Taking the social distancing rules we have been confronted with due to the current global health situation as a conceptual starting point, seven European composers created sound works in a special online setting that provides the central interface between artist and audience: in Tingles & Clicks seven sound environments can be explored using an audio player coupled with face tracking, a technology developed by the IEM (Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics) in cooperation with musikprotokoll.
Reiner Elstner: What is Tingles & Clicks about?
Fränk Zimmer: In addition to awarding and presenting commissioned musical works, musikprotokoll has over the past ten years repeatedly developed projects that focus on alternative performance practices, for instance the carousel project Let´s merry-go-round!, the vocal project Die Logik der Engel; or Homages, a mobile audio exhibition. What all our own productions had in common was that we prepared a technical environment and sometimes elaborate performance settings and then invited composers to “play” them. The tool developed for Tingles & Clicks opens up new possibilities: body movements and the spatial placement of sound objects can be integrated into the composition process.
Reiner Elstner: What is meant by the “spatial placement” of a sound?
Fränk Zimmer: Music is often regarded as a temporal art form, but equally important is the spatial aspect: how we perceive sound in space – near and far, left and right, above and below. Through headphone playback, the Tingles & Clicks users are in a primarily acoustic space where sound objects can be positioned far away, very close, above and below. In this constellation the sound space reacts to the body movements of the user: he or she not only hears “spatially”, but in some way co-creates this space.
Reiner Elstner: Why was face tracking technology chosen to be used in this project?
Fränk Zimmer: Although at first glance the project looks like a technology experiment, it is precisely the opposite. Controlling sound via face recognition of course provides – in itself – interesting possibilities. But ultimately behaviour rules such as those imposed on us by COVID-19, this interplay between closeness and distance, are reflected in this technology. In our case, face tracking turns the body into a navigation tool. Central to this project, as to any other commissioned work, are the artistic approach, the concept and of course the sound experience itself. Tingles & Clicks is above all a music project.
Reiner Elstner: What do we have to do to experience the possibilities of this technology?
Fränk Zimmer: You need a PC or laptop, a webcam and headphones. That is, the very equipment that many people have recently got to know due to Corona, for instance in the home office. The accessibility to this virtual project was important to us. You type the project address into the browser and you are already there. The individual works are eight minutes long, but there is no beginning or end in the listening experience – so the experience is more like a sound installation. Nor do the sound objects all sound together, since the head of the user is in a certain position in the physical space, and this position is always the first and actual trigger. The audio player we developed not only starts a music track but also to some extent opens an environment, a sound space, in which sound objects and ambient layers are arranged. What, how and where something can be heard in this sound space is up to the – listening and navigating ‒ audience. Tilting, turning and changing one’s head position allows the user to move within these sound spaces.