Fontana Remix (Formicidae) (2016)
table, ants, bark, digital video camera, BoofCV ant tracker, audio tone generator, XLR cables, six Adam A5 nearfield monitors

During my research I noticed there is a striking resemblance between the paths of ants as they forage for food in my garden and parts of the “score” the John Cage composition known as the Fontana Mix. Using the Fontana Mix score as a loose reference, I developed a “composition” algorithm which involved tracing the paths of the ants as they walked under a camera and calculating the intersection points of these paths with another set of virtual parallel lines (which I call strings), the position of which the system would randomly change before each composition started. The intersection point of the ant and the string would then define a channel and a frequency of pure sinusoidal tone, which would be output to one of the six attached monitors (as if it was a note struck as the ant crossed the virtual string).

Physically, I arranged the apparatus in two rooms. One room contained the ant composition device. In the other room, I situated six monitor speakers in a circle all facing inward. Connecting the speakers to the ant composition device were six cables which snaked between the two rooms. The audience was free to explore the two spaces and watch the apparatus or stand in the centre of the speaker circle and become immersed in the soundscape. Initial entry to the installation was limited to the speaker room, so all participants met with the sound and the speakers before they encountered the source. My aim was to evoke an embodiment within the circle and a surprising encounter for people who did not know how the installation functioned and what the source of the sound might be. This use of sound and surprise was intended to situate the listener in an immediate relationship to the ants and the space, and also act to destabilised expectations as an introduction to a broader installation of other works.

By using pure sinusoidal tones, the nature of sound as a physical structure of air and space also becomes very present in this work. As I was creating the tones using six different channels, I was allowing the mixing of sound (which occurs in software in the earlier work) to happen in the ear of the listener, and this “in ear” mixing produces a considerably more complex and disorienting sound which changes as the listener moves in the space—entering or leaving the nodal points of the space where the tones interfere with or reinforce each other. The complexity of interfering sound waves amazes me as it describes how simple local interactions can become complex global effects. This spatialising and materialising of the sound acts as a metaphor for the simultaneity and interdependence of existence.