Plasticity (2012)


Jane Grant John Matthias KIN Nick Ryan (2011).

Plasticity is a discrete participatory sound and light artwork comprising 6microphones and 16 speakers within one large room. This work was concerned with the sonification of spiking networks of neurons heard through the context of the human voice. The computer model runs a network of 100 artificial neurons and records the input sound made by the ‘audience’ into the microphones, and retriggers short sections of this sound when one of the neurons ‘fires’. The neuronal network is driven by a noisy signal keeping the system ‘buoyant’ and has an additional algorithmic ‘plasticity’ code, which changes network connection strengths according to causal firing between the neurons, mimicking simple ‘learning’. When the neurons ‘fire’, the corresponding LED light also lights up causing cascades of firing events to create a scattering of light and recorded live sound across the speaker network. A chorus of voices performed by The Holst Singers was fed into the work as it opened at the BFI. This chorus then underpinned the work forming a sound bed over which public participation took place.

The proximity of the speaker array to the microphones afforded the participants a visual overview of the work as a whole so that they could see and hear their contribution and its effect on the instrument. This work focused specifically on the voice, therefore microphones were placed strategically and grouped to together encouraging audience participation. As the participants perform they build emerging rhythmic structures using their voices or sound.

In 1908 Bergson wrote ‘A remembered sensation becomes more actual the more we dwell upon it, that the memory of the sensation is the sensation itself beginning to be’. And one might make an analogy here with Izhikevich’s models of spiking neurons where, deprived of external stimulation and drive/n by noisy currents, the model re-visits older neural pathways and clusters formed by external stimulation, these pathways correspond exactly as if the external stimulation were present. Izhikevich concludes; ‘Such ‘thinking’ resembles ‘experiencing’ the stimulus.’