Moving Melodies was an installation based in Chester for Screen Deva Film Festival. The intention was to transform the everyday, street-side journeys of pedestrians into a collective musical experience. The hope was that it would provide a playful and joyous interface between passers-by as they create music with the movements of their bodies and consider the physical space they inhabit in a new way.
A piano faces the street, visible through the shop window. The piano has the front removed revealing the inner workings and keys to the public’s gaze. At the same time, a video camera is monitoring the movement of pedestrians from the window of the shop. The camera processes the image stream and identifies individuals moving on the pavement. A projection of the processed image of pedestrians is visible on the piano’s surface.
The viewer sees the piano and projection through the window. At the same time, they hear the sound of a piano being played. As the moving images of the pedestrians pass across the piano, they seem to ‘pluck’ the strings as they pass over them. The viewer now sees that the piano responds to their own movement and experiments with the interface.
Although the piece was intended as a light-hearted engagement with the public, it also provided a situation in which people were invited to reconsider their own physical movement in space. As participants begin to understand their involvement in the artwork through the images and sounds they created, their existence is identified and they develop a heightened sense of their body, as well as others, in space. This communication with themselves, the technology and other participants leads them to reassess their relationship with the environment and other people. They now are hyper-aware of the shared nature of space and their location within it.
The use of a piano, as well as being a highly accessible sound medium, in its stature as a traditional object, reduces peoples focus on the technology as well as subtly reinforcing a sense of history and the continuity of tradition. The Screen Deva brief identified as a factor to the project the large numbers of vacant shops due to the recession and a piano in my view may reduce the temporal anxiety caused by economic distress because of its relative historical permanence. It could critically be argued by the same reasoning that using such devices act as anesthetics to social concerns.
Although it was difficult to monitor the effectiveness of the installation, feedback by the organizers of Screen Deva was very positive. A significant technical problem that occurred during the installation resulted in a fault in which a persistent sound was played repeatedly until the installation had to be temporarily switched off. This made me very aware of the effects of public sound installations when individuals are subjected to them continually after I received an honest complaint from a local shop. This has made me consider the balance between the desire to create a publically accessible artwork and its broader impact in a social environment.