Web Wall Whispers

April 18, 2018
An interactive web-based soundwork, conceived as part of the "Segni per la Speranza” artwork
Status: archived
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Web Wall Whispers
Web Wall Whispers (WWW) is an interactive web-based soundwork, conceived as a part of the “Segni per la Speranza” (spls) multimodal artwork: it’s a virtual high-quality exploration of a mural that generates a different interactive musical composition at every access.

In June 2016, the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities called on the Promotional Committee for the Italian Contemporary Art Foundations, to come up with and implement an original artistic and cultural project aimed at the redevelopment of urban outlying areas.
Fondazione Spinola Banna per l’Arte has realized spls, a project aiming to contribute to the artistic upgrade of a suburban neighborhood of Turin. This one-year realization lively proves the social significance of art and innovation, and their power to foster civic integration by stimulating people’s sensitivity to beauty. A unique multimodal artwork declined through visual, music and web arts, whose design and realization involved a local network of excellent research centers and high education institutions, also through the work of young students and artists.
The use of cutting-edge web technologies in the implementation of www allows the artwork to be experienced everywhere, by the simple use of desktop or mobile devices. The audiovisual exploration itinerary travels through high-resolution documentary images and relates them to instrumental and electronic music, recordings of texts on the mural by the students, dialogues and sounds sampled during the creation of the mural itself, and their mutual hybridizations implemented through sound processing.
All constituent materials are freely distributed under the open source GNU General Public License, allowing for the build-up of extensions or new versions of this multimodal artwork paradigm.
The official launch of the web application is scheduled for April, 18th 2018. A beta version is available at the following URL:

