Bending the Arc
Public art project for Flux Night
Old Fourth Ward, Atlanta, GA
November 7, 2015
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” —MLK Jr.
Throughout the evening of Flux Night 2015, visitors are invited to speak their inner voice into a set of eight un-amplified microphones that stands in the middle of a field, facing a wall that has a simple straight white line projected onto it. Each audio input is recorded and collected into a database. As the participant speaks, sings or shouts into the microphone, the projected line responds by vibrating, shifting, warping or bending, in accordance with the raw voice’s volume, pitch, rhythm, brightness, duration, and other qualities. A more powerful delivery will make a bigger impact on the movement of the line. The effect is immediately visible to the speaker and audience. Participants can address the microphone individually or in groups. These voices are recorded into a database to be played back during the final event.
At the midnight finale, recording artist, composer and producer Jeryl Bright and rapper RDK join Georgia Institute of Technology choir on the field to perform the specially commissioned song Bending the Arc, composed by Jeryl Bright, for the audience. As the choir begins to sing Bending the Arc, a line of smoke rises from the top of the wall towards the night sky, revealing a projected flat line that is visually affected by the singing of the singers. The recorded voices of participants through the night are organized, re-arranged, and synthesized into the melody of Bending the Arc that is being played back live from a program called Granular Sampler, especially created for the project. Live audience is invited to sing along in unison. The flat line projected onto the smoke screen begins to dance and vibrate in response, bending towards a perfect arc. The more powerful the voices, the brighter and more brilliant the arc will be.
At the end of the song, smoke dissipates and the projected light fades from view. The light of the arc remains in the hearts of the viewers and performers and bursts into the universe, reaching long towards a justice we all yearn for.
In the complex, dynamic and ever-shifting social landscape, individual choices and actions can seem too minute to alter powerful historical currents. However, many landmarks in social change have been ignited by a single action followed by strings of actions, eventually creating a force that courses into a movement. This work aims to exemplify the process of affecting change in collaboration with the audience. Their individual and collective voices become the vehicle for a visible transformation. This collective power is projected onto smoke, which is often associated with tear gas, bombs, or fire in periods of social unrest, warfare, and rioting. Here, this ephemeral material is used to manifest the significance of every voice and emphasize the powerful tide of change that occurs when we come together.
The idea for Bending the Arc finds it root in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. I live and work in Manhattan's Lower East Side, where we were without electricity and running water for 5 days. No cell phone, water to drink or flush the toilet with, food went spoiled in the fridge, subway and bus services suspended, streets were dark and quiet at night. The whole neighborhood felt erie, abandoned and cut off from the rest of the city north of 14th street, that went business as usual. But I knew that many people at the edges of the outer Burroughs were much worse off than us. Occupy Sandy was our only guide, and a few friends and I drove out to Far Rockaway with supplies and volunteered in one of the most hard hit areas that didn’t have restored services for weeks.
Many things moved and changed me out at Far Rockaway. But one nagging image that deeply troubled me was the clear division between the people on the side of giving and those on the side of receiving. Much later, after deep conversations, readings and contemplation, I felt that empowerment of the individual was at the core of betterment of disfranchised people. And it would be a focus for me, personally and artistically.
When Nato Thompson called in March this year about his vision of evoking MLK’s legacy in the current climate of heated debate regarding social injustice, I immediately thought, what could I do to give power to individual's voice? And enabling one to see the change that his/her voice could effect? Thus began our path with Flux Projects to bringing Bending the Arc to Atlanta. One week from tonight. October 3rd, 7-midnight. Join us in voice, in person, in energy, in support.
One breath, one voice, one movement. Bend the Arc.
– Jennifer Wen Ma
About the Collaborators
Bending the Arc interactive video design
Created by Guillermo Acevedo, creative technology director
Visually designed by Jennifer Wen Ma and Guillermo Acevedo
Guillermo Acevedo programmed the graphics software to animate the artwork in response to voices in the crowd. This video shows a behind-the-scenes look at how the program was built.
Bending the Arc music
Songs by Atlanta recording artist, composer and producer Jeryl Bright
Words by Jeryl Bright and Jennifer Wen Ma
Live performance by Jeryl Bright, featuring performance by Nathaniel 'RDK' Williams
Granular Sampler interactive audio software
Created by sound designers Jason Freeman and Anna Xambó (GA Tech) and Gerard Roma (University of Surrey), Granular Sampler is a new audio software created especially for Bending the Arc. The software is designed to listen to a voice, analyze that voice, then send what it learns to a graphics software so the voice can be animated in real-time. Granular Sampler also records what it hears, and is able to recombine the voices it records and compose a musical mashup that can then be played back.
To enable artists all over the globe to continue to use these algorithms in their own creative works, Granular Sampler has been released under an open-source license.
Live chorus performance by Georgia Tech chorale, led by Tim Hsu
Live performance by D'AIR Aerial Dance Project