The Sound of Indifference

The Sound of Indifference has become an interactive sound installation. The current apparatus is made of 7 wooden half open boxes with 7 threaded rods mounted and 20 tin cans turning around by arduino electronics, sensors and stepper motors. The tin cans are filled with found objects and these became sound objects while glueing transparant sheets onto the cans.

The work is interactive and is subtle reacting on the movement of the viewer(s) around the installation. Therefore 7 ultrasonic sensors are connected with the 7 stepper motors, but none of them are connected in a one-on-one configuration. Instead, the sensors are both measuring distances of the rotating tins as well as passing by recipients. Via simple if-than-else algorithms and with always 3 or more sensors involved a complex pattern of movements and therefore over time new ordering of sounds are achieved.

The first version of the work is called ‘The Sound of Indifference (around Peckham Road)’ which refers to the actual site where the objects are found i.e. Peckham Road, London. The second version is planned to be ‘The Sound of Indifference (in Amersfoort)’ and will be both the improved version of the apparatus – to be discussed underneath – and filled with found objects in the Dutch city of Amersfoort, where it will be on exhibition in autumn. This will happen at ‘kaalstaart’, the fine festival for beta art and new crafts.

Feedback and interpretation

While being at the opening and during the exhibition I viewed at visitors behaviour as well as I did some interviewing afterwards. Although people were often fascinated by the mechanics of the work, they mostly perceived the movements as random. After telling them that the apparatus was indeed reacting on their actions, they became often even more intrigued.

I may conclude that this ‘sub-interaction’ as I called it thus far, has not been enough in this case for recipients to recognise the work as interactive. Roughly counted, about only 1 in 5 people did try to trigger some kind of play with the apparatus. Thus, in 80% of the cases stronger engagement with the work wasn’t evoked by its foreseen function. But some were really “trying to force to move it”. Or to stop it… see the documentation video here.

However, the visual part of the found objects gave to many viewers the sense of a multilayered work.

Some expressed that the set-up was aesthetically pleasing. People did mention the open construction and the amount of wires and many looked into the tin cans. The use of these cans did many people remind about the playfulness of a kids’ communication tool.

One lady started to turn the cans with her own hands when a motor stopped turning. This was quite unexpected and when she repeated this, I had to ask her to refrain from this unwanted touching.

Many liked the title of the work and declared it as strong, although one couple said that they thought more of an atmosphere than a noise generating machine.

Also the fact that there was a backstory video of the found objects – witnessing where and how the objects were found –  to be seen on the website and announced at the exhibition site, made interviewees react positive. A peer commented “Works well seeing the installation and the video, documenting the collection of material, alongside” (Thanks Janet).

People liked the repurposing of the objects and especially certain parts made them realise the intent of finding and recycling. For instance the arm of a pair of glasses, a specific small blue pen and the two pieces of a puzzle were mentioned often concerning this matter. More common materials were perceived to be everyday litter and therefore less provocative.

For myself I found a number of improvements to be made, both in artistic sense, function and techniques. Some interesting learnings were:

  • more interactivity to provoke the recipients is needed
  • introduce parallel sensoring and parallel motor actions
  • introduce some randomness in distance relations
  • use of visitors sound as influencing signals on the apparatus
  • the installation can be used as performance piece as well
  • video of process of found objects fuels work in hybrid way
  • sound variations by chosing objects and cans, boxes, holding objects holds more potential
  • potential different configurations make the set versatile

You can read here the post about the first part of the making process: (Sub)Conscious