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Commute as Composition – Brian House’s Forty-eight to Sixteen

Brian House – Forty-Eight to Sixteen

Scat vocalist Cab Calloway once claimed that when he walked down eighth avenue, he “saw rhythms” rather than the cityscape or bustling sidewalk. This past summer, fellow New York City explorer Brian House prototyped an elaborate workflow for sonifying a variety of biometric data generated during his daily 12 km bicycle commute from Brooklyn to midtown Manhattan.

Forty-eight to Sixteen is a 35 minute meditation on the stop-start rhythm of traffic that House describes as speaking to “recent trends in media culture toward first-person viewpoints” and the “integration of biometrics into documentary”. Utilizing a chest-mounted video camera, a Garmin Forerunner (to track heart rate and pedalling cadence), and a microphone (with custom signal processing to monitor breathing) the artist recorded a ‘long take’ that documented an entire morning commute. The breath rate, heart rate and cycling cadence data for the ride were then interpreted by House’s cellist peer Topu Lyo as separate compositions and then layered and time-synced with the video. The video and aggregate sonifications are a restless study of speed, embodiment and flow that sounds more like a minimalist improv experiment than a rigid exercise in self-quantification. Presumably that is House’s point as he explicitly states he is interested in the “physical relationship” that he and his accomplice have with the source material as well as the broader notion of “performing” data.

House on some of the less obvious nuances in the workflow he’s devised:

There is more programming in this piece than might be evident at first. Aside from data wrangling, the constantly varying tempo changes in all three parts made this tricky to pull off. I ended up building an interface that resembles Rock Band, where Topu could anticipate the timing of the notes as they scrolled toward him on the staff (Im indebted, because doing that three times for 35mins each with extremely repetitive music is quite taxing).

Forty-eight to Sixteen was displayed in Eyebeam’s window gallery this past summer.

Project page | Cello performance: Topu Lyo

Posted on: 24/09/2012

Posted in: Sound

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