During the last several weeks, composers, sound designers, and media artists have been presenting their works created with the Pandemic Media Space platform. It is a tool for creating musical compositions using statistics on changes in nature during a pandemic. Seven composers from Ukraine and Poland have already described their experience of working with the Pandemic Media Space instrument in the previous text. In this one, the other seven artists tell about the sources of their musical ideas, how the pandemic influenced the creation of opuses, and the benefits, prospects of such a platform for future collaborations of art and technology.
During the Pandemic Media Space project, I wrote a piece for soprano, violin, cello, and piano. “Clouds on the sky” is the only work of the project that does not use electronics. This is an algorithmic composition based on data from the platform, namely: air quality, humidity, pressure, wind degree, and weather in Ukraine.
Why did I choose these parameters? I spent a long time reviewing and comparing different data, and finally settled on air quality, humidity, pressure, wind degree, and weather, which I applied to pitch, rhythm, sound, and as text. Since I did not really imagine my work on the piece and could not predict how long it would take, I started working literally immediately after the appearance of the web platform. It was very exciting, and unexpectedly, even for me, the process went very quickly, so by mid-November the work was completed. In fact, you can use any data to write an algorithmic composition. The main thing is to find a principle by which to transform it. Thus, in my work I used some data several times, applying them to different parameters or using web platforms and different scales to convert them.
The pitch of the soprano part is based on air quality data with a scale where 1=semitone, the number of semitones is calculated from the initial g of the first octave. Periodically there are sounds that lie outside the soprano’s range. I decided to replace the following sounds with noises: whispers and cellophane noise. The timbre of cellophane appeared by accident, thanks to my cat, who loves to bite it. Air quality data is also used for the rhythmic structure of the piece. At the beginning of working on the piece, the violin part was not planned at all. It appeared already in the process of writing the work, to create an “acoustic environment” for the soprano. The pitch of the violin is connected with the part of the voice: it either repeats the sounds that were already in the soprano (like an overtone with a flageolet), or, conversely, is ahead, as if telling the singer the next sound.
The piano part is based on these humidity and wind degree parameters. While numerical humidity values simply indicate key numbers, wind degree data indicate the frequency characteristics of sounds in hertz. The numerical series pressure is used in three different ways: as the pitch of the cello part, as the pitch of the violin part, and as the three ways to play the cello. I used air quality and weather graphics at the end of the piece as a scheme for improvising the violin and cello, as well as the noise element of the voice part. Weather data also is a basis for vocal text. At first, I thought that there would be no words in the soprano part, only sounds (vowels and consonants), but later I decided that the data from the platform should be used as much as possible. This is what determined the title of the work — “Clouds in the sky”.
Performers: Oleksiia Suk (soprano) and Sed Contra Ensemble, Andrii Pavlov (violin), Viktor Rekalo (cello), Valeriia Shulha (piano), Serhii Vilka (conductor)
Participation in the project was a very positive and useful experience for me. On the one hand, constant communication with project coordinators, other composers, online lectures gave a sense of belonging to the composer community, which is very important now when we are all in varying degrees in isolation. Also, it was just very interesting. On the other hand, for me personally, it was an impetus for writing the first fully algorithmic composition.
The Pandemic Media Space platform can be a stimulus to the emergence of interesting concepts, to the creation of algorithmic compositions — that is, a tool for enriching musical language. It actualizes the question of finding the principle of data transformation, which I have already mentioned. In my opinion, the composer chooses the principle that provides the result that best fits into his musical language. I think we will see this by listening to all the works created within the project.
My work, “Almost year”, is intended as an audiovisual installation. I have been working with data for some time, and Pandemic Media Project found me at the moment while I was building a small multisensoric device intended to monitor physical conditions in my studio and around it to produce continuous musical output and broadcast it as an internet radio stream. The character of the data is almost identical to this streamed by the Pandemic Media Space website, so I decided to use my own source instead. On the other hand, the website is a good source of pandemic data and the weather in general.
