The Universal Solvent

“The piece aims to instigate reciprocation and exchange between individuals that emulates the evolution and changes in our social norms due to hyperconnectivity that has inevitably arose from the increase in one to many and its subsequent many to many networks. It can be seen as an interpretation of how we communicate with one another as of today and what we make of it; be it a necessary transition or a disruptive presence.”

A Reactive offline netscape

The Universal Solvent is essentially a metaphor for the many-to-many paradigm, the idea of multiple entities  contributing and receiving information at the same time with the information channels often interlinked across different websites generating and providing an endless stream of content by the masses for the masses.

This is reflected in the piece demonstrated by the flow-chart.cyclefyp.001.png

The core network originates from the user which influences two secondary networks- the medium (the water) and the Live Audio Feedback. The Medium in turn networks to the Light and the Audio Sample. The Light and Audio Sample networks are essentially tied to each other, with one network usually corresponding in sync with the other. The Light also feedbacks back to the Medium changing its form/color. At the same time, the Audio Samples affect the Live Audio Feedback to an extent causing some distortion in the network. All these changes in the secondary networks will ultimately feedback to the User.

This illustrates an example of the many to many paradigm that exists as a recurring theme of the piece-  A melting pot of networks that interlink with each other, An Universal Solvent.

Preface: Starting Point

A development of one of the concepts from the previous OSS class.

Which can be referred from here.

It is based on one of three and most interesting Internet computing paradigms.

With the evolution to the full “many-to-many” computing paradigm, people can input and receive information to and from the Internet; they will be able to connect and communicate dynamically within a flexibly formed scope; there will be no artificial boundary between information and communication tools, and the definition of “many” will go well beyond people to include entities such as organizations, products, processes, events, concepts and so on.


A product of increased of person-to-person and person-to-machine communication in networked organizations and networked societies though the many-to-many paradigm.

It refers to the use of multiple means of communication, such as email, instant messaging, telephone, face-to-face contact and Web 2.0 information services.

Hyper-connectivity is also a trend in computer networking in which all things that can or should communicate through the network will communicate through the network. This encompasses person-to-person, person-to-machine and machine-to-machine communication. The trend is fueling large increases in bandwidth demand and changes in communications because of the complexity, diversity and integration of new applications and devices using the network.

I too see this as a natural progression of our societal standards that evolve with increased levels of connectivity and ease of communications between individuals and groups alike.

Based on this I observed this trend as one of the keypoints of my project in terms of its rate of change and also a social commentary of the effects of what these changes have on our society.

The reactionary next step to this in artistic expression would be the gesamdatenwerk, a synthesis of media that involves collaboration via the net. A collective tele-communicative artwork of sorts one of my main concepts in the Open Source Studio Class by Randall Packer. My exploration resulted in a piece that looked into the utopic nature in the manifestations of overcommunication.

Using twitter as a platform, I created an aesthetic piece that displays our collective voice whether relevant or not. This is a development based on my initial idea of creating a collective sound based on the information gathered from a particular #hashtag. The end result is a visual sound piece of sorts- Where the words are displayed like musical pieces. The visualization of tweets appearing and then fading out as quickly as it appears acts as a juxtaposition of the culture that lives solely in the moment. (YOLO included)

Like envelopes the words appear and disappear over time, with reverberation/sustain/delay effects. Also the words are randomized in size and positioning in relation to the amplitude and chord/octave structure.

In short, a very (over)optimistic and some say a pleasant disguise to what is really going on.

This was an early result of that:

On a different layer altogether, it evolved into a thought experiment – an ongoing hypothesis with an ever changing interpretation. As more and more people contribute to the space, it can be deduced by the different viewers that through these channels of hyper connectivity either our individual voice has diminished to a point where everything becomes noise OR our opinions and ideals are strengthened as a larger collective union or perhaps a bit of both. This visualization explores the entropy of our social environment in a transient manner; which itself is an ironic point of view of the cycle of this internet culture.

The Collective Sound:The next step.

A musical instrument is classically a device that creates a sound controlled by an individual.

The gesamdatenklingen, a synthesis of media that involves the viewer- A musical instrument in the form of an aesthetic sculpture that does not react just to a single controller, but to the audience.


“Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container.”

With that in mind, I explored different possible methods to approach this. Based on the constraints and suitability i was looking into a more micro, geo-political viewpoint and ideation of such a construct. Something that breaks down and simplifies the elements into something more relate-able and personal that can showcase an idea of hyperconnectivity whilst actively engaging the role of the viewer.

This brought about a need for an interactive medium. Thus my choice in using water.

Water is the element of change. The use of water in this piece is an extended metaphor of the volatile netscape. The medium that substitutes the idea, and allows for indirect manipulation through a containing device.

The Space

“Art confronts an individual with a situation in which their boundaries, both physical and mental, are redefined. ”

I am taking this quote in reference to the concept of using space, be it the metaphysical or literal aspect, in installation art.

Is art transformed by its context, or does the context defines the art?

How does the context of space itself change the role of the viewer and artist in question, or vice versa for that matter. How would the use of a particular space change the boundaries that which we see is art. Is interactivity a reaction or an action to it? In this case does putting a bunch of lit up jars in a room create a change in the phenomenology? If not, how would i achieve so?

These were the many questions I asked myself in the process of creating this offline reactive netscape. By choosing to see this installation as a metaphor for something that does not take up space does serve to strengthen or weaken this concept?

Role of the viewer

The role of the viewer in this piece is not very different from that of many interactive pieces. However, it is still not practiced often in most of the contemporary art world.

Based on this i will refer to the piece Hole in space by Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinovits.

