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SAMPLE PAPER:

Simulating Synesthesia in Spatially-Based Real-time Audio-Visual Performance


Dr. Steve Gibson
Reader, Interactive Media Design, Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK. Email: stephen.gibson@northumbria.ac.uk
Web: http://www.telebody.ws/


Abstract

In this paper I will describe and present examples of my live audio-visual work for 3D spatial environments. These projects use motion-tracking technology to enable users to interact with sound, light and video using their body movements in 3D space. Specific video examples of one past project (Virtual DJ) and one current project (Virtual VJ) will be shown to ‘illustrate’ how flexible user interaction is enabled through a complex and precise mapping of 3D space to media control. In these projects audience members can interact with sound, light and video in real-time by simply moving around in space with a tracker in hand. Changes in sound can be synchronized with changes in light and/or real-time visual effects (i.e. music volume = light brightness = video opacity). These changes can be dynamically mapped in real-time to allow the user to consolidate the roles of DJ, VJ and light designer in one interface. This interaction model attempts to reproduce the effect of synesthesia, in which certain people experience light or color in response to music.

Keywords

Synesthesia, motion-tracking, virtual environments, real-time visuals, electronic music, light design, DJing, VJing, immersive art, interactive media.

Heading: Technical Introduction

Using the tracking capabilities of the Gesture and Media System (GAMS) - invented by APR of Edmonton, Canada - artists can ‘map’ an interactive space with sound, light and images, and have user-movement dynamically control these elements via small 3D trackers. With GAMS one is immersed in a system where, as pointed out by John Doe,… sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text. [This is a sample text and goes on till the next heading/subheading.]

Subheading: Synesthesia

Synesthesia is a condition is which a person experiences sensations from one sense in a second different sense. One of the most common synesthetic occurrences is a description of color related to musical tones. “How does it feel to hear music in color, or to see someone’s name in color? These are examples of synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon that occurs when a stimulus in one sense modality immediately evokes a sensation in another sense modality. Literally, ‘synesthesia’ means to perceive (esthesia) together (syn).” [1] sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text: “sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text sample text.” [2]

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Subheading: Synesthesia and the Arts

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[INSERT HERE Figure2_Gibson_VDJ.tif]
Caption: Figure 1 - Steve Gibson, Virtual DJ, 2005. Photograph by Jonathan Griffiths. © Jonathan Griffiths, 2005. Used with permission.

Heading: Virtual DJ Introduction

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Subheading: Simulating Synesthesia in Virtual DJ

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Subheading: Virtual DJ Mapping and Structure

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Heading: Virtual VJ Introduction

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[INSERT HERE Figure7_Gibson_VVJ.tif]
Caption: Figure 7 – Steve Gibson and Stefan Müller Arisona, Virtual VJ, 2011-2012. Steve Gibson interacting with Virtual VJ at CHI 2011, Vancouver, Canada. Photograph by Stefan Müller Arisona. © Stefan Müller Arisona, 2011. Used with permission.

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[INSERT HERE Figure8_Gibson_VJ.tif]
Caption: Figure 8 - This chart shows the mapping of music effect to MIDI data and then to visual data in the Soundium [25] VJ software. For example CC01/07 refers to MIDI channel 1, control number 7. The MIDI data is then programmed into the 3D tracking system so that users can continuously control sound and video parameters in synchronization and in real-time.

Heading: Simulating Synesthesia in Virtual VJ

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[INSERT HERE Figure9_Gibson_VVJVan02.tif]
Caption: Figure 9 - Steve Gibson and Stefan Müller Arisona, Virtual VJ, 2011-2012. This image shows an audience member interacting with the piece at the CHI 2011, Vancouver. Photograph by Atau Tanaka. © Atau Tanaka, 2011. Used with permission.

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Heading: Opto-Phono-Kiensia, A New Type of Synesthesia?

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Heading: Enabling Subjective User Interaction through Redundancy

[INSERT HERE Figure15_Gere_Col.tif]
Caption: Figure 15 - Gustave Courbet, L’ Origine du Monde (Origin of the World), 1866. Oil on canvas. Photograph by Unknown. Used with permission via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Later Edwarda disappears and then reappears and speaks to the narrator.

