07 Currents-Interactive New Media Environment

Juri Hwang, Somatic Echo, interactive new media installation

Interactive new media environments: At its simplest, new media refers to an interactive, two-way communication between a user or participant that involves some form of computing or digital component. Add “environment,” and you’re talking something along the lines of an immersive installation, or perhaps a virtual reality experience. Either you’re the agent affecting the art, or the art is the agent affecting you.

Somatic Echo, Juri Hwang

It looks foreboding, the reclining chair that Los Angeles-based Juri Hwang invites visitors to sit in — a piece of equipment you might find in an obstetrician’s office. Once you’re settled in, a massive white helmet that looks like something an alien from a ’50s sci-fi movie might wear fits over your head. Lay back and relax. You’re about to have an experience that lasts about 15 minutes, and Hwang wants you to be comfortable.

Somatic Echo is an experimental art and research project used to investigate the potential for unusual auditory sensations. Despite appearances, it isn’t going to wipe away your memories or turn you into a cyborg.

Inside the helmet are eight transducers that attach to your head and transmit an eight-channel sound composition through the bones of your skull and directly to the inner ear, bypassing the outer ears altogether.

Hwang uses the intimidating device to explore the human body as a medium for sound. The experience is auditory, but it’s also tactile. This setup “lets us experience sound through our body and our body through sound,” she writes on her website.

Somatic Echo provides an unfamiliar experience in which something that regularly comes to us as external stimuli is internalized instead. To use Hwang’s own example, it’s similar to how a fetus hears its mother’s voice.

Hwang guides visitors through the experience, which is limited to only 77 participants during the opening weekend of Currents. Somatic Echo is available from 6:15 p.m. to midnight on Friday, June 7; 12:15 p.m. to midnight on Saturday, June 8; and 12:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 9. To sign up, visit currentsnewmedia.org/events/somatic-echo-by-juri-huwang-signup. — Michael Abatemarco