The 4D Department at the Cranbrook Academy of Art invited me out to collaborate on several remote sound installations for the school’s Open Studios weekend in the spring of 2019. I had visited the campus earlier in the fall to check out possible sites for sonifying and fell in love with a bright red footbridge in the school’s famous Japanese garden and a wonderful Weeping Birch tree that reminded me of Miyazaki’s “Totoro.” 4D Department head, Carla Diana, and I also decided to “activate” Lucifer Landing, a permanent land art piece turning it into an interactive “pagan ritual site.”
The remoteness of each location proved challenging and dictated the type of equipment that could be used (battery-powered and weather-resistant). We ended up with some great results for “kits” that each consisted of a Raspberry Pi, an Arduino with sensors, a biodata sonification device and speakers.
Cranbrook Japanese Garden Footbridge
The Japanese Garden on the Cranbrook campus is a popular location for visitors during the spring bloom. Carla and I knew that we wanted to use biodata sonification for this location since the area’s flora was plentiful. We also decided to use the steady foot traffic of the iconic red bridge to create an instrument that would trigger a melody to complement the biodata harmonies being generated. The tonal bed that the biodata sonification device created was tuned to a key that included the pitch of the waterfall. Crossing over the bridge gave visitors the full sonic “picture” of the installation as they traveled through the garden.
Weeping Birch Tree aka “The Totoro” Tree
The Weeping Birch on Cranbrook’s campus is well-known as a magical place to “hide in” and relax. There are two natural entryways inside the tree, as its canopy grows completely to the ground and creates an almost cave-like experience once inside. Carla and I knew that amplifying the tree’s sonified biodata would attract curious visitors to enter into the tree’s canopy. Once inside, an array of proximity sensors placed on various branches acted as a natural “mixing board.” These sensors controlled the volume levels of the different software instruments depending on one’s location in the space. Unfortunately, the tree did not have its “magical” canopy during the Open Studios weekend in mid-April. However, the installation is set to occur again in the fall!
Lucifer Landing (Real Snake In Imaginary Garden)
“Lucifer Landing (Real Snake In Imaginary Garden)” was created by the anthropologist-turned-artist, Richard Nonas. Installed in 1989 on the Cranbrook campus, the serpentine rock formation was supposed to exist between a natural rock formation and something man-made. Carla and I decided to activate its snake-like qualities with some ritualistic pagan percussion that would echo throughout the hillside. The “snake” was completely quiet until one’s movement/dancing between the sun and the rocks made it come alive with rattles and booms.