What You Say, How You Say It

What You Say, How You Say It

  • 2006
  • Interactive Sound Installation
  • Description

    San Francisco, CA
    Permanent work commissioned by the Exploratorium for the Listen exhibit

    During a residency at the Exploratorium, I developed a prototype for and proposed perScrutinizer for their upcoming Listen exhibit. I was instead commissioned to produce a different installation work, inspired by my mention of "a space of accents" during a phone interview with Listen project manager Amy Lowen and principal investigator Thomas Humphry.

    My first image of this piece was as a space of voices. I imagined a room where different accents of the English language were mapped onto different parts of the floor and movement within the space generated spoken words that mixed, morphed, stretched, and transformed. I imagined ways of manipulating sounds with real-time interactive software to allow a visitor’s movements to change a word’s perceived expression, tone, or mood. I imagined conversations among the voices and other ambient and musical sounds accompanying them.

    I was inspired by the richness, variety, and expressivity of the human voice; the wealth of speech patterns in the Bay Area made it a natural source for sounds. Recordings I made at public spaces and schools in the area make up one layer of the installation’s sounds; here, there is an emphasis on youth. Another layer uses recordings I made mostly of seniors—the elders; they are the principal voices that each participant controls. The voice is also used as a source of timbre or color. The participants movements at times excite bell-like instruments whose timbre is derived from the corresponding voice. In my recordings, I aimed above all for variety, an omnipresent feature of Bay Area social life, though one I did not always find easy to approach.

    The installation is intended to evolve. New voices will be added to the installation as new recordings are made. Should you feel compelled to lend your voice, please contact me.

    What you say, how you say it opened to the public on Oct 21st, 2006. A short article from SF Gate describes the exhibit.

    As this installation makes extensive use of sampled voices, I have been making a lot of recordings. This vocal recordings are all shared through freesound (look for sounds uploaded by batchku); there are currently about 6000 shared samples, namely a set of 500 words by 12 people. Many of the Max/MSP components used in this installation are also shared as a part of _aLib. These include the automated recording/slicing patch for adding new voices to the installation (look in the "for sampling" folder).

  • Acknowledgements

    Many friends, colleagues, and strangers have been of great help during this project. I would like to thank my friends and mentors David Wessel, Edmund Campion, and Adrian Freed from the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies; I am forever grateful for their initial and continued support. I also wish to thank my friends Karen Pezzetti, Stian Rassmussen and Sabrina Bassett for connecting me to Bay Area teachers; I rest humbly in awe of the energy that teachers expend daily on their invaluable work. Last, but far from least, I wish to thank maestro Jay Butler. A great deal of the work for this project was completed at Jay's Two Willow Studios in Forest Knolls, California. Without his support, exchanges, conversations, and cooking, this project would have been entirely different.