Project History
The project spls - www is originally inspired by the Viale dei Canti, a multimodal work which brought together a visual and a sound installation, staged by the Italian Institute of Culture of Paris in spring 2016, thanks to the support of the Fondazione. Viale dei Canti, designed to bring back lustre to the Hotel de Galliffet, a historic venue of diplomatic representation, is now a permanent installation that accompanies visitors to the cultural institute. The work is a mural graffito three meters high and seventy metres long, conceived by Giuseppe Caccavale, which re-evokes ancient Roman tombstones through the carving of poetic texts onto a plaster base, and with the help of the ancient artistic technique of pouncing. The mural graffito was completed with a “sound mould”, i.e. a time-evolving sound installation by the composer Stefano Gervasoni and the computer music designer Marco Liuni, projected through six loudspeakers transparently embedded in the wall.
In June 2016, the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities called on the Promotional Committee for the Italian Contemporary Art Foundations, of which our Fondazione is part, to come up with and implement an original artistic and cultural project aimed at the reappraisal of urban outlying areas. The Fondazione charged the same core team of Viale dei Canti, to create a mural applied to an outside wall of the gym of the Primo Liceo Artistico in Turin (around 360 m2), whose realization involved three classes from the Lyceum. The mural features texts written by the participants, arising from their reading and interpretation of contemporary writers and poets, all linked to the city of Turin, starting from Natalia Ginzburg. The soundwork is www, an interactive audiovisual exploration of the mural, implemented as a web application that allows visitors to experience a unique composition at every access. A challenging paradigm of open form based on a virtual dialog between the visitors and the composer.
With spls - www, the Fondazione aims at defining a project model on the redevelopment of outlying urban areas based on the enhancement of local resources and excellences. Firstly, by involving young students in all of the project stages, citizens of the newest generations experience collaborative work and civic integration to realize an ambitious artwork. At the same time, implementing a structured collaborative network between excellent research centers and high education institutions is a mean to promote synergies between arts, technology and innovation, affirming their social and professional value.
The artists’ aim was an artwork that has to be a laboratory for future generations of students and artists. All of the constituent materials and produced knowledge is given to the partner institutions and distributed to the community in open source: this way, not only the artwork can serve for further developments and educational purposes, but also the model may be replicated, extended and adapted in any number of other cities and urban contexts.
Since we started to refer to the world wide web as web 2.0 in the first years of this millennium, we decided to entrust the web as the new platform to express ourselves and interact with each other. We express our thoughts and beliefs with our writings hosted in online publishing platforms. We share our experiences with images and videos delivered through the web by social networks. www has the ambition to extend the boundaries of web audio art to the universe of interactive composition, creating a high quality audiovisual experience according to an open form determined by the user's exploration.
With www, the artists’ objective is to conceive an audiovisual interpretation of “opera aperta” (U. Eco): a form defined by the user and her/his listening modalities, conditioned by the visual aspect, and guided by an intertwining of constraints imposed by the author. Author and actor of fruition participate in the creative process.
The core team of artists for the project spls is composed by the visual artist Giuseppe Caccavale, together with his collaborators Timothée Chalazonitis and Clément Valette, the composer Stefano Gervasoni and the computer music designer Marco Liuni.
www is the result of the interdisciplinary collaboration between the artists and high education excellent institutions in Turin. Here we provide a list of people and institutions composing the team of www, while the different work packages are described in the section “Work Technical Details“: Stefano Gervasoni and Marco Liuni conceived the overall architecture and defined the musical experience of the soundwork.
The recordings and the computer music framework for sound processing and composing have been realized by two undergraduate students of the "Giuseppe Verdi" conservatoire, Federico Primavera and Luca Morino (Electronic Music department, supervised by Andrea Agostini).
The development of the web architecture is due to the work of a graduate student of the Politecnico di Torino Francesco Cretti, supervised by Antonio Servetti (Master course of Cinema and Media Engineering).
The high-resolution images have been produced by Guido Suardi, while the Formaviva studio developed web graphics for the application.
Together with Giuseppe Caccavale, Timothée Chalazonitis and Clément Valette, the visual project of spls has involved 60 students of the "Primo Liceo Artistico" art high school of Turin. The “La Venaria Reale“ Center for the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage intervened in the preliminary phase of the work.
The knowledge produced is available to the partner institutions and the community thanks to the open source distribution of the software and materials developed (computer programs and code, images, recordings). The commitment of the institutions involved aims to make this work of art a perpetually evolving building site to which artists and scientists will work as part of their journey of training.
Lessons Learned
spls - www is a highly articulated realization, involving multiple collaborators and institutions, professional artists, scholars, researchers, academic professors and selected students. The principal lesson learned is that an ambitious artwork is not necessarily based on a strong binding authorship, and can be the result of a collaborative framework involving individuals and institutions. The Fondazione had to learn how to efficiently develop all the aspects of this articulated project, by binding together the work of the artists and that of several outstanding institutions in Turin, all contributing with their own knowledge and competence. In particular, the hardest effort has been to make different temporalities converge to common objectives, given the high diversity of the professional profiles and the involved disciplines. Rather than being critical, this diversity turned out to be the major strength of the project, since every group came up with expert solutions for a specific need. Far from being trivial, this ideal working configuration was the result of a preliminary stage lasting several months, where the core team of artists supported by the Fondazione formally defined the project’s branches and their needs, allowing for a precise identification of local experts and institutions to involve.
A further fundamental lesson is the importance of giving to the young students involved in the project the best frame to turn into reality their studies and researches: by offering them a strong motivation and a good tutoring, their contribution led to highly significant results in terms of rapidity, quality and quantity of solutions provided.
www is conceived as a virtual experience based on the latest innovations introduced in the web scenario to augment the user active involvement in accessing a web page. The web audio API specification developed by W3C introduces the capability of processing and synthesizing audio in web applications, thus extending the user experience from the visual to the audio domain.
The web browser and the HTTP protocol are the tools which enable massive access to media production technologies. From the very beginning the browser made possible to work with text material and static images. Then, with the canvas element, it allowed us to modify pictures or draw images, and successively, almost ten years ago, HTML5 introduced the possibility to render audio and video natively, but with no user interaction. The last few years have seen growing possibilities for the user to generate, process and interact with sounds, thanks to the standardization and implementation of the web audio APIs in most of the web browsers.
In www, we extensively use the web audio APIs to let the user choose his own exploration of the audio material, but we also build on the web audio APIs basic functionalities in order to extend their application to new scenarios.
While the web audio APIs are designed to work with audio files previously downloaded from a server, we adapted their functionalities to work with audio streams that are progressively delivered from the server in real-time. With the traditional approach, the large corpus of sound (and graphic) material used by www would have taken several minutes to download to the user device before the user experience, i.e. navigation, could start.
In addition, this solution largely extends the possible interactions of the user with the audio material, making it possible to pick “at choice” a portion of audio from the large corpus stored on the server, and streaming only what is necessary for the real-time reproduction and processing.
Statement of Reasons
Spls - www is the starting point of a collaborative local network involving schools, research centers and institutions. With spls - www, the Fondazione sets a reproducible model of urban artistic redevelopment: the artwork acts as a shared vocabulary between disciplines, building cultural bridges and favoring innovative solutions developed and integrated by the local community.
The main aspect has been to select prominent international artists, able to express a unique strong artistic concept and to decline it in a collaborative innovative framework, building interfaces between arts, science and technology. Then, the students themselves have been the real artists and craft workers employed in the construction of the artwork, treating the wall surface, conceiving the graphics and the reproduction of the text, recording their voice and lastly as painters, called upon day after day to reproduce the words of great literature.
By promoting an artwork whose realization actively involves the adolescents who live in the outlying areas, encouraging them to take care of their neighborhood, the Fondazione asserts the leading role of art to foster civic integration, respect for urban decorum and awareness of beauty.
The artwork, its constitutive materials and the knowledge produced for its realization belongs to the community: future students, artists and researchers of the involved schools and institutions have the responsibility to take care of it, as well as the opportunity to readapt the work and extend the concept to other use cases (e.g. museums, monuments, urban or natural landscapes).
The resulting paradigm defines a liquid concept of authorship, ramified and distributed through the structured net of collaborators, everyone contributing with solutions and not just executing tasks. This model is proven to be efficient in introducing innovation and genuine competition in artistic research, with the further benefit of contributing to a community’s economic development.
Work Technical Details - Development Team
www is based on a client-side web application in pure JavaScript, handling visual and audio contents at the same time. The development thus evolved through the implementation of efficient solutions for both these media. Visuals are obtained from the deep-zoom navigation of a super-high resolution image: more than 150 pictures of the mural were stitched and then organized in a mosaic of more than 300000 tiles, with the TMS scheme supported by the open source framework OpenSeadragon, customized to realize the interactive image viewer.
Music consists in a corpus of pre-composed tracks (about 90 minutes). Sound materials are obtained by computer processing of different original recordings: students' voices reading the texts on the mural (Italian, Russian, Chinese, French); talks and machines during the working sessions on the mural; field recordings in the gym behind the wall; excerpts of music works by Stefano Gervasoni.
Sounds are integrated as virtual speakers in specific spots on the mural, whose coordinates change according to the zoom level: 6 different zoom levels are available, indicated as “layers”. Speakers are activated depending on the user’s view, by the definition of a layer-dependent notion of distance: each speaker falling inside the so-called “play area” (i.e. a circle around the view center) starts playing. In a similar way, an azimuth value is calculated for each virtual speaker. Sounds are then organized in the binaural spatialisation according to their own azimuth, and simulating their distance using filters and reverb.
To make this large corpus available in a web application, audio streaming is implemented through the HLS protocol [https://github.com/video-dev/hls.js], and all the sound processing is handled through the web audio APIs.
The result is a never repetitive user experience, which can take place in quick and timely explorations or evolve on the timing of a concert, as well as a traditional audiovisual installation.

