ME (Mouth Explorer) [Noise Machine]

Title: ME (Mouth Explorer)

Overview

This project aims to explore the sonic potential of the human mouth, outside the contexts of singing and speaking. The activity itself is a sensual exploration of the body, through a simple feedback loop. The participant listens to the inside of their  mouth in real time. Meanwhile, the audio is collected in a database.

In practice, this involves a small microphone placed in the participant’s mouth. Several wires connect the microphone to a circuit with a bluetooth transmitter, which then relays the audio signal to a computer for recording and playback. The exposed microphone is housed in a latex finger cot, and then lodged in a marshmallow. The marshmallow provides two  functions:

1. It encourages the participant to experiment with the device in his or her mouth

2. Marshmallows only last so long before melting; this way, no one person can monopolize the device

Technical description

The device itself is straightforward from an engineering perspective. Sound is captured with an electret microphone and amplifier, and is transmitted to a nearby laptop using a Miccus Mini-jack RX bluetooth transmitter and receiver. The circuit is powered by a 9V battery (or power supply), whose voltage is reduced using a voltage regulator.

To ensure the participant isn’t electrocuted, the device is housed in a latex finger cot. There will be a placard near the installation warning participants against biting the component – tempting as it may be with the marshmallow decoy.

Set up in Ellis gallery

ME will be set up on a small table, with marshmallows and latex finger cots in separate bowls. A chair is provided so that the user can sit comfortably during the experience. A placard will explain what the device is, and how to use it in a safe and sanitary fashion. ME has two modes, extrovert and introvert: each participant decides if they want to use headphones or if they would rather output their mouth-sounds to speakers. A laptop lives in the installation to record, process and output the audio. If necessary, the audio will be processed in Max to prevent extreme fluctuations in volume.

In introvert mode, the ideal context for this device is a distraction free environment like a sensory isolation tank or a meditation room. These settings allow the user to focus entirely on their mouth-sounds. In extrovert mode, an ideal context for this device is a musical ensemble or band. In this case, the mouth functions as instrument. A second ideal scenario for extroverted ME is a dinner, where all the guests use and share the output of the device. Any of these cases could probably do without the marshmallow. The marshmallow presupposes some discomfort with electronics in an intimate place like the mouth.

Influences

Rikrit Tiravanija – Tiravanija’s work popularized the notion of “relational art”, that is, art about human relationships. He is most most known for his works that involved cooking curry for gallery-goers. Through my work, I bring attention to something that we all share: mouths. Through a renewed (uncomfortable) awareness physical features, I want to make people aware of their humanity, i.e. animal nature.

Meredith Monk – I wasn’t familiar with Meredith Monk until I saw her perform at Bard College. That performance left me with a new appreciation for the human voice and its expressive potential. Part of what made Monk seem so brave to me was that she undid so much of what my classical training taught me. I think the benefit of using the mouth in this project is that mouth sounds (as far as I know) don’t really have a place in western music. In the absence of an ideology saying which mouth sounds are acceptable and which aren’t, I hope people won’t feel self-conscious using the device.

Stelarc – Though my bodily intervention is pretty tame by Stelarc standards, it has a lot in common with his notorious third ear. My project asks what the experience of having an ear in your mouth is like.

Tools and resources (so far):

  • Marshmallows
  • Miccus Mini-jack RX
  • Electret microphone and amplifier
  • 5V Power Source
  • Latex finger cots
  • Max
  • Speakers
  • Laptop
  • Chair
  • Table

Early experiments, research plans:

An important first step for me is to build a simple mockup. I realize marshmallows aren’t the best conductors of sound, but they are far more convenient than other candies, most of which don’t have ample room for a microphone. In any case, I have to confirm that enough sound is let through the marshmallow and finger cot for the project to be feasible.

I also intend to research more housings for the microphone – maybe the finger cot isn’t an ideal insulator.

A third concern is the form factor of the final device. Aside from the microphone/marshmallow, I must determine how the other electronics will be encased.

– Miles

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