I came across a mobile application called “PHONOPAPER” which basically takes images and converts them into a rough sequence of sounds. The functionality and output seem quite basic but can be used to create some interesting soundscapes.
I stated to play around with my immediate surroundings initially to get a clearer picture of what the application was doing (Couldn’t find much information about the working on the internet)
The way this app seems to work is it takes a colored image and turns it achromatic to make things simpler and then assigns a value depending upon the levels of black/white.
Black = 1; White = 0; Greys would be numbers between 1 and 0. Sound amplitude increases going from 0 to 1.
Eventually, instead of taking pictures of surroundings, I tried to “draw” certain patters on paper and scan them to create specific sounds. The results being an audible representation of a visual object.
Apart from these soundscape, there were a few iterations where the sound created had an auditory sensation of a familiar image/situation.
There did seem to be certain restrictions with this particular medium of work. Inability to use color, some different looking shapes have a similar sound signature, scanning is always from left to right(spiral shapes become ineffective).
It would be interesting to work with people who are familiar with music/sound design to perhaps create a refined version of this in the future.
This action has been my attempt to understand and transition from a solution oriented thought process, to a more branched/abstract one.
The process was shaped in the form of an exercise in which I was supposed to take an image and keeping that as the initial inspiration, create rapid 2 minute sketches, each stimulated from the previous.
Initially, the first few sketches were rather a bit direct and more of scribbles than sketches. They were rushed since I was constantly paying attention to the timer and the next idea (while I was making the current) simultaneously.
As I progressed, the shapes started taking a comparatively “not-so-logical” identity. And progressively, a flow of “just making” without the intervention of thought began to take shape.
And a few more.
The key observations in the process of this action were that as the sketches progressed, the shapes became more “organic” in terms of thought. I won’t say they were random as every progression had its core idea extracted from the previous sketch/thought. Simply put, for me, every next sketch was less “obvious” in terms of inspiration from the previous.
In this comparatively smaller progression of 90-100 sketches, it would be hard for me to digest, if I take these “images” to my past self, that these are a product of my own thought process.
I feel that in this action, there was a combination of 3 key factors, working together, that targeted the thought to an abstract direction.
The physical act of sketching
Generating the idea of what to sketch
Time constraint, for me, being the most important element as once the flow was achieved, it didn’t allow me to snap back to the “logical” thought again. Conversely, my sketches organically started taking not more than 2 minutes to create even if I wasn’t paying attention to the clock.
The action doesn’t end here. This has been just the point, I believe in a very nascent stage of this process, where I decided to pause. In this sense, its a piece of work that practically has no end in time for me. The uncertainty of outcome is what will keep the process running as time progresses.
I live in a place which ideally won’t fit into the description of living “close to nature”. With the lack of freedom to explore due to current circumstances, I was a bit frustrated since I couldn’t step out and ‘explore’ nature for this action. It became increasingly difficult to reflect broadly upon the topic of ‘looking wider’ when the field of observation is limited to the 3km radius of just concrete structures.
But why is it that we have become accustomed to referring that which is made by human, as something outside nature? Was I not already exploring nature? To explore further upon the idea I decided to look into habitats of different organisms.
An observation here was that as you move down the images showing various habitats, the structures seem to conform to the ideal definition of “natural”, with a sudden diversion as we start observing those constructed by humans. But I feel all of the examples shown follow seemingly complex methods of using natural resources to create the desired habitat. Then why is one considered more natural than the other?. One would perceive a mud house more natural than a brick house but the later is a mere consequence of shaping the mud and heating it to recreate the building component. There is nothing unnatural about that, rather, its a consequence of an organism playing with its environment to create ideal conditions. In that sense, what we refer to as unnatural is actually obtained from primarily natural sources. So what exactly is the root of reason why the ‘man-made’ is proving to be rather destructive?
The negative impact doesn’t necessarily emerge from the man-made object but from the inability to foresee its impact and what is it that we are potentially replacing in the process of creating. I would like to be optimistic about the future of how we live in collaboration with nature around us since we are beginning to take responsibility for the outcomes we have on the ecosystems. An insight that would have never emerged if our primary survival strategy didn’t understand the importance of existing in sync with what we define as “nature”.
What this action primarily added to my knowledge was how I needed to redefine and explore the idea of what is “NATURAL”.
What lies beyond “human centered” ? This made me think since as designers, designing for humans is the key aspect of our work; or at least this is what I was told.
I decided to take a stroll around my locality to gain certain sources of inspiration which can describe the notion of “more-than-human-centered”. Thoughts of existence, humanity, nature, galaxies, universe and artificial intelligence ruminated my brain as I walked through the street. But something far more fundamental caught my attention; a human group. A social group, collaborating, with a meaning and a motive exceeding the varied identities of the individuals in it. A social group acts as an organism in itself and perhaps lies at the foundation of what humans created, that was more-than-human. So instead of branching out, I decided to work with the roots.
