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Diasonix Experiment: has lockdown changed what we hear?

Posted on: Thursday 10th of September 2020

Diasonix is an innovative collaboration between five leading artists who all work with sound in different ways, and Valerie Hazan, a leading speech scientist from UCL, directed by the public arts organisation, Aswarm. The project wrestles with the simple premise that Lockdown may have created a new relationship with the noises around us. This is presented though a deceptively simple game of “spot-the difference”, only it’s your ears being tested! Asking instead: “Can you Hear the difference?”

How it works:
The Diasonix Experiment takes the form of a collaborative, deep-listening exercise played online by two people in different locations.
Each player links up online, experiencing the game through an innovative and interactive video interface with headphones. After selecting one pair of a series of soundscape mixes – each mix ‘pair’ is similar, but with a dozen differences between them – the two players divide the pair, then without hearing the other persons soundscape, they are tasked with finding the differences between the two mixes.

This activity draws on the participants ability to accurately describe what they are hearing to their partner – a task you may find is entirely different to describing what we can see.
More of a sonic and articulation puzzle than a competitive game, the task is designed to draw on and hone the listening skills Aswarm feel that Lockdown as bequeathed us with.

About the Project:
The Diasonix Experiment is a project conceived by Aswarm’s Thor McIntyre-Burnie (himself a sound artist), working in a unique art-science collaboration with UCL’s Professor of Speech Sciences, Valerie Hazan. It is inspired both by how Lockdown affected how we listen and by Hazan’s own research using the Diapix methodology to study speaker-listener interaction.

For this pilot stage, Aswarm has commissioned five leading UK artists from around the UK: Duncan Whitley, Dan Fox, Thor McIntyre-Burnie and Chloe Osborne & Harry Holgate – who all work with sound in quite different ways – to create these Diasonix soundscapes, inspired by the different sounds these artists have themselves been hearing during Lockdown.

Each of these new audio-works focuses on a diverse range sources from: the domestic sounds of two young families confined to a single flat during Lockdown; to the call of rural Britain in Cumbria, as nature and wildlife slowly reclaim the airwaves; to the ritualised, percussive applause that reverberates through Coventry’s suburbia during ‘Clap for our Carers’; to the odd sounds and reverberations – from the solitary buses to BLM protests – that haunt the ears & minds of the troubled sleepers, during the long hot Lockdown nights of London.

Prof. of Speech Sciences Valerie Hazan’s world renowned research, using ‘spot the difference’ style Diapix picture pairs that are deciphered between to isolated speakers, says: “I’m really intrigued to see how this art-science collaboration will enable us to explore ideas in a less formal context, allowing us to reach a much broader range of participants, whose description of soundscapes, rather than pictures, outside the laboratory context, may elicit quite different and much more natural and emotive interactions.”

Aswarm lead artist, Thor McIntyre-Burnie, says the experiment constantly throws up new surprises: “As we entered the initial testing phase, it became startlingly clear how limited our aural vocabulary seems in comparison to how we describe what we see. You realise how ocular-centric our world is.”

The Diasonix Experiment launches on the anniversary of the launch of the Voyager 1, carrying the infamous Golden Record – humanity’s attempt at a sonic-time-capsule – into outer space on 5/9/1977. McIntyre-Burnie enthuses: “Just think, some-day an alien explorer may find itself trying to describe those ‘sounds of earth’ to a colleague back on their own planet! -I wonder what differences they would hear? Imagine how different the record would be, had they collected the sounds of earth during lockdown…”

link to the Diasonix Experiment: #diasonix #hearthedifference

Preview Taster Mix:

Further info about the Project and Artists (revealed to players after completing the game):

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