Friday, April 18, 2008

The myth of Babel comes alive: Babelswarm

In September of 2007, the Australia Council for the Arts announced the winners of its $20,000 (Aus Dollars) - then the equivalent of $4 million Lindens - Second Life arts residency.

Now, Adam Ramona (aka Adam Nash), Mashup Islander (aka Christopher Dodds), and Justin Clemens (a senior lecturer at the School of Culture and Communications, Melbourne University) have just unveiled the fruit of that grant: BabelSwarm.

I contacted Adam, whom I've written about before, and asked him to explain the concepts and workings behind this new effort.

Adam Ramona: Babelswarm is an interactive audiovisual installation based on the myth of Babel and the principles of swarming. It is a mixed reality installation, with a Real Life installation at the Lismore Regional Gallery, New South Wales, Australia...

...and a Second Life installation at the ACVA sim - Australian Centre for Virtual Art, (teleport directly from here).

Adam Ramona: All chat in the sim is monitored and stored to an online database. Voice triggers in the Real Life gallery, or interaction within the Second Life sim, trigger the sky to rain down phrases from the database. These phrases fall apart upon spawning, and the individual letters are programmed to try to reform the word they came from. Unfortunately for them, all they know is their original position in their word. They don't know what the word is or what letters they are. An emergent tower of letters forms, constantly recombining upon interaction with avatars and other letterforms. It is an emergent audiovisual interactive sculpture constructed dynamically by the users themselves.

Adam Ramona: Each letter chooses one of a range of sounds upon birth. These sounds are sourced from many different Real Life people saying the phrase "And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech," the first line of the Biblical story of Babel (Genesis 11), in their native language, including Cantonese, Greek, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Mandarin, Malay, Romanian, Singhalese and English. These sounds are harmonically effected using my rational scale. Each letter has two states: hibernation and seeking. When seeking, it is actively looking for other letters to reform its word with. When touched by an avatar in this state, the letter will die. When hibernating, it sits still waiting to be reactivated into a seeking state by either a touch/collision from an avatar or collision with a seeking letterform.


Now that BabelSwarm exists in both real and virtual form, the possibility of setting up that installation in other Real Life galleries and museums is entirely plausible. More information is available here.