Keywords: soundscape ecology, interactive installation, digital fabrication, parametric design, digital audio, digital signal processing
HIVE (in collaboration with Akshay Cadambi & ReTouch Lab) is an interactive installation that explores the notion of sentience and agency in the sonic medium. Human-generated noise dominates the sonic spectrum of many ecosystems, even those we consider untouched by our activities. And yet, there is very little research or policy effort on this. In reaction to this, HIVE is conceived as a speculative organism that belongs to a family of organisms, whose subjective worlds—-umwelts—consist only of sound signals. In other words, their only mode of sensing and responding to their environment is through sound. By restricting this speculative creature's perception and action mechanisms to a mere sonic modality, we aimed at emphasizing the importance of sonic communication for the survival of many animal species and how soundscape as a finite resource is neglected by us, humans, and consumed and contaminated as a result of our activities.
HIVE was exhibited in several international venues/festivals such as ISEA '20 (Internation Symposium for Electronic Arts), CURRENTS New Media (2018), and SIGGRAPH Asia (2017).
As humans, our vision has evolved as our primary modality and we have also created our culture around it. This heavy reliance on our vision overshadows other modalities, such as sound. This is not at all the case for many non-human animal species. Many species rely heavily on acoustic communication and information for activities that are essential to their survival. Soundscape is a finite resource, however, and many organisms compete for spectral space due to auditory masking .
Today, human generated noise dominates the sonic spectrum of many ecosystems, even those we consider untouched by our activities. And yet, there is very little research or policy efforts on this. In reaction to this, our inquiry started with the question, "can we conceive of an organism that exists in a purely acoustic umwelt?" An organism whose only way of sensing, observing, reacting, and communicating with the world is through sound. An organism with a body whose morphology is based on picking up and sending sound signals. A pseudo ‘being’ who can learn from its environment and evolve in its response.
 Krause, Bernie. "Anatomy of the soundscape: evolving perspectives." Journal of the Audio Engineering Society 56, no. 1/2 (2008): 73-80.
HIVE is a family of artificial organisms that exist in a purely acoustic umwelt. We used a parametric design environment to generate variations of the body.
The only mode of sensing and response of these pseudo-organisms to their environment is through sound. This is thoroughly reflected in their morphology. Their algorithmically generated morphology is made up of an internal structure of tightly packed horn-like tubes. It acts like an exoskeleton. The tubes within this exoskeleton act as acoustical waveguides; they amplify, filter, and diffuse HIVE’s spatial vocalizations through the 16 speakers that are embedded in them. Embedded in 6 of these tubes are also sensors: 3 microphones and 6 ultrasonic proximity sensors
A quadraphonic sound projection surrounds and envelopes HIVE. This, along with human generated sounds and activity, constitutes the sonic environment in which HIVE vocalizes in. We see this as a sonic pseudo-ecosystem.
The actions of the visitors affect this ecosystem, and HIVE alters its vocalizations in response to it, sometimes immediately, and sometimes in larger timescales. When there is an overwhelming amount of activity around it, HIVE creates a spatial sound field around itself as a defense mechanism.