The Sonic Body is an audio-installation that uses interactive technology to create an orchestra of the human body. Developed as a collaboration between four interdisciplinary artists and a heart surgeon, the installation brings together art and medical-science to reveal the unheard sounds of the body.

Sonicbody on Soundcloud, listen to all experiments.

The installation, created by artists Harry Neve, Thomas Michalak and Anna Orliac, appears on its exterior as a neutral cylindrical pod. Once inside however, the audience is immersed in a contrastingly red, warm, cocoon-like, tactile and multi-sensory space filled with sculptural fabric forms that evoke the shapes and contours of inner body parts. Through the audiences’ touch and contact with the sculptures, which can be squeezed, stroked, shaken and explored, a symphony is created from sounds that have been recorded from within the body. All sounds are spatialized to enhance the physicality of the sounds.

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The material gathered, and relayed via the installation, reveals a spectrum of bodily acoustics beyond that of just stomach gurgles and heartbeats. The samples gathered were processed as little as possible to retain the original characteristics of the sounds. The Sonic Body is not only a installation. It was first a intimate experiment and private performance, with all sounds recorded from the artist Harry Neve and his partner’s bodies. The result is a spectrum of bodily acoustics beyond what we can usually hear; a lung that sounds like a baby crying, an intestine that sounds like a rainforest, and even the anatomical sound of a female orgasm that sounds like high-pitch whistling.

The project creates a unique way of thinking about and experiencing the body, through sound. Often people are scared to look ridiculous when confronted with interactive art, where it’s usually explicit that the piece can only function if the spectator uses it.

The physical sensuality of the Sonic Body, however is something uncommon to interactive art, and as such allows people to feel comfortable with interacting and participating in public by offering an intimate space where the user is free to interact and enjoy.

The Sonic Body was inspired by the traditional practice of listening to the body to diagnose illness, and began as an investigation into the scope of sonic activity that exists within the human body. Medical professionals were consulted to help understand which parts of the body make sounds and why, and various methods were used to record unusual and unheard sounds from deep within the body’s organs, muscles, bones and veins. These included conventional medical equipment, such as a stethoscopes, as well as more unorthodox devices such as a hydrophone (normally used for recording aquatic-life) to capture sounds in liquid, an anechoic chamber to record microscopic external sounds, and equipment to detect and re-tune the body’s ultrasonic activity, which is usually inaudible to the human ear.

Funded by a Wellcome Trust, Sciart award.