- www development team:

Stefano Gervasoni - Music, design
Marco Liuni - Design, general coordination
Francesco Cretti - Web development
Luca Morino - Computer music design
Federico Primavera - Recordings
Antonio Servetti (Politecnico di Torino), Andrea Agostini ("Giuseppe Verdi" conservatoire) - Supervision
Formaviva - Graphics
Guido Suardi - Photography

- visual work development team:

Giuseppe Caccavale Studio
Timothée Chalazonitis, Clément Valette - Collaborators
Students of the 3D, 4A and 4B school classes 2016-2017 of the "Primo Liceo Artistico" art high school of Turin
Core aspects of the project
- Creation of an artistic and cultural project working towards the valorization of urban outskirts
The Fondazione, committed to supporting young talent in the visual arts and music, became the promoting force behind a special commission which, in little over a year, led to the creation of an audio-visual work aiming at the artistic redevelopment of an external wall of a high school building.
A whole community of artists, scientists, scholars, researchers, teachers… met private and public institutions in order to give an original contribution to the needs of social integration and reduction of art and technological divide.
- Involvement of young generations in the realization process
Students took part to the creative process by working on the concept of a mural joining images and words, conceiving texts, materializing them with their voice, collaborating in the preparation of the wall and the realization of the pictorial work.
Selected students from Turin conservatoire and Politecnico di Torino realized the computer music design and the web development, acquiring useful knowledge and skills for their careers while experiencing a first concrete job opportunity.
- Artwork, innovation and democratization of art
The massive development of techniques, to avoid the delay and cost of downloading large amounts of data and media to the client, paves the way for the evolution of web art towards high-quality and truly interactive user experiences: in www, the web audio APIs have been adapted to work with real-time streams of large audio contents, leading to an innovative dynamic and stratified conception of audio streaming. The listening experience is strongly immersive, thanks also to the binaural rendering programmed in web audio, which allows to reproduce a 3D sound perspective through headphones or earphones.
Web-based artworks are among the most democratic forms of art, being accessible on a PC, tablet or smartphone, with no need of any additional application.
Funding of the project
The artwork spls - www has been realised thanks to the contribution of MIBACT – Ministero dei Beni Culturali Direzione Generale Arte e Architettura contemporanee e Periferie urbane, which in 2016 has allocated funds for the development of artistic redevelopment projects of urban suburbs.
The contribution received covered about 5,5,% of the total cost of the project. For the rest, the project was financially supported by the Fondazione Spinola Banna per l’Arte.
For the articulated realization of the work, the Fondazione has woven a series of prolific collaborations with other institutions in Turin. Beyond the Città di Torino and the Città Metropolitana di Torino, these are the Primo Liceo Artistico, the Center for the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage “La Venaria Reale“, the undergraduate degree courses in the conservation of cultural goods of Turin University, the "Giuseppe Verdi" conservatoire and the Politecnico di Torino.
Each of these institutions has fielded its staff with their own skills and professionalism and with their own means: not a quantifiable economic contribution but an indispensable intellectual contribution for the success of the project.
CREDITS Web Press and CARGO visual OFFICE