noise machine proposal (final) : lichen symphony


The lichen symphony is inspired by miniature forms found in nature, but will be much larger in scale. Instead of layered shades of green, the trumpet-esque forms will be white, possibly covered in a soft, fluffy down. I envision this is how a lichen symphony might appear to a human who has encountered them in a domestic space, on the astral plane. My hope is that they will convey a type of alien sentience through subtle interaction with human visitors.



Each of the lichen ‘horns’ will be approximately one foot in length, with between five to seven horns total, ‘growing’ out of a wall at human eye level. When a visitor approaches, her/his presence will be detected by an IR sensor embedded at the base of the lichen entity (where the bottoms of the horns meet the wall).

The initial response from the lichens will be an earthy, bass rumble/growl (more sexy than sinister). To obtain this sound, I plan to distort recordings of my cat purring, layered with other constructed sounds (I have yet to determine exactly what these will be). The output of this growl-greeting will be through a surface transducer mounted flush with the wall, so the wall itself will vibrate with the sound.

A more visitor-interactive experience will trigger the mid and high tones. I imagine the mid tones will be the sound of blowing/whistling over the opening of a glass bottle, and the high tones a bell-esque or xylophone-esque tinkling. Embedded within each lichen horn will be a photoresistor* and a miniature speaker. When a visitor puts her/his hand over the mouth of a horn, light will be blocked and the corresponding photoresistor will then execute the mid tones (immediately) and high tones (on a slight delay). I would like the mid tones to emanate from the horn mouths, but the high tones to be tinkling above/around a visitor’s head.



The piece should be installed at eye-level on the wall of a dim interior space, lit from above. If I end up using photoresistors instead of a capacitive sensing system, the lighting will be functional (and will need to be more precise) as well as aesthetic. The Ellis Gallery should be more than adequate for this installation, but the trick will be adjusting to the other pieces in the room, in terms of both lighting and sound. (Obviously, we will all have this to consider!)

The ideal context and second anticipated installation will be at the top of the stairs in my house where a skylight well meets the landing. Here I can see the lichen horns growing out of the wall toward the sun from the skylight.



Tristan Perich’s Microtonal Wall: – Artwork/Microtonal_Wall

Pors & Rao’s Pygmies (thank you for the suggestion, Caroline!):

For the bell/xylophone-esque tinkling high tones, I am inspired by the sounds of the hang drum:

My visual inspiration comes from Cladonia cholorphaea, and similar Cladonias. Also from recurring dreams I used to have as a child.


Tools and Resources

IR sensor (infrared measuring distance 10-80cm)

photoresistors (light sensors)  -or-  capacitive (touch) sensors

surface transducer

miniature speakers (approx 13mm diam x 5mm high)

MaxMSP / PureData / Audacity to manipulate found sounds


Research and Experiments

Early on, I researched if lichens make any kind of sound that can be recorded or emulated, but no luck on that front. At that stage in the project, I was more interested to create a visually faithful interpretation of a lichen colony. As this has changed to become slightly surreal, I have begun to imagine the type of ‘music’ a lichen symphony might make.

I researched and watched a video on how to make my own surface transducer, but decided it might be wiser to simply purchase one.

In researching parametric sound for the high tone tinkling, I viewed Edgar Choueiri’s introduction to 3D sound from the 3D3A Lab at Princeton University:

For the physical structure of the individual ‘lichen’ horns, I experimented with constructing one horn out of wire frame, covered in a green mulberry paper. This was a fail in terms of both structure (it was top heavy) and aesthetic (it was not at all what I was picturing in my head). I am much more satisfied with the horns I have begun to form out of silver mesh screen.

* Based on Caroline’s suggestion, I am considering using a capacitive sensor system instead of photo resistors, and have therefore researched different types and uses of capacitive sensors.




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