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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 Smirnoffโ€™s text โ€˜Sound in Zโ€™ 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 theย 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: