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The Butterfly Effect
Major: Astrophysics & Computer Science
Genre/Medium: Collaborative sculpture + composition; posterboard, cardstock, dowels; Logic/Premiere/Photoshop/After Effects/Illustrator
About the work: THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT is a collaborative sculpture that functions both as a composition device (to generate musical notation) and as a musical instrument (to interpret the notation). This dual-nature is inspired by the overloaded meaning of the name “Psyche” , which refers to the asteroid, the mission, the spacecraft, and the goddess simultaneously. The project is also inspired by the goddess Psyche’s connection to butterflies and the “butterfly effect”, which describes how tiny actions that seem inconsequential actually propagate through the world and have major effects. The project demonstrates this principle by having participants perform seemingly simple tasks to build up the sculpture, ultimately determining the physical structure of the sculpture, as well as the musical interpretation. The performative evolution of the project through three phases also reflects the three major phases of the Psyche mission: pre-launch preparation, actual spaceflight and in-orbit period, and data analysis.
1. PRE-LAUNCH/COMPOSITION In the first phase of the project, I invited sixteen participants, one for each of the first sixteen discovered asteroids, to build up the physical sculpture. Each participant is given a set of sixteen tokens, each one corresponding to each of the asteroids’ astronomical symbols. Participants were first asked to place these tokens onto the board; second, to run a length of string around the board pegs; and third, to define a sound-generating interaction with their asteroid’s “sound box”. This first phase is inspired by the intensely collaborative nature of the Psyche mission, where people with different skillsets all contribute to the same end goal. Similarly, in the project different people bring their own ideas to build up the first phase of the sculpture. Thus, this first phase reflects the pre-launch part of the mission, with the sculpture loosely analogous to the Psyche spacecraft; the participants analogous to the various Psyche team members; and the “sound boxes” analogous to the tools that Psyche teams are developing to interpret data from Psyche.
2. IN ORBIT/NOTATION In the second phase of the project, I translated each participant’s sculptural layer into a musical composition and notated it as a graphic score. The sound-generating interactions dictated the “notes” of the composition, the string paths dictated the sequence of notes, and the angle of each token dictated the length of each note. This second phase reflects the part of the mission where the Psyche spacecraft will extract and encode data from the Psyche asteroid. In this phase, the sculpture is now analogous to the Psyche asteroid, from which I “extracted” information and encoded it in graphic scores.
3. ANALYSIS/PERFORMANCE In the third phase of the project, I attached each “sound box” to the board and played each layer of the composition, reading from the graphic scores. In the main video, these sixteen performances are layered to create a rich, complex soundscape of tapping, clicking, scraping, and rustling. The performances can also be viewed as separate videos to hear each layer on its own. This third phase reflects the part of the mission where the Psyche team will analyze and interpret the data taken from Psyche. I interpreted the “data” encoded into the graphic scores by “playing” the sculpture, according to the composition and interactions defined by the project participants.