Sympathetic Sentience is an interactive
sound installation which generates complex patterns of rhythmic sound through
the phenomenon of 'emergent complexity'. The original goal was to attempt to realise
a project which manifested true emergent complex behavior, using the simplest
possible technology. Each of the 12 comparatively simple, identical electronic
units alone is capable of only one chirp each minute. Rhythmic and melodic complexity
develops through a chain of communication among the units. In the installation,
each unit passes its rhythm to the next via infrared signal. Each unit then combines
its own rhythm with the data stream it receives, and passes the resulting new
rhythm along. Thus the rhythms and timbral variations slowly cycle around the
group, increasing in complexity. The system is self-governing, after an initial
build-up period, the system is never silent nor is it ever fully saturated.
The 12 units are mounted on the ceiling and walls of a darkened room. The experience
of the visitor is of an active sound environment of 12 'channels' in which there
is recognisable, but not predictable, patterning. The visitor can interrupt this
chain of communication by moving through the space. This results in a suppression
of communication activity and hence reduction of complexity. A long interruption
results in complete silencing of the whole group. When the interloping is removed,
slowly a new rhythm will build up. The build-up of a new rhythm cycle can take
several minutes. The rhythm cycles are never constant but continually in development.
To gain a sense of the full complexity of the piece, it is necessary to spend
several minutes with the piece in an uninterrupted state.