(Breath IV) The Unstoppable Hum, 2000
The Unstoppable Hum is a kinetic installation work which pays homage to the ceaseless hum found in the human body and emitted from electro-mechanic activity in our surroundings. A sometimes subtle - sometimes deafening - but ever present hum extends from our walls, our refrigerators, our computers, and our whole electronically infused late 20th century living/working environment. There is secondary set of hums which we experience when we place our hands over our ears. This is the hum of our own blood rushing, the strange high frequency in our ears, and the vibrations of our voice boxes. Generally we consider the hum of a room and its systems as inanimate background noise. In contrast, the people in it animate the environment with syncopated and erratic life sounds. The Unstoppable Hum is built to reverse these perceived roles.
Through contact microphones, a series of microprocessors ‘listen to’ such elements as a gallery’s computer hard drive, a telephone, room ventilation pipes, automatic doors, and other kinetic/electronic artwork housed in the gallery. At the same time the microprocessors ‘listen to’ the hum of individual gallery visitors through a geophone which picks up the vibration of their footsteps. Visitors are also ‘watched’ by the piece through a miniature video camera and LCD display. All these above listed sounds and movements are then translated by the system’s microprocessors into digital signals which control two wall mounted kinetic sculptures.
The larger of the two sculptures has several fans mounted side by side inside the body. There are several bottles sitting in a row beneath the fans which contain different levels of water. The piece responds to the sound information being monitored through contact microphones in the space by blowing into the individual bottles and thereby creating sensually dissonant musical tones and phrases. The resulting erratic compositions are, in fact, computer generated improvisations based upon what the computer ‘hears’ specifically from the electrical, non-human, parts of the gallery environment.
The second, smaller sculptural body monitors specifically the movement and vibration of human activity in the gallery environment. The footfalls and movement of visitors prompts this piece to ‘sniff’ at visitors (in sound only) and emit sounds of wheezing water bags and droning voices. For, the piece is informing the visitors of how the building perceives the humans constantly walking through its innards.
In the end, the sounds of the humans become a background bass hum while the sounds of the room and its electronic contents become the active and animated tones. The compositions created by the two part sculpture are purely it’s own improvisations based upon its perceptions of vibration, shadow, and hums.