I have taken this and compose it in such a manner, the daily records from few days before the pandemic started in Poland I’m presenting every second successively and this presentation ends in the day when Pandemic Media Space stopped monitoring it. This period of time includes about a year, hence the title of the work. There is a lack of weather data from the beginning, it does not appear until September 2020, so the first part of the work covers only pandemic data increments.
I combine this reading of the data from the website with the live stream generated in my studio, so in the music, we have three layers: pandemic, weather, and monitoring of conditions around the studio. The installation nature of the work is revealed only during the live presentation, where the data from Pandemic Media Space flows in a loop and we can directly influence the speed and direction of the data flow. Roll them back and speed up or slow down while the data from the studio is still generated live. From the visual side, I am using simple ideograms symbolizing changes in the weather, active cases of Covid-19 are presented by the biohazard ideogram, fatal cases are presented as a skull, and cases of healing with a cheerful face. The appearance of the ideograms is related to the increase in statistical data, however, we only see a fragment of the whole on the screen.
The artistic experiment I undertook concerns the possibility of presenting statistical data as separate cases. The work confirms that we are able to imagine a certain number of people, but over a few dozen the crowd becomes anonymous and we are not able to keep up with registering the change. Working with data is always inspiring to me. Data is a great aleatoric resource that can be used in many ways. Pandemic Media Space is a convenient source of such data, and the variety of proposals presented by the artists involved in the project proves that the possibilities of interpretation are virtually limitless.
The pandemic is also a source of unpleasant experiences. This special one brings with it not only the suffering of sick people and their relatives. The restrictions introduced to counteract its effects cause another wave of suffering related to, for example, the loss of sources of income, difficulties in starting treatment for diseases other than Covid-19, or even the prosaic impossibility of enjoying the company of friends in a larger group. I am glad that Pandemic Media Space takes up an unpleasant topic because it is a bold attempt to transform something negative into positive, in the language of art.
For my work “Earth Diary”, I decided to use data on the state of planet “health” since the beginning of the Covid-19 era (air, wind speed, clouds, atmospheric pressure, and temperature). I was interested in working with a lot of data, almost with numerical streams, which are difficult to keep in mind and accurately imagine the results of their interpretation. I did not want to “translate” the data from the language of numbers into musical parameters. I was curious to find a way to observe how this data changed the music I had imagined before.
The “Earth Diary” is a work that is currently growing and will continue to grow and take on various forms. One of the final variants I imagine as a “sound book” that can be read non-linearly, starting from any moment, but all the moments will be interconnected (such as Milorad Pavić’s “Dictionary of the Khazars”).
At the beginning of the work, I imagined a space in which there are sound containers with data (parts of a large book). The navigator in the “book” space is what the reader or listener can partially control, but the control model will change all the time. That is, the physical characteristics of the containers (material, weight, aerodynamic drag, etc.) will change during each interaction with the book itself. The interaction changes, for example, the speed and local coordinates of this navigator (from “straight, fast” to “back, very slow”). This model of interactivity helps to prolong the phase of active perception and longer interaction with the work. A prototype of the game mechanism (sound containers + replaceable navigator) was created in Unity.
“Earth Diary” material in the clarinet part consists of six core feelings that do not leave me since the beginning of the “Covid” era: breaking, slide and carefully, waves, swinging on the rope, running breathing, hidden. These concepts became the starting point of the composition, forming into small motifs that became the “content” of the musical diary. I deliberately did not use numerical data in the process of composing instrumental “theses”, concentrating purely on emotions and guided by the composer’s intuition. The musical “theses” of the diary were formed from the “content”, and these, in turn, became the material for the “summary” — a concentrated introduction to each of the chapters of the “book”. The “introductions” themselves are an iterative (repetitive) process of changing the elements of musical language, which was implemented in SuperCollider. The different processes of timbre modification and selective recombination of clarinet part (performed by Dmytro Pashinsky) were the main parameters influenced by data graphs modified into numerical and audio streams. Later I plan to write the material of the “sections” and “subsections”.
Among the musical inspirations very significant for me is “Mantra” by Karlheinz Stockhausen, the formative principle of which inspired me to create large structures that grow from a small crystal of motifs. As a method of working on recombining the elements of audio recording into a new work, indicative for me is Bernard Parmegani’s “Violostries”.
