Le Fresnoy, Studio National des Arts Contemporains, Tourcoing, France, 4. 6. - 10. 7. 2005
Center for Art and Media Technology ZKM, Karlsruhe, 2007 – 2009
The antique oracle of Pharai worked in the following way: You whispered your question into the ear of a statue of Hermes, then walked away quickly from the marketplace, your ears shut. The first word or sentence you heard after opening your ears again was the oracle’s answer. By exposing yourself to the public murmur, you choose your reply and at the same time you don’t, as you selected this particular moment instinctively. The local chorus is always present, a word processor that will respond to all your questions.
CHORUS is an installation in local public space. Public space is symbolic space. In a certain time segment it is concerned with a limited set of topics. A current war, diseases or accidents, a sport event or a noteworthy crime, political decisions or television shows create a flow of themes that is discussed by almost everybody on a certain day. By means of information gathering in the internet concentrated on a certain geographic-symbolic space (that of the installation), the CHORUS-software detects these daily topics and comments on them.
The output of the machine is shown on an elliptic LED display of 10 m diametre suspended above the terrace of a cafe. The scrolling text stream mirrors and reflects the topics people talk about at the tables as if the machine could read their thoughts. The audio of the conversations is recorded by microphones suspended from above and directs the "mood" and "speed" of the text generated. Transformations of the sound are replayed from time to time. Information from other geographic and cultural contexts is used to contrast local knowledge and discussion.
The software analyses the enormous amounts of information available in the internet in its proximity or opposition to a certain place and its meanings. No sentence from the input appears in the output. Though the text is articulated and syntactically correct, it preserves an erratic quality that differentiates it from statements of human speakers and engages the public in different possible interpretations.
Chorus reflects the topics of the visitors of a café located under it and associates about them. It achieves this coincidence by dynamically building up a matrix of topics related to human beings - the "statistics of I". It detects variations in the semantic connections of a topic to other words - "networks of change". "Muslim" used to be connected to religion, now it is rather connected to terror. The system continuously digests news and other thematic websites it located in the internet and creates abstracts of them.
Reading and writing text are symmetrical operations of the program and are controlled by the same matrix. While reading text, the software observes the sequence of its own operations and saves which functions were successfully called, which subfunctions were executed how many times, etc. The statistics of the flow of control in the reading program are then employed to stochastically control the operations of the text generator and by this, the syntax of the sentences produced. Reading of further text continuously modifies the stochastics of the control flow of the software and the syntax.
The athmospheric sound in the café below is detected via four microphones and its amplitude, pitch and attack analysed. The words of the text on the LED display are spoken by a hardware speech synthesizer and recorded. A babble of mechanical voices fills in the acoustic gaps in the human murmur of the café. The amplitude of the natural sound controls the interval of the sentences on the display. Attack determines their length. The athmospheric pitch sets the frequency in which topics follow each other. Some of the topics in the matrix are dependent on the time of day, while others are only executed under certain conditions of local weather and temperature.