IDEAS Performance: ERASURE

Coral reefs with automated identification of coral species (color overlays)


Date: 2018-02-08
Time: 5-7pm
Location: Calit2 Theater, Atkinson Hall, UC San Diego
Host: IDEAS Performance Series


ERASURE is an immersive visual and sonic installation that addresses the fragility of coral reef ecosystems and the detrimental effects of human impact on reefs around the world. Through an interconnected network of three-dimensional photomosaic models of coral reefs and spatially and/or electronically processed percussion sounds, a metaphorical ecosystem forms and responds directly to human presence and the temporal history of that presence throughout the work’s existence. As more and more people enter the space, the installation begins to break down: the sonic tapestry of percussion sounds contort and particulate, the synthetic biome of coral visualizations begin to morph into unnatural forms, and the entire system mutates with the presence of the audience. Stepping into this simulacrum of environmental decline, audience members are aesthetically confronted with their impact on these remote and fragile ecosystems.

Automated process for tagging coral reefs with color overlays to identify different coral species.

The collaborative work, ERASURE, grew out of a seminar course taught by Music professor Lei Liang, QI’s former Composer in Residence, on the “sonification of coral reefs.” Graduate students from computer science, engineering and music teamed on an ambitious concept for a large-scale multimedia installation to highlight the fragility of coral reef ecosystems and human impact on these critical underwater environments.

ERASURE responds ‘negatively’ to human presence in the installation environment. As more and more people enter the space, the visual and sonic properties of the installation begin to break down, fracture, and decay. The sonic tapestry of percussion sounds contort and particulate, the synthetic biome of coral visualizations begin to morph into unnatural forms, the entire system mutating with the presence of the audience. The transformation, though, is not irreversible nor unidirectional: as viewers leave, the piece rebounds, albeit slower than the rate at which it was broken. In this way, it provides hope: the system ‘bounces back’ from the immediate and long-term human impact, reflecting the resilience of the reefs to withstand and adapt to global shifts in climate and the ecosystem.

The visual component of ERASURE consists of three-dimensional photomosaic models of coral reefs taken from the 100 Island Challenge. These digital reproductions were created in collaboration with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Calit2's Qualcomm Institute by rigorously photographing and collecting data from coral reef sites and rendering that data into a three-dimensional visual form using custom built software—developed by Vid Petrovic—to observe these reefs from various angles, light levels, and distances. In ERASURE, these coral reef constructions ebb and flow between their ‘natural state’—meticulously constructed synthetic ecosystems—and transformative states: from granulations of the stony corals and polyps into whirling cascades of particles, to fissions of vast reef colonies into splintered slabs that recede in and out of focus. All the while, lingering traces of the piece in its ‘untouched’ state float amongst the remains, the metaphorical ecosystem dreaming and longing for an undisturbed state.

The sound-space of ERASURE is created from a reservoir of percussion improvisations—performed and crafted by Fiona Digney—that both reflect the sounds that might be found in and around a coral reef environment, as well as poetic expansions that reach beyond this palette of oceanic utterances: scraped and struck limestone tiles, sweeping washes of hands streaked across a bass drum, and the murky drones of rolled bell plates. By manipulating these samples in a simple causal network, emergent behavior materializes to constitute a lush atmosphere of sound. In this way, the emergent behavior of the sound world is not unlike the behavior found in reef ecology: masses of small units combining to create a complex and rich environment.


ANTHONY VINE ​is pursuing a Ph.D. in Musical Composition in the Music department of UC San Diego. He received a Master’s degree from the University of Washington, and his undergraduate degree from The Ohio State University. The composer and guitarist currently lives in San Diego. Vine’s music is characterized by carefully sculpted fragile landscapes, static networks of microtonal harmony, and strong influences from visual artists and choreographers. His music has been performed by the Minnesota Orchestra, Yarn/Wire, Alarm Will Sound, Bozzini Quartet, Ensemble Modelo62, Bearthoven, Ensemble SurPlus, Trio SurPlus, the [switch~ ensemble], and the Illinois Modern Ensemble. Vine is the winner of the 2016 Gaudeamus Prize, 2015 Jerome Fund Commissioning Award, 2015 Salvatore Martirano Memorial Composition Award, and the NPR/Q2 Radio Top Composers under 40 (2011), among other honors.  |  

JACOB SUNDSTROM is a Ph.D. student in Computer Music at UC San Diego. Earlier, he studied music and philosophy at UC San Diego, and music at the University of Washington. Although trained as a composer, Sundstrom has branched out into other media and fields. He has worked on installations, visual, glitch, data bending, and recently, EEG-based art. His work tends to focus on the friction between and among media, performer(s), and process: using the process against the performers, the process against the medium, the medium against the performers, and vice versa. Out of this friction arises fascinating, beautiful, and often surprising results. Sundstrom’s musical work has been performed by ensembles including Inverted Space, the JACK Quartet, and the Seattle Chamber Players. His visual work has been showcased by the Center on Contemporary Art in Seattle, and he was a featured artist at the Georgetown Art Attack Special Events at CoCA Un[contained] at Equinox Studios. As a researcher, his work on EEG-driven musical interfaces was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience and presented at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting.