Mask

Human interactions enrich our experience of life, but are increasingly mediated through different media and mediums. We are both connected to and separated from each other by the tools we use to communicate, and the characteristics of these tools can have further effects on the environment around us. The anonymity and primacy of text-based interactions that has characterised email, text messaging, and social networks has even become somewhat synonymous with emotional ambiguity and antisocial behaviours, even as they have exploded our conceptions of the limitation of time and space on our communication.

We attempted to explore these ideas of filtering and environmental effects by creating a mask that both amplifies and obfuscates the emotional expressions of the wearer. The mask completely obscures the face of the person who wears it, while an integrated speaker constantly broadcasts music that prevents speech from being audible. The speed of the music is directly modulated by the pitch of the wearer’s voice, however — when the wearer is silent or muted in their expression, the music is slow, dark, ponderous, and heavy. When the wearer speaks in a more animated way, the music becomes faster, brighter, even frenetic. In this way the mask strips speech of its semantic content, rendering it down into a purely emotional gesture.

The mask’s behaviours are driven by a Max MSP patch we wrote to detect the pitch of the wearer’s voice via a microphone mounted in the mask, which then modulates the playback speed of a music sample running in Ableton Live. While we initially were using volume as a modulator, we observed that studio guests and others who inadvertently tested our prototype instinctively attempted to use pitch to interact with the music, once they realized they could control its speed with their voice.

This project was the first time that several members of the team had used Max MSP or Ableton Live, and we gained a healthy appreciation for the complexities of signal processing and flow, as well as integrating electronics into wearable prototypes.