swarm and drone (2013)
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swarm and drone (2013) is an audio-visual installation that focuses on the spatial sonification of swarm behavior.

swarm and drone presents the listener with the audio-perceptual imagery of swarms as they move throughout a space. Their emergent intelligence suggests the potential for a novel approach in compositing complex sound masses. This environment materializes local timbres of sound in sculptural formations that converge and disperse, and are at once immersive and invasive, natural and synthetic, and question the weakening divide between biological agents and machinery.

As such, each agent within the swarm is treated as a 'point source' from which different audio is hosted. Both industrial drone sounds and processed insect sounds comprise the swarming soundworld. The increasing frequency with which drones are utilized in our contemporary world forecasts a potentially dystopian future where our public space is inhabited by a network of intelligent, surveilling automatons. This installation explores the socio-politcal ramifications of such a future by forecasting a sonic emergence of drone and insects sounds. Complex and contingent, local timbres emerge from this synthesis as the swarms come together to form dense, volatile structures of sonic mass.

The swarm can be controlled through several automated parameters. These include:

vector field force - agent speed - agent force - agent number - separation - alignment - cohesion - swarm erraticism - randomization

The group’s behavior and movement is a function of the values set by these parameters. The program can run in 'manual' or 'autonomous' modes where the parameters can be "performed" or "composed for" (in real-time) in the former case and/or subject to parameteric automation in the latter.

You can watch the explanatory videos below:

Here's the inteface of the program in action at Columbia's CMC

'Swarm and Drone' GUI with Processing 2.0, OSC and Max/MSP - Nolan Lem (2013) from Nolan Lem on Vimeo.

Swarm and Drone was created using Processing 2.0, OSC, and Max/MSP.

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Audio examples

This project can be setup for a variety of installation spaces. The program controlling the swarm’s audio and visual components can be arranged for a simple quadrophonic (4 channel) to 2x2x3 (12 channel) 3D array configuration (please see orientation diagrams). The example mp3 audio files that follow are in 4 channel format but please note that listening to this audio in a typical two-channel stereo setup only "approximates" (albeit, very badly) the swarm spatialization (and perceptual imaging) the project is focused on.
Possible Installation Orientations

The diagrams below show possible speaker/space configurations for the installation using the 2x2x3 3-dimensional speaker arrangement. However, the installation could just as easily be setup for a quadraphonic (4-channel) format if need be.

2x2x3 speaker setup in a gallery-type space

using air vents to house speaker structures (optional)

...in a forested, outdoor space