The project takes place in an anechoic (echo-free) room. In this silence, you first hear the sounds inside of your body, and then their amplified versions from audio speakers. The lag of sounds creates a gap between your mind and body. The sense of body vanishes and the fragmented senses awaken. The sounds are amplified and transformed within this space to introduce a “perception-driven architecture.”
“World, Membrane and the Dismembered Body”
This project takes place in an anechoic (echo-free) room and uses a computer and various measuring devices to gauge the body’s internal sounds. The sounds of the body’s internal organs are amplified and transformed within this space to present a “perception-driven architecture.” With the exhibition visitor’s ear serving as the interface to the audible noises that his/her own body emits, feedback is produced. In addition, the sounds of the heart, lungs, and pulse beat that are numericized by the computer act as parameters to form a continuously transforming 3-D polygonal mesh, expressing sounds and images in the anechoic room. Therefore, two situations are effected in real time: the slight sounds produced by the body itself reverberate the body’s internal membranes, and the transfigured resonance of that sound is amplified in the anechoic room; a time-lag exists in this process. Neither the body nor the environment is cast as the object of representation; rather, the “ear” that intervenes signifies a kind of inter-medium that serves as the perceptual link, or code, between the acoustic sense and the space of the room. This in-between “ear” is the abstract expression of the work’s claim that “the ear is not merely a thing that hears; the eye is not merely a thing that sees.”
Here, the ear/acoustic sense, a fragment of the exhibition visitor’s body, serves as a circuit for unfixed data—such as the heart tone, a psychological affect—that is employed according to the second-to-second changes in the visitor’s psychological condition. Thus, a fundamental gap is born between the body’s response, when the heart is made to palpitate and undergo change in the anechoic room, and its result as expressed in the movement of sounds emitted from the body. When the body’s heart beat is thrown off course by an intervention from the outside, the desire arises to try to control the sounds that the body emits. A gap occurs between this event and the resulting desire; thus, the visitor is overcome by the feeling that a part of his/her corporeality is under erasure. The visitor exists as abstract data, only his/her perceptual sense is aroused. The visitor is made conscious of the disappearance of the physical contours of his/her subjectivity and thereby experiences being turned into a fragmented body.
The Body’s Internal Noise and the Anechoic Room
The anechoic room is a special space where sound does not reverberate. Yet it is not silence but sound that exists in this space; that of the body’s own internal noise. If the visitor remains in the anechoic room for a long time he/she is given the illusion of being dominated by the sounds of the body’s pulse beat and membranes. In listening to the sounds that reverberate against the body’s membranes—sounds generated by heart beat, lungs, pulse beat, and the rumblings of the stomach—the visitor realizes: “I myself produce noise.” One could say that the heart beat itself is the most fundamental form of self-expression.
In creating this computer program I attempted to address the effect of numericized processes on perception and the body, and in so doing I have once again been reminded of the widespread ambiguities inherent in the perceptual world. The parameters of the heart beat are always shifting and because this program is based on each visitor’s “conscious” state, the visitor’s expectations are repeatedly broken down during the experience. With regard to the body’s acoustic sense, the body’s internal noise is something that exists prior to the body itself. The act of forming one’s self is instigated by listening to one’s own internal sounds with one’s own ears. The ears mediate the space that exists between the self and the body. The visitor’s presence in the anechoic room can be considered analogous to the way the heart exists within the body; yet, in this instance, the visitor does not have the visual stimulus of being able to see the body’s interior. It is an acoustic experience more than anything else, one in which the visitor becomes more than usually aware of the ear. Ultimately, the visitor has the impression of being inside a huge ear.
The Sense of Hearing
Upon entering the anechoic room, perhaps because sound is not at all reflected, it’s as if the visitor’s ears are no longer living. To begin with, the very shape of the ear gives the impression of being a kind of atrophied fossil. Unlike the eye, the ear does not lend itself as easily to metaphorical expressions, such as “keep your eyes open”; in the case of the ear there is no sense that one keeps open one’s ears. Human ears don’t work according to one’s will. While the eye can intercept the flow of information by closing, the ear does not have the same power.
The ears of the exhibition visitor register the sounds emitted from his/her own body through his/her body’s membranes, which have been set to vibrating by noises originating therein. This project makes clear that perception largely takes place behind people’s backs, so to speak. The acoustic sense extends its feelers to take account of places that the ears can’t “see” and numericizes those distances. The ear functions as a sensor in that limited place where the senses are inscribed, existing between the subject who perceives and the world that engenders perception.
Architecture of Sensory Perception
In the world of virtual reality, acoustics often take a subordinate role to visuality. In fact, however, the eye can attain a high level of awareness of only a small fraction of the space to which its attentions are constantly being attracted. The ear, on the other hand, is able to take in information from a larger space. Many signals are transmitted via sound. This project attempts to express acoustic perception through the representation of its 3-D form. Further, waves of data such as the visitor’s psychological condition and his/her body’s internal sounds are algorithmically expanded and contracted along a time axis. As these sounds connect with information from the inner body, they undergo further transformation.
