This installation is grounded in the observation made in Kendall Wrightson’s An Introduction to Acoustic Ecology that modern society has severely constricted our acoustic horizons and has created noisy lo-fi environments. Wrightson points out that “the masking of reflected and direct sounds is so severe that an individual cannot hear his/her own footsteps … one’s aural space is reduced to less than that of human proportions.” This installation works to counteract lo-fi modern environments by aurally transporting pedestrians to new hi-fi acoustic soundscapes.
While many natural rain, jungle, and beach recordings exist for help with sleep and as white noise machines, they miss a crucial defining aspect of being in a real soundscape: an individual’s own sounds. This installation therefore uses computer vision to detect movements of pedestrians and then dynamically layers the sounds of appropriate footsteps into the original soundscape recordings. This should create the aural illusion that pedestrians are truly traversing through a natural environment.
The soundscapes I am using for this project all come from the Listen to Africa expedition. This expedition travelled across Africa to preserve the natural soundscapes, wildlife, and communities of the places they visited. The recordings from this expedition are a perfect source for this installation because the motivations of preservation behind the project align with those of Footsteps. The installation will enhance these pre-recorded soundscapes by transforming the static records into a living, interactive history.
A second source of inspiration for this project is One Square Inch. The project, founded by Gordon Hempton, reveals just how little space in the world is free of anthropogenic noise. It further explains that by preserving just one square inch from noise pollution, thousands of square kilometers of nature can be preserved in the process. In honor of this project, during certain times of the installation, the sounds of footsteps will be replaced by those of construction and deforestation. As the beautiful soundscape is overwhelmed horrible sounds, observers are forced to recognize how their presence in a natural ecosystem or soundscape can be destructive.
- Installation Functionality:
- Soundscape: The program cycles through a series of soundscapes collected from the Listen to Africa project. These sounds include: A morning soundscape from Tendaba, an ocean soundscape from Guinea-Bissau’s Bijagos archipelago, a rainstorm in Senegal, a chain ferry in Guinea-Bissau, and a thunderstorm in Bissau.
- Footsteps: When someone walks past the camera, a computer program detects this movement and plays the sound of footsteps. The footstep sound that is played is dependent on the soundscape that was selected. For example, during the ocean soundscape, splashing steps are played whereas in the Tendaba soundscape, footsteps crunching leaves are played. Additionally, during 1/6ths of these soundscapes, the footsteps are replaced with the sounds of construction, chainsaws, and falling trees.
- Hardware Setup: Under the main stairwell at the front of Lincoln, place a laptop in the corner (shown in Figure 1). The web camera should be angled downward so that, from its view, only the floor can be seen (shown in Figure 2). Additional speakers are plugged into laptop in order to enhance the sound quality. This setup allows for a user to only interact with the installation as they round the corner going to or coming from the stairwell. The ephemeral nature of this interaction allows the installation to act as only a short visit to a natural soundscape before returning to the Cornell soundscape.