Vinyl. CDs. Spinning hard drives. So much of our musical history has been relegated to saucers of information, UFOs that only make sense when placed in the right context. So maybe it’s not so strange that design studio Realität has reimagined music as what they call Microsonic Landscapes. They’re essentially musical sculptures, the products of algorithms ripping through audio signals, a pile of code that is then translated through 3-D modeling software and printed, for up to 11 hours, on ABS plastic. The result is a mountainous record that depicts music in corporeal form.
“We’re very interested in the process involved in order to transform that invisible source of stimulus (hidden from human vision) into something physical,” explains Realität’s Juan Manuel Escalante. “By doing that, we can experience it in a whole different way. Suddenly, all that data transforms into a brand new opportunity to experience space. A new window opens. It reveals some strange map/codex ready to be read or understood under a different perspective.”
The catch, of course, is that Microsonic Landscapes can no longer be played. Theoretically, were Realität to use entirely literal transcoding to build the sculptures from music, it might be possible through lasers or other technologies. But the studio gets their hands dirty in the code, like sculptures in clay, reshaping the audio frequencies into a new, subjective representation of the music. So their depiction of Arvo Pärt sinks inwards, as it “demands an introvert/inner journey from the listener,” whereas Einstürzende Neubauten simply explodes to depict “the great bursts of energy flowing in the music.”
“Now that everything is digital, all sorts of databases/files can be mixed in order to generate new hybrid works, or new works from hybrid sources,” Escalante explains. “And by joining different sets of data not commonly compared against each other, that is the territory where the new is born. We want to be in that place.”
So whereas adjusting source audio signals would be blasphemy on a real record, Realität sees the editing process as key to evolving any new medium. With Microsonic Landscapes, they aren’t just trying to create a clearer or more convenient way to listen to music; they’re trying to discover a whole new experience lurking within the data–one that needs to be tuned with as much care as a musician would approach their own instruments.
But when soundwaves become 1s and 0s, and 1s and 0s become (reshaped) shapes, can we still actually call what they’ve created music? The obvious answer isn’t rude to admit: No, probably not.
“We can’t avoid thinking of them as ruins, in the sense that the sound is dead. They’re almost like algorithmic shadows,” Escalante admits. “We’re not very sure they contain the very same magic that the original music source, but we like to see them as platforms jumping somewhere else, just as the work of these great musicians once showed our minds new landscapes with different horizons.”