When we began developing Aeolus Online, we enlisted the help of creative technologist Christopher Hunt of Controlled Frenzy, to help bring Mike Blow's vision into the virtual realm.
To provide a deeper understanding of the project, we thought
it'd be worthwhile going into detail about this project and how it evolved into
the finished sound sculpture you can now experience here.
The Aeolus Online sound sculpture showcases various wind sounds, and is inspired by a sound sculpture made by Dr Mike Blow back in 2013.
In 2020, once it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic would severely diminish opportunities to showcase physical works, he was approached by long-term collaborator Edmund Harcourt of Hogarth Productions, suggesting ways in which to digitise art online. This would also provide the ability to reach a much wider audience, many of whom would not usually engage with the arts.
Once the project was granted Arts Council England funding, Chris came on board and provided his thoughts about using still imagery, video and 2D to capture the physical cabinet, before the idea of devising a full 3D rendering came about.
Chris utilised an evolving technology, now used extensively
in the gaming industry, known as RealityCapture.
RealityCapture is a specialised photogrammetry software that formulates three-dimensional models from photographs, laser scans and high-quality video. Although it is now being recognised in the artistic community for projects involving gaming and visual effects, it is most often used in urban planning, virtual reality and mapping.
In the summer of 2020, Chris and Edmund went to a property in Reading where the physical Aeolus Cabinet had been stored.
Using a combination of a DSLR camera and his iPhone, Chris took thousands of images and videos of the cabinet and the attic environment where it was stored.
As Chris explains, "The nice thing about this technique is that it isn't perfect. So, we were able to capture all the imperfections of the cabinet, which really comes through online".
He continues, "This was important to all of us as we were really keen from the beginning to capture a strong storytelling element."
As well as the cabinet itself, Chris was able to map the
attic surroundings in 3D too, which has really contributed to the atmosphere
that gives the piece such an ethereal, almost otherworldly quality.
The result of the technology is an online work that showcases an old-fashioned index cabinet discarded in an attic. Users can navigate their way around the cabinet, and open each drawer to listen to wind sounds captured from around the world.
Each of the twelve drawers is assigned a recording, and uses will hear these sounds as each drawer is opened, as well as the details of each of the artists who contributed to this sound sculpture.
When Mike and Edmund began their conversation about online projects, they hoped to take inspiration from Mike's work in order to reach a bigger audience online, and the team believe that the response from the public and the artists, who submitted their wind sounds, wouldn't have been as strong without the change in perspective that the pandemic gave us all.
In fact, the team received over one hundred submissions from all over the world, from the likes of Japan, Argentina, Poland, the UK, Georgia and many other countries - more than could be used in the finished piece.
"I certainly think the response we've had from the public and the initial artists, was down to the pandemic. No one was able to physically interact with art as we normally would do, so I think people were actively searching for something different to interact with."" Says Chris.
When asked what the future held for the project, Chris says, "Well I certainly think the idea of a full virtual reality experience could be something we might explore."
He continues, "from the beginning though, we were keen to make sure that anyone could enjoy the experience, no matter what technology they had to hand, whether that was a laptop, phone or tablet. We wanted to make sure it was inclusive, so as many people could use it as possible, without necessarily needing to know about the tech behind it."
On Earth Day 2021, Hogarth Productions are delighted to announce the official reveal of Aeolus Online, a virtual sound sculpture by Mike Blow. The artwork, supported by Arts Council England, has been created by Mike with the help of Chris Hunt of Controlled Frenzy, using state of the art 3D rendering technology RealityCapture.
The online work presents an old index-card cabinet found abandoned in a dusty attic. Visitors can navigate the cabinet, and open each of the drawers to hear sounds of the wind captured by artists from all over the world, from Japan to Iceland.
Each of the twelve drawers has been assigned an individual wind recording, and along with hearing the noise upon opening the drawer, visitors can also read information on who captured the recording and where in the world they were able to do so. It’s also possible to open multiple draws simultaneously to mix and match the sounds allocated to each draw and create unique compositions. Visitors can easily share their creations with friends and even upload their own recordings to the project.
Dr Mike Blow is an artist, musician, programmer, an electronic engineer and the Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts at the < a href="https://www.icla.ygu.ac.jp/en/" target="_blank">International College of Liberal Arts, Yamanashi Gakuin University, Japan. Here Mike is able to impart his knowledge of music, art and technology at the intersection where all three of these disciplines meet.
Mike has been running his own art practice for many years and is fanatical about pushing his art towards new audiences, particularly so when he’s installing large-scale sound projects in public spaces. His work has appeared in a range of renowned UK venues such as the Tate Modern, South Bank Centre, Cheltenham Jazz Festival and the London Science Museum. The art pieces Mike creates and presents are often interactive and influenced by the weather – the original Aeolus’ Cabinet is a prime example of this in action.
Aeolus Online is based on a real-world sound sculpture called Aeolus’ Cabinet, created by Mike in 2013. The idea for the original work came while he was working on a project with Oxford Contemporary Music to bring together artists that could create outdoor works powered by the wind.
“That evening, I was thinking about the different pieces in the show and whether it was possible to make an indoor gallery work about wind,” says Mike. “Then I thought of a collector – one who didn’t collect rocks or butterflies, but winds from around the world. The idea of a cabinet with drawers containing the sound of winds appeared out of nowhere, and more or less complete. The piece I ended up building was almost identical to the original idea I had that evening.”
At the start of 2020, as the pandemic began to limit the opportunities for Mike to showcase his original work, he approached Hogarth Productions and was granted Arts Council England funding to take his vision online. As Edmund Harcourt, director of Hogarth Productions explains, “this development gave us the opportunity to really increase the scope and ambition of the project. We were able to reach out to artists and collaborators across the globe to ask for real life recordings of wind to include in the project”.
The online project can be used in numerous ways, such as:
• In educational settings.
• In art exhibits.
• As a compositional tool.
• As a relaxation method or sensory device.
• As a demonstration of state-of-the-art rendering technology.
Of course, the biggest benefit of taking this piece into a virtual world is that it can reach a larger and more diverse audience than the original object. We are hoping the project will grow over time as more recordings are sent in by visitors to the site.
Mike says: “For this project, we had wind recordings submitted from all over the world, some with names, some without, some fierce and some playful, some blowing though trees and some resonating in pipes or old stone huts. The sheer variety of sounds is wonderful, and I hope that especially in challenging times they bring us a sense of togetherness. No matter where in the world it is from, the wind is familiar to all of us, and speaks of distant origins and destinations, of the past and of the future.”