The inception of Convoluting Place resulted from the merging of the research interests of Samuel, Marie and Pablo. Samuel was originally interested in exploring sound’s potential to override rational thought before causing affects on listeners. Pablo was interested in the idea of an artefact unlocking sensation as expounded by Deleuze, where in broad terms we defined it as prompting a brief merging of the sensing and the sensed. Marie was interested in generative art and how it could be applied to create an environment through computational means. In looking for a subject that would sustain these three conceptual pillars we arrived at the notion of ‘place’, which is broadly defined as “a centre of meaning constructed by experience.” This is because sounds emanate from an environment; the divide between subject and object presuposes an exterior, which in effect is place; and because arguably place operates as a generative system with elements behaving autonomously from us. After the first couple of brain-storming sessions, where our interests and their overlap were delineated, we set out to delve more deep into the intellectual history of these terms.
Yi Fu Tuan became the immediate academic point of reference to unpack the notion of place, as his examination of the term in his seminal 1977 book Space and Place became the most influential in geographic studies. Tuan is also particularly relevant to our project as he dedicated much of his intellectual efforts to explore how art is the best suited medium to capture the experiential aspect of place. In his own words “art does not aim to duplicate reality. Art provides an image of feeling; it gives objectified form and visibility to feeling so that [it] can lead a semi-public life.” Tuan broadly divides the notion of place between a conceptual and experiential understanding of it, the extremes of which range from conceiving it as a point in a spatial system to experiencing a series of strong visceral feelings. Customary understanding of place lies somewhere in between. However, aiming at a representation that alluded to the latter definition better suited our project because it suggests Deleuze’s idea of sensation. Furthermore, its lack of conceptualisation also implies less agency from the self, bringing attention to autonomous events happening beyond our control.
Landscape painter Peter Doig became an early reference for how to possibly approach depicting place in a textural way so as to strip it from direct conceptual associations. As Doig has claimed himself, he follows an artistic tradition that employs the materiality of paint to explore the space between the figurative and the abstract. This led us to one of the the pioneers of this method, Francis Bacon, and by extension Deleuze’s 1984 text Logic of Sensation. In it, he describes sensation as an existential pathic communication between the five senses. The artist makes visible a “kind of original unity of the senses” brought about through rhythm, a vital power that exceeds and traverses every single sense. He describes this rhythm as a “diastole-systole: the world that seizes me by closing it around me, the self that opens to the world and opens the world itself,” or a merging of the subject and object. We adopted this notion, borught about through a conveyance of place through sound and visuals, as our conceptual goal.
Generative art becomes the framework of the project, as it itself is an environment: it relies on building a system which after a set of instructions becomes autonomous. All of us three have just very recently become acquainted with the concept (after taking the module Creative Coding), so this was a perfect opportunity to delve deeper on the conceptual side. We read “A Framework For Understanding Generative Art,” were their interpretation of generative art as consisting of entities, process and sensory outcomes greatly helped us to further define the conceptual approach to our digital artefact (listen to podcast for a deeper analysis of how generative art relates to our project).
All sounds and videos were recorded in areas around east London, at points which are associated with own personal moments. These sites evoked memory through the senses. Everything was captured using a dslr camera and a recorder.
In terms of sound-processing, we were looking to mirror the generative process explored in Alvin Lucier's I Am Sitting in a Room digitally, exploiting the possibilities offered by digital sound processing. Excitingly, digital convolution allowed us to replicate this process while breaking apart the relationship between the sound sources and the space where they happen, a relationship that is intrinsic to the “analog” version of this process brought about by Lucier. In turn, this also allowed us to explore the process in outdoor spaces, as we would not depend on resonant chambers: Crucially, digital convolution allowed us to make non-resonant spaces resonate.
With the aesthetic purpose of amplifying the sensation of a certain environment both by (1) reinforcing and blending together the tonal makeup of the different composing sounds (i.e mixing together the prominent partials of all sonic elements), and (2) getting rid of the formants that make sonic elements identifiable and comprehensively linked to their sources, we decided to convolute the recordings with identical, untreated versions of themselves, as this would generate the most “pure” and accurate amplification of the sonic environment. We did explore other possibilities, such as using reversed, pitched shifted, frequency shifted, or in other ways processed recordings as the convoluting sound. While some of these tests brought about some very interesting results, we concluded that mingling with the convoluting sound did not really amplify the sensation of place more than it did transform it, which is something we wanted to avoid.
In practice, this way of “self-convoluting” sound entailed two minor technical issues. One of these was that sounds inherent to the microphone would also reinforce themselves and “infiltrate” into the sound-world. We concluded that the best and most simple way of dealing with this would have been to take two recordings at the same time but with different microphones, so that these inherent “microphone-sounds” would not be the same in the convoluting sound as in the convoluted sound, therefore not being reinforced. However as we did not have access to a second portable microphone of sufficient quality, we decided to deal with this problem by removing these frequencies by comparison between the different recordings (common static frequencies to all recordings were removed). The second issue was that by using the same recording at both ends of the process, common frequencies would reinforce themselves very quickly, meaning that one single partial would take over and leave no space for others within a few iterations. We dealt with this by applying a multi-frequency-band compressor at every iteration.
All sound processing except for the compressor was done through MaxMSP, in Ableton.
The final step was to figure out a code to extrapolate the frequency from the convoluted sound to the images of the environments from where they were taken, so that the latter distorted in accordance to the convoluted sound. We resorted to Java in Processing. We sourced code from the internet to read the frequency variables from the mp3 sound files that we recorded from the places, which we could then apply as the variables that determine the extent of the distortion of the image (see website for images of this code).
We then developed ourselves the following code to alter the images (please note the annotations next to the code – each indicates what each portion of the code is doing):
 Tuan, Yi Fu. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, (University of Minnesota Press, 1977).
 Tuan, Yi Fu. Place: An Experiential Perspective, (Geographical Review: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 1975).
 Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, (Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 2005).
 Galanter, Philip. What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory, (GA2003 – 6th Generative Art Conference, 2003).
 Dorin, Alan; McCabe, Jonathan; McCormack, Jon; Monro, Gordon. A Framework for Understanding Generative Art, (Digital Creativity: Taylor & Francis, 2012).
Cox, Christopher. Sonic Flux: Sound, Art and Metaphysics, The University of Chicago Press, 2018.
Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, (Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 2005).
Dorin, Alan; McCabe, Jonathan; McCormack, Jon; Monro, Gordon. A Framework for Understanding Generative Art, (Digital Creativity: Taylor & Francis, 2012).
Erlmann, Veit. Reason and Resonance: A History of Modern Aurality, Zone Books, 2014.
Galanter, Philip. What is Generative Art? Complexity Theory as a Context for Art Theory, (GA2003 – 6th Generative Art Conference, 2003).
Gilbert, Jeremy; Pearson, Ewan. Discographies: Dance, Music, Culture and the Politics of Sound, Routledge, 1999
Tuan, Yi Fu. Place: An Experiential Perspective, (Geographical Review: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 1975).
Tuan, Yi Fu. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, (University of Minnesota Press, 1977).