One of the fundamental concepts that prevents this power in collaboration from drifting towards a rather destructive cause is an acceptance of diversity in ideologies. An uninterrupted flow of work through different mindsets. What prevents this diversity, is Ego.
Lets understand this concept though a simple brain teaser.
Take a strip of paper about 10cm x 1cm. Now this strip has a front and a back side. Your objective is to draw a straight line (length wise) on both the front and back side of the strip. Simple.
But there are 2 constraints:
You cannot lift the pen while making the line on both sides
You cannot cross the paper edge to reach the other side of the strip
You are allowed to fold or twist the strip but without damaging it.
This particular form is called a “Möbius strip“. Whats special about this form is that it possesses only one side and only one edge (put simply, you don’t have to cross an edge to reach the other side). But instead of going into the specifics, I should explain why I took this example.
Consider the 2 sides of the strip as 2 different ideologies
The edge of the strip, which you aren’t allowed to cross, is the EGO
The line you are supposed to draw on both sides, is the work flow towards a solution (the objective)
Drawing the line on one side of the strip was perhaps easy (working in ones own ideology).
The restriction to cross the edge makes the task increasingly frustrating (ego restricting an individual in diversifying their thought).
Instead of solving the edge problem, you morph the form is a way that the edge doesn’t even come into the task. The solution (möbius strip) is so elegant in solving the problem yet so astonishingly simple, that one possibly feels that they were tricked into solving the problem.
Possibly, the fundamental way we can achieve solutions which are “more-than-human-centered” is if the center, instead of human, is humanity. A humanity-centered model also takes into consideration the ecosystem which the human is responsible for. I believe the first step in achieving that, is working together regardless of differences. But what about ego ? Perhaps its still not possible to completely eradicate entities like ego from a thinking mind. Perhaps its just one of the fundamental things that makes us who we are.
Perhaps just like in our puzzle, the most efficient and simple way for these varied ideologies to work together, without the interference of their egos, is to trick them in doing so.
For this action, I was paired with Chloe Betts from Utah, United States of America and we shared a culinary experience that resonated with us culturally.
Action-2, which was about a food offering, was something that made think beyond my understanding of what food signifies for people. Expecting to receive a rather savory cuisine recipe from Chloe, I was in fact initially confused when I was given a ritual involving food, which was somewhat uncomfortable for me to do.
But that was the entire point of it.
The ritual was meant to highlight the frustration people with certain illness or disabilities face when they cannot enjoy the fundamental things, like food, something we usually take for granted.
Hands, being the most basic utensil we use in India to eat, are where I chose to restrict my self for 5 hours. Among other everyday tasks, food became a challenge to a point that it stated to manifest as a frustration, later followed by a relief when I eventually freed my hand.
5 hours of restriction, to me was still microscopic, to the frustration of someone having to live through it.
For this Action, I was paired with Yun Xiao from Beijing, China and we shared our relationship with our home ground and learned about the value and meaning of “Home” for us.
I grew up in a city called Jalandhar which is a part of a northern state of India named Punjab. Widely known as one of the biggest sporting goods manufacturing city in India and a hub for producing some of the finest hockey players in the country, Jalandhar is also considered as one of the oldest cities in India with the earliest reference of the city dating back to 100 AD. It was also a part of the Indus Valley Civilization, one of the oldest human civilizations ever discovered.
Although I grew up in the central, populated region of the city, a place to unwind and admire the occasional absence of the clustered human habitat was always a 30 minutes drive away. Its only after I stated to explore other cities in India, I realized a sense of emotional equilibrium my hometown had for me. One of those those things whose presence is often realized only when its absent.
“Balance”, is an expression that I believe is the most crucial thing I had derived from my growth in Jalandhar. A city that was neither too fast paced in its lifestyle nor too isolated that the region becomes alienated to a lot of modern day resources we require for a prosperous growth. Having lived in big cities in India as well as occasionally staying in certain isolated regions, the lifestyle of my hometown was the most balanced for me, or perhaps consequently that is what I am used to of living like.
As a consequence and appreciation of this particular lifestyle, its always an effort from my end to strike a similar balance in my decisions, actions and ideology, which has eventually vastly assisted me in observing the world around me from multiple perspectives and have a sense of respect towards different ideas.
Apart from my personal experience, my conversation with Yun highlighted many thoughts and perspectives we had in common. For instance, her emotional attachment to her home ground was analogous to a similar feeling of balance. But what was indeed fascinating was that she felt that sense of balance in the more developed city like Beijing, a balance between a fast paced life but also an effortless access to many resources, polar to my source of this emotion which was derived from moderately developed city.
Conclusively, this action predominately taught me 2 things:
How the foundation of my life/lifestyle modeled me as a decision making individual, the value of which I am learning everyday as I progress towards a new path of life.
How my interaction with Yun Xaio taught me about the value of perspective. How different individuals value a similar concept but can have a distinct approach in fulfilling or incorporating those ideals.