On interactive sound paths through the ancient Orient
The 3D audio system usomo connects space and time
Kristina von Bülow
To explore the three-dimensional sound worlds of usomo is time and again new and always a unique experience. It is the individual real-time tracking of each user at unprecedented precision and speed that makes the difference between the innovative development usomo and hitherto known interactive sound technology. To move through a space that is devoid of any natural sound sources, to hear a fluid sound spectrum that tracks the smallest of movements, to perceive the digital sounds as if they were emitted by the mute objects in the room – that’s usomo.
An installation of usomo is currently live at the music-historial exhibition [sound] Listening to the Worldat the Humboldt-Box Berlin. It is about music and other sounds being recorded and shared across cultures and epochs, about melodies and rhythms being carried along and transformed through space and time.
As an interactive audio system, usomo is the ideal digital companion on the way through the exhibition, the acoustic guidance of which is being complemented by filmic installations, info stations, musical instruments, and other objects. Equipped with headphones, on top of which the usomo tracking module is affixed, and a smartphone around the neck, the visitors make their way through the exhibition and do not have to do anything more than to hear, see, and enjoy. The path chosen is completely up to each visitor because usomo reacts in real time to the movement and position of the individual in the space. There is no prescribed route, everyone walks their own intuitive paths. Depending on which object one is standing in front of or into which area of the exhibition one is moving in to, the music and voices that are stored on the smartphone automatically play back, turn louder or lower, morph.
The sounds are not emitted from static sources that are firmly anchored in the space, as it is the case with traditional audio systems, even with the interactive audio systems that exist today. Upon turning and moving along, the sound follows the users individually and immerses them from all sides. It is taking a fully realistic dive into the digital sound worlds.
This immersive effect is especially impressive in a video installation playing on three screens that are positioned relatively close at right angles. The visitor stands in the middle of these moving images and watches the scenes unfold around. It is predominantly close-ups of faces in a crowd dancing in trance to percussion and singing. With usomo on the headphones, one is literally drawn into the scene. One hears the sounds coming exactly from where the different but corresponding images say they do. The voice of a singing person on the left side does also come from there, and the music that is being made on the other side does also seem to be emitted from the instrument shown there. If one turns away and surfaces from the scene, the sounds change accordingly, and it feels like leaving a real situation.
Passing a row of vinyls that are attached to the wall at right angles, passing vitrines with detailedly labeled, yellowed music and video tapes and hand-written transcripts, each object digitally triggers sounds that are connected to the next in fluid sequencing. Semi-transparent gaze fabrics with Arabian ornaments function as spatial dividers and suggest being in the same room with the storyteller in the film, enhancing the acoustically immersive effect. After some larger informative and entertaining stations, interactive hotspots in the floor playfully guide the visitors along an imaginary route through Arabian and European cultures and epochs, lead by a very old song following us into the present like on time travels.
usomo already has the next exciting projects in the pipeline. After focussing on sound at the Humboldt-Box, the concept at the Museum of Communication Bern is all about its opposite: silence. This brings up two questions. How can silence be exhibited in the first place, and how can an audio system help in doing so?