Sonic Canvas

Sonic Canvas is an audiovisual installation and performance piece created by the interaction of metal, ink, and paper. With the perceived absence of a performer, the ink-soaked metal objects appear to move on their own on the canvas. The piece builds up as the metal objects collide, leaving behind a calligraphic score and a majestic, dark soundscape; a ghostly projection of a past performance appears on the canvas, creating associations between the ink traces and the notion of memory.

Underneath the canvas, the hidden performer is like a mechanical turk, manipulating the sounds indirectly, moving the metal pieces via a magnet. The vibrations resonate through the table, and two contact microphones amplify the objects’ rolling, rubbing, and colliding. This indirect manipulation results in an uncanny, live stop-motion performance. The objects leave their own trace, and the ink on paper becomes a visual score for the piece.

The signals from the contact microphones are enhanced in Ableton Live to create roaring and buzzing overtones; as impulses are generated, some are turned in to repeating samples, generating an undulating rhythm to the piece. An air microphone picks up additional ambient noise and influences the ghostly projection via a Max/MSP/Jitter patch. This results in a live painting performance, augmented sonically & transformed into a synesthetic opera.

The concept blossomed out of experimentation with audio and paper; in the first half of the week, we explored the sound of paper and different materials. Through this we became attuned to the subtleties of the materials’ physical properties and sounds, inspiring us to create our own compositions.  In preparation for creating a sound installation from scratch, we created contact microphones and manipulated sounds digitally in audio software tools like Ableton, Reaper, and Max/MSP/Jitter. We then refined Sonic Canvas in the last half of the week.