Tech by VICE

This Is What The Sound of Your Refrigerator Looks Like

A Canadian artist transforms ambient sound into folded paper art.

by Kaleigh Rogers
Jan 22 2015, 7:20pm

A piece entitled Tap, Tap. Image: ​PDA Projects

Sound as a visual representation (like waveforms) isn't a new concept, but what if you could take it a step further and transform sound into origami-like paper art? 

​Christopher Payne, an artist based in Calgary, Canada, has done just that. Payne likes making weird tech art. In the past he's separated film projectors so that the only thing they project is the filament of the lightbulb in the projector itself. In another piece, he used a subwoofer to re-animate dead insects after he noticed bug corpses "dancing" in the window of his studio every time a truck rumbled by outside.

In his most recent project, currently on display at the PDA Pro​jects gallery in Ottawa, he's captured ambient sound in and around his apartment and translated it into folded paper art.

"I recorded the sound of the furnace going or the sound of the fridge running. Some of them are also just little bits and pieces of things that happen to be around me: incidental music or, in the final piece, the departure lounge at the Calgary airport," Payne told me.

Payne used his iPhone and laptop to collect the sound, then modified a program in a waveform monitor to upload the sound waves and view them at a very low resolution so he could see the shape of just one or two seconds of sound. Then he folded paper to match the ups and downs of the waveform, creating simple, striking pieces.​

The sound of forced air turning on. Image: PDA Projects

A snippet of a conversation. Image: PDA Projects

The ambient sound at the Calgary airport departure lounge. Image: PDA Projects

"There is kind of a leftover image of the waveform if you look at the piece on its side or at a slight angle. The shadow will actually sort of replicate the waveform," Payne said.

Payne told me the goal with much of his art is to take a complex, technological phenomenon and transform it into something simple and tangible, like these paper pieces. His background is in film, so he has a particular interest in sound and video, but he's also fiddled with different computer software and hardware over the years in producing his art. He doesn't often play up all of the technology that goes into the final product.

"A lot of it for me is a concern that technology is everywhere around us, which is interesting and engaging, but often in the case of media art it becomes an over-fetishization of the technology itself," he said. "I try to find ways of making technological art that is less about the technology that is used to make it."