The Nature of Sound by Shauna Jean Doherty
A dynamic combination of human and technological elements, Marc De Pape's The Chime transforms routine urban activity into unique melodies through the “poetic translation” of data gathered from the device's immediate environment. De Pape's project engages the fundamental contradiction between embodied human experience and the logical impartiality of the machine, reconciling this difference through the composition of musical elements. The complex technological arrangement of De Pape's piece is nuanced by the device's basic reference to the wind chime—a rudimentary translator of information—where wind is converted into music and velocity affects rhythm. The Chime in this respect harkens to a basic impulse to harness abstract or inert data and transform it into something more perceptual and dynamic.
Like a wind chime, the rationalized ordering of organic information is carried out by De Pape's apparatus, which he refers to as an agnostic machine. The Chime “respond[s] to environmental stimuli and phenomena yet ascribe[s] no meaning to the perceived change.”1 It is, indeed, the collaboration between the humans who perceive the harmonic output of The Chime, and The Chime itself, that produces meaning. De Pape maintains that the melodic sounds produced by his device create a sonic portrait of the vibrant environments in which it is situated, revealing the expressive potential of the seemingly repetitive sounds of urbanity, ideally reconceptualising the city as an acoustic place.
The work itself recalls the creative output of pioneering new media artist David Rokeby. His now-canonized work, Very Nervous System (1982-1991), was one of the first programmed computer artworks to harness human-machine feedback in order to produce a generative soundscape. Rokeby's highly technical artworks are described by art historian Dot Tuer in her 2004 essay, “Art in the Age of Intelligent Machines,” as “poetic,” while retaining a unique imperviousness to “cultural and social relations.”2 In The Chime, De Pape takes up Rokeby's project of producing artworks that use cutting edge technologies to reflect upon the social relevance of those very devices.
In the case of The Chime, local information is sonified as a coherent composition. Data sonification—the aural equivalent of data visualization—is an increasingly popular way for artists and academics to interpret large sets of information, which, without modes of rationalization, can overwhelm perception. De Pape postulates in his thesis (the result of his graduate research in OCAD University's Digital Futures program) that the visual dominates in the conceptualization of urban environments. The city tends to reduce itself into abstract systems and maps. In De Pape's account, acoustic representation can offer an idiosyncratic reinterpretation of the urban environment that could be mobilized to combat a “blasé attitude in the city.”3
The abstract flow of human movement within the metropolitan landscape has been documented and poeticized since the advent of the modern city. One such metropolitan motif is French poet Charles Baudelaire's Parisian flâneur, immortalized in his 1863 essay, “The Painter of Modern Life.”4 This nineteenth century character was the epitome of the modern and urbane. The flâneur observes and wanders the city, enthralled yet removed from the activities of the urban environment. The Chime conducts itself in much the same fashion, examining its urban surroundings in order for its audience to ruminate on the conditions of modern existence. The Chime is a digital flâneur; Toronto serves as its muse as it negotiates public environments and neutrally interprets the dynamism of public behaviour, as seen in De Pape’s visual album, Scoring the City. Within his thesis, De Pape elaborates on Baudelaire’s observations, proffering a redefinition of public space in the twenty-first century in order to interrogate the evolving conditions of public experience. Public discourse, De Pape theorizes, has migrated from the sidewalks and streets of the cityscape to the niche locales of online discussion boards, social media forums, and vacuous cable network shows.5 The flâneur in both its literary and digital sense enacts a psychogeographical re-conception of the city streets, migrating the discussion of public space back to the outdoors while marauding around with no purpose other than to become more acutely aware of the energies that animate spaces.
The acrylic construction has been (re)located to various parts of Toronto for a total of four installations (including its current presentation at InterAccess,) at times functioning as a unique participatory public concert. In a gallery setting, numerous physical variables alter the live output from the 18 sensors that comprise the device. The melodic output evolves based on fluctuations in its vicinity. A cacophony of xylophone notes are triggered as the viewer approaches. The Chime responds with a selection of string sounds as the viewer recedes. The geomagnetic positioning of the machine produces varied piano notes. Fluctuations in temperature change the key.
Placed within the interior of InterAccess's gallery space, The Chime offers a unique spectrum of stimuli for the device to process, deviating from the project's initial conception as a translator of urban activity (the original construction recorded data for future playback, and did not perform live). Though fluctuations certainly occur, the gallery presents a more controlled space. For this iteration of the project, the artist has specifically tuned The Chime to respond to the gallery's interior, modifying and intensifying the relationship between the apparatus and its audience. The performance that will result over the exhibition's duration will be a melodic translation of the ebb and flow of viewers occupying the gallery space, reprioritizing the sonic quality of an exhibition in opposition to its often favoured visual attributes.
Marc De Pape's The Chime remaps public space through sound. The re-presentation of the city—prompted by the desire for alternative figurations of human activity—speaks to this contemporary moment wherein the abundance of information can make us feel distanced from ourselves rather than more attuned. De Pape's machine, in its complex programming, reorients the humans that engage with it, who in turn must reflect on their own presence, place, and consciousness.
1 De Pape, Marc. The Chime: Scoring The City. Master's of Design, Digital Futures, 2013. Toronto: OCAD U, 2013, 18.
2 Tuer, Dot. "Art in the Age of Intelligent Machines." David Rokeby. Canada: Art Gallery of Hamilton and Presentation House Gallery, 2004. 23-33.
3 De Pape, Marc. The Chime: Scoring The City. 50.
4 Baudelaire, Charles, and Jonathan Mayne. The Painter of Modern Life, and Other Essays. London: Phaidon, 1964.
5 De Pape, Marc. The Chime: Scoring The City. 3.
About Marc De Pape
Marc De Pape is a creative technologist interested in creating novel interactions and unique representations of data. Prior to completing a Master’s in Design in Digital Futures at OCAD University, Marc studied Computation Arts at Concordia University. Between studies Marc directed music videos (including Tegan and Sara’s Alligator) in addition to working as a Video Producer and Audio Visual Specialist at the Royal Ontario Museum. He currently works as an Experience Designer, exploring the spaces where people and technology meet.
About Shauna Jean Doherty
Shauna Jean Doherty holds an MFA in Criticism and Curatorial Practice from OCAD U, and a BA (Hons) from the University of Toronto, where she double majored in Book and Media Studies and Semiotic Theory and Communications. Shauna Jean has curated exhibitions and events for Vtape, Xpace Cultural Centre, The Black Cat Gallery, The University of Toronto’s EEL Gallery, OCADU Graduate Gallery, The Art Gallery of Ontario, and Hashtag Gallery, and has held various curatorial and programming positions at Hashtag Gallery, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and Hamilton Artists Inc. Her writing has appeared in C Magazine, the Journal of Curatorial Studies, and Carbon Paper. Shauna Jean currently lives and works in Vancouver.