Sonic Views are images generated by ambient sounds. To each value of the waveform’s amplitude is associated a color ranging from black to white. Each color is then applied to a squared cell in a matrix, creating a picture where the ambient recording can be explored at its most granular level, but where sound is left to the spectator to imagine.
The output is meant to expose the viewer to the density and complexity of acoustic events constantly surrounding us. While we hear a multitude of sounds, we naturally filter them, focusing on what is more relevant to us at a given moment, and our eyes play a powerful role in this, making us deaf to things that don’t matter. At a survival level, a car honking at us while we cross the street will temporarily call our attention over our friend talking, but in a general sense our brain decides when and what to listen to. These images offer eyes every detail of a recorded sound. With nothing to hear, but so much to look at, our ears have a moment of revenge with our brain.
Images are generated with a Max/MSP patch, which collects the absolute value of the waveform’s amplitude for any given sample and multiplies it by a constant to obtain the output color.
A waveform’s amplitude values, range between a minimum of -1 and a maximum of 1. The illustration above shows the output color for any given value. Zero will give black, 1 will give white and any value in between will give a range from dark to light gray. Values are converted to absolute, hence -1 will still return white and so on for the other values. Colors are printed in squared cells arranged in vertical lines, going from top to bottom and proceeding towards the right.
For explanation purposes the image above shows only 100 cells, if it were generated from a sample, the sound would be only 1/10th of a second long. For the New York Series all recordings were chosen to be 16 seconds long, and captured at a sample rate of 44.100Hz. That means each image has a total of 16 x 44.100 = 705,600 cells.
Recordings length was chosen following two criteria: it had to be long enough to provide, if listened, a good sense of where the recording comes from, and it had to contain a number of samples that would allow to generate a squared image.
This last point required the value to be a power of 2 in order to create an equal number of columns and rows without loosing any data in the printing process.
An audio recording is often referred to as a sample, from the digital process of sampling which consist in capturing a series of values from a given source at a specific rate. A rectangle was a natural choice to offer an agnostic and contained layout. By filling the squared canvas with square cells the outer shape constantly refers to the content that makes it, as a reminder of the nature of the image itself.
The following images offer an closer look at one of the pictures.