Sounding Life

Sounding Life is an immersive audiovisual installation built in C++/openFrameworks and Pure Data. It was created in discussion with Dr. Claire Webb and The Berggruen Institute for the event, What Will Life Become? held in the Bradbury Building in downtown Los Angeles on April 22, 2022. The work, which consists of a quadraphonic soundscape synced with a real time graphics display, imagines a speculative technology capable of searching exoplanets for life using biodindicator gases, and then sonically "zooming in" to reconstruct localized soundscapes on potential candidates. The work is generative, meaning that it is driven by chance procedures that affect a number of the parameters for the computational synthesis engine producing the soundscapes.

The central provocation for Sounding Life is an invitation to rethink current remote sensing technologies (e.g. radio spectroscopy) as the primary means for detecting and analyzing life through its bioindicators. The project reimagines the distanced nature of remote sensing as providing “windows” into the acoustic environments of these planets and moons. Similarly, “soundscape” is rethought as a vibratory ecosystem existing at any scale, from the macro (the scale of familiar auditory experience), to the meso (the scale of the human body as a sounding device) to the micro (scales at which vibratory interactions must be sonified to be “legible” by human listeners). The term “sounding,” in the title of this work is a reference to both the mapping of underwater terrain by measuring the depth of a body of water and the methods of remote sensing used to probe planetary atmospheres. The themes of Sounding Life center on 1) the extent to which the instruments we choose in our search for life are built on predeterminations that potentially foreclose on the extreme possibilities for life in the cosmos, and 2) the assumption that agency and meaningful behavior can only be fully determined and understood when examined within their entangled environmental contexts.

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