope parameters (attack, sustain, decay, and release).
Technical documentation will be posted as the project develops.