Received Inaugural BGML NMSA award. Read more here.
Visit the gallery here.
The Lockdown is a virtual gallery representing the COVID-19 era and the lockdown as a sonic and visual memory. I am narrating the story from my perspective as an Iranian woman living in Canada, and through the patterns of Persian carpets. Carpets have witnessed all the challenges and emotions people have been through during the lockdown and represent a home space and the memories of those stay-at-home days. The main components of this installation include vocals in English and Farsi languages, field recordings from Vancouver, photographs of historical Persian carpets, and 3D visuals. This project is meant to be online-only.
On January 25th the first case of Covid-19 was found in Canada, and on January 28th the first case was found in BC. On may 16th people began strict physical distancing and working/studying from home. On March 21st businesses shut down due to the virus. This is a recap of the Covid milestone for British Colombians. The whole world has been experiencing challenging days from the first day this virus appeared. On February 19th, Iran reported its first confirmed case. Lockdowns are still going on in some cities in Iran.
During the lockdown because of this outbreak, I was impressed when I saw how people were finding their own creative ways of living in quarantine. People around the world tried to communicate with each other, study, work from home, follow the news, and etc. in this quarantine, and all of these were possible via the internet. I, as an artist, wanted to take action and capture these unprecedented moments. Therefore I came up with the idea of creating a soundscape (forms and arises from an immersive environment) through a virtual sound installation about this era, to be published and heard over the internet. It is hard to experience the tactile quality in an art installation in the age of Covid, therefore I aimed to create a tangible art. The one people can understand by their ears and brain, rather than by touching or being physically close to.
I intended to capture a sonic memory out of this significant historical era, the lockdown. I believe these are the moments that should be archived to recall how a small virus would be able to change human life worldwide. Through this project I narrate my personal experience and memories during this time, the challenges I struggled with, the news I heard, and some changes in my life and the society.
Every art project is composed of two factors; concept and medium:
Concept: I intended to capture the pandemic era from the perspective of an Iranian woman who lives in Canada. I collected news and sound recordings (field and voice), to represent the changes in the world (Canada and Iran) caused by this outbreak, and the different impacts.
Impacts on: (Each room of this gallery would represent one of these impacts)
- Mental and physical health
- Human emotions and challenges
- Art production
- Human presence in society
Sources of the collected news:
- Global News
- Local News
- Social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)
- Statistics announced by reliable websites; such as worldmeters.info and etc.
I present the idea by creating a virtual sound and visual installation. When the audience walk through this installation, they would hear different parts of local and international news, the field recordings that would recall the Pandemic days, vocals that narrate the situation, and etc. They would experience the hope and disappointment that were dominant in everyday life during the quarantine. The narration is through carpet patterns as they represent home space and those stay-at-home days. They have witnessed all the challenges we have been through during the lockdown.
Medium: This is an immersive virtual sound and visual installation (to evoke a virtual gallery space). I found VR the best medium to project my work and to amplify my voice. My biggest goal for creating this project in a virtual form, is to give the opportunity to all people around the world (specially those ones that cannot travel for whatever reason), to have access to created arts and installations from the other parts of the world. We are all used to being in a curatorial space to see an art installation. I want to challenge this belief and make my installation virtual. I want us to think about those who are not privileged to be wherever they want to (e.g. to be in an art exhibition in Canada). Therefore I share the experience of my installation with the world over the internet.
The audience do not have to come to a specific gallery in Vancouver to experience this installation. The concept of the project is about the lockdown during this pandemic, which again reminds us why this installation is virtual. I believe that having online virtual installations and exhibitions, will bring an equitable way of being in the world for people in critical situations; such as a pandemic lockdown, being sick and resting at home or hospital, travel ban, travel restrictions, or being in a situation when people cannot be out there in the world. Online publications are accessible to more than 60% of the world population (world population today is 7.7 billion and internet users population is 4.57 billion according to statista.com).
For this project I have asked voice actors to do the narration by reading the script. Also I have done field recordings to capture the aura of this time. I recorded all these sounds in mono, stereo and Ambisonic B format. Then I spatialized all the sound files in a virtual 360 3D space (using Unity), as when the audience walks through the virtual installation, they would hear the narrations from all around the virtual space. The output is in 2-channel Binaural, and it would evoke an immersive sound installation through a pair of headphones. For the visuals, I used images of Persian carpets and simple 3D objects.
