NEW SMOKE AND NORMAL MIRRORS

Everybody’s percolating on The New Normal, but it remains an abstract notion. As the pandemic rages, this project depicts how humanity is reacting to our uncertain world. Using real-time data sonification and visualisation, it classifies the public expressions of millions of people worldwide, and transforms them into instruments for musical expression.

 

First, the software harvests all tweets containing the phrase “New Normal”—live, as they’re being sent to the cloud. Next, using marketing algorithmic tools, it assesses every single tweet to determine: sentiment (positive vs. negative), and the tweet’s subjectivity (opinion vs. fact). Finally, it triggers a range of sonic harmonic and percussive elements based on these determinations. 

 

  • If the tweet is classified as “positive”, the text and the main sphere turn green, and trigger a major chord.

  • If the tweet is classified as “negative”, the text and main sphere turn red, and trigger a minor chord.

  • The more “objective” the tweet is labelled, the closer to a perfect platonic sphere the white data cloud will be. It will also modify how open or closed some sounds are.

 

Interestingly, the algorithm frequently does not get the sentiment of the tweet right whatsoever, exposing the flaws of mechanical objectivity,  sentiment prediction and marketing tools. 

 

This project seeks to open a window to our society’s collective response to uncertainty. Since the pandemic began, the media has been orbiting the idea of The New Normal. Politicians are using it to back up their interests and campaigns. CEOs are writing articles about their own economical landscape predictions. Certain groups are prophesying it as “The Beginning of the End” or “The New World Order”. And marketing departments are monetising the term by promoting the latest home-fitness sets or mask design.

 

But, how is the concept of “normalcy”  really shaping us—and our future? Will the pandemic bring us to a more empathetic and aware society, with neodigitalisation as a tool to overcome the crisis together? Are we at the gates of a highly profitable “no-touch” future, with every service and commodity ordered online, delivered by drone and screen “shared” on a media platform? Will everything remain the same—minus wearing a mask whenever we grab a drink from the corner shop?

 

Gazing into an uncertain present, a million possible futures arise in front of me. Has such a thing as “the normal” ever existed? Instead of throwing out answers to these questions, New Smoke and Normal Mirrors is a digital window to people’s feelings, opinions and thoughts—beyond our personal bubbles and echo chambers.

© Carlos Orti Roig 2020

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