Sound Art

Machine Unlearning

Vision calibration from Machine Unlearning (2020). Photography by Elody Libe. Image courtesy of the artist.

In Machine Unlearning, the artist offers a neural conditioning treatment by whispering the unraveling outputs of an LSTM algorithm trained on Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights as the algorithm “forgets.” The combination of machine learning and ASMR draws parallels between autonomous algorithms and the autonomous functions of the human body.  Just as ASMRtists use specific sounds and visual patterns in their videos to “trigger” physical reactions in the user using stimuli, acting on the unconscious sensory processing of the listener as they watch the video, the algorithm also unconsciously responds to patterns perceived by its limited senses in order to develop its learning (and unlearning) processes.

Credits: Photography and videography by Elody Libe.

Production Support: Machine Unlearning video installation was produced at Perte de Signal with the support of the MacKenzie Art Gallery for the exhibition To the Sooe (2020) curated by Tak Pham.

The roleplay performance was developed during my artistic residency at Locus SonusÉcole Superieur d’art d’Aix en Provence and Laboratoire PRISM.

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The use of the word “intelligence” in the metaphor of AI focuses on higher functions of consciousness that algorithms do not possess. While algorithms have not meaningfully achieved a humanistic consciousness to date, today’s algorithms act autonomously on sensory information, processing data from its environment in unconscious, automatic ways. The human brain also responds unconsciously and automatically to sensory data in its environment, for example, even if you are not conscious of how hot a stove is, if you place your hand on a hot stove, your hand will automatically pull away. These unconscious, physiological actions in the sensory realm points to an area of common experience between algorithms and the human.  For more explanation of these ideas, take a look at the work of postmodern literary critic N. Katherine Hayles in her 2017 book Unthought: The power of the cognitive nonconscious.  In this way I wonder if the expression “autonomous intelligence” makes more sense than “artificial intelligence”, however like posthumanist feminist Rosi Braidotti I am deeply suspicious of the humanist pride that our species takes in the word “intelligence” as something that confers a special status and justification for domination of other forms of life on earth.

Live Performance

This work was first developed as a performance that debuted at Cluster Festival, Winnipeg in 2019.  During live performance, each audience member dons a pair of wireless headphones.  The performance allows the audience members to see the ASMR “result” of the performance for camera, simultaneous with the ability to see my “backstage” manipulation of props and light in real time.

Machine Unlearning (2019) Performance at Cluster Festival, Winnipeg. Photo: Leif Norman.

Machine Unlearning (2019) Performance at Cluster Festival, Winnipeg. Photo: Leif Norman.

Machine Unlearning (2019) Performance at Cluster Festival, Winnipeg. Photo: Leif Norman.

to the sooe

A 3D printed sound object that houses a human voice murmuring the words of a neural network trained by a deceased author.

to the sooe (SLS 3D printed object, electronics, laser-etched acrylic, audio, 2018) is the second piece in a body of work Erin Gee made in collaboration with artist Sofian Audry that explores the material and authorial agencies of a deceased author, a LSTM algorithm, and an ASMR performer.

The work in this series transmits the aesthetics of an AI “voice” that speaks through outputted text through the sounds of Gee’s softly spoken human vocals, using a human body as a relatively low-tech filter for processes of machine automation.  Other works in this series include of the soone (2018), and Machine Unlearning (2018-2019)

to the sooe is a sound object that features a binaural recording of Erin Gee’s voice as she re-articulates the murmurs of a machine learning algorithm learning to speak. Through this work, the artists re-embody the cognitive processes and creative voices of three agents (a deceased author, a deep learning neural net, and an ASMR performer) into a tangible device. These human and nonhuman agencies are materialized in the object through speaking and writing: a disembodied human voice, words etched onto a mirrored, acrylic surface, as well as code written into the device’s silicon memory.

The algorithmic process used in this work is a deep recurrent neural network agent known as “long short term memory” (LSTM). The algorithm “reads” Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights character by character, familiarizing itself with the syntactical universe of the text. As it reads and re-reads the book, it attempts to mimic Brontë’s style within the constraints of its own artificial “body”, hence finding its own alien voice.

 

The reading of this AI-generated text by a human speaker allows the listener to experience simultaneously the neural network agent’s linguistic journey as well as the augmentation of this speech through vocalization techniques adapted from Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). ASMR involves the use of acoustic “triggers” such as gentle whispering, fingers scratching or tapping, in an attempt to induce tingling sensations and pleasurable auditory-tactile synaesthesia in the user. Through these autonomous physiological experiences, the artists hope to reveal the autonomous nature of the listener’s own body, implying the listener as an already-cyborgian aspect of the hybrid system in place.

Exhibition History

Taking Care – Hexagram Campus Exhibition @ Ars Electronica, Linz Sept 5-11 2018. Curated by Ana Kerekes.

Printemps Numérique – McCord Museum Montreal, May 29-June 3 2019. Curated by Erandy Vergara.

To the Sooe – MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina January 26-April 26, 2020. Curated by Tak Pham.

Credits

Sofian Audry – neural network programming and training

Erin Gee – vocal performer, audio recording and editing, electronics

Grégory Perrin – 3D printing design and laser etching

of the soone

A disembodied voice invites the listener to partake in a speculative audio treatment that promises to awaken underdeveloped neural passageways through exposure to the non-human processes of neural network language acquisition.

