Time for sound design



While the concept of scenography in theatrical performance contexts traditionally refers to visual-based scenic design, Christopher Salter, of the Department of Design and Computation Arts at Concordia University, is more interested in sound. In a recent research-creation project, he developed an interactive sound design that evolves in real time using data generated by sensors deployed on the performers' bodies and within the physical stage environment. He applied this technique to the production of Schwelle, which premiered in Berlin and was then presented in Montreal. This three-act performance explores the varying threshold states of consciousness such as the onset of sleep and the moments before death.

The project's goal was to move beyond the simple musical soundtrack superimposed on a theatrical performance, in an attempt to transform the movements and gestures of the performers, as well as changing ambient data such as variations in lighting intensity, into an interactive audio environment. This required the development of appropriate technologies (hardware and software systems) and the creation of scenarios appropriate to their use.

The challenge is to achieve musical compositions that represent the body-based expressions of the performers and ambient data from the room.

The key element of Schwelle is an audio environment that evolves constantly in response to body- and environment-based sensor data. This means that the room itself is reactive, as it supplies information that is transformed into audio structures, which eventually resolve into recognizable "sound patterns". The challenge is to achieve musical compositions that represent the body-based expressions of the performers and ambient data from the room.

This long-term project has advanced research into wireless sensor technology and the development of artificial intelligence programs, in collaboration with several Montreal companies.