The spatialized soundscape and 3D visuals would evoke a sound and visual installation in a gallery space, and therefore present a more physical relation to the sound for listeners.
In this project I was inspired by Janet Cardiff’s works (The Whispering Room and The Forty Part Motet), in terms of having several speakers in a room, to dedicate each of them to a specific part of the piece. This would let the audience feel the soundscape structurally and spatially as they virtually move from speaker to speaker (audio objects). Also tried to explore new approaches to the traditional soundscape (forms and arises from immersive environments), that comes from The World Soundscape project by R. Murray Schafer and Hildegard Westerkamp.
Stages of this project:
- Research about the impacts of COVID-19
- Research on sound artists and their works for intuitions and insights
- Writing the scripts
- Revision of the scripts
- Field recordings
- Edit of field recordings
- First prototyping, in Reaper
- Understanding game design and development
- Second prototyping, in Unity
- Research on Media and Software
- Find voice actors and send them instructions and scripts
- Collect recordings from the voice actors
- Edit vocals
- Photography of the carpets
- Edit images in Photoshop
- Spatialization of the sounds
- 3D modeling and Visualizations in Blender and Unity
- Final production
- Publishing in WebGL format and debug
Research about the impacts of COVID-19
I have been spending this age of Covid browsing in different news pages -like most of the people. I figured out that focusing on only one aspect of this outbreak is impossible, since we are all surrounded with the different impacts and issues caused by the virus, and we want to know more about them. Therefore I did not want to narrow my research to only one subject. I did not want to have a very wide range of search topics either. This is why I chose some topics that are important in this age of Covid and in my own life. I collected the news about the vaccine, environment, economical issues, issues about the art industry, education and schools, physical and mental health, and emotional challenges. This collected news is about Canada and Iran; two countries that I’m tied to. All The news is included in the script for this project. I have also observed my own personal mixed feelings about this era, and wrote them down as part of the script.
Research on sound artists and their works for intuitions and insights
When I came up with the idea of an immersive virtual sound installation (to evoke a virtual gallery space), I talked to Julie Andreyev about it. She asked me to look into the works of Janet Cardiff, R. Murray Schafer and Hildegard Westerkamp, which were similar to my initial idea at some levels. Forty-Part Motet, Janet Cardiff’s art installation was very inspiring in terms of having several speakers in a room, to dedicate each of them to a specific part of her piece. This would let the audience feel the soundscape structurally and spatially as they virtually move from speaker to speaker (audio objects). Also Julie and I wanted to explore new approaches to the traditional soundscape, that comes from The World Soundscape project by R. Murray Schafer and Hildegard Westerkamp.
Script writing and Revision of the script
For the first draft of the script, I gathered all my personal feelings and the news that were important during those days. Also Julie suggested including some personal anecdotes to make the project more personalized. I wrote them down in the following order: general feelings and observations during this era, emotional challenges, numbers of people infected in Canada and Iran, news about Iran, problems around being far from families, economical problems, problems around art production, news about the vaccine, education, the impact of the lockdown on the environment, and my personal happy moments. (There is one version of this script (not edited) here . All the sources of the news are included in this version.) Of Course all my personal feelings could be the same as other people’s feelings, since we almost experienced the same challenges. So I thought people would relate with the script, although it is mostly about my personal feelings.
I had the first draft of the script ready by September 2020. Then I started listening to my friends and family’s experiences about this era. I wrote down those ones that resonated with me, the ones that I cared about in my own personal life, and added them up to my screen. Then Peter Bussigel edited the script (you can find this version here ) .
I got very excited when I heard people cheering for health care workers in the streets at 7pm every day. I got a VR Zoom recorder from Julie Andreyev to capture those sounds in Ambisonic B format, to archive the moment in a 360 3D format. Therefore I recorded the sound of those cheers once or twice a week for about two months, and at the different parts of the city (beside water, in the middle of the city, in front of Saint Paul hospital, in a park, in a silent residential area and in a very crowded downtown street). Turned out people all around the city in whatever situation cheered for healthcare providers at 7pm. This was the most emotional part of the project that motivated me to follow this project to the end. (The setup for the recorder: Recorded in Ambix B _ LowCut150_ Using a WindSock and a Tripod). I recorded all these sounds with a stereo recorder as well, to have them in two different qualities.
