Shannon McMullen and Fabian Winkler

Waves is an interactive sound installation for public spaces that encourages environmental reflection and social interaction in otherwise rather anonymous urban sites, transforming them into meaningful places. Originally proposed for urban wading pools in Toronto, Canada, the artwork consists of specially modified buoys floating in small pools that enable participants to make poetic and logical connections between water waves and sound waves.

Project Description
In our proposed project, buoys swaying on the water's surface will create unique sound compositions generated by the energy of waves in a wading pool. The pool's water surface in conjunction with the buoys, form an intuitive interface for musical collaboration and experimentation, allowing participants to work together in real time to create multi-channel sound compositions. Each composition is unique as wading and splashing or rocking influences the magnitude and frequency of waves in the pool. Alternatively, when no intentional splashing occurs, the buoys will reflect their environment by responding to the waves created by wind or through silence when the water and air are calm.
Technical Description
An accelerometer in each buoy measures the magnitude of waves through x- and y-axis position changes caused by the rocking back and forth of the buoy. The accelerometer's readings are then converted into sound waves by a microcontroller. Finally, the microcontroller's output is amplified and sent to a speaker integrated into the buoy. Each buoy plays an electronically generated tone that is modulated by water waves and thus reflects participants' movements of the water and/or buoy.

Sonic Qualities
More specifically, the readings of the accelerometer are converted into variables that contribute to the process of sound synthesis. These variables influence a tone's pitch, tone shaping (filter types and settings) and volume (attack, decay, sustain, release envelope). Each resulting tone is synthesized in real-time. Distinctively unfamiliar electronic sounds mix with familiar urban sounds such as footsteps, car traffic, airplane noise, pigeons and cell phone conversations to form unique and constantly changing sound compositions.

Detailed Technical Overview

  • P.Art.y (People, Art, Technology), Art Center Nabi, Seoul, South Korea, September, 2007.
  • Shannon McMullen and Fabian Winkler: Kodak Moments Patti and Rusty Rueff Galleries, Yue-Kong Pao Hall for the Visual and Performing Arts, Purdue University, USA, September, 2007.
  • Wade 2006, installation in public space, Toronto, Canada, July 2006.
  • Kunst Computer Werke at ZKM and HfG Karlsruhe, Germany, May 2006.