Very Large Array /
A Sound Sculpture-Environment
by Aaron Ferrucci
The Very Large Array is a sonic sculpture consisting of a large number of independent sound sources. Unsynchronized in time but correlated in semantic content, the VLA modules provide a rich sound field in which the human listener's impoverished aural fovea displays unexpected ability. Activated by darkness, the VLA's audible landscape alternates with daylight's visual one - the listener is an active participant in this landscape, traversing the perpetually changing sonic gradient in search of the most pleasing mixture.
The Very Large Array --- FAQ
Q. What are those things on the ends of the VLA modules?
A. Those are speakers. Each VLA module emits a monophonic sound - due to circuit exigencies, using two speakers turned
out to be convenient.
Q. Is that little black thing on top of the VLA module a button?
A. No, it's a light sensor. Please don't press on it!
Q. Is the VLA solar powered?
A. No. Each VLA module has its own battery, which stores enough power for about 5 nights of operation.
Q. I visited the VLA during the daytime, and it wasn't working. What's wrong with it?
A. The VLA is quiet during the day, and makes sound at night.
Q. Are the VLA modules connected?
A. No. The modules of the VLA are completely independent.
Q. How does it work?
A. The VLA is based on a sound record/playback integrated circuit created by Information Storage Devices. This integrated circuit is like a tape recorder on a chip. In addition, each VLA module contains an IR phototransistor for light detection, a battery, two speakers, some random passive components, and a simple microcontroller made by Microchip Technology Inc.
Q. Are all the sounds different?
A. The sounds are all different, but many similarities exist. I find that using subtle differences between adjacent modules leads to the most pleasing effect.
Q. Where do the sounds come from? How are they arranged?
A. Several arrangements of sound have been used: Nov. 2, 1997 and before: various sounds of natural origin were used to create a collage. Cosmic background noise, radio noise from various celestial bodies, bird song, the whooping of gibbons, insect sounds and dripping water all found a voice. The square grid of modules was structured as concentric squares, with a tendency to have noisier, more random sounds in the outer layers, and more musical sounds in the inner layers. July 4, 1998 on Black Rock: 16 distinct but similar sounds were created using the fmvoice instrument in the fine software synthesis program, Csound, v 3.477. Burning Man 1998: using the experience gained on July 4, I created a much more complex set of sounds using Csound. The VLA was arranged as 4 outer 4x4 grids around an inner 6x6 grid. Each 4x4 grid had a distinct theme, with subtle variation among modules; the 6x6 inner grid contained Csound-synthesized sounds, as well as a collage of sounds taken from a recording made for me at Davenport Beach on Oct. 5, 1997.
Q. When will the VLA make its next appearance?
A. I have no current plans to set the VLA up again. The difficulty of finding a proper location, the sheer work involved, and my disgruntlement at the theft of 4 VLA modules at Burning Man 1998 argue against it. Maybe on Black Rock in 2000!