Playing The Archive | WORKSHOPS



Transformation of data to music requires participatory action and participatory listening. 8 objects emerged as an exercise that would allow a group of performers/audience to gain presence in the process. Through conversations and iterations we developed an exercise allows one or more individuals to, in real-time, (a) contribute information about their personal experiences – data, (b) participate in the creation of a sonic graph that could represent those experiences – music, and (c) allow for interpretation of those experiences through presence – listening. Performers/audience, serving as both makers and observers, are immersed in an experience that reflects both the affordances and the constraints of the data collection and process.

Pulling from knowledge of life-span development, we identified 8 events that serve as milestone events:
1. birth,
2. entry to school,
3. entry to the work-force,
4. marriage,
5. relationship dissolution,
6. having a child,
7. retirement, and
8. death.

While these are events that individuals often experience during their lives, all persons will not necessarily experience all the events, and, all persons do not experience the events at exactly the same age (even through there are societal norms, e.g, entry to school at age 5 years). Thus, a data frame is set up to capture between-person differences in both event occurrence, and the timing of those events that do occur.

Through the participatory exercise, individuals provide information about their personal experiences – data. Specifically, individuals are asked to indicate when, in their life span, they experienced or expect to experience each of the 8 events. Individuals provide 8 onset times, one for each event (“null” is included as a possibility if the individual never expects a specific event within their life time). In practice, individuals are asked to locate these 8 (or fewer) onset times on a timeline representing the life span.

Using found objects (identified as relatively easy to procure in bulk), we identified 8 items that individuals can (in interaction with a table or other hard surface) use to produce different sounds.
1. chestnut,
2. paper clip,
3. nut & bolt,
4. small box of wood matches,
5. chopstick,
6. playing card,
7. coin (penny),
8. small stone.

Each of the objects is paired with an event – chestnut with birth, paperclip with entry to school, etc. using social-norm representations.
Performers/audience are presented with an animated time-line, a horizontal bar that fills over the span of three minutes (about the length of a pop song) that represents development through the life span. The beginning and end of the time line are paired with the birth and death events, respectively – events that are common to everyone, and serve to anchor the beginning and end of the sonic graph.

Once the performers/audience have their personal timings laid out (on a piece of paper), the exercise begins. The timer starts – everyone used the chestnut to make a sound together. As time progresses, sounds from the objects emerge – each person doing something different (individual differences in timing and specific sounds) but all participating in the same “life span”. When the timer reaches the end, everyone uses the stone to make a sound together.  What emerges is a sonic graph of individual data, in which we hear both the commonality of life progression, and the individuality of individual lives.

The key objective of the participatory piece is for individuals to experience (a) contributing data, (b) making music and (c) listening to that music. We have found that, in practice, that one or two rehearsals are necessary for the group to get comfortable with the tasks and move past their excitement about the active sound-making process in order to open their ears to listen. Thus, we suggest that even with large groups that the timer is run a few times.

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As part of the workshop series for Playing the Archive, we invited a group of researchers from the social sciences and the arts to bring in their research data to work with percussionists Robyn Schulkowsky and Joey Baron over the course of four days. While conversations were ongoing prior to the workshops, these sessions were treated as experimentation exercises for both musicians and researchers to engage in conversation and generate ideas on how to play and sonify data. By translating different forms of archive through processes of sonification, visualization and materialization, the hopes is that these aesthetic presentation would contribute to knowledge-generation in that medium, resulting in a  development of new insights and understandings.

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