Testing Grounds

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Testing Grounds

Testing Grounds

Susannah Langley studio


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With her Testing Grounds studio, Susannah is working on innovative uses of virtual reality.  Her project aims to set up virtual drawing experiments based on 360 sound, using Tilt Brush & AnimVR software, that audiences experience through a system of projection mapping and surround sound speakers.

Susannah Langley is a visual artist operating at the intersection of drawing, sound, and virtual technologies.  Often using unconventional media such as conductive material, touch technology and virtual reality to create site-responsive, experimental works that explore ideas of history, memory, movement, feeling and space. Currently, Susannah is a Master’s researcher at the Victorian College for the Arts exploring drawing and sound in virtual environments.

Since 2013, she has collaborated with Warren Armstrong developing works that people can move through, and touch, to summon stories and soundscapes. These can broadly be divided into two types: physical installations and virtual reality experiences.  The collaboration has contributed commissioned works for art centres, festivals, residencies, and artist-run initiatives both nationally and abroad. Including in 2019, Vivid Ideas, Chatswood Arts Precinct, Gertrude Street Projection Festival, and the Vrystaat Arts Festival, Bloemfontein, South Africa.  In 2017, they won the Paramor Prize for Art and Innovation from Casula Powerhouse Art Centre and were awarded a City of Melbourne Arts grant and Inner West Council Arts and Culture grant.

In addition to her art practice, Susannah is experienced in the delivery of creative tech-based workshops to a variety of age groups.

The Keepsakery project

November 2019

This first month at Testing Grounds Studio I’ve focused my research on to listening to the sounds of the place itself. Finding and identifying the different types of sounds present in the area and testing approaches for drawing these heard sounds. Primarily using coloured pencils and gauche onto paper journals and also by drawing directly in VR with Tilt Brush Software. Through this daily exercise of listening and drawing sounds, I’m beginning to sketch a type of local sound map of the city. What I’ve discovered so far, is this city is packed full noise. And that noise is specific to the location and particular to time. For example, yesterday was Derby Day at Flemington racecourse and from 1.20 pm to 1.33 pm the acoustic space was full with 7 helicopters flying over on their way to the race! In addition, I’ve used this month to invite as many friends, curators and VCA art colleagues to come to visit TG studios and share the work in progress. This has started some interesting conversations and is an informal way of testing out, how people engage with the VR drawings and move through a virtual environment. Thanks to all who’ve dropped by and interacted with the works including Tilly from Science Gallery; Ioannis and Jess VCA researchers, Supervisors Helen and Roger, the Film and Television students from Melbourne Uni, my bestie Sharon and academic Dr Jackquelene Drinkall from Tasmania University.

Primarily I’ve been using a process of sketching into journals with coloured pencils and gauche and also by drawing directly in VR with Tilt Brush Software. Drawing with a key of colour coded sound: Pink: music; Purple: air breaks: Blue: helicopters; Green: Industrial squeaks; Yellow: birds; Red: Car horns and crows and Black: trucks. Through this daily exercise of listening and drawing I’ve began sketching a type of localised sound map of the city. What I’ve discovered so far, is this city is packed full noise. That the noise is specific to the location and particular to a time.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Testing Grounds, it is a purposely designed site made of utilitarian shipping containers and gardens, that is located in Melbourne Southbank Arts Precinct. This site is surrounded by main roads, tall modern architecture, and industrial scale building sites and the dominant sounds are traffic noise with smatterings of ‘sound events’ such as, car horns, nail guns; airbrakes; helicopters; and the occasional bird. At this stage of my research, I’ve been I’ve been drawing these sounds directly into journals and directly in the VR headset into a 360 space. I’ve begun to teach myself to how to use AnimVR. A VR software that will allows me to animate the drawn marks in 360 space.

I’m reading a great book, ‘The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace. A History of Space from Dante to the Internet’ by Margaret Wertheim.


December 2019

This month I’ve been experimenting with listening to the sounds in the studio and drawing these in VR, using Tilt Brush software. I’ve also been experimenting with different types of field recording equipment such as: Zoom H1 with Roland Headphone Mics, iPhone Voice Memos App, and Zoom VR recorder. Using them to record the local soundscapes as I”m drawing in the HTC Vive headset and testing different field recording setups in different locations around the site, at various times of day, weather conditions and events. I am hoping this will build up into a picture of the auditory space, and describe some of the events that happen at Testing Grounds site in drawings and sound. Locating and identifying a drawn sound map full with information about Testing Ground site itself. Identified a key of colour-coded “sound events”:Sounds: Helicopters – Blue Light Lorries and Buses (idling) – Dark Grey Motorbike – Madder Horn – Scarlet (light Red) Birds – yellow/Green (blackbirds/Minor/sparrows) Crow/Cockatoos – Black Music – Opalescent Pink/Blue People – Blue/PurpleThis daily exercise of listening and drawing in VR is building into a personalised sound vocabulary. And what I hope will form into a developed series of hand-drawn, room-scale 3D virtual drawings that audiences can walk through, touch, and listen to.

What I’ve discovered whilst listening regularly to the space at TG, is that I am listening with my body and not just hearing with my ears! Feeling the sound waves as a vibration – through the process of reverberation, echos and orientating at different points and places in my body. Therefore, expanding my personal understanding of auditory perception and the act of listening. The soundscape is densely populated with traffic noise and peppered with high frequency/sharp sounds such as: accelerating motorbikes, care horn, occasional crow or cockatoo, and raised voice, music from Community Precinct coffee and later in the evening blackbirds with a smattering of minor birds and sparrows throughout the day.

Currently, I’m researching colour and sound and have discovered some interesting ‘facts’ connecting to the idea of Synethesia. I’m reading a book by Cretien Van Campen“The Hidden Sense. Synesthesia in art and Science.” 2007. That simply describes the process of Synesthesia and its connections to science and art.In addition, I’m loving this link shared by Roger Alsop: Listening In. “What Does Colour Sound Like”. I’ve visited the Stephen McLaughlan Gallery in the Nicholson Building for the first time which is celebrating its 25th anniversary exhibition. And experienced “Incomplete Infinities” a VR, Sound and Poetry happening with 8 channel spatial sound composition by Roger Alsop, VR projections by Reverse Butcher and Poetic Works by Kylie Supski. Congratulations Stephen and artists!I was lucky to meet with Robin Fox at MESS (Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio) this week. Spending an interesting morning, exploring MESS’s historical synthesiser collection and discussing Robin’s research into drawing with sound waves and the developing a system of laser driven graphic scores.Thanks again Robin and for the introduction Micheal Carr!

This is a walk through virtual drawing that participants touch to hear sounds pf a tram journey home.