Rawr! A Study in Sonic Skulls (2011-present)

This work, a collaboration with Sharif Razzaque, is an interactive sound installation and musical instrument based on imagining the sounds of a lambeosaurine hadrosaur, duck-billed dinosaurs known for their large head crests, which researchers hypothesize were resonators for vocal calls. We use scientific research as a starting point to create a means of sound production and resonator, using a 3D model obtained from Computed Topology (CT) scans of a Corythosaurus skull and an endocast of its crest and nasal passages. Users give voice to the dinosaur by blowing into a mouthpiece, exciting a larynx mechanism and resonating the sound through the hadrosaur’s full-scale nasal cavities and skull. This action allows an embodied glimpse into an ancient past. Users know the dinosaur through the controlled exhalation of their breath, how the compression of the lungs leads to a roar or a whisper.

Our intention is to lift dinosaur sound from disembodied simulation into physical being. Gallery visitors and performers complete this process by blowing into the installation, momentarily becoming the dinosaur. Uniquely, this instrument offers an embodied, experiential window into the distant past. For example, the skull requires effort to roar. It is not easy. Our lungs are human-sized, a fraction of the Corythosaurus’. Through this effort, we can feel the enormity. We no longer need to see it to understand it. We know it in our gasping for breath. It exists in the relation between our diaphragm, the roar and the sputter.

Accordingly, our design requires users to give their own breath. This action activates the larynx mechanism, resonating through the Corythosaurus’ nasal cavities and crest. The roar is not synthesized. This roar is the consequence of physical processes produced by the breath, mediated by the construction and materials of the skull and larynx. Vibrations flow back into the lungs and become part of the experience. The interaction is rich in complexity because of the physicality of its design.

How to Speak Dinosaur: Courtship

‘How to Speak Dinosaur: Courtship’ (2013) is an exploration of extinct Cretaceous sounds, playing with our conceptions of dinosaurs and the long distant past. This work proposes a hypothetical meeting between dinosaur and tuba: romantic hijinks ensue.

This work is dedicated to David Earll, who premiered this work, and also worked with me in developing tuba sounds, and has played tuba in every performance.

New Skull Prototype (2015)

The new prototype of the skull is made of only two EPS foam blocks, coated with 2-part urea epoxy. The nasal passages are carved into the these two foam blocks, rather than being a separate resonant chamber. The resulting skull is much more resonant, as this video demonstrates.

Grants and Awards

2015    Honorary Mention, Prix Ars Electronica
2015    ICMC 2015, Best Music Student Submission Award for How to Speak Dinosaur: Courtship
2013    GPSA ASU Research Grant

Exhibitions

2017    Re-Embodied, Telfair Museums, Jepson Center, Savannah, GA
2016    ASU Global Institute of Sustainability Tenth Anniversary Celebration, Tempe, AZ
2016    Resonant Structures, Inter space Gallery, New York, NY
2016    Resonant Structures, Zuccaire Gallery, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY
2015    Exhibiting Sound, DC3 Art Projects, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
2015    Ars Electronica Festival, OK Contemporary Art Center, Linz, Austria
2014    New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME) / BEAM Festival 2014, London, UK
2013    eMerge Festival and Gallery Show, ASU, Tempe, AZ
2012    Digital Culture Showcase (nasal cavities), ASU, Tempe, AZ

Performances

2017    Solo Improvisation, Pulse Art + Technology Festival, Telfair Museums, Jepson Center, Savannah, GA
2016    How to Speak Dinosaur: Courtship, International Tuba Euphonium Conference, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
2016    Improvisation with gbjjck, SEAMUS Conference, University of Southern Georgia, Statesboro, GA
2015    How to Speak Dinosaur: Courtship, Third Practice Festival, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA
2015    Improvisation with gbjjck, Trunkspace, Phoenix, AZ
2015    How to Speak Dinosaur: Courtship, ICMC, University of North Texas, Denton, TX
2015    Improvisionation with skull and electronics, Ars Electronica Festival, OK Contemporary Art Center, Linz, Austria
2013    How to Speak Dinosaur: Courtship, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ
2013    How to Speak Dinosaur: Courtship, Katzin Recital Hall, ASU, Tempe, AZ
2012    Improvisation with skull and electronics, Modified Arts Gallery, Phoenix, AZ

Publications

Brown, C., Razzaque, S., & Paine, G. (2015). Rawr! A Study in Sonic Skulls: Embodied Natural History. Proceedings of the 2015 Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression.

Musical Recordings

How to Speak Dinosaur: Courtship included on ICMC 2015 DVD Looking Back, Looking Forward, 2015

Acknowledgements

Carlo Sammarco for 3d modeled and printed the nasal passages for the first prototype, Garth Paine for advice and counsel, Brent Brimhall for assistence with mechanical engineering and building the first pedestal, Lawrence Witmer for providing the 3D model, Gordon Bergfors for aiding in 3d modeling and CNC machining, Sallye Coyle for aiding for aiding in 3d modeling, CNC machining, and use of her Shopbot CNC machine, and ASU GPSA for the 2012-13 GPSA Research Grant

 

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