Much of our work investigates the process of constructing perception by replacing one sense (seeing) with another (in this case, hearing). In doing so, we are exploring how the brain makes sense of the light that would otherwise fall onto the eyes.
By playing with the Seeing Instruments, people are given the opportunity to experience what our eyes see in the normal scheme of things – that is, meaningless information encoded in colour patterns. In time, however, each player begins to do what the brain does beautifully and naturally… to create meaning in patterns in space and time – and in doing so users actually learn to create remarkable sonic rhythms from light, from their clothes, from the colours in the environment or even the contrasting patterns across one’s face.
The three ‘seeing’ instruments have highly individual characters in shape and material. One is made of cherry wood, and reminds one of a large string instrument. Another is made of heavy oak and has the overall structure of a metronome. A third is made of light ash and has the shape of an inverted horn. They are all designed to give the sense of a living animal but equally the essence of a musical instrument.
Each instrument has an embedded camera that captures any image – or colours – it sees and uniquely designed software then translates those colours into notes. The rhythm is determined by how users interact with their environment.
The design of the instruments was created together by Nick Kary and Beau Lotto, in collaboration with sound designer Mike Walker of Loh Humm. The beautiful construction is the result of Nick Kary’s tremendous skill as a craftsman and artist.
Seeing Instruments on show
The Seeing Instruments were first exhibited as part of our ‘Seeing Myself See’ exhibition at the Wellcome Foundation in London (May 2010). To watch a video of that exhitibion, click here
They were also shown at the 'Biorhythm: Music and the Body'exhibition, at Dublin’s Science Gallery, August 2010.
The instruments are a permanent feature in our lab at the Science Museum.
If you are interested in hosting the Seeing Instruments, please contact Beau Lotto