laser engraved wooden panels | resonance speakers | amplifier | microphone | sensors | computer
Panauditum is an installation revolving around the role sound plays in the surveillance we encounter in our society. While we are very aware of the value and privacy of our appearance and image we are less aware of how valuable and intimate the sound we produce is. Our voices can be seen as fingerprints, each with its own unique distinguishable character.
There have been many cases of equipment such as smartphones, headphones and smart home devices secretly listening to us and our environments, without our knowledge and without our permission. This relates closely to the concept of the Panopticon:
“The Panopticon is a type of institutional building and a system of control designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The scheme of the design is to allow all (pan-) inmates of an institution to be observed (-opticon) by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all the inmates’ cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that they are motivated to act as though they are being watched at all times.” wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon
The Guardian wrote an article on this concept in relation to our current times in July of 2015: “What does the panopticon mean in the age of digital surveillance?”
The Panauditum is the auditive version of the Panopticon: it functions as the observer by listening to the visitors of the museum while they are unaware whether they are being monitored, either by the installation or by a smart device they are carrying around. The installation reflects on this notion and raises awareness by confronting the visitor with small fragments of voices. By fragmentation of the voices the semantic content is lost and only the character, the fingerprint, of the voice remains. With these fragments the Pandauditum builds an evolving composition of speech and electronic artefacts of communication devices. This soundscape is emitted by the resonating wooden plates with aesthetically pleasing and intriguing decorations in order to win the trust of the visitor and to lure them in, similar to how the equipment we use pleases us with their aesthetics and friendly appearance. When a visitor approaches the installation closely the Panauditum responds by giving back a fragment with a longer duration, which reveals some semantic content and a clearly recognisable recording – giving a clue about the surveilling nature of the installation. This tension between the seemingly beautiful and friendly appearance and the intrusive functionality is deepened by the almost conscious behaviour and interactivity of the Panauditum.
To avoid an indifferent form of interactivity, the recordings of the visitor are not simply delayed but they are being organised on a time-chance based buffer system, of which the various states of behaviour have been composed in Max/MSP. These states manipulate the various parameters of granular synthesis to manipulate the recordings and on quadraphonic spatialisation of the sound through the four resonating wooden planes. The behaviour ranges from very musical polyrhythmic structures to abstract clouds of voices. With this combination of composition, randomness and interactivity Van den Broek aims to create an installation which appears to have a consciousness to give the visitor an impression of a neural network and a smart system. This deepens the experience of having to relate to an intelligent entity of control, just like the hidden structures of surveillance in our society.