The Lake is the first in a series of works that track natural biological motion via electronic tagging systems and transforms the data collected into musical composition and animation. Supported by NESTA and presented at Tingrith Fishery, Bedfordshire, UK, the work collected real-time movement data from sixteen fish and used a custom developed software and hardware system to create a site-specific experience.
It is designed to illustrate a hidden world of fish movement and present it as an artistic performance by using technology; creating an interface between biological movements and behaviours and technological systems in an artistic context, posing the question - can the rhythmic beauty of a fish movement be translated into aural composition? Can fish make music?
- To create rich living art that reflects the life it observes, merging technology and nature
- To track many species globally and create animated soundscapes from their movement and behaviour
- To bring art work to unusual locations, exposing concealed beauty that surrounds us in the natural world
- To investigate new forms of music composition
- To collect data sets and make them available on-line
- To develop a modular software application that will enable multi-dimensional data to be represented in a dynamic way
data collation and analysis
In the acre sized lake sixteen fish had bio-acoustic tags implanted into their body cavity to enable their positions to be tracked. The tracking system comprised the tags, an array of six hydrophones (underwater microphones), a receiver unit, computer hardware and software (Max/MSP, Java, Flash).
Over a six week period each tag emitted a unique signal approximately every two seconds (the 'ping interval'). A receiver unit located in secure housing at the side of the lake connects the hydrophone array to a laptop which analyses the constantly streaming audio data. The manufacturers software (Hydroacoustic Technology Inc) calculated the 3D position of each fish every time a signal was received and passed the x, y and z coordinates to a Java server.
The Java server processed and analysed information about each fish individually and collectively, and broadcasted it over a wireless network sending it in XML to a Flash client and Open Sound Control (OSC) to a Max/MSP patch.
Each fish has a bank of seven sound samples that are triggered in response to an activity or behaviour. If the fish swims, rotates, becomes the fastest or slowest swimmer it plays the relevant sample. If the fish becomes popular - i.e. if it is calculated to be the fish surrounded by the most neighbours - or unpopular, it plays one of those samples. Each fish also has a transmission sample which is played each time new data is received from the tag. The seventh sample is the death sound (unheard!).
The sampled sounds were recorded around the installation site - in the lake, under the gravel, down holes, up trees. The sounds allocated to each fish are in species sets - the tench (bottom feeders) have crunchy, gravely sounds, the rudd (a small red finned fish) have high pips and peeps, the crucian carp (a hardy and strong fish) have percussive raps and knocks, and the mirror carp (which have large reflective scales) have metallic bangs and clanks. Variation in the audio output is determined by the collective data from each species and from all the fish. These changes come into effect when certain events happen, i.e. when the species that has the largest combined area over the lake changes.
The abstract visuals also reflect the activities of the fish. Each fish is represented by a polygon with two inner shapes. The most popular inflates its outer shape (it's ego or aura), the least popular one's ego shrinks.
The internal colour switching speeds up or slows down as the speed of the fish changes and the female fish have enhanced red tones. The size of the fish is linked directly to the actual size; the colour palettes are from photographs of the actual fish. The large sail-like shapes link fish from the same species together to indicate whether they are shoaling or spread across the lake. Trails are left when the fish swim or rotate, building up a layer of motion debris.
The work was housed in a 9 meter tall mild steel cylindrical silo. Inside, above the viewers head, a circular screen displayed an animated representation of the movement of fish in real-time, accompanied by a quadraphonic soundscape also created by the fish. By looking up at the animation the viewer felt as if they were in an artificial digital lake, absorbed in an environment resonating with vibration, movement and spatialised audio.