This body of work investigated the potential of sonified human gait as a means of social connection between strangers in public spaces. Completed while a graduate student in MIT’s Visual Arts Program, this work comprised the core of my graduate thesis research, culminating in the design and development of a wearable sound recording and amplification device, the Metronomad. I designed this final product (with mixed success) to translate a sited approach to a mobile one. There is no small amount of unintended failure in this body of work, but I offer it here as an important record of origins. Of the lot, the written component is probably the strongest piece.
Step / Right / Up
In a busy two-story lobby along MIT’s “infinite corridor,” I positioned myself in a balcony, looking down toward the oncoming pedestrian traffic. As pedestrians entered the lobby, I tapped my right foot in sync with theirs. The amplified sound of my foot (and therefore the walker’s) filled the room; below me, a live image of my tapping foot could be seen on an existing tv monitor, usually used for campus announcements.
Leading the Guide
I positioned myself, a microphone attached to each shoe, on the first landing of a large, enclosed stairwell. As pedestrians began to ascend the stairs below, I attempted to follow ahead of them, my feet in sync with theirs. A large, obvious amplifier at ground level filled the space with the sounds of my feet (and so theirs as well). Upon each walker’s exit from the stairs, I descended to wait for the next person.
I anonymously take on the role of an audible crosswalk signal for a busy intersection. Performance lasts for the duration of a workday. The busy crosswalk at 77 Massachusetts Avenue serves as a primary entrance for MIT, and is active throughout the day. An audible safe signal helps the blind navigate but also serves the sighted, as routine often makes a visual check less apt. I intervene to generate the signal myself, through walking – each foot signals one note of the two-tone signal.
For the course of a day, I wait with the other pedestrians until it is safe to cross, then walk with them, generating the signal as I go. In each case I try to walk in step with another pedestrian, until reaching the other side, when I resume a pace suitable to replicating normal function of the device.