I recorded the sounds of birds and the ocean waves as well. Also the sound “Can you hear me?” is only recorded to show the struggles and glitches through using virtual tools during that era.
I used two different recorders to record sounds:
- Zoom H4 stereo recorder for voice recordings
- Zoom H3-VR handy recorder for Ambisonic 4-channel field recordings
Edit of the field recordings
The edit of the field recordings was done in a few different steps. First they had to get decoded from Ambisonics B format to Binaural (in Zoom software), so I would be able to listen to them and edit them with headphones. Then Adobe Audition was used to Denoise the background noise of the environment, and to EQ. The stereo recordings needed to get denoised and EQed too.
First prototyping, in Reaper
For the first prototype, I recorded myself at home reading the script. Then I did the edit and the mix to create my first prototype. Therefore my voice actors could listen to it and have an idea about the recordings I wanted from them. Also that first prototype was very helpful in terms of making the whole idea of this project clear to my instructors and peers. I used panning to show the movement of the audience from one audio source to another in the room, and to simulate the spatialization of sound in a 360 room. Here is the first prototype:
Second prototyping, in Unity and Research on Media and Software
I wanted to create a second prototype with some visuals and sound in Unity, so people could have a good idea of the Virtual Installation in a Virtual Room that I was talking to them about. I knew how to create a Unity world with a first person character, and simple 3D objects. I learnt about lighting and the camera in Unity as well. Also I knew that for this prototype I wanted to have simple visuals, so I was not worried about 3D modeling or using expensive assets for 3D objects at this time. I used white cubes as my sound objects, walls and the floor. I also used the plane object in black color to create the paths people can walk on. I used a free asset for the white arrows on the floor. Also Maria Lantin suggested stacking some of the white cubes on top of each other, to add to the visuals, and it worked perfectly. I will also learn Blender during the break between two semesters, to do some more 3D modeling.
For the audio, I talked to my instructors, and googled about adding audio into a Unity world. Turned out that Unity allows me to create audio objects in the software. I can basically dedicate a Logarithmic Rolloff to each of the sound objects, to determine where the listener (first person character) can hear the sound and where they cannot. So as the audience get closer to each sound object, they can hear the sound loud and clear, and as they get further, the voices become distinctive whispers to them. Also the amount of pitch, volume and distance can be determined as well. I could have all the sounds on loop so it would never end. However I still had to edit each sound outside of Unity (in an audio software like Audition, because it has the best denoise option), and import into Unity. I edited all the sounds in Audition (de-noise, de-es, de-reverb, eq, amplify, etc.), and cut out the parts I wanted from each voice recording. Then I imported them all to Unity and everything worked perfectly. The last step before assigning the sounds to objects, was to do a little trimming for each sound. I did not want to go back to Audition to trim about 100 sounds individually, so I thought about easier and more practical ways. I talked to Maria about this problem, and she suggested having a timeline to set in and out points in Unity, to trim the sound files. It was a very good way to trim all the sound files at the end and in the software.
The audio work was almost done. I felt greedy at the last minute (before the deadline for this prototype), and wanted to try and learn all the possible ways of doing sound in Unity. Therefore I wanted to use an audio plugin in Unity like Wwise, to do the whole audio related work in there. I integrated Wwise into my Unity project, and edited all the sounds and voices. Everything was going very smoothly and I was satisfied with my choice. When I got back into Unity to test the audio and to assign each sound to a sound object, I figured out that audio did not work anymore. I thought of undoing the integration, to solve the problem, so I did. But after undoing, the audio (even the ones I imported directly into Unity) did not play anymore. My whole project got ruined and I could not find any way to recover the project in a short amount of time. I had no backup file of the working version of my project. Therefore I had to do the whole thing again (from the very beginning) in a short amount of time. I will never forget to keep a copy of my projects before changing them anymore (learnt it in a hard way)!
Collect recordings from the voice actors
Eight people voluntarily helped me with the voice recordings. I sent the script and an instruction sheet to them. In the instruction sheet I mentioned that, people could read the script out loud with their own feelings about each part. Everyone did a very good job. They all experienced the lockdown days and could have a good sense about the script. I asked one of my voice actors to read the script like a news reporter. I asked her to do it as a test, but turned out that worked the best for the news included in the script.