While working on the project, I often began to think about the philosophy of using numerical data in my works, constantly asking myself: What is numerical data for me now? Does it have extra-musical meanings and which exactly? What is the ratio of data and music that comes out with their help? How does the emotionality of our perception change when we, as listeners, know what the data is? Needless to say, it was ethical issues that prevented me from using Covid’s data.
If we compare Pandemic Media Space with similar web platforms, Pandemic Media Space has certain advantages in providing collections of transparent linked data with constant updating and various types of graphic (as well as sound) representations, which allows estimating their artistic potential for further adaptation in another art product. The advantage of the platform is in giving a stimulus for creativity, a base that needs to be processed, creatively rethought, and reinterpreted, rather than a finished product that adapts to the needs and the individual user, such as websites with artificial intelligence.
I think that collaboration with the computer and artificial intelligence in the use of large amounts of data has the potential to become tools of the future. And the Pandemic Media Space platform, of course, is a tool that facilitates such interaction. I think that Pandemic Media Space can turn into an open multimedia collection of various artistic approaches to the interpretation of data on different planes. I am very happy to be part of the Pandemic Media Space project that creates me when I work on it.
The idea for my work came to me after so many months of reading, analyzing, processing, and, as we say in Polish, digestion data and information about this terrible disease. We are surrounded by good and bad publicity which has a big impact on our lives. Trying to find myself in this panic attack world made me think that we are now in the time of tests — big tests of our behavior, reactions, submission, reaction, protesting, transferring, communication, etc. So, I felt like a crash test dummy used in accidents without any question, permission, or consent I was put to the test.
I used really terrifying data for me: the numbers of Covid cases and the number of dead people of coronavirus. Concerning data from Poland as musical notes for my composition, I decided to make it in real-time flow of the sequential numbers connected to frequencies of two slightly distorted tones. Together they make a Shepard tone, ascending endless glissando. It’s a simple idea but also can be terrifying with concept and noisy sound (imagine this as an endless sound which you have to listen to). Also, the data is presented in the visualization of a test dummy with liquid pouring inside as well as a mask on the eyes which also transforms to the liquid. There are also symbolic masks and subjects inside of the head which I leave listeners to think about it.
Pandemic Media Space can be a tool for us to create projects with streaming data. Actually, I was testing new ways of liquid visualization with this data, new engines for liquid visualization were tested. My project should be considered as a live stream or interactive installation controlled by accelerators in my phone which is a controller of head movement in it and streaming data is the second controlling sound frequencies system. We started using generative programming not so long ago, and I know that we experiment a lot with it. So, this platform is a great opportunity to use this data in your generative instruments or visual projects. I think that perspectives and benefits are huge and can even evolve over time. You can hear and see the data in some interesting way.
Last year was quite tough, probably for all of us. Most people were extremely concerned about their health but that was not the only factor influencing people’s mood. Critical information about the climate changes, the visible rise of the temperature, spectacular natural disasters… At the same time, in Poland, the general anxiety was increased due to radical moves of the right-wing government. People started to be afraid and felt overwhelmed by the news. These all circumstances had also a visible effect on me as well as influenced a lot on my piece “heat”. In the beginning, I wanted to work on data provided by the Pandemic Media Space. But after some time I realized I am too concentrated on the post-apocalyptic visions of the poor world lost in the darkness to focus on precise data and its analysis.
All the sounds I used to construct “heat” were recorded in my locked apartment, as I spent the majority of the last year inside. I decided to record a squeaking door (which paradoxically was not squeaking so often as we were locked). The natural rhythms inside the recordings are the base for the rhythmic layer of the piece. The general mood of the piece floats around the post-apocalyptic dark aesthetics which is the natural consequence of the general anxiety I was experiencing at that moment.
The Pandemic Media Space for me is the project made especially for current circumstances, which connects people between two countries who could not meet in person due to the pandemic context. I believe Pandemic Media Space can be a very interesting space to confront artistic needs with technological knowledge. I do not know if such a platform can influence musical language but for sure can open the composers’ minds to the use of the new source of media.
