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Heterodyning Cage by Linda Cooper  

Donovan’s work has evolved from a fascination with the natural phenomena of light and sound. In pursuing an intense uunderstanding of the physical characteristics of sound and how it moves through space, he has developed an ability to modulate and combine its patterns for us to hear. As a sound installation, this may not be unique in itself, but it is for his audience to only hear the sound when they are positioned within its beam. This has created a spatial relationship with sound as the movement of the audience controls the direction and frequency of the visual of these projections. Donovan is like a sculptor of sound within a real and virtual space that is intimately linked to the presence of its audience.

To create these environments, Donovan first needed a means to work with the phenomena that is the subject matter of his work. This has taken him on a journey into the world of acoustic physics and to sharing the creative processes, and technical resources, of funded scientific research. In this way, Donovan has pushed the limitations of existing technology to create his own tools. Indeed, he has made these investigations the content of his work. Rather than being a servant to technology, he has been able to build understandings and explore a new level of sensitivity to his audience, and in doing so, has created more subtle auditory experiences.

The technology used in Heterodyning Cage has been developed as part of the collaborative research that took place during Donovan’s four month artist residency with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation in Adelaide. The Maritime Operations Division works extensively with ultrasound as part of their sonar technology research, and was the studio for much of Donovan’s experimentations. This residency was one of four funded by the Australian Network for Art and Technology as part of their Scientific Serendipity program. This project aimed to facilitate dialogue between the disciplines of art and science and encourage the generation of new insights and perhaps unexpected outcomes. It could be said that Heterodyning Cage is one of these unexpected outcomes!

Essentially, Donovan uses lenses to manipulate, focus and sculpt sound. This fascination first began with using optical lenses to focus light. Understanding more about light as a physical phenomena turned his interests to sound, and how our auditory senses interpret our world. This introduced the huge range of effects made possible by the parametric acoustic devices Donovan has since developed and now uses in his work.

Heterodyning Cage is an interactive installation where you are immersed in a range of acoustic and 3D visual projections. On entering the enclosed room, you become strangely aware of your role in its own definition. Subtly you may notice the environment changes according to your movement. It is as if you become a character within the scene as sound moves you through this 3D set. Real time video projected on the walls reveal 3D objects. The falling particle effects of individual droplets of water provide an interesting wall texture on the building site. This in effect, becomes the projection surface for the sound beams you can hear. It is as if the environment is alive, creating a parody between what is real and virtual in our experiences.

Donovan’s parametric arrays, called acoustic lenses, are like emitters or ‘multiple speakers’ and are central to this installation. The lenses act to focus high frequency sounds we cannot hear into highly directional beams of sound. These very narrow beams of sound are demodulated and distorted by their passage through the air to become audible sounds. These are combined with pre-recorded sounds to produce the soundscape we hear within the space. We can only hear these sounds within a very narrow beam.

Cameras mounted on tripods allow the work to track its audience, allowing us to interact with our relationship with technology within the defined space. There are three cameras in this installation. One tracks your movement, giving signals to change the projection angle of the lens. This directs the sound towards your presence. The second camera tracks your symmetry, actions and hand gestures. These trigger modulations or changes to the sound, producing another layer of audible sound at a slightly different pitch. The third camera tracks the video sequencing of the 3D environment.

Donovan’s technical understanding and fascination with the process is a feature of his work, as reflected in his chosen title. The word ‘heterodyning’ comes from a technical expression for the ‘different tones’ effect experienced when two high frequency pressure waves join to produce a resulting sound. In Heterodyning Cage, Donovan combines this phenomena of ‘composing’ with his ability to project directional sound from multiple sources. It is this combined effect that causes us to hear the reflected, audible sounds within the enclosed ‘perimetry’ of his installation.

Lenses provide a metaphor for Donovan’s interest/ view into the world of perception, interpretation and memory. To Donovan, lenses represent “the collecting of information/ emotion and can define a person’s view of the world”. The scenes within this installation represent a familiar and historic World War II Military storage building in Brisbane that is set to be demolished. For the artist, this setting creates a’voyeuristic’ feeling as the buildings appear empty, yet have a strong structural permanence in their physicality. The reflections from the window surfaces where you can’t see in elude to a presence beyond. This mirrors the idea of the penetrability of sound through physical structures, and its non-linear behaviour as it travels through space. This apparent ‘emptiness’ is also reflected in the mood of the soundscape of the piece.

Donovan is breaking new ground in experimenting with intimate interactive spaces. ‘Interactivity’ is developing as a new diverse artform or form of expression in new media art, and is comparatively an area of unexplored territory for artists. Donovan’s work has created a space to extend the capacity for this technology to operate within these interactive systems. Future work to map the position of the projected beam of sound onto objects within a 3D environment enables the sound to come from the object itself, rather than from a loudspeaker in the set. This increases the sensitivity and effectiveness of the seemingly real experiences of virtual reality systems.

Donovan also explores how we perceive our auditory environment. His audiences must engage with their own sensory awareness as heightening the auditory sense challenges the dominance of the visual cues. This experience leaves us with a feeling of unease, uncertain of what to expect next. It is as if an active three way relationship can form between the artist, the work itself, and ourselves, the listener. Indeed he has created unusual sensory experiences and explored new relationships with his audience, an acoustic cage- where the listener defines the direction and frequency of the sound she encounters.

Above all, Donovan’s work reflects an intrigue with the process of creative experimentation. He has found this is as much a part of the world of science as it is of art. It could be this shared fascination with the obscure, the mysterious and often quirky behaviour of phenomena that draws artists and scientists together in their quest for exploring nature’s innate beauty.

Adam Donovan is a Brisbane based artist working in the area of acoustic and visual art.

Donovan began exhibiting in 1997 and was the driving force behind Carbon Based Studios, an artist run space dedicated to experimental installations and art incorporating technology. A sculpture graduate of the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University (1994), his work has been exhibited at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Queensland Art Gallery, Institute of Modern Art and the Pratt Institute(New York). During 2001 Donovan participated in an artist residency at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, SA as part of the ANAT art and science residency program.

Linda Cooper is a consultant for exhibition development and cross-cultural initiatives. She has worked for museums and science centres in the Asia-Pacific region, developing national education and exhibition programs for Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups. From 1994-1999 she was assistant director of THE INVESTIGATOR Science and Technology Centre, Adelaide. During this period, Linda was awarded a scholarship to work at The Exploratorium, Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception, San Francisco, USA. She was Chair of the Australian Network for Art and Technology for five years and is currently a member of the New Media Arts Board of the Australia Council of the Arts, with specific interest in art-science collaborations. Linda is a representative of the Australia Council’s Multicultural Arts Committee.

Tools Adam Donovan © 2014