Bird (2012-2014)

Marlena Novak and Jay Alan Yim in collaboration with Jesus Duran

Bird is an interactive audio-video installation using infrared technology to sense visitors in the room and respond to their presence. The work incorporates behaviors that are modeled in software to create a virtual Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula).

The software bird algorithmically composes complex songs intended to imitate the improvisational phrase structures of actual blackbird singing, using recorded blackbird sounds. A database of 466 lexemes (organized into ten categories based on musical criteria) is reordered and concatenated according to an experimental blackbird grammar.

The IR system gathers data on the number of visitors and their positions in the installation. This data is fed to the algorithms that influence the behavior of the virtual bird. The virtual bird responds to this input by moving spatially in six channel surround sound (left front, center front, right front, right rear, center rear, left rear) as another aspect of its synthetic behavior.

Three different kinds of sequences comprise the video repertoire: closeups of real blackbirds singing, environmental shots where blackbirds were heard and seen singing (even if they fly away before the sequence ends), and 3D animated dream sequences inspired by the anatomy or habitat of the birds. Video sequences are continually reordered, according to data gathered by the IR system. A visitor's position in the installation space is indicated in real time by alpha channel trail masking superimposed as a ‘reveal’ layer in the video projection.

The title, Bird, pays homage to Charlie Parker, a jazz musician whose inventiveness was legendary; the work also acknowledges the influence of Douglas Huebler, and his conceptual photographic series Duration Piece #5, New York, April 1969. 

Bird is dedicated to the memory of Regina Verhagen.