Midterm Project Proposal

Experience 46
Andrew Chong, Vivian Liu & Owen Hsiao

Brief Concept:

Our midterm project proposal is an immersive installation piece exploring the following characteristics:

  • Altering specific musical traits to intensify their capacity to induce chills/elicit an emotional response
  • Eliciting agency and involvement of the “audience”, who becomes an active participant in the experience
  • Minimal “cool” media that is fully engaging but open to perceptual interpretation

One version of the experience is as follows.

The participant enters a dark, enclosed room alone. Faint lights signal hidden affordances. After a lull, Andrew Bird’s Yawny at the Apocalypse begins to play.

Movement towards each general direction induces at first subtle changes in the light/music. For instance, the participant’s position would alter the relative loudness of different voices in the piece. Stepping deeper into the room would intensify the volume (and perhaps clarity) of heavy strings in the piece, with birdsong and light strings fading somewhat, so the participant has the experience of being inside an environmental performance of the music.

Participants can thus “play” with the music by altering their position and exploring hidden affordances within the room.

The minimal conception is as above. Other planned/potential variations include:

  • Utilizing the full capabilities of music software to create other effects that tie directly (sudden shifts in “volume, timbre or harmonic pattern” [1]), or tangentially (enhancing reverberation, altering beat) to eliciting chills
  • Using biosensors (etc. empatica watches measuring galvanic skin response, blood volume pulse, heart rate, heart rate variability) to measure effects of different variations/experimental arms, as well as a potential input into the environment



There has been some work on the specific musical traits that tend to induce a strong emotional response in the listener. One researcher, Martin Guhn, a psychologist who has run experiments with different musical pieces, provides an analysis of these traits. These pieces:

  • “began softly and then suddenly became loud”
  • “included the abrupt entrance of a new “voice”, either a new instrument or harmony”
  • “they often involved an expansion of the frequencies played”
  • “Finally, all the passages contained unexpected deviations in the melody or the harmony.”
In short, music is “most likely to tingle the spine… when it includes surprises in volume, timbre and harmonic pattern.” [1] We chose Andrew Bird’s Yawny at the Apocalypse as it contains all or most of these traits, but wanted to explore whether some kind of agency on the part of the listener, typically absent in most music and art (which tends to be one-directional), can evoke a more intense emotional experience.


Below is a spectrogram of Andrew Bird’s piece.


Some of the traits described by Guhn are visible here. One way of approaching the analysis is the unexpected resolution of dissonance, or unexpected concord between dissimilar objects, which includes what I describe as “spectral complexity.” Bird’s piece begins with bird-song at a high spectrum, before deep, lower-frequency saturation of sound is introduced around 0:10, until a shrill pitch (rather like whale-song) is introduced the 0.42 mark. A spectral band or gap is clearly visible stretching throughout the song after the high pitch is introduced. Each of these voices are highly dissimilar but produce unexpected concord.


Other possible pieces (with different corresponding actuation) are below. Many of these pieces display similar traits or interesting variations on Bird’s piece.



The project taps into past work in John Chuang’s biosensors course. Some of the work can be viewed here: http://musiconthebrain15.blogspot.com/


[1] http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970203646004577213010291701378

One thought on “Midterm Project Proposal

  1. I think Adagio for Strings tends to induce weeping / transcendent joy


    could you maybe play with the resonant frequencies of the space? hm, probably only if you have an actual smaller room you can control.

    maybe check out other interactive sound installations
    e.g., http://caveofsounds.com/

    interactive sound design can be hard because there are so many different parameters you could potentially have the user control. if users have too much control, it probably just sounds crappy until they go through a learning curve, but in a demo context it’s more likely they’ll disengage. if users have too little control, it could be not that musically interesting. just a few very simple changes (like changing the volume, introducing a new musical voice, introducing a filter) can all be very compelling.

Leave a Reply