The Mechanics of Shadows

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The Mechanics of Shadows

real-time kinetic installation with sound, 2014

Gold Award at the 19th IFVA Festival in the Media Art category, Hong Kong

Concept, sound, and max/msp programming: Cédric Maridet
Mechanical engineering, design, and Arduino programming: Kenny Wong

The Mechanics of Shadows, Selva Days is a kinetic installation that presents a real-time artificial ecosystem. The work articulates four robotized turntables, recordings from the Brazilian rainforest, and projections of shadows of the gears that control the tone arm of each machine creating an audiovisual immersive environment. The platter and tone arm of old turntables have been recomposed with specially designed sets of gears in brass put into motion by three-step motors that command the circular horizontal and upward/downward vertical movements of the arm. The composition of movements of the turntables and the sounds played are controlled in real time by a computer system based on the Lotka Volterra equations (also known as the prey-predator equations). These equations are commonly used to model the dynamics of biological systems in which two or more species interact. In this context, each of the four turntables represents an animal specie and behaves according to three different modes mapped according to the real-time values from the equation: the tone arm either stands still, moves freely or plays the record. In Selva Days, each LP plays different field recordings from the Brazilian rainforest, as typical sounds from a circadian cycle in this environment: morning birds, afternoon and early evening cicadas, night frogs, and underwater recordings from the Rio Negro. These sound machine dwells on histories of sound practices with the phonograph as an apparatus that structured our relationship with sounds and shaped particular aesthetics and listening practices through the particularities of the acousmatic situation. Particularities of the machine and of the medium possibly make the sounds repeat themselves and generate loops.

The records are acetate dubplates that possibly lose sonorous brightness and alter the groove on the disc after being played too extensively, hence being slowly destroyed as the needle touches the surface. The document value of the phonographic referent is transformed through the passage of time and through the causal relation of the sounds that are transferred to the machine and/or the projected shadows in an attempt to define a new organology playing with the dual modes of apprehension of a sonorous event; one that is visual, the other sonorous, in between the intangible and the tangible. A background drone made from the processing of some of the recordings is heard upon the entrance of the installation, and according to the behavior of the artificial system, other sounds are added composing in real time a strong experiential environment, and an invitation to linger in the sensation.

Previous version and exhibition:

The Mechanics of Shadows has been exhibited in a site-specific version in the former Yacht Club of Hong Kong from 22nd May 2013 to 18th August 2013. In this particular episode of the work entitled Water Days, the LPs were playing special recordings from Hong Kong waters: above-water shore recordings, underwater recordings, and radio waves, and the fourth record was playing a drone made from spectral processing of the field recordings.