I also asked two Iranian voice actors to do the script in Persian, since I am talking about ‘Iran’ in this script as well. This would represent that people around the world almost had the same experiences in this lockdown.
All my eight voice actors had the exact same script, so I had each sentence in five different voices. Therefore I got to choose which one could work the best for the prototype. For some parts of the script, all the voices were perfect and I used all five of them in the prototype, saying the exact same thing. Some edits such as, de-noise, de-es, de-reverb, eq, amplify, etc. were needed, and I did them all once in Audition and once in Wwise (the one from Audition got to be used at the end).
Photography of carpets and edit images
Persian carpets on my home’s floor have been witnessing all the challenges I’ve been through during the lockdown. They could be a good representation of my home, and the memories of those lockdown days. I will model windows/a symbol of outdoor space, to have the outdoor sounds mapped on as well. Therefore the carpets would represent the inside of my house, and the windows would represent the outside. I took photos from my two carpets at home and edited them, so the photos show the details and patterns with a high quality.
I talked to my mother, who has a PhD in archaeology and has written three books about ancient Persian fabrics and patterns. She also knows about the symbols and patterns on Persian carpets, and told me the meanings of the patterns on my carpets. She suggested adding 2-3 other Persian carpets in this project, preferably ancient ones, which would have more interesting patterns than my carpets. I will incorporate these info in my project, to relate the meanings behind the patterns to my scripts.
After talking to Julie and my mother, and visiting METAMORPHOSIS, I decided to go back to the idea of a virtual gallery. I proposed the idea of a virtual installation last May, and I want to pursue it till the end. Therefore I am back to my prototype, making some changes to design it like a gallery space. This time I will use the patterns of these carpets as the patterns on the cubes. And I will have the cubes hung the walls, instead of having them on the floors. Therefore they will be like “canvases” on the walls. And when audiences come close to those “canvases”, they can see the patterns in details. They will hear the vocals as well, as if there are speakers hidden behind those pictures/”canvases” on the walls. There will be windows/some kind of representation of outdoor space as well. The carpets will be on the floors of this gallery, and the patterns will be on the walls. I will have some texts below each of these “canvases” on the walls, to explain the meanings and patterns. Also I will have 4-5 rooms in this gallery to dedicate each to an individual concept about this lockdown (the pictures below). It will look like a gallery space incorporating pictures and texts on the walls, carpets on the floors, and sound installations.
Spatialization of the voice recordings
I had experience with designing sound for 360 worlds that were not realtime. In those projects I used Reaper and 360 Spatial Workstation to spatialize the audio. The good thing about realtime in Unity is that the spatialization does not need to get done in a separate audio software. It can be all done by assigning different sounds to audio objects in the world. Therefore it would be like a live mixing. And that’s a relief! But I figured out that there is still some spatialization needed for some background sounds and ambience of this room, a mixed sound that its different parts would be heard from different spaces.
3D modeling and Visualizations
For the visualizations I had the idea of having a home space with all home furniture as the sound objects. I talked to my peers in the critique session of my second prototype, and turned out people would be able to relate to the home environment more than a gallery space. Also I believe that visualization of the inside of a house will evoke the isolation and the ‘stay home’ days as well. Therefore I came up with the idea of having carpets and carpet patterns which would symbolize a home space, and combine it with the idea of a gallery space. Which is what you see right now. I also learnt Blender to do some of the modeling (like the door of the gallery) myself.
For this gallery I considered having some silent spaces in the rooms and corridors, where people can go and rest, and also have a moment to absorb what they are hearing/watching.
For the lighting of this gallery I used baked point lights with no shadows (my preference). I tried to evoke the lighting style of an actual gallery by giving enough light with proper angle to each image on the walls.
The documentation includes photos from me while recording sounds, screenshots while working on my computer, written version of my new findings and plans, notes from meetings with my instructors, hand sketchings, links to the resources I used, and photos from the other artists’ works related to mine. All are recorded on my Google drive.
Final production and publishing
I exported it for WebGL and post it into my website (like the prototype). People can play it with their computers and a pair of earphones/headphones. I provided some instructions at the beginning of the game to make it easier for people to interact with this gallery. Also user can go enter to them game by hitting Space and exit by hitting Esc.