The dance floor claim of "Last Night A D.J. Saved My Life" just got more literal (that’s saved as in data stored) for one media artist. As part of a residency at New York’s Eyebeam Art and Technology Center, Brian House documented his whereabouts for an entire year with OpenPaths--which he worked on at the New York Times R&D lab--on his phone. Then he put it on a turntable and took it for a spin, in an 11-minute musical composition.
“It’s not just a sound piece," House tells Co.Design. "It’s the performance, the physical gestures involved in placing the record on the turntable and placing the stylus.” (He only posted a portion of the audio online so as to keep its full length intrinsically tied to the real-world record player.) “There is a critical dimension in pointing out that data is always qualitative and means different things depending on how it is cast.”
He began his personal data translation with the predictable part: analyzing and ordering the list of spots he visited by the relative size of the “cluster” formed by personal patterns, how much time he spent at each location and with what regularity. In this respect, most of us play a similar tune, following the expected paths, House tells Co.Design. “My apartment was first, followed by work, followed by my studio, etc."
But even the routes of everyday routine leave room for creativity, and it’s the breaks in them--like travel, for example, which was a part of House’s self-documented year--that keep things interesting. He assigned each site of his life a specific step in the musical scale, and each city he visited a key. “I decided to use a tonal series, which I composed a little by intuition and a little by trial and error,” he says. “The more common places were generally given more consonant harmonies, so throughout most of the piece you get a major third repeating, which is basically me sleeping at home. As I’m moving around more, it gets more complex.”
Producing a physical form was an essential part of the process for House; he turned to vinyl maestro Ted Riederer to manually cut each of the 10 limited-edition records on a lathe, resulting in a series in which each disc is unique. A rotation of the record takes 1.8 seconds, making the documentation of 365 days a manageable 11 minutes.
Greg Mihalko of Partner & Partners collaborated on the sleeve design and various visuals on the record itself. “The graphic decisions were dictated by the data and of course, the medium as much as possible,” Mihalko says. “Although unintentional, the concentric rings resemble the cross-section of a tree trunk, which also indicate the passage of time.”
Though others can enjoy the melody of House’s year in the life, he admits that he’s a singular listener. “It’s a framework for a set of memories,” he says. “I hear my commute and my travels through a lens of expectation. I love the sound of my trip into the Colorado wildness, in particular. I reenact that when I listen, and it’s especially meaningful to me now because my patterns have changed drastically since I’ve moved away from NYC.”
And despite its roots in info and figures, House maintains the work wasn’t made to be parsed or decoded. “It’s meant to be felt, just as you feel other music. The most surprising thing, really, is that the process actually results in something that (I think) is compelling.”
(h/t Prosthetic Knowledge)