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John Bowers & Tim Shaw at Test Department, part of Performing Collections by Pacitti Company, photo by Mafe Valen

John Bowers and I were invited to respond to a number of artefacts from the natural history collection at Ipswich Museum over the course of a 6 day residency. Using the artefacts as materials we designed and developed a number of sonic instruments and used forms of data sonification to create a multi-channel sound and image installation. The artwork directly responded to locally found artefacts, including a 330 million year tree root, a fossilised elephants ear and a number of Neolithic tools such as spear and arrow heads. Our approach to the objects included sonification of historic data, sonification of real-time sensor data and the building of instruments that incorporated conductive material synthesis.

Over the course of the Interglacial and Erratics residencies, we created a large number of works, devices and bodies of material in response to the natural history collection at Ipswich and Colchester Museum. To give a flavour of the work 3 examples are listed below:

  • Sonic Microscope and Image Sonification

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Using a number of image to sound making techniques we made these microscopic images into sonic instruments. The first method was to pixel scan the live video feed using PureData-Gem. The live image was restricted to a square pixel canvas (500×500) and then scanned horizontally and vertically. Taking the greyscale of each pixel the data was mapped to a wavetable and sonified to a number of drones. The changes in timbre were effected by the differing surfaces of the museum samples we were examining. A highly textured surface would create a dense, complex waveform with tight harmonics, while a smooth, flat surface would create more simple, single tone wave shapes. Taking inspiration from Andre Smirnoff’s text ‘Sound in Z’ we built our own version of the ANS Synthesizer using the sonic microscope. In this construction each pixel line related to a different oscillator. The gain of each oscillator was controlled by the amount of light in each pixel. The image was scanned vertically and became a graphic score adding visual stimulus to the ongoing soundscape. The Sonic Microscope was presented on a table with a number of rock samples so participants could explore sonic and visual textures at leisure.

  • A Sonified Weather Station

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Weather Station. Outside we deployed a weather sensor kit to give ourselves a localised perspective on immediate changes in weather. Using a SparkFun weather station we took readings of wind speed, wind direction and rainfall and relayed these to a number of stepper motors striking constructed sound sculptures. The stepper motors were placed around the indoor space in which we were working giving a spatial quality to the sound. Changes in the weather could be heard on the various sound sculptures which consisted of sand, grit and other related geological and meteorological material.

  • Rock Harmonium


To explore the texture and consistency of a number of non-precious rocks from the collection we set up a low voltage circuit powered by a 9-volt battery. The circuit was connected at one side to the battery and the other to a loudspeaker with the various rocks in between acting as resistors. As current passed through the material varying resistances resulted in noisy splutterings amplified through a mini-speaker. The rocks were set side by side each with an on/off switch giving the construction more performativity so visitors and fellow public makers could play the construction with ease.

For more information please see this paper published at NIME 2014: