When a person approaches a work of art hanging on a gallery wall, they contemplates the artist's meaning and what the work means to themselves. In their minds they create an interpretation of the work. When a group approaches the same work of art, the same thing happens. Until, of course, they begin to discuss their reactions amongst the group. Solo interpretation then turns into shared experience, and through the interaction of discourse the individual interpretations either come together to form harmony or separate towards chaos. In most cases, the dynamic of this interactions is not so balanced. Perhaps someone has a stronger opinion or a stronger voice. Their influence affects the other interpretations, affecting the perspectives of the individual.
Tentagon is an interactive installation that tries to capture this interaction, and turn it into play. By entering the triangular tent, participants use their voice to affect a triangular screen in front of them and try to affect the screens in front of two other users who are also in the space. Either the group works together to create harmonies, or chaos emerges from their disparate tempos and pitches.
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The main challenge of this project was to create an immersive environment where the participants could have a shared experience. A large 8-foot high triangular tent was constructed and covered with thick dark velour. Each side of the triangle had a slot for a participant to place their head into, and a covering to keep the external light out. Inside they were faces with a bottom-projected triangular screen slices into three, one slice for each of the participants. On the screen is an abstract animation, a composite of randomly selected imagery fed into a group of algorithms that were controlled by the main Tentagon engine. Hidden over the heads of the participants were three range-controlled microphones, setup to only capture the sound coming from below. Once the participant used their voice for the first time the image on their slice of the screen would begin to change. By changing the pitch and amplitude of their voice, they could also change the affects on the image. If the participant reached a certain pitch or amplitude they would also notice that their voice was affecting the other two slices. Here introduced the play aspect of Tentagon.
What we observed in the three days that Tentagon was active, was that most participants were shy to use their voice in such a free way. It was mostly children and those fearless few who really ran wild with the play aspect of the project. By creating harmonies with their voices, harmonious patterns emerged on the screen which also gave the participants a shared feeling of success. This was the exact reaction that we had hoped for. One unexpected result was the creation of a fun immersive environment. During it's showcase, the Tentagon was located amidst a very busy area. Normally there was a lot of outside noise and action that threatened the success of the project. However, the construction managed to provide the participants with enough privacy to use their voices as if they weren't surrounded by a large group of people. Passersby would be drawn to the installation because of the strange sounds coming from within it, and would even spend longer than usual in the installation because of the intimate and calming environment inside.
Tentagon consists of two main parts, audio input and audio processing and video processing and video output. Considering the intense processing demands of the project we split the load between two computers, one dedicated to audio and one for video. The data link was maintained using OpenSoundControl, a parameter and message protocol supported in our development environment, Max/MSP. For video processing, we used the Max/MSP plug-in Jitter.