Artistic purpose

A performance of Babilu Volati
The excitement and expressive power of new interactive art is at the core of Babilu Volati. When an artist performs, she engages her entire body, and we want to reflect that by projecting her vocal efforts onto the larger canvas of interactive visuals with realtime music. These visuals and music share the same source for their coming into life, namely the singer and her stage movements. Incorporating computer analysis and synthesis techniques into the evocative vocabularies of a novel artwork is one of the most significant proliferation of new practice and application of ideas in present-day artforms. When the audience is captured by the singer, it consequently happens on the much larger canvas of interactive song, music, and visuals. This gives a much larger impact, heightening both artistic magnitude and the audience's appreciation.
Babilu Volati explores this to represent the ancient myth of the Tower of Babel, in which all speech in the world was contained, as reflected by its growing size. The resulting immensity of the Tower of Babel made communication impossible, and as the speech becomes assimilated by our Tower, the development of Babilu Volati shows how that leads to incomprehension and lack of signification. Many languages are therefore sung and spoken during the performance - Danish, English, French, etc. - thus underlining the incomprehension. This inevitably reaches an unstustainable degree, the performance moves towards its end.

Particles of voice

Illusion of the singer floating into her phonemes The underlying objective of this artistic experiment was then to determine if speech could be transposed into a visual 3D representation in an interactive, meaningful and creative way. By “transposed”, we litteraly mean transferred from one modality to another through an artificial conversion process.
Some physic theories rely on the analogy with elementary particles to explain complex phenomenons; there are photons in theory of light and phonons in quantum mechanical vibrations. We basically extended this idea to 'phonemons' in language; the principle is that every phoneme could be represented by a particle and that humans would emit 'phonemons' while speaking. Extending this analogy further, we propose to describe how these “particles” evolve in space according to their initial energy (amplitude, frequency) and how they interact between them according to the prosodic and grammatical properties of the speech (attraction and repulsion corresponding to the original linguistic structure).

Babel and the deconstruction of languages

Babel tower - from Bruegel to Babilu
The transfert of voice into graphical representations offers the possibility to give another interpretation of the linguistic and thinking mechanisms. A deterministic but new (not aplhabetical) representation of speech provides us with a total freedom of translation and manipulation, which principles can be easily understood, but for which the understanding of the meaning becomes impossible.
This phenomenon is illustrated in the mythology with the story of the Babel tower, built to reach the heavens; in the beginning "...the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech..."(Genesis 11:1-9), but because of their disobedience, God confused their languages so that the men could not work together anymore.
Babilu Volati performance is structured in 3 phases to represent these phenomenons: comprehension, construction, and deconstruction.

Musical composition

Full score and text of Babilu Volati

The musical score to Babilu Volati falls in three parts, resembling stages of comprehension, construction, and disintegration (deconstruction). The first two parts are performed with the singer, the last part is electronics only. The vocal score reflects very clearly the  separation of the two first parts in that the first part is spoken, while the second is sung.
  • The text of the first part – ao. excerpts from the Genesis according to the Vikings – is initially articulated with exaggeration, exploring the sound characteristics of each vocal element. Gradually the articulation becomes more natural and the meaning of words and phrases is detected, yet a non-sense language does also prevail. Other languages appear, and the babylonian process of language confusion begins. The electronic accompaniment is closely tied to the voice. Exaggerated vocal sounds are emphasized, spatialized and prolonged into suggestive, swirling gestures. The degree of interactivity is high, with the voice’s expressiveness affecting the strength and depth of the electronics.
  • The second part is initiated with emerging pulsations in the electronics that gradually settles into a rhythm. The voice’s impact on this accompaniment is less, as the musical focus is on forward movement and rhythmic drive. The text is now fully discernible, yet the vocal activity is restrained. But more energy is gradually put into the vocal performance, and as the accompaniment moves into another key, the voice moves into strong, melodic movements that push the music to new heights. The text celebrates the emerging writing system – alphabetization – of the vocal sounds as man’s powers begin to rival those of the Gods’.
  • The third part keeps building as if aiming at still higher peeks, but a hardening begins to set in. As the hardening become more pronounced, so does a certain paralyzation of the musical development which eventually must lead to disaster.


Short history of the project

Cosmos in Flying CitiesBabilu Volati is a work in progress. The idea of voice transfert into particles was originaly developped by Elisa Zurlo and Bruno Herbelin for the project Flying Cities in 2003. At this time, the system was designed to be an interactive installation and the visitors were generating particles by speaking into microphones. The pleasing visual results and the good integration with the electronic music (composed by Georg Hajdu) motivated us to focus more specifically on these aspects and to provide the public with the compelling experience (always renewed) of a stage performance. 
The Flying Cities project was funded by the European Commission Culture 2000 programme for the year 2003. It was produced and coordinated by the CICV pierre Schaeffer.

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