What I felt happened here is one of the many sparks in redefining the boundaries of art. As a very reluctant student of art history, I akin it to a repeat of the ideology behind the realism movement only this time in interactive and technology driven art. From what i understand, realism began after the french revolution , naturally it was a protest against romanticism, rejecting its exotic subject matter and the idealised classicism of academic art in favour of down to earth concepts and the depiction of the common man.

In essence the same holds true to some extent, where Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz removes the boundaries of high art. Taking it out of the display of a museum onto a public street exposed to the masses, and rightly so; as the piece was never meant to be analyzed by the academia nor be ogled by the rich or the educated. It was meant to experienced by the world, the very people that in time were to be the ones that had to accept and adapt to the changes of technology and with it connectivity, it was the rehearsal for web whether they knew it or not and also the staging point for the Gesamtwerk- the collective artwork.

This the very basis for many interactive works, where the works are true to its genre and are meant to be interacted with. Therefore the viewer has to work with the piece if not, the piece itself is nothing.

In this case, this piece is based on the many to many paradigm, where one or more entities are meant to work together, and control the piece. As it should be. The piece is not a rigidly composed soundpiece but instead put together by the masses and their interaction with the works. With their content and interaction, my content is generated: thus showing the metaphorical connections between the actions of the many and the internet in its essence.

Shifting Role of the Artist

The viewer has superseded the artist. To generate content, that is relevant to the context (the many to many paradigm) The artist and the viewer takes part in the cycle in which it content is constantly being created with as little control as possible. That is the gesamtklingen. The collective soundscape.

Actual Role of the Viewer

Sonic/Light Interactivity

Adjusted water levels act as controllers to create a user-generated soundscape/lightscape.

Changes are brought about by 3 main conditions/triggers:

  • Velocity- Rate of change in water level

  • Range- Difference in height/weight of water level

  • Level of activity- No activity, new activity, some activity, etc.

Technical Realization


  • 8(6)x Custom Made Pedestals

  • 8(6)x Glass Cylinders

  • 8(6)x Colorsplash Light Thingies

  • 8(6)x Contact Mics

  • 8(6)x Containers

  • 8(6)x Mini Pressure Sensors

  • 1x Mixer

  • 1x Entec DMX usb pro

  • 1x Teabox

  • 1x Mac Mini

  • 1 x 2ch Speakers


  • 8(6)x Dynamic Audio Samples

  • xx Audio Layering Samples

  • 1x Max Patch

  • 1x Dark Room

Single Box Set-upuniversalsolvent_img01_#.jpg

The pedestals made using acrylic sheets, laser cut to the dimensions shown above.

The pedestals will house a singular pressure sensor and a Colorsplash Jr. lighting device. The cylinder will sit in a indentation on the pedestal. Separated from the sensor from another piece of acrylic.

Lighting Test

This is an early concept where the light source resides in the water within the container.

Light source below the container. using the strobe function on my phone.

Light test with Colorsplash Light thing without water.

Light Test with colorsplash with water. The lighting changes in the actual piece will be more gradual, this is just a range test.

Testing was done to make sure that the Colorsplash Jr. was sufficient in lighting up the respective containers.

Sensor Calibration

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Latex as a secondary Medium

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Cork as a secondary  medium.

Early in the setting up process, I realised that the sensors were not picking up enough change as it was between the two pieces of acrylic. I need to use a separate medium such that the changes in pressure could be easily actualised.

The two main mediums I experimented with were latex and cork. Latex was a lot more malleable and provided a better range of readings between pressure shifts, whilst cork was more sturdy and provided a more accurate reading throughout. However in the end, I choose latex over cork as the cork did not provide a large enough range of readings as the pressure shifted.

Audio Sampling

Creating the soundscape of the installation.

First off, I attempt to generate the background noise to try to give the space a sense of consciousness and tactility.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 4.57.41 am

Using Sampler and messing around with the loop to create a base sound. I choose a very ambient track to work as the base sample.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 4.58.06 am Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 4.58.16 am

Adding some flair, the delays and reverbs are a must, perhaps a chorus in the future. Filtered out most of the highs and added some pan for variation. The rumble effect gave it a tad bit of an earthly feel.

This was the result-ish.

The next part I worked on were the resting sounds, that trigger based on no level of activity. I wanted to go with something that stood out and worked as pulses in the soundscape.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 4.58.30 am

I went with this custom instrument called belles & thinpad. Sounded pretty good as it is, all that had to be done was the note adjustment. How it sounds, after the jump.

The final sounds I was working on were the individual sounds that were going to be mapped to their respective water containers. There is going to be a minimum of 6 sounds that has to blend seamlessly with each other. Yet it had to be something that if taken away, was to be noticeable.

This part, is still a work in progress as I am still unsure how to approach this, i tried duplicating the same sounds over different rootkeys, but it still seems a tad bit too subtle. Using filters on the other hand change the sound too much for my liking.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 5.27.36 am

One more time altogether now.


Final Product


There is no conclusion to this piece- As there is no end to the network. Only more developments.

The effects of Hyper-connectivity is just starting to show. Its potential to either shape, engage and/or extend our unilateral understandings of the universal premises across multi-cultural influences is only just being tapped.


Ultimately there are two things I hope to achieve with the formulation of this piece in the future.

Social experiment: I would like to observe this trend of the increase in networks as one of the keypoints of my project in terms of its rate of change and also a social commentary of the effects of what these changes have on our society.

I  would also hope to figure out the piece’s potential to either shape, engage and/or extend our unilateral understandings of the universal premises across multi-cultural influences.