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  • Dror Margalit

Uncertain Journey

Creators: Mary(ia) Markhvida, Peter Zhang, Dror Margalit

Voice: Zeynep Elif Ergin

I look around and feel a settled sense of chaos that cannot be avoided. As our society feels like we exist in the very uncertain years of the COVID-19 pandemic, we move to an era of war in Europe. Environmental disasters emerge in different places around the world - remindings us that climate change is here. The technologies that claim to connect us drive our emotions asunder. And, worse, with so much information that is thrown at us, turning this feeling off is harder than ever.

In such a world, so many systems operate together, creating a reality that is so difficult to understand. As individuals, these systems are so vast that they seem out of control. Random. Chaotic.

Find sketch here

Uncertain Journey is an interactive work combining random, computer-generated sounds with the story of an uncertain time in Zeynep Elif Ergin's life. Users can choose whether they want to listen to Elif's story or not, but they cannot turn the chaotic sounds off. The "chaotic" noises are computer-generated sounds that use an algorithm to produce different frequencies. Some of the sounds use a pitch that we explicitly chose, others generate different pitches randomly, yet others follow a normal distribution. That said, while the sounds are randomly generated, for the most part, they are not entirely chaotic. In changing different values or choosing what kind of randomness to present at any given time, we control what kind of "chaos" we want to present at any time.

We attempted to embrace chaos but regulate it. In today's reality, we can no longer stop the chaos or uncertainty, but we need to learn to cope with them. And this balance between embracing the chaos and regulating certainty is a key to doing so.

Making of Uncertain Journey

In the first step in our process, we met over lunch to brainstorm. As we threw ideas into the air quite quickly, we realized that we would want to use computer-generated sounds that Mary programmed. When thinking about which kind of sound we wanted to produce, we started experimenting with random sounds, normal distributions, and sounds that use certain musical scales. The concept of randomness and uncertainty spoke to us, and we thought about what it meant for us.

Snapshot of the Adobe Audition edit (left) and Python code of a sound wave (right)

Since pure randomness makes no sense, we wanted to add a story to it and recorded Elif's responses for this question.

"Describe a time in your life when you faced extreme uncertainty or chaos, and how did the situation or the way you felt about it evolve over time? How did it resolve or not?"

We wanted to record Elif authentically, leading the story wherever she felt comfortable. Later, we recorded ambiance sounds that we added to her part when editing. When we had the interview, the computer-generated sounds, and the ambient noises, we edited everything together.

Working with random and chaotic sounds was challenging because too much chaos does not sound like a story. Therefore, we attempted to regulate the chaos while embracing it. In other words, we coped with the chaos rather than attempting to stabilize it.

Special thanks to Karina for helping us making the code more shareable.

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