This is a portable sound piece that generates and broadcasts the sound of a flock of house sparrows in response to the act of swinging.

Each Swinging Suitcase consists of a vintage hard-shelled suitcase containing accelerometers, microprocessors and flash memory cards containing short sparrow vocalizations. When a suitcase is picked up, the birds begin to make noise, which calibrates to reflect movement – accelerating and multiplying in response to the gesture of the user.

The vocalizations in the Swinging Suitcase are constructed from sixty different source clips of house sparrows, which are arranged into responses that range from single chirps to social chatter to scolding. As the suitcase is swung, the tracks are played in relationship to how the suitcase is being moved and for how long.

While we understand that machines do not have feelings, if an event occurs that triggers a deeply ingrained social behavior, we will automatically respond according to the ingrained social conventions that we know. In the case of the Swinging Suitcase, reciprocal behavior is triggered through a user’s initial encounter with the piece: grasping and lifting the suitcase is intuitive. However, when the user picks up the piece, the first bird chirrups. An everyday action triggers a sound that is instantly recognizable - and this triggers the suspension of disbelief and an almost universal sense of delight. Since we know that most birds are small, it is plausible that there is a bird inside the suitcase.

The piece is designed to be ‘just intuitive enough’ – while the ‘birds’ do ‘respond’ to motion and gesture, there is still a layer of unpredictability in the interaction model that helps to anthropomorphize the piece, and to create a reciprocal dialogue between body, artwork and site. Interaction becomes confounded when the gestures of the user become repetitive and the vocalizations become more complex – the ‘birds’ become restless, and as you 'play' the birds, the birds 'play' you.

By bringing birds through different places, especially those places where birds should not be, the Swinging Suitcase may initiate dialogues with passersby, shift the acoustic ecologies of shared public spaces, or be used for performative intervention, trickery, or play.


Jessica Thompson is a new media artist whose projects facilitate social interaction within public space through sound, performance and mobile technologies. Her work has been shown in exhibitions and festivals such as Art Basel Miami Beach (USA) ISEA 2006, (San Jose, CA) FINE/LINE (Denmark) the Conflux Festival, (New York), Thinking Metropolis, (Copenhagen) (in) visible Cities, (Winnipeg) Beyond/In Western New York, (Buffalo) and the Deep Wireless Festival of Radio and Transmission Art (Toronto). Her projects have appeared in publications such as Canadian Art, c Magazine, Acoustic Territories, and numerous art and technology blogs. In 2011, Thompson will be a Senior Artist at Recycling Pervasive Media, Intervening in Planned Obsolescence and Practicing Technological Sustainability, a workshop hosted by the Banff Centre for the Arts.


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