Spatial Sound

Beyond Language: Attuning to Different Ways of Learning and Being (2021)

Alifiyah Imani


June 2021

artistic residency project:
Attunement by Catherine Lamoureux

Alifiyah Imani

photo and video credits:
Bence Mladin

published by:
Spatial Sound Institute

Attunement’ is a project responsive to neurodivergent needs and the limitations of language. In pursuit of developing more diverse learning modalities, composer, musician and community facilitator Catherine Lamoureux (a.k.a. Valeda) uses spatial sound to design an interactive musical playground that encourages the audience to co-create as they navigate through different sounding objects. Valeda reflects on how learning environments impose rigid and far too homogeneous conditions on its subjects. Her research, which is centered around inclusiveness and interactive engagement, culminates as an installation where she prompts on the myriad ways people may react when they can participate in the creation of a sonic environment.

Artist-in-residence Catherine Lamoureux, who goes by the preferred moniker Valeda, explains that music to her completely transcends language and has allowed her to create a world at her own pace. Although instrument-specific musical training has been a big part of her life, she asserts that experimenting with Ableton Live and discovering the vast potential of an autonomous workflow has made music more accessible to her needs and discernible within frameworks she can create herself.

Valeda is based in Montreal and is active in electronic music practice and live performance which she picked up more seriously in 2015 after feeling disconnected from her educational background in visual arts. Taking some distance from this, she started nurturing her sonic projects which explores “themes of collective experience, tension, and somatics.” Personal experience with ADHD and trauma adds a layer of complexity and sensitivity to introspective states and sensory experiences she conjures up, while at the heart of her project she deeply considers access to various learning styles, empathy, connection and social consciousness.

Her project Attunement developed at the Spatial Sound Institute, invites the audience to influence and configure a transitional sonic space through constant interaction. There is no beginning or end. There is no ideal situation. In fact it dismantles and liberates from direction and orientation to gain access to each listener’s journey into embodied awareness and flexible envisioning of a sonic world.

Constraints of learning environments

In one of our conversations, Valeda describes that the world is primarily tuned to a specific and rare type of idealized person. She has seen and experienced firsthand how diverse brain capabilities, as well as people's sense of self and comfort with their unique ways of being and learning, may be labeled as deficient, causing self-worth to suffer, as well as increased pressure, confusion and lifelong implications for psychological and physiological well-being.

Working with children and in various community contexts in parallel to her electronic music practice, speaks to her interest in learning through interactive frameworks. In her experience as a preschool educator, she has observed how children who are taught in conventional learning styles and far too rigid requirements feel stifled by the submissive standards and rules of conduct.

Distinct variations of brain activity like ADHD and Autism that could help to draw attention to certain skills that children possess, often unfolds as stigmatization as ubiquitous learning structures aren’t equipped or malleable enough to accomodate neurodiverse faculties.  

For Valeda, exploring sound as a palpable communication tool has deepened and solidified her personal narrative to learning. Through electronic music production and discovering the vast universe of Ableton Live, she has been able to develop her unique process to composing listening, combining her background in music, albeit through live processing, manipulating sounds and discovering techniques beyond just playing instruments.

Transmitting thoughts and sentiments that she finds that language falls short of, the intimacy of her music-making is transdisciplinary, driven by angst and perseverance, and confronting systems and organization that supports oppressive regimes and sustain forms of control and commodification.

Comprehending how she incorporates these nuances through her music between subjectivity and reality to observe truly her own path, her research at the Spatial Sound Institute considers neurodivergent modes of expression and learning environments, where she asks the question: when given the chance to experiment through an adaptable and unscripted setting, how do we restructure our way of thinking?

To this end, a non-linear musical interaction is created from the concept of a continuous musical piece. Devoid of instructions, the piece is only formed through the listener’s participation. The act of engaging with the space is both free and active, however certain features of the interactions are predetermined, limiting the ways in which it can be played - where the composition is purposefully left indeterminate to a degree into a pre-mapped musical space. 

Building from the point-of-view of restrictions

In recent artistic collaborations with the audio-visual group, Valeda is known for experimenting with techniques and possibilities of interactive media, cyberculture and augmented reality. As part of the collective, she developed immersive live AV performances for a fulldome environment, notably for the Satosphere dome at the Société des Arts Technologiques in Montreal. Later, she took part in a month-long residency and exhibition at the Château Éphémère digital arts center in Carrières-sous-Poissy, France, where she was one of two composers who composed sound for a virtual reality experience, in which she and her collective created an octophonic sound system for presentation, using Unity for acoustic spatialization.

Working with 4DSOUND at the Spatial Sound Institute, Valeda contemplates on how it demanded a reversal and changed her workflow upside down. Prior experience with spatial sound frameworks and music composition structured her process in a way that her artistic ideas were limited by software or equipment restrictions. 4DSOUND - in effect is a system that is built on a foundation of unconstrained and unexpected working processes.

Initially overwhelmed by the number of possibilities, Valeda switched from previously held points of view. Paradoxically enough, she chose to create the work from the point of view of restrictions. However, it is precisely these constraints that compel an understanding of interaction and improvisation in the space she has created.

Players in the form of the listening audience collaborate and experience through touch, physical presence and curious interaction. A total of four sensors can modify the compositional attributes of the musical spatial area. The route of each sonified object is established using position tracking as a point of reference, either in conjunction with additional sensors or independently.

A swing: a position tracker is suspended from a wooden beam by a cord. It resembles a pendulum that can swing in any direction (back, front, left, right and everywhere in between). There is no sound when the swing is in its untouched position. When touched and swung in any direction, chiming tones are spiraling from the object dispersing in space, and depending on how rapidly it swung, more tones are activated.

A backpack: the position tracker is hidden inside a backpack, which is attached to a wooden column with a bungee cord. The backpack holds to the column and makes no audible noise in its idle mode. When the chord is streched away from the column this increases tension, triggering a series of crackling and harsh noises, which grow louder and more intense as one attempts to move futher away. 

A suitcase: inside a small suitcase is a position tracker. The audience is free to move the suitcase anywhere around the room. The harmony and distance of padded sounds change the atmosphere of the room depending on where it is placed, significantly changing the background mood of the composition.

A slider: the position tracker is suspended from a string that can be slid along a rope that is attached between two wooden beams. The interaction allows it to glide back and forth, and influence the overall composition's tempo as well as the intensity and speed of a sub-kick hammering. When the kickdrum is brought all the way back, the speed is slow and the kickdrum is silent. When brought all the way to the front, the kickdrum gets loud and overpowering. 

Non-recordable transient event 

Attunement is a transient, non-recordable event. The audience as listeners become performers or co-creators of the sonic-event, unlikely to reproduce the nature of the composition in a consistent way as each performer’s interactive experience of the artist’s prompt is entangled in its ephemeral and interdependent condition.

Pertaining to subliminal concepts and dissection around the features of a sonoristic configuration, the form, duration and space the piece activates constitutes an individual and communal response to sound, that focuses on the relationship between sonic experience in learnable yet unknown regularities, intuitive brain responses and exploration of physicality from which the piece draws its characteristics.

This does not negate the legitimacy towards the interactions themselves, but that human response reveals additional information rather than an autonomous work of art. With the goal of reclaiming the diversity of learning styles beyond language, Valeda undertakes a vision of a sonic spatial field at play that allows us to better understand and connect with others.