Greg Niemeyer, Ryan Shaw, and Dan Perkel’s interactive sound installation/game Organum Playtest 3.0, currently in Banff at the “Art Formerly Known as New Media” exhibition, offers an interesting example of the relationship between sound, movement, space and bodies. The exhibition, curated by Steve Dietz and Sarah Cook, will be at the Walter Philips Gallery until October 23, 2005. The Organum project has been a truly multi-media endeavor, beginning with a film, a book, and an exhibition of stills, and then moving on to the creation of a multiplayer game. On the Organum website, the project is described as “a playground for anticipated changes, adaptations and evolutions of the human body.”
Organum is a computer graphics animated film which establishes a symbiotic relationship between its synthetic images and its soundtrack. Composer Chris Chafe uses data from the digital images to generate the sounds made by the characters’ voices and by their movements through the world. Likewise, animators rely on sound data to generate and to add nuance and expression to movement. In this way, the film avoids traditional cinematic privileging of image over sound, and insists instead on their mutual effect and interpenetration.
Organum explores what it means to be alive by introducing us to a world inhabited by flying organic and mechanical lungs that cannot see, but use sound to communicate and navigate. Although these creatures may seem visually alien to us, they remind us that knowledge is not reducible to visual or quantitative systems of knowing, but must be understood as a fully embodied world-sense. Organum bends the horizontal relationship between viewer and screen, offering instead a new axis of vision that swings and spins like a gyroscope, so that suddenly, we find ourselves face to face with our own visceral bodies that encounter the world through a constant exchange of air and breath and waves of sound. The film has been shown on conventional screens, and has also been projected in the University of New Mexico’s 180 degree dome theater.
Organum Playtest, which is the portion of the project being exhibited at Banff, is a game that takes the inside of human organs as its navigable terrain. Each player speaks, sings, or makes any noise s/he chooses into one of three microphones to control movement along the x-, y, and z- axis. The system registers volume and tone, so that participants can choose what quality of sound feels most appropriate or comfortable to steer through this alien yet all-too-familiar organ-scape. Like the film, the video game encourages participants to reconsider the boundaries between body, world, and other. Air is a substance that is shared to produce a larger sensation of movement, and eventually the specific outcome of arriving at the end of the game.