Sonifying COVID | 2022 | Gallery25

Sonifying COVID is an exhibition that focusses on art made from and about the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on how sound and vibration as tools of expression, can shed light on the “other” somatic impacts on the pandemic. By ‘other’ the artists mean not the physical symptoms of COVID-19, but rather the bodily anxiety, stress, and tension we internalize by listening to the news, remembering to wash our hands often, and incessantly checking apps and web maps for new information and details of hotspots, numbers of infections, and so on. The exhibition is sound forward, using sonification and vibration as the nexus that brings together two independent but interrelated works both created from data of the pandemic over the last two years. 

Pandemic Resonance by Diana Chester, Melody Li, Julian Belbachir, Sonya Holowell and Benjamin Carey, is a meditation, an experimental sound-forward, dialogue free experience about living through COVID. The work explores the environmental impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on people’s emotional and physical well-being, while offering a soothing counterpoint to the constant bombarding we all face in the news. This counterpoint comes in the form of the healing vibrational power of music. As a black screen fades in and out on short snippets of the lives of Sydneysiders in Isolation during the pandemic, the piece offers the audience a space to project their own memories and experiences of the pandemic into the soundscape that envelops them. 

Parsing the Pandemic is a sound and visual work that explores the Johns Hopkins University Data on COVID-19 case numbers worldwide from 2020. This is a collaboration between three artists, Diana Chester, Benjamin Carey and Luke Hespanhol, who have taken this raw data set as their starting point to generate work that creatively explores the relationship between the data and their lived experience of the pandemic. The work consists of two quadraphonic fixed media soundscapes, Transmission and Isolation, and a video diptych Permanent Hypnagogia.

Permanent Hypnagogia by Luke Hespanhol, consists of a video diptych: each half offers a complementary subjective perspective of an individual in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic: passively looking out into the world, and into himself. The whirlwind-like graphics generated on top of the movies are driven by the Johns Hopkins University data on COVID case numbers worldwide from February to May 2020. The viewer is thus positioned in the centre of an experience of dizziness in face of the relentless statistics of cases, deaths, vaccinations rates and escalating crises. At that stage of the pandemic, every case corresponded to great suffering, often a life lost. The artwork conveys the feeling of a permanent shift between being awake and dreaming – a state known as hypnagogia – bearing in mind that dreams are not always nice, and within which judgements are often suspended amidst surreal imagery.

Transmission by Benjamin Carey, is a quadrophonic fixed media work that makes use of COVID-19 infection data from 2020, as well as audio from a press conference of the World Health Organisation from the same period. Datasets of infection rates from eight countries of interest (USA, UK, China, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Brazil) were used as sonification parameters to generate all sound synthesis, concatenative re-synthesis and audio processing in the work. The sonification imbues the speech of journalists and members of the scientific community with the statistical reality of rising and falling daily case numbers, at a time when the 

WHO, and the scientific community at large, were grappling with the nature of asymptomatic transmission at this early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Transmission Credits: WHO Press conference – 8/6/2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZoIOyiZnt8 Voices: Emma Farge (Reuters), Dr Maria Van Kerkhove (WHO), and members of the WHO scientific community. 

Isolation by Diana Chester, is a 4-channel piece that uses COVID-19 data expressed as polyphonic MIDI, and newsreels of reporting on the Pandemic to develop a narrative about isolation and loneliness. This work explores COVID case numbers throughout Australia and from 10 countries around the world from the viewpoint of when COVID was first explored, and we all sat back and watched the news as the world became very closed and we all retreated to our own spaces. This work uses the data as a starting point to generate music, sounds, and noise that when coupled with voice tell the story of looking at the Pandemic from the inside out, as we all did.