• Yuan Hau & Martin Calvino

week_3: A sonic journey throughout ITP's 4th floor from a cockroach's perspective

The sonic journey described here narrates ITP’s 4th floor from a cockroach’s perspective.

The conceptual aspect of the narrative in our sound walk addressed the commonality of space and time among two different classes of organisms: insects and mammals.

Because of the disproportionate difference in the scale of their body sizes, cockroaches and humans have a different relationship with the objects that compose their environment.

Throughout history, artists have used changes in scale as means to explore the difference in how we perceive the relationship among elements within a single artwork. Similarly, we questioned how our perception of ITP’s floor (and building in general) was affected by approaching it from the world view of a cockroach.

Although cockroaches have been inhabiting our planet even before the time of dinosaurs (since the Carboniferous period about 320 million years ago), they are negatively perceived by us primarily because of their appearance, their nocturnal behavior and their association with carless or messy human habitats. It is estimated that about 30 species of cockroaches (from 4,600 taxonomically identified) co-inhabit spaces with humans.

Because ‘the image’ of a cockroach is intentionally excluded from the art piece, and because we focused instead on the sound of its journey through the building, the negative perception associated with this insect is not present, and thus its behavior becomes the sole narrative for the exploration of the building through sound.

Interestingly, cockroaches are social insects and they also exhibit parental care and collective decision making behavior. They are also omnivorous. This means that the exploration of ITP space from a reduction in size/scale from humans relative to cockroaches does not necessarily means the obliteration of behaviors common to both species. Thus, the sound walk can be considered to have a humanized sentiment to it.

Questions that emerge from the sound piece are:

Is the cockroach alone? Is its journey on his way to meet another members of its group and is suddenly interrupted by the daily activities of humans? Does the feeding and behavior of the cockroach as we imagine for humans to be? If this is so, why do we start from the kitchen, where food is located? There are inherent assumptions that are indeed humanized even though we focus on a cockroach as the focus for the sound piece.

The intended character for the work of sound presented here is intrigue and adventure. The narrative arc is described as follow:

1 Exposition:

The cockroach is feeding inside the garbage can next to the sink and refrigerator. It gets to the top of the can and then drops to the ground.

2 Rising action:

The cockroach finds itself on the ground, staring as people feet's imposing presence walk by making scary noises (footsteps and chairs moving).

It thens attaches itself to a women’s clothes and travel along from the trash can towards the elevator.

Just before entering the elevator, the women notices the cockroach on her pants.

3 Climax:

The women start shouting and tries to kill the cockroach

4 Falling Action:

Scared, the cockroach flies away to the ventilation system just next to the elevator and above Dan O’Sullivan’s office

There is a moment of relief and reflection as to what to do next to keep itself alive

5 Resolution:

As the cockroach notices a human opening the window right behind Anna’s desk on the elevator lobby, she flies out of the building and into the outer world.

The piece ends with and adventurous feeling of what might come next

Materials & Methods

Sound samples were collected and recorded using H4n Zoom audio recorder with built-in microphones and the addition of two condenser microphones. Thus, we could record 4 channel audio samples for this experiment. We used the settings and guidelines suggested in class when using the H4n recorder. Audio samples were imported into Adobe Audition CC to create an audio composition that was ultimately exported as a single piece. For the sound that emulated the flapping of cockroaches wings, we use the resource freesound.org.

Map to guide sound walk

Figure 1. Schematic diagram of ITP's 4th floor in which the starting point in the sound walk is the trash can located next to the sink and refrigerator (A.1). From there the walks continue into the corridor towards the elevator (B.2). At the entrance of the elevators, a women notice the presence of the cockroach and tries to kill it (C.3). The cockroach flies into the ventilation system right next to Dan O'Sullivan's office (D.4), and from there into the outer world through the window (D.5).

Final thoughts

When we started the project our original idea for sampling sounds was to explore transitional spaces within the building. Our draft did not incorporate at the time a narrative that would 'transform' the building into a different thing through sound, as Marina Zurkow had suggested us at the time. Based on this, we explored the approximation of the building from the perspective of a cockroach as our second idea (originated from Yuan Hau). That's how this work came to be.

Next steps

We need to include a process by which we can synchronize the behavior of the listener to certain sound triggering events in the pieces as to ensure that each segment of audio is listened at the proper location.


Wikipedia (accessed Sep-21-2017) URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cockroach


New York, United States