"Bird" is an interactive audio-video installation using an overhead infrared camera to track the presence, number, and location of visitors in the installation zone. This data is used to trigger changes in real time.
Version 1.0 (single channel video, stereo sound) was premiered at the University of New Mexico Art Museum in March 2012; version 1.1 (with four channel audio) was presented in November 2012 at the Taipei Digital Art Festival.
Version 2.0 expands the audio spatialization with eight channel sound, to incorporate height in a cubic dimension. Video is projected on the front wall, with custom software controlling visual parameters such as channel transparency and brightness while offering multiple perspectives.
The project was inspired by the remarkable melodic and timbral variety present in the songs of the Eurasian Blackbird. Blackbirds are found in urban areas as well as forests. A city dweller's encounter of these distinctive songs can leave an indelible impression of having experienced the indigenous artifacts of a non-human culture.
Adult males sing in the spring to establish territory for breeding, and an individual will typically choose an elevated perch that oversees the territory he is claiming. This singing may even be competitive; males can sometimes be observed listening to, and singing in response to one another at a distance. Presumably females choose their partners with melismatic virtuosity and soloistic inventiveness as key criteria in determining 'sex appeal'.
This ‘serenading’ also appears to have an effect on people, as friends become quite possessive over and take personal pride in the birds that sing near their windows.
The sound design aims to highlight the complex morphology of these songs. The installation features an unseen, virtual blackbird, whose behavior (singing, and moving about in the space) is modeled in software. This virtual blackbird improvises a constantly-changing song incorporating individual notes and phrases recorded from actual Dutch blackbirds.
Video behavior in the upcoming version features trail masking as a means for the participant to visualize their own position in the installation space mapped onto the screen as a transparent filter. In addition, there is a correspondence between an abstracted map of Amsterdam, the locations in the city where various habitat sequences were captured, and the video acquired at those sites.
The documentation materials are meant to represent a typical sequence of events as might be experienced by a visitor to the installation, with ambient musical layers and phrase-based virtual birdsong accompanying the envionmental scenes, in alternation with audio-processed close-up footage of blackbirds.
Douglas Huebler's photographic series "Duration Piece #5, New York, April 1969" provides a conceptual point of reference, and the title acknowledges the prodigious musical spontaneity of Charlie Parker.
"Bird" is dedicated to the memory of Regina Verhagen.
Supported in part by a Faculty Research Grant from Northwestern University.
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