In this work, media artists Erin Gee and Sofian Audry expose listeners to the architectures of an artificial intelligence algorithm through the sounds of an Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) roleplay. ASMR is a genre of audio and videomaking developed by internet aficionados interested in using specific everyday sounds (whispering, soft voice, crinkling and textured sounds) alongside verbal suggestion to “trigger” pleasant tingling reactions in the body of the listener. The artists combined these ASMR principles of sound with artificial intelligence to create a speculative neural conditioning treatment. In of the soone, the listener encounters a soft female voice that whispers a script written by a machine learning algorithm as it slowly loses its neural training and “forgets.” This combination of algorithmic text and ASMR connects the unconscious, automatic processes of artificial intelligence algorithms to the autonomous reactions of the human body to sound, using intimacy to “hack” into the subconscious of the human listener and recondition neural pathways.

Exhibition History:

October 2020: Digital Cultures: Imagined Futures Audio Programme curated by Joseph Cutts. Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Warszawa Poland

June 9 to August 19, 2018: Pendoran Vinci. Art and Artificial Intelligence Today  curated by Peggy Schoenegge and Tina Sauerländer. NRW Forum, Düsseldorf, Germany

January 2018: Her Environment @ TCC Gallery, Chicago

 

text 2018. Courtesy of artists.

Erin Gee - 7 Nights of Unspeakable Truth at Nuit Blanche Toronto 2013

7 Nights of Unspeakable Truth

(2013)

7-channel audio installation, woven blankets, text work

8 hours duration

It’s a search for disembodied voices in technotongues.

“7 Nights of Unspeakable Truth is a recording that consists of dusk-till dawn searches for number stations on shortwave radio frequencies. Arranged in order, from day one to day seven, the installation allows one to physically walk through seven evenings of shortwave, synchronized in their respective times, in physical space. This spatialization of each night allows listeners to observe patterns and synchronicities in Gee’s nightly search for unexplained broadcasts that consist only of numbers, tones and codes.”

This body of work is informed by my fascination with mystery, symbolic organization and communication. I take on the nocturnal patterns of a solitary listener, connecting to other enthusiasts via online chat in order to share an obscure passion. The patterns of my searching during 7 Nights of Unspeakable Truth are woven directly into blankets, another evening activity partaken during Nuit Blanche 2013 in which I encoded and wove my audio searches into a physical form that you could wrap yourself in while you listen – two different versions of encoded time on radio airwaves.

More on this work:

Gautier, Philippe-Aubert. “Multichannel sound and spatial sound creation at Sporobole: A short account of live performance, studio design, outdoor multichannel audio, and visiting artists.” Divergence Press #3: Creative Practice in Electroacoustic Music (2016).

Erin Gee - Voice of Echo

Voice of Echo

Voice of Echo Series: 2011. Works for video, audio, and archival inkjet prints.

Exhibition history:

  • Dream Machines. TCC Chicago. Curated by Her Environment, August 16-30 2016.
  • Voice of Echo (solo exhibition) Gallerywest, Toronto. Curated by Evan Tyler, January 5–27, 2012.
  • Parer Place Urban Screens. Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane AUS. May 18-20 2012.
  • Uncanny Sound. TACTIC, Cork, Ireland. Curated by Liam Slevin, September 14-24 2012.
  • Contemporary Projects. Curated by David Garneau and Sylvia Ziemann, Regina SK, 2011.

Propelling the mythology of Narcissus and Echo into a science-fiction future, I translate Echo’s golem-like body into a digital environment.

I became Echo in a silent performance for camera: a love song for an absent Narcissus (who is necessary to give Echo presence at all!). I later interpret the digital data from these images not in imaging software, but instead in audio software, revealing a noisy landscape of glitch, expressivity and vocality.  I bounced the data back and forth between the audio and image softwares, “composing” the visual and audio work through delays, copy/paste of image. While the natural world and human perspective created a cruel hierarchy between a human subject/image and a golem-like nymph who was invisible except as voice, technology and machine perspective allow the image and the sound to coexist and presuppose one another. The work is a futurist, emancipatory tale of non-human wrenching itself from dependency on human and instead revealing itself as an entangled, co-constitutive force.

What is the Voice of Echo?  It exists as repetition – of human voice, of Narcissus, a voice that extends anothers’ voice, this other body is somehow more tangible than Echo’s own body. The voice of echo and other non-human voices are unconscious and environmental, ambient, existing beyond symbolic content, the repetitions. The voice of Echo exists as a bouncing of processes, a distortion, a glitch, born of a love and desire uttered but never really heard.

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I took stills from this love song and translated the raw visual data into an audio editing program, choosing particular interpretation methods to “compose” the echo.  I bounced this data between photoshop and audacity multiple times, eventually coming at glitched sounds of data interpretation, as well as an accompanying distorted image for each “song”.  Echo may only traditionally exist as a re-utterance of Narcissus’ voice, but in this case her cyberfeminist reimagining points at perverse loops somewhere between love, repetition and becoming.

 

Below is the “original video work” that got the call and response process started.

Voice of Echo: Song of Love for Technological Eyes (2011) silent HD video for monitor playback, 18:01 (looped)  Photography by Kotama Bouabane.

Echo is in love with recording technology, particularly the video camera. The mirrors emanating from her throat are her concrete manifestations of her voice – the lovesong intended for the camera’s eye.