[in]visible hand is an interactive sound installation that initially plays the traditional American folk song “America the Beautiful” but gets more complex, warped and discordant as more people participate. This was designed with the intent of compelling participants to reflect on their role, and the role of their fellow Americans in society, and their hand in an ever-changing and warping sociopolitical sphere.
Programming languages: Processing (Java), Arduino (C/C++), JavaScript
Other skills utilized: Fabrication, physical computing, sound design
INSPIRATION
When I first moved to New York City, I visited The Rubin Museum of Art where the installation, "The World is Sound" (left) was on display. It combined the traditional spectatorship that typically happens in museums with movement to trigger sound. This exhibit sparked my exploration into sound design and physicality. Protest and Politics by Stuart Fawkes (right) is an interactive map that plays field recordings of protests held around the world. These two projects informed the physicality and intent of [in]visible hand.
CONTEXT
I chose “America the Beautiful” over a more recognizably patriotic song such as the national anthem because it is comparably more melodic and lacks war imagery. In addition to that, this song is less polarizing in today’s current events re: Collin Kaepernick and kneeling during the anthem.
I felt that if I chose The Star-Spangled Banner, participants would be automatically averse to it or associate it with Kaepernick’s (and other’s) protests, and while I do agree with their message, that was not my intent with this installation. “America the Beautiful” provides a more neutral context from which the participants can draw their own conclusions.
CONTEXT, cont.
The title “invisible hand” is a direct reference to the phrase coined by Adam Smith, an American philosopher. This metaphor is used to describe phenomenon of the unintended social and economic benefits that occur when individuals act in their own self-interest in the context of the free market.
RELEVANCE
I chose this name because it works on a multitude of levels that apply to American society in ways Smith did not consider. When we remove the definition of the invisible hand from the context of the free market, we find that the logic is counterintuitive. Generally speaking, we don’t believe that only thinking of ourselves benefits others around us or society at larger.
 On the other hand (ha), we also have a tendency to believe that our individual actions don’t have an impact on a large scale. The most apparent manifestation of this is low voter turnout on the national, state and city level. By international standards, the U.S.’s voter turnout trails most of that of developed nations.
This project takes the participant’s “invisible hand” and turns it visible to themselves and the others participants by having a real-time outcome occur right in front of them.
A CRASH COURSE IN MUSIC THEORY
Something as simple as a key or tempo change can change the tone of a piece. America the Beautiful is played in a major key, which tends to have a happier, inspirational tone, and at 60 beats per minute, which a familiar, comforting pace. In my installation, the additional harmonies change the key into a minor key, which tends to evoke a somber, disconcerting tone. In addition to changing the key, some of the tracks are slowed down, echoing, or off-rhythm. I believe these added effects create a discordant effect which may catch the participants off guard and motivate them to leave or stay the installation.
FORM
[in]visible hand takes the form an unassuming dark, wooden podium top with a long sheet of blank parchment paper draped over it. Placed on both sides of the paper, are a set of four pens which participants will use to press onto the paper to trigger the sound. This aesthetic is supposed to be reminiscent of the early years of the U.S. government, where political documents were hand written and displayed in this way.
EXECUTION​​​​​​​
Originally, this project was created using JavaScript and an Arduino Leonardo. The music is played via web and uses keypresses to trigger a different version of the song. The key must remain pressed to play. If it is released, that version of the song is muted.
To combine this with the physicality of the podium, I use an Arduino Leonard to communicate with the computer’s keyboard. On the surface of the podium and beneath the parchment paper are four patches of copper tape. When a patch from the paper and a patch from the podium is pressed, it completes the circuit, and a keypress is sent to the computer’s keyboard which allows the music to play. When the pen is lifted, the circuit is complete, and therefore the music stops.
HOWEVER  The Leonardo I was using broke, so I had to combine an Arduino Uno and Processing to send commands to JavaScript. Essentially, Processing was reading the Arduino pins and sending commands to Java Script.

CHECK THESE OUT

Back to Top