In an extended fancy on the sounds inside the body “Organ Alpha” is a kind of responsive musical instrument that transforms human input into surround-sound audio. Your body speaks, it listens, and it answers. Sensors watch for movement inside a virtual stomach, as stethoscopes dangle, inviting input.

Watch for the kid’s reaction in the video.

The project is the work of Israeli-born, UK-based media artist Avi Ashkenazi and Scottish textile designer Marion Lean, for their MA at Goldsmiths. I think it’s worth posting as part of an ongoing series of works that use biological interaction as the basis for music, on a level that goes beyond just physical control. And there’s more of that to come.

So, who’s hungry?

Stepping into a place we shouldn’t be, that’s inside the body, users are invited to touch and hear, elements we shouldn’t normally touch and sounds we shouldn’t hear.

Organ Alpha is an opportunity to enter one’s own body, considering sound and touch as a possibility for diagnosis and detection. The installation is big enough for around 4-5 people inside and is a space for discussion and questioning around the ways we perceive and conceptualise the body. It is a sound and textile experience, inside which we promote visitors to touch all the elements and interactive with a series of hanging stethoscopes which when pressed against the body reveal prerecorded sounds of the perceived sounds of the body.

Crossing boundaries between metaphor and biological language the space is a place which you can escape the outside; aenter a place you shouldn’t be, hear sounds you shouldn’t hear and touch pieces you shouldn’t touch.

Colour change represents different stages of the stomach; moving through empty (colour blue), digesting (pink) and in love (a multicoloured wave ) Upon entering the stomach, sensors detect movement and the glowing ambience changes colour according to how many people and movement goes on inside.

Surround sound suggesting low frequency inner body sounds plays rumbling, watery noises mimicking sounds from the stomach encapsulating visitors in the space and providing a sense of being enclosed, away from the outside world manipulating the user into an unknown experience.

Using sonic sketching, participants were invited to share how they thought their body might sound. Responses to questions like ‘How does your stomach sound when you are hungry? how does your hair sounds when it grows? how do your eyes sound when they focus? Etc. play when the touch activated stethoscopes hanging inside the installation are pressed against the body.

I think it’s quite unique that rather than pursuing a literal sonification of biological inputs, Organ Alpha instead creates a kind of collage-artwork composed of people’s perceptions and expected, imagined sounds. It also represents a dialog between sonic art installation and textile and garment design, as seen in the shoot below. Taking these subtler, less-direct approaches to the topic could unlock new possibilities in this kind of work. I look forward to seeing more.

The sound/textile collaboration also led to this latex collection, a set of wearable designs to accompany the patchwork physical installation.

  • Jim Aikin

    When you can play the first prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier on this interface, I’ll begin to be interested. Until then … meh. I’m actually serious in saying this, and for two reasons. First, the fingers ARE a biological interface, and they’re very well adapted to fine gestural control. A keyboard or violin has undergone decades of development to be able to respond to finger movements — so why not use it? Second, the pursuit of novelty for its own sake is boring. People who do this — not always, but all too often — are doing it because they lack any understanding of the fundamentals of music. They’re trying to use novelty as a substitute for musical excellence, and that airplane just ain’t gonna fly.

    • foljs

      “””When you can play the first prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier on this interface, I’ll begin to be interested. Until then … meh.”””

      Man, the whole idea is to get artsy ladies in latex in there. I don’t think any clavier can beat that, well-tempered or not, except if you’re Billy Joel.

      (Aikin? THE Jim Aikin?)

    • Peter Kirn

      I believe the thesis topic was focused on the perception of sounds from the body. Not everything has to be an attempt to make a better musical instrumental interface, just for the sake of doing so. In fact, isn’t that essentially what you’re implying? I think their aim here had very different criteria. It seems bluntly obvious that they’re not trying to recreate Bach. They’re exploring sound. Come on, Jim, if anything, this is a break from everyone submitting everything to NIME as the Next Big Thing. It goes in a different direction and should be judged as such.

  • Music Maker

    agree- all this “noodle stuff” is so totally boring and lacking any substance.It just seems like a long line of artsy wanking. I am glad some people enjoy it but man, can’t we get beyond this and do something more creative and on point?

  • Evan Bogunia

    I have to disagree with that.

    @13442a3eb288fc3354466e03cfca7478:disqus your references to musical instruments and “musical excellence” are not useful when discussing how valid this non-musical piece of art. The goal here is not to create a beautiful piece of music, or to be able to play some classical masterpiece with the interface. It’s about creating an interactive and responsive environment.

    @2f4960ed438ae5dde56bd102eb904558:disqus I think there is plenty of substance here, and it is perfectly on point. It just depends on the point you are trying make.

  • paul

    One part of me is totally sympatico with the critics who have written here. But… If music is something more than technical spectacle, possibly it is that it attempts to connect us with the wet-ware of our humanity. And, just as I feel a one-ness with music and the universe when I blow vigorously into my horn, make minute, tense adjustments in my embouchure and dextrously twitch my fingers on the valve levers, I also feel more alive when I feel my heart and lung muscles clenching after a workout, or gently hear them gurgling in a meditation. So I also would say, “more power to you, Organ Alpha.” Let’s continue to explore ways of experiencing our larger selves. Perhaps this amusing and crude experiment leads eventually to something with vocabulary rich like the world’s musical traditions, or it inspires practitioners of the traditions to connect us in a different way. And I for one enjoy CDM bringing us bright shiny objects that have the potential to affect or inform performance and musical endeavors, whether it is a silly box with blinking lights, a recorder of sounds of nature, a DIY synthesizer, or a sonifier of biological sensors.