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“Madame Edwarda’s thin voice, like her slender body, was obscene: ‘I guess what you want is to see the old rag and ruin,’ she said. Hanging on to the tabletop with both hands, I twisted around toward her. She was seated, she held one leg stuck up in the air, to open her crack yet wider she used fingers to draw the folds of skin apart. And so Madame Edwarda’s ‘old rag and ruin’ loured at me, hairy and pink, just as full of life as some loathsome squid. ‘Why,’ I stammered in a subdued tone, ‘why are you doing that?’ ‘You can see for yourself,’ she said, ‘I’m GOD.’ ‘I’m going crazy –’ ‘Oh, no you don’t, you’ve got to see, look. . .’ Her harsh, scraping voice mellowed, she became almost childlike in order to say, with a lassitude, with the infinite smile of abandon: ‘Oh, listen, fellow! The fun I’ve had . . . ’” [9]
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They leave the brothel and go into the streets of Paris.

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At that hour of the night the street was deserted. Suddenly gone wild, mute, Edwarda raced on alone. The Porte Saint-Denis loomed before her, she stopped. I stopped too, she waited for me underneath the arch – unmoving, exactly under the arch. She was entirely black, simply there, as distressing as an emptiness, a hole. I realized she wasn’t frolicking, wasn’t joking, and indeed that, beneath the garment enfolding her, she was mindless: rapt, absent. [10] [BLOCK QUOTE ENDS]

Heading: Conclusion

This paper has argued for synesthetic simulation as both a way for artists to generally invoke meaning and correspondence between the audio and visual realms. It has also posited that within 3D motion-based environments the simulation of the cross-modal condition of synesthesia can be an asset when planning for complex user interaction in 3D space. This interface design model could be extended to different types of environments where cross-modality is used, for example in tactile touch-based interfaces which employ simultaneous media control of audio, video, text and other forms.

Using a combination of motion-tracking with matched live video, light and sound the artist can create the illusion of ‘optophonokinesetic’ synesthesia for participants and viewers. Beyond being a mere technique for creating a hollow spectacle, this tactic can in fact enhance user meaning, helping participants to interact with a 3D environment with more confidence, and producing more satisfying results for both the users and the spectators. Users can intuit spatial interaction interfaces more effectively with redundant information programmed between the different mediums. This assists with creating meaningful interactivity in the unfamiliar medium of 3D spatial environments, and helps establish formal and aesthetic meaning for the audience, while simultaneously avoiding the pitfalls of random and over-complex interface design and programming.

REFERENCES AND NOTES

[1] Cretien van Campen, The Hidden Sense: Synesthesia in Art and Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007), 1.

[2] Jean Baudrillard, Paroxysm: Interviews with Philippe Petit, trans. Chris Turner (London, Verso: 1998), 65-66.

[3] Martin Rieser and Andrea Zapp, eds., New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative (London, British Film Institute, 2002), xxv.

[4] Cretien van Campen, The Hidden Sense: Synesthesia in Art and Science, 5.

[5] Brendan Phibbs, “Herrlisheim: Diary of a Battle,” in The Other Side of Time: A Combat Surgeone in World War II (Boston: Little, Brown, 1987), 117-163.

[6] Cretien van Campen, The Hidden Sense: Synesthesia in Art and Science, 49.

[7] Anne Carr and Douglas J. Schuurman, “Religion and Feminism: A reformist Christian Analysis,” in Religion, Feminism, and the Family, ed. Anne Carr and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 30.

[8] Mikhail A Lebedev and Miguel A.L. Nicolelis, “Brain-machine Interfaces: Past, Present and Future,” in TRENDS in Neurosciences 9, no. 29 (2006): 536.

[9] There were later claims that Scriabin was in fact not a genuine synesthete. See John Harrison, Synaesthesia: The Strangest Thing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 31-32. "In fact, there is considerable doubt about the legitimacy of Scriabin's claim, or rather the claims made on his behalf…."

[10] Golan Levin’s official Web Site, “Interview for Victoria & Albert Exhibition by Louise Shannon,” September, 2009, http://www.flong.com/texts/interviews/interview_shannon/ (accessed February 10, 2010).

[11] Cretien van Campen, The Hidden Sense: Synesthesia in Art and Science, 49.

[12] Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees, “Evanston Public Library Strategic Plan, 2000-2010: A Decade of Outreach,” Evanston Public Library, http://www.epl.org/library/stratetic-plan-00.html (accessed July 18, 2010).

