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Sonic art for intersensory listening experience

Satoshi Morita

Satoshi Morita, freelance artist


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In recent years, the relationship between sound and the human body became a more important topic for musicians and artists. In total, there has been much artistic research dealing with inter-sensory perception between sound and image, but relatively little dealing with audio-haptic relationships in art and music. This paper attempts to provide a theoretical framework of audio-haptic experiences by examining work utilizing space, the somatosensory system, and electroacoustic music.
In the history of sound art the establishment of sound installation was an important epoch, which deals with the auditory space perception involving audience’s active physical participation. Audience experiences the auditory constructed space in specific location having chance to react actively by walking in/around it. The audience’s corporeal activity becomes an essential part of the whole experience of sound installation, however, the awareness of bodily perception appears rather as result of the required physical involvement for the spatial aural experience. The main issue remains to listen to the external space.
The clear focus on the bodily perception stimulated by sound was developed by works with intension to involve our somatosensory system. The differentiation between sound installation and the types of works, which involves audio-haptic perception, can be pointed regarding the definition of the space. While sound installation deals with the external space, the latter concentrates on the inner space of the body. The “inner” space of the body can be defined as the sensorial space, which you can perceive through haptic. It involves medium (skin tissues, flesh and bones) and signal transmission in the nervous system. Vibrotactile stimuli cause mechanical deformations of the skin tissues and it is perceived by mechanoreceptors, which are located in different layers of skin tissues. Furthermore vibrotactile stimuli can be mediated through bone conduction directly to inner ear without exciting tympanic membrane and one can “hear” the vibro-tactile sonic signal.
Technically vibro-tactile stimuli can be generated by subwoofer and so called vibro- acoustic transducer. The tactile sonic wave generated by these two types of devices differs in its means of transmission: Subwoofer uses air borne sound transmission in low frequencies and transducer mediates sonic vibration directly to the body surface.
Electroacoustic composition plays a central role for the development of this type of artistic approach. Beside the fact that electroacoustic musicians (or collaboration with EA musician) have been developing it, methods of composing and playing EA music can be perfectly integrated to the creative process. Sonic wave covers in nature not only audible range but also haptically perceptible frequency range. Sound generation method by electro acoustic music can contribute active and flexible control of the haptic signal, in particular vibrotactile stimuli in frequency and intensity.
Work examples Sonic Bed by Kaffee Mathews (2005), STiMULiNE by Lynn Pook/Julien Clauss (2003), and Sound Capsule by this paper’s author (2008) have different types of technical application in order to mediate the sonic wave, however, they all use electroacoustic music as their source material and core intention is to mediate the sound to the body.
The foundation of the sensory model, which appears characteristically at the works, is the relationship between auditory and haptic modalities. This interaction between auditory perception and haptic suggests a new ground of musical space – the integration between imaginary (musical) space and physical (corporeal) space. Musical imagination, which is established through the long history of aural culture, coexists here with the corporeal awareness. Further application of this type of works, for instance for live performance of electroacoustic music, integration of the emotional response of the audience by means of psychophysiology and biofeedback, or compositional collaboration with electroacoustic musicians can extend the diversity of the audio- haptic sonic experience.

EMS14 Proceedings