Habitat

Installation, June 2008
Genoa, Italy

Habitat uses generative sound and music to visualise the inhabitants inside a building. Exhibited at the New Interfaces in Musical Expression conference in Genoa’s Faculty of Arts and Philosophy building, this public installation uses sound to make the invisible visible in public space. As students and professors entered, the sound of increasingly exotic animals was piped into the streets. As people left the building, the din of the animals would gently die down. Hidden inside the building was a device that polled the comings and goings inside the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy. The device tracked sound, movement, and even mobile devices carried by those in the building.

The installation generates a sonic landscape – a generative wildlife habitat – based upon how populated the installation space is. The objective of Habitat is to encourage those who experience it to consider the installation space and, by association, the city differently. By revealing activity within a private building, we can begin to consider the impact of commercialisation, gentrification and industrialisation on these previously public spaces which, at one point in time, were not so densely populated.

Habitat displaces the default sonic landscape – pedestrians traversing the city-space, commercial ambience, vehicles and traffic – overlaying a generative ambience constructed entirely out of wildlife and field-recordings. As the population shifts within the physical installation space, the sonic landscape generated by Habitat reflects these changes: various animals and exotic wildlife emerge, flock and interact with each other, resulting in a vibrant and enchanting ambience.

The Habitat device regularly polls the building, listening for activity and counting the number of mobile devices being carried – such as laptops, tablets and cell phones. The more activity logged, the more wildlife sounds will be heard in the street outside the building. In turn, pedestrians get a rare glimpse into the inner-workings and goings-on inside the building.

Experiencing Habitat, we become keenly aware of the unseen activity around us and, in turn, gain a little more perspective about our own role in the city. It is then that we can build a new relationship with the city, to consider our impact as pedestrians, commuters, workers, visitors and consumers. Habitat invites you to stop, observe, and listen, in order to experience the true impact of our presence in the city.

Creative Commons cover photo courtesy of Tatiana Taty.