Frequency and Volume at the Barbican_January 2009

This Saturday was the ending of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's project Frequency and Volume. Not knowing what exactly to expect it was pretty brilliant to have the installation explained via one's own exploration. Meaning that if you truly wanted to understand the project you would have to look for the clues indicating the mechanics of the installation. The premise was so simple. The human body moving through the long curve of the Barbican hall is a giant tuning device for several radio stations. The stations belonged to news, popular music, maritime, aeronautical and even pirate radio stations. Volume was controlled by one's distance from a projector on the ground. The projector casts your shadow and while you move a webcam records your position in space. Position is then relayed back to the main radio control room where equalizers, amplifiers and computer harddrives calculated the appropriate radio station and volume. This setup was repeated every ten steps; if a shadow moved even slightly in either direction the station would change.
In Kevin Kelley's book Out of Control, hive mentality was explained through a similar experiment. In the mid nineties a relay system was devised so that a camera could read a room full of blue and red placards. Each person held a placard and the objective was to collectively land a virtual plane. After several tries, the group began moving instinctively instead of individually. Similar to Hemmer's project one could easily imagine a roomfull of people tuning the DJ's set at a party.
As we were exploring the exibition at the Barbican the docent gave us a mini tutorial and mentioned a similar system that Bjork used in her recent tour called Reactable.

The above is video taken from the Curve space at the Barbican, judging from the previous exhibition spaces Curve couldn't be more appropriate. The space one occupies to tune the radios has to be linear. The people at the exhibition seem to be missing the point, interested more in the shadow projections than the radio stations. *Notice when the giant baby shadow is cast, the volume soars.

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