Crush is an interactive sound-art installation exploring the microscopic forces released during the process of crushing rock.

Crush involves 3D electroacoustic sound, a loudspeaker array, wireless headphones and a motion tracking system. In this installation, the audience can move through a virtual, immersive space, experiencing the dynamics of deformation from “inside” the rock.

The installation draws from two research projects at PGP (Physics of Geological Processes in Oslo): 3D numerical simulations of grain fracture and fault gouge evolution during shear - the work of Steffen Abe (Aachen) and Karen Mair (Oslo), and the study of real acoustic emissions from granite, basalt and sandstone under compression - the work of Alexandre Schubnel, (Paris).

The first test version of Crush was installed in the SAS Radisson hotel in Oslo as part of the Nordic Geological Winter meeting in January 2010. This first version used two attached spaces and involved an interactive video and still imagery. The version designed for SID is intended for one space and focuses on sound alone.

Science, sonification and artist processes

Work on Crush began with the accurate sonification of data from simulations and real acoustic emissions. Subsequent stages involved degrees of abstraction through the choice of sound material, data mapping rules, interaction design and material montage. Maintaining a tight correlation between 3D sound and the patterns and processes found in the geological systems was an important consideration. In the final work, micro-scale processes are enlarged into a dynamic system audible through sound colour (timbre), texture, shape and spatial geometry.

A selection of ultrasonic recordings from different rock samples  were transposed into the audible range and used as sound material in Crush. In addition, the artist made audible range recordings of rocks being crushed, scraped and generally destroyed. Parameters such as sound type, volume, transience, frequency, filter, pitch shift, grain, continuation, resonance and spatial location were mapped in various ways to the source data parameters such as fracture magnitude, fracture location and spatial displacement. Date reduction and elaborate mapping were also part of the process.

The interactive system and the installation space

The installation space comprises a loudspeaker array and seven targets of infrared light constellations. A custom-made motion tracking system allows each user to physically navigate through the 3D sound composition. The users wear head-mounted 3D accelerometers, gyroscopes and an infrared camera. The seven targets of infrared light constellations surround the interactive space and actively recalibrate drift from the accelerometers and gyroscopes. Motion data is sent to a computer over Bluetooth and processed to render the users' position and direction of view. This information is used to modify the spatial sound. For the person wearing the headset, the 3D sound is rendered using head-related transfer functions (HRTFs) over wireless headphones. For other visitors, sound is decoded over the loudspeaker array using ambisonics.


Dr. Natasha Barrett has performed and commissioned throughout the world. She has collaborated with well-known ensembles, scientists and designers, electronic performance groups and festivals. Her output spans concert composition through to sound-art, often incorporates latest technologies and includes a major work for the Norwegian state commission for art in public spaces. Barrett holds an MA and PhD from Birmingham and City University, London. Both degrees were funded by the humanities section of the British Academy. Since 1999 Norway has been her compositional and research base for an international platform. Her composition has received numerous recognitions, most notably the Nordic Council Music Prize (2006).

Dr. Karen Mair is a senior research scientist at the Center for Physics of Geological Processes at the University of Oslo (2005-present). She holds a BSc (Hons) in geophysics (93) and PhD in rock mechanics (97) from the University of Edinburgh. She carried out a postdoctoral fellowship in earthquake physics at MIT (97-00) and held a prestigious Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship (00-04) at the Universities of Liverpool, Toronto, Edinburgh and Queensland. Karen's research involves conducting novel experiments, geological fieldwork and computer simulations to investigate the mechanics of earthquakes and faulting: how things break in the earth.


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