Active Vision

Andrea Polli
Columbia College, USA
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Carol Genetti
Experimental Vocalist, USA

Abstract: In 1996, I began exploring the use of a custom designed instrument for sound performance with eye movements. The first system I developed allowed the performer to access a grid of nine words spoken by a single human voice. In performing, the audience perceives a person trying to 'speak' a coherent sentence. Physically paralyzed, the performer moves attention to each of nine directions in sequence which in turn trigger a vocal sound sample. Instead of a coherent sentence, however, the effect is a collage of spoken text with multiple meanings.

In 1998, I recorded a large number of voices speaking text in various languages to develop a more complex text-addressing system for the eye tracker. I developed a patterning system for the tones based on amplitude. In performance, one could saccadically sweep the eye into a ‘zone’ and precisely control timings of loud and soft tones; and then once in a zone, could fixate and finely adjust movement to access a precise piece of text. This work is related to the comprehension of spoken language, an area where the visual and aural senses work seamlessly in conjunction.

In 1999, I continued to develop the eye tracking instrument and created a system for playing sampled environmental sounds. This work is tied to ideas of visual and aural representation of landscape. I also created a system in which the eye could manipulate live sounds from a vocal or instrumental performer. In this system, I read aloud while changing my voice through eye movements that occur in reading. I also manipulate the sounds of another live performer, creating a sense of both performers battling for control of the resulting soundscape.

In 2000, I am performing with and developing the instrument through a range of techniques: using live and sampled environmental sounds, using live sound gathered from the internet, developing faster methods for capturing eye tracking, and using multiple performers using the eye tracking system.

About the Presenters: Andrea Polli is a digital media performance artist living in Chicago, Illinois. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Columbia College and an adjunct faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1999, Polli presented her work with eye and motion tracking devices at Invencao in Sao Paolo and Minds, and Machines, and Electronic Culture at Connecticut College. To support this work, she was awarded an artists' residencies and performances at The iEAR Institute at Rensellaer Polytechnic, at Harvestworks in New York City, at The Center for Research in the Computing Arts at The University of California at San Diego, and at Franklin Furnace in New York City. This work, 'Active Vision' is documented in the article Active Vision in the October 1999 issue of Leonardo Magazine.

Carol Genetti is a vocal sound artist living in Chicago. She employs Western opera, Bulgarian folk singing, and extended vocal techniques in her work to create a world of sound that is mysteriously "insistent and relentless . . . evocative," as Carmela Rago of the Chicago Reader has stated. Carol´s most recent work with Chicago-based instrument inventor Eric Leonardson, with whom she toured throughout Germany, can be heard on their CD Animus.