[13] Michael Whitelaw, “Synesthesia and Cross Modality in Contemporary Audiovisuals,” Senses & Society 3, no. 3 (2006): 266.

[14] Oskar Fischinger, “Sounding Ornaments (1932),” Oskar Fischinger's official Website, first published in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, July 8, 1932, http://www.oskarfischinger.org/Sounding.htm (accessed October 23, 2012).

[15] Michael Whitelaw, “Synesthesia and Cross Modality in Contemporary Audiovisuals,” 266. The video for McLaren’s Synchromy can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jqz_tx1-xd4 (accessed October 23, 2012).

[16] Kerry Brougher, “Visual Music Culture,” in Visual Music: Synaesthesia in Art and Music Since 1900, organized by Kerry Brougher, Jeremy Strick, Ari Wiseman, and Judith Zilczer (London: Thames and Hudson, 2005), 111.

[17] “Star Guitar” The Work of Director Michel Gondry, DVD, directed by Michel Gondry, music by The Chemical Brothers (2002; New York: Palm Pictures, 2003). This can be viewed on the Chemical Brothers’ official Youtube site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S43IwBF0uM (accessed 23 October, 2012).

[18] Kerry Brougher, “Visual Music Culture,” in Visual Music: Synaesthesia in Art and Music Since 1900, 162-163.

[19] Ibid., 166.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Russell S. A. Brinkworth, Eng-Leng Mah and David C. O’Carroll, “Bioinspired Pixel-wise Adaptive Imaging,” in Proceedings of SPIE, the International Society for Optical Engineering, ed. Said F. Al-Sarawi, January 4, 2007, http://hdl.handle.net/2440/44710 (accessed November 20, 2009).

[22] Stacy D’Erasmo, “The Craft and Career of Writing” (lecture, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, April 25, 2000).

[23] Steve Gibson, "Virtual DJ," Steve Gibson's official Website, http://www.telebody.ws/VirtualDJ/description/description.html (accessed October 22, 2012).

[24] This gibes with the subjective experience experienced by many synesthetes. Identical twins Mary and Jacqueline experience color to letter synesthesia but they disagree on exact color to letter sensation. “As Mary puts it: … I really can’t imagine that she sees A as red, for example, whereas I see it as green.” Jamie Ward, The Frog That Croaked Blue: Synesthesia and the Mixing of the Senses (Hove, East Sussex: Routledge, 2008), 6.

[25] P. Müller, S. Müller Arisona, S. Schubiger-Banz, and M. Specht, “Interactive Media and Design Editing for Live Visuals Applications,” Proceedings of the International Conference on Computer Graphics Theory and Applications, Setúbal, Portugal, February 25-28, 2008.

[26] Mark A. Hlatky et al., “Quality of Life and Depressive Symptoms,” Journal of the American Medical Association 287, no. 5 (2002), http://www.jama.ama.com/articles/machinima/holy-grail-previs-gaming-technology (accessed December 1, 2010).

Acknowledgments

Technology and Production Support for Virtual DJ was provided by CANARIE, The Canadian Foundation for Innovation, APR Inc, and The Interactive Institute Stockholm. Production Support for Virtual VJ was provided by Culture Lab, Newcastle University.

For further information on Virtual DJ and Virtual VJ, including documentation, please see http://www.telebody.ws/VirtualDJ

Author Biography


Steve Gibson is a Canadian interactive media artist, interface designer, electronic musician and media curator. He completed his Ph.D. at SUNY Buffalo, where he studied music composition with Louis Andriessen. He currently serves as Reader in Interactive Media Design at Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK. He was curator for the Media Art event Interactive Futures from 2002-07. Simultaneously deeply involved with technology and deeply suspicious of its effects, Gibson’s work celebrates both the liberation and paranoia of techno-fetishism. Influenced by a diverse body of art and popular movements his work fuses immersive art, electronica and DIY design. He works in a range of media, from live electronic music to game art to virtual reality installation. His works have been exhibited in such venues as: Ars Electronica; the Whitney Museum of American Art; Banff Centre for the Arts; Digital Art Weeks; the European Media Arts Festival; ISEA; Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich; the San Francisco Art Institute. His work has been published internationally by St. Martin’s Press, The MIT Press, New World Perspectives, Turnaround Productions, Future Publications, Urra Apogeo, and Passagen Verlag. He co-edited a volume entitled Transdisciplinary Digital Art which was published by Springer in 2008.