Signal Moods is an interactive sound sculpture, one of the research innovations of the project “Digital Sense.” It examines similarities and differences of text interpretation between humans and computers. Signal Moods asks viewers to spend time listening and considering the relationship between themselves and their local society. The piece collects tweets from the selected Twitter topic to generate synthesized sounds in real time based on emotions description of musical chords. This turns the tweets into a chorus, which sings continuously. Viewers can listen to the choir at any moment or quit the show and begin the audio again. However, the sounds of the choir will never be the same. Additionally, any experimentation by viewers is very welcome, such as the selection of different topics to test the system-synthesized audio. Participating on actual social media is also encouraged; people can manipulate the algorithm of the software and see the results in real time.
Signal Moods plays a role as a point of investigation to examine two socializing spaces between digital space – Twitter, and physical space – a local area. Signal Moods’ program is always set to search for the trending topics in the current location of the art piece. The top six trending topics shown on the screen are popular topics in the current location. Viewers may not be familiar with some of these topics, while others they may have heard about before. Often, some trending topics are also misleading. It can be entertaining to solve the puzzle of what is going on with a strange-seeming topic. It is interesting to see how people who are located in the same area at the moment share their thoughts on things and what impact those things have had on their lives currently. In any case, with a current location scale, such as town, district, city, state, and country, Signal Moods has already shown how an actual space in physicality affects what humans perceive in digitality.
The body of Signal Moods is a sculpture, with various-sized installations. The piece is designed to expose its cables and computer accessories. Every component is black with matte silver colors. The monitor, mouse, keyboard, and computer closet used have thick and cubical shapes. I designed the visuals of the piece using carefully selected found objects. It represents a backend of technology for home-users and physical infrastructure, inspired by the environment of technology companies’ server rooms.
The art piece has a mixed period aesthetic. The visual aesthetic draws from the present and the past, while the audio is composed with the simplest timeless beep sound. This sound imitates Internet dial-up tones, the most familiar sound of technology in the early days of the Internet. Each beeping sound uses real time tweets as input to calculate values for the sound synthesization. The program compares this input with two databases: the edited version of data compiled from four lexicons, namely NRC Emotion Lexicon, Bing Liu’s Opinion Lexicon, MPQA Subjectivity Lexicon, and Harvard General Inquirer, and a musical chords and emotion database. The musical chords and emotion database is created based on Christian Schubert’s musical chord characteristics.
Musical experts and psychologists have studied the impact of music on human psychology for a long time. The connection of musical keys with emotional characteristics was fairly commonplace prior to the 20th century. There are numerous studies and research that talk about it in various aspects. However, one of the most influential descriptions of characteristics of this centuries-old puzzle is in German-speaking culture of the late 18th and early 19th century. Christian Schubert created the following description in his book “Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst”, in 1806.34 (Table 1) The affect of musical chords on human emotion is what music producers use to produce their songs. A brief explanation of this theory is that particular keys, which are a combination of pitches, affect humans’ brainwaves. For example, major keys can illustrate positive feelings, such as happiness, joy, and love, while minor keys often frame a picture of sadness, anxiousness, and hopeless. Although it is true that not everyone is affected and has the same reaction to every key, in general these classifications are retable to most people.
EXAMPLES OF TRENDING TOPIC CHORUS
Select video in this playlist.
Signal Moods was not created to invent new sound. It is not about an inventive AI that generates fresh audio, but is an art piece that synthesizes melody from text-based content using diverse knowledge in English literature and music theory as seeds to understand basic human emotions. The audio that the art piece generates is like an artificial voice, which also is an emotional one. Listening to this piece of art should take some time. It does not require people to listen to it from the beginning. Viewers can listen to the choir at any moment or quit the show and begin the audio again. However, the sounds will never be the same. Additionally, any experimentation by viewers is very welcome, such as selecting different topics to test the system-synthesized audio. Participating on actual social media is also encouraged; people can manipulate the algorithm of the software and see the results in real time. Unfortunately, at the opening reception of “Weak or No Signal” exhibition, not many people stepped in to participate in the conversation on Twitter, only acting as listeners. Signal Moods is not about the complexity of musical layers and how quickly a piece of music can catch the audience’s attention, but comments on the music synthesization process using a variety of free resources distributed by humans on the Internet, and how humans sense Internet emotion with their ears.
“Signal Moods” is part of the research project “Digital Sense,” which currently experiments on two research innovations.
The project addresses a new additional human sense—the “digital sense” —in a contemporary world where digital technology is a new method of communication in daily life. Digital sense is an organism’s developed intelligent capacity that provides information to perceive contemporary data, which is sharpened by social media. With today’s technology, people have access to a new method of connectivity both to other humans and to machines, which has shown that there are still many perspectives on things that have never been seen or thought of before due to humans’ limitations of perception. The project proposes that when humans use the digital sense with any of their five traditional recognized senses (according to western philosophy, which classifies human’s basic senses into five categories), they can perceive contemporary data, especially Internet data, by absorption. For example, social media users may have a better understanding of contemporary methods of interaction, such as meme-creating and GIF-searching, hidden text-message meanings, and expressions or content of emoji combinations.
For brief information about another work in this research, “Social Media without the Internet,” please click here.