ICM Final Project: 12 Wenhai Street

After nearly four months of creating mostly screen drawings that I despised, I decided to take my last opportunity in ICM to make something that is meaningful to me.

Emotions that interior spaces elicit are subjects that I scrutinized over the past five years. I was particularly intrigued by an apartment I lived in when I was a kid until about 12. I revisited the apartment for the first time two winters ago after more than ten years of its vacancy. As I walked through the empty hallway and rooms, I started to recall certain memories. I took rolls of film stills of the interior and later on made them into a video.

However, moving images wasn’t the answer to how I wanted the apartment to be experienced. I didn’t know what I want out of the complicated past I had with my childhood home but I knew that I want to keep exploring my interest.

I thought experimenting with text might give me a different perspective and hence I began collecting writings about memories associated with my apartment. However, memories weren’t always in chronological order which made continuous travel between spaces impossible. Contemplating new skills I learned since September, I came up with an idea that could potentially resolve this challenge — sound sculpture!

Sound sculpture is usually defined as a sculpture that produces sound. However, it could also be sound that shapes a sculptural form. An example would be Bruce Nauman’s proposal piece to the exhibition “Art in the Mind” at the “Allen Memorial Art Museum” which consists of only an instruction: Drill a hole about a mile into the earth and drop a microphone to within a few feet of the bottom. Mount the amplifier and speaker in a very large empty room and adjust the volume to make audible any sounds that may come from the cavity. Nauman’s piece is solely based on the description that loosely guides the audience to what they should be hearing to unfold the piece. Neither does the actual cavity sound derive any meaning nor is it anything thrilling. It is the audience’s imagination of visualizing the process and making the sound audible that matters.

Moving onto content development, I studied Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time on his use of sound in movies as a refrain to bring back one’s initial experience with a specific moment. I also drew inspiration from Tarkovsky’s use of poetry in his autobiographical film The Mirror that corresponds to the organic flow of memories told by a nonlinear narrator.

I am fascinated by sound’s capability to recall emotions that could form an architectural space. Referencing Nauman’s experimentation with text, Tarkovsky’s unique way of storytelling and borrowing scripts from Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others, I created my own sound sculpture that is made of a floorpan of my childhood apartment and multiple buttons that uncover stories of my past.

This was the first model I used for user testing. Although there weren’t an actual order for the stories, people were a bit confused as to where to began since their eyes generally traveled from the top left corner which was the bathtub. Hence, I decided to rotate the model to the door and elevator facing top left corner of the screen.

This is the script I used. Besides partial audio from the lake, kitchen and balcony (bottom right) and housekeeper’s room I got from freesound.org, I recorded everything else with a Roland R-05 WAV/MP3 Recorder.

The final floorpan is shown as above. I intended to keep the visual representation as simple as possible to encourage users’ imaginative power to build the physical space. The interaction is fairly simple. Users start an audio track by clicking a specific button and have the option to stop playing by clicking the button again. Users also have the option to overlay one audio over another (or as many as they want). To interact with the piece, click here.

I am still not sure if I have found my answer through this medium but I am quite happy with the outcome. Perhaps I will incorporate this concept into VR in the coming semester.

3 questions for my users:

1. How did you walk through the apartment?  What were your start and end points and why?

2. What feelings did the audio evoke? Did you feel invited or isolated in a stranger’s place?

3. Was there a specific story or sound that you gravitate towards?


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