My work is called “Aeolian processes”. It is a collective name for all types of wind erosion. This process is natural, but due to climate change, wind erosion can become threatening in those regions of the world where the intensity of these processes has not been observed before. We are all experiencing more and more intense climate change every year. Perhaps the biggest threat is increasing land degradation: dust storms, extremely high levels of air pollution due to direct and indirect anthropogenic impacts (forest fires, peat fires, etc.). These all are phenomena that we encounter more and more often in our daily lives. The topic of nature is extremely important to me, and the Pandemic Media Space platform also provides data on changes in temperature, wind speed, and other parameters that directly or indirectly depict climate change and the intensification of erosion.
“Aeolian processes” has several forms: a work for acoustic ensemble, a work for instruments and fixed recording, a work for instruments and live electronics, an electroacoustic composition for fixed recording. The composition is based on data on changes in temperature and wind speed from the Pandemic Media Space platform, as well as spectral analysis of wind recording and saltation process (one of the types of wind erosion). The pitch in the work is mainly based on the series obtained during spectral analysis. The rhythmic organization of the material is mainly a reflection of wind speed data.
For me, Pandemic Media Space is the first experience of using data about various global processes in real-time! It is also an opportunity to reflect on natural or global processes in a completely new way. The particularly flexible data architecture available on Pandemic Media Space makes this platform truly unique, as it can be fully used by novice musicians or people interested in generative music, as well as experienced composers or multimedia artists looking for new ways to organize sound and visual material in their works.
In my work “Endless spring 2020” I made a part of a simple synthesizer based on wind direction data and changes in atmospheric pressure in Ukraine. I also took weather data (clear sky, overcasting clouds, etc.) and recorded them in a synthesized voice. Next, I took individual data files or entire archives and used Audacity to open them as digital data (this audio editor can play any files as music) and used these sounds as samples (they turned out to be quite short).
Another source of sound for this work was the first part of Antonio Vivaldi’s concert “Spring” in the version for string quartet, each part of which I performed on the violin. Later I arranged them so that there was a full string quartet. I converted this recording to mp3 with a different bitrate, and also made a version of “raw data”, which came out much longer than the original recording, in which, however, you could still hear the tone of the original work.
Why Vivaldi’s “Spring”? Because quarantine began in the spring. It was as if time had stopped and every day was the same as the other, despite the direction of the wind, the atmospheric pressure, and the dust from the burning Chornobyl forests. Any artistic actions were a threat to life and health, time seemed to stand still and began URL-eternity as if staring into your soul. The deterioration of the work is very similar to the quality of sound transmitted via Zoom, Skype, or Viber. And finally, at the end of the work, there is only a “digital” version of Vivaldi’s concerto, in which you can already understand only the basic key. Ordinary artistic practices that were in quarantine are difficult to adapt to the new reality.
The Pandemic Media Space project made me think about the possibilities for the existence of art in the future. Such online projects are one of the ways. This includes the opportunity to maintain very important contact with colleagues from around the world on a closed border.
In my opinion, human genetic modification is the best way to create a new musical language, because it will allow you to perceive a wider range of sounds, or perceive sound, not through the ears or body, but also, for example, through the eyes or nose (joke). The various means of algorithmic composition have existed for as long as the musical composition itself has existed. Various structures characteristic of classical music (fugue, sonata form, etc.), classical-romantic harmony (and other harmonic systems), scales — all these are also algorithms. Not to mention the achievements of composers of the XX century. Therefore, Pandemic Media Space is rather a new tool for creating and distributing works of art.
There are now sites on the web that can use algorithms to create midi-files or play pieces of music. But Pandemic Media Space allows you to work with up-to-date data, the platform is not tied to any clearly defined popular genres or standard timbres or even midi (such as wolfram tones). This site allows an author to work directly with statistics, to find their own ways to use this data in their work. This is what distinguishes Pandemic Media Space from other similar projects. Such platforms are now in demand because the possibilities for holding public events are still limited. And web-art projects also help meet the demand for interactivity, which usually cannot be provided by open public events.
The Pandemic Media Space project is supported by the European Union under the House of Europe program
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