Past Works Using the Fragmented Body as Interface
My past works have included projects that use the visitor’s pulse as a medium and VR installations that are constructed from input directed by the visitor’s sightline; these works fragment the body into data, employing them as interfaces. I chose to organize these works in such a way as to elaborate how the structure of interface exists within the body itself. NTT Basic Research Laboratories’ KASHINO Makio kindly contributed to the sound architecture of these works.
The Anechoic Room and Acoustic Sense
Where do the feelings of pressure and uneasiness that one experiences in the anechoic room originate? There is no reflection of sound in the anechoic room, nor is there any permeation of sound from the outside. Thus, the visitor to the anechoic room experiences the sensation of being suspended in an immense space without any form of acoustic orientation. In a normal environment, the visitor can orient himself/herself almost unconsciously by taking in the sounds of foot steps, voices, and other varieties of sound and thereby gain an understanding of the size and materials that make up the space he/she occupies. But in the anechoic room, the environment that surrounds the visitor provides nothing for him/her to react to or interact with. He/she is unable to orient himself/herself in the context of this environment. In short, his/her sense of perception is suspended. This project aims to make apparent the role of the acoustic sense in what would be at any other time a foregone conclusion: “I exist in this world.” This project is not simply about how sounds affect one’s brain and auditory system. It is also concerned with the seemingly subordinate elements of the acoustic process such as the locomotive system’s interaction with an environment and changes in the body’s internal organs. The anechoic room utilizes the quality of suspendedness to artificially create a situation in which the visitor is made aware of the mediation of sound in the interaction of auditor and environment.
On the Artist’s Work
MIKAMI Seiko is an artist whose works engage the various information environments that the human body occupies. The nervous system, viruses, information wars, and membranes have figured largely in her works. The approach of her recent works has shifted: while earlier works were installations that articulated meaning and value through physical forms and were accessible to the sense of touch, her more recent works emphasize changes in the programs themselves (algorithms) by interfacing them with visible forms (perception). Here, virtual reality does not exist as something that copies the “real world,” but rather, it becomes clear that the real world can only be taken up by means of the virtual. In this case, “virtual” implies the act of interfacing perceptible images and forms with cause-and-effect and chance (unpredictable possibilities) relations, thereby setting the human body’s perceptions into motion. One could say that it is this programming itself that constitutes media art for MIKAMI.
Her works have analyzed how each part of the human body acts as a site for the interface of the relation between the human body and information. Two of her recent projects thematize the human body: the first uses the molecular structures contained within the body to express the body, the second underscores the role played by “membranes” that exist outside the human body. Representative works of the first group are “Molecular Clinic” and “Molecular Informatics” completed at ARTLAB, Canon in 1995–96. In “Molecular Clinic 1.0,” which was presented only on the Internet, an undetermined number of users manipulated the algorithmic factors of the program to set off a series of changes in the construction of the form and space of the work as a whole. This is an example of a work of art constructed through the relationality of information exchange. In “Molecular Informatics” the exhibition visitor used a pair of VR glasses with an eye tracking sensor to view a molecularly composed virtual world. Movements produced by the sense of sight, which represents a fragment of the human body, were algorithmically processed as information in a virtual three-dimensional space. Oriented by the locus of the gaze, molecular chains were instantly generated and processed in real time. This was an attempt to express how the world comes to be composed and altered by changes in information inaccessible to the eye.
These two works differ from MIKAMI’s previous works, which have engaged information as a metaphor through material representations; the novelty in these more recent works is her approach of presenting information itself. Themes from “Molecular Informatics” continue to develop in “World Membrane” a piece that shows how various dimensions such as the body, national borders, and the air co-exist to create a world of “membranes,” layers that mutually fold and implicate each other. In “Borderless Under the Skin” (1992), MIKAMI addresses the topic of contagious diseases. The exhibition visitor’s pulse is transmitted from his/her finger in the form of an L.E.D. signal to make visible the simulation of the progress of a contagious disease. MIKAMI’s work for ICC, “World, Membrane and the Dismembered Body,” uses the acoustic sense as a framework to express how the world is constructed as a membrane. Formerly, MIKAMI presented an exhibit set in a germ-free room. The exhibition visitor, who was made to wear protective clothing, experienced the feeling of his/her body entering another dimension, yet found himself/herself unable to perceive this new reality to which his/her body was being subjected. In “World, Membrane and the Dismembered Body” MIKAMI uses the anechoic room—a space where the sounds produced are alienated from the visitor’s senses of acoustic and visual perception—to produce a “perception driven architecture” via the amplification and transformation of the body’s internal sounds.