Intersection for the Arts, San Francisco
I Understand, 2012
Wax, speakers, paper metal, software
Natural language programming by Drew Mason
I Understand is like a game of digital telephone. However, its translation is not based on the sound of the spoken word, but rather its meaning. It will listen to words and phrases from participating viewers, look up associated words, definitions, and matching phrases from selected (public domain) literature, then play back these associations via synthetic voices across a speaker array. This iterative process continues, getting farther and farther away from the original meaning while the sound of the voices is gradually obscured as well until new input is received.
The suspended speakers are encased in waxed pages of the literature that the software program draws from for its associations. The intention was to create a playful sound sculpture that gives the audience an active way of reflecting upon the precarious nature of language's ability to both communicate and obfuscate meaning. Secondarily, as we come to a point where technology offers a viable interface between spoken word and machine, I was interested in exploring what happens when you subvert the common commercial uses of natural language processing and focus instead on creating more surprising interactions.