UCI Graduate Student?s Sonic Panoramas Featured in SoundWalk2005

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

08.17.05 -- At first, Eric Kabisch’s Sonic Panoramas sounds like something from a dream. The unique sound installation, while not a dream, is definitely a trip.

Visitors to the exhibit, which is an exploration into the use of landscape as structures for navigable interactive music experiences, stand in a dimly-lit circle. Surrounded by a 360 degree white screen, they experience different California landscapes that change every 60 seconds, from confined urban spaces to scenic pastures to rugged mountains. Three circles – colored red, green and blue – hover along the bottom of the images, following visitors around. As the circles float past each image, they leave a fleeting trace of corresponding-colored pixels along the contours of the scenery. At the same time, three musical voices combine to form a beautiful, one-of-a-kind composition.

One observer walks back and forth in front of some white houses next to a green, open field. Only the red and green circles are visible–the blue one is following another observer. The green circle traces pixels along the field and plays a soothing, wind chime-like sound, reflecting the peaceful feeling of walking through the field. The red circle traces pixels along the tops of the houses and plays grating piano notes, reflecting the denseness of the neighborhood. Booming bass from the blue circle mixes with the wind chime and piano sounds to create a unique piece of music.

Sonic Panoramas
The original installation in the media
arts lab of the Calit2 building.

Kabisch, a UCI graduate student in the Arts, Computation, Engineering (ACE) program and Calit2 graduate fellow, first got the idea for the installation from spending time outdoors.

“Seeing these rolling hills and being a musician, I started wondering, ‘Wow, what kind of sound would that make?’” Kabisch exposits. “I started seeing waveforms in these really interesting patterns of mountains which form over thousands, even millions of years.”

Sonic Panoramas
Images range from sprawling
mountains dotted with houses...
Sonic Panoramas
...to expansive desert.
Eric Kabisch
Eric Kabisch

After much experimentation, he created a framework for an interactive system that allows the user to create an unlimited flow of new and unique music from natural and urban landscapes. The system strikes a balance between arts and technology by allowing the landscapes to speak for themselves – datasets are abstracted from the images and passed through algorithms which convert the data to sound – while allowing Kabisch to inject his own creativity by choosing what sounds and rhythms go with each image.

The installation, originally built in Calit2’s media arts lab for an ACE exhibition last June, has been rebuilt and reconfigured in Long Beach for SoundWalk2005, a one night aural-visual experience incorporating a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces.

Kabisch will follow Sonic Panoramas with his thesis project, which utilizes many ideas developed for the installation. The thesis will focus on revealing geographically referenced data – landscape ecology, biological information, census data and other types of demographic data on people – through sound.

“I’m interested in the way that the world is increasingly described by data and information, as opposed to people’s real physical experience of the world,” Kabisch says. “I think these technologies are great, but they are only as accurate as the underlying data and are not a full picture of what the world really is.”

Sonic Panoramas, along with installations created by some 60 sound artists, will be on display from 5 to 10 p.m., August 20, at the second annual SoundWalk2005 in the Long Beach East Village Arts District. In addition, Sonic Panoramas will be exhibited at Koo’s, 540 E. Broadway in Long Beach, August 13-Sept. 7.

For more information, go to http://www.soundwalk.org/