Week 8 - Final Project Updates: "Synthetic Pandemic: Exploring the Sonic Applications of COVID-19, from Requiems to Remedies"

For the final, I was placed into the “sounding” group, where ideas of sound, in its musical and acoustic dimensions become a part of the larger conversation of the COVID-19 pandemic. From the last time that I wrote concerning my final paper, the general content of my work has not changed, but rather garnered a greater degree of precision and purpose, as I work toward a final project as well as a written review of literature to accompany it. 


I think that it is worth noting that the primary aim of my final paper is more exploratory than of a rote review of scholarship, wherein much of my “process” is spent in ideation - the research, while important foundationally to my project, becomes peripheral to a set of conceptual ideas and procedures in attempts to break new ground both practically and artistically. As far as an “outline” is concerned, I have made the conscious choice to partition my project into “research” portions, and “application” portions.


That said, the purpose of my project is to leverage understandings of the physical and psychological mechanisms governing sound production and perception, the current historical moment of a global pandemic and existing intersections of sound therein, as well as the virology, immunopathology, and physical structure of COVID-19. Through the understanding of these seemingly disparate fields of study - primarily acoustics and immunopathology - I will examine the sonic performative potential of COVID-19 itself. Through digital synthesis, and for the first time to my knowledge, COVID-19 will create sound instead of informing it, and through my project, I hope to be able to answer questions such as “what would COVID-19 sound like?”, and “how might that sound be used?” 

A rudimentary outline of my project is as follows, in roughly the order in which it will appear when published:


  1. Introduction

    1. By this point, COVID-19 requires no introduction. 

      1. Some statistics to chronicle the current moment in severity and disruption

      2. Discuss briefly the crisis response from humanity, turning to all corners of our pool of human knowledge to find solutions 

      3. How much we know versus uncertainties ahead

    2. My own background as a sound designer and electronic musician, my own relationship with sound 

      1. What sound means to me, tie in to previous paper in group

      2. Sound and psychology

      3. Brief definitions and mechanical explanations of acoustics, psychoacoustics, and digital sound processing (will be covered more in depth in sections to come)

    3. Markus Buehler’s COVID-19 Sonification 

      1. This will likely be covered at length by other group members, so will briefly touch on this, likely only for argument’s sake. 

      2. Explaining process of sonification, what it means to have sonified the spike protein

    4. Critical question

      1. What if COVID-19 not only could inform familiar sounds through sonified modulations, but could actually produce sound of its own? What might that sound be able to do? How might it be able to be used?

  2. Review of the literature (technical/foundational, part I)

    1. COVID-19

      1. Biology

      2. Structure

      3. Virology/transmission

      4. Immunopathology and effects on the body

    2. Sound

      1. Mechanics

        1. Transmission of sound, relate to viral transmission, vectored aerosol propagation

      2. Acoustics

        1. Physical relationship between our biology and sound

          1. Does COVID-19 affect the ability to hear? (hopefully an answer to this question)

      3. Psychoacoustics

        1. Perception of sound, psychology of sound, sound in space

      4. Technology

        1. Digitization of sound, use of sound in areas beyond music - ISM frequencies

      5. Synthesis

        1. DSP synthesizer overview

        2. Wavetables

        3. Difference between waveform, frequency, amplitude

    3. How is sound related to COVID-19, or how could they be related?

      1. Medical uses for sound

      2. Doctrine of Signatures - Ancient Greece


  1. Procedures I: Synthesis

    1. Capture images/renders

      1. Use photoshop to generate transparent vector masks of publicly available images 

      2. Use Cinema 4D/Maya to create 3-D renders of COVID-19 spike protein, the human lungs, white blood cells, and antibodies.

    2. Wavetable Generation

      1. Use Xfer Serum to import images into wavetable oscillators. 

      2. Use wavetable position and LFO (Low-frequency oscillation) to comb through entire render using planar cross-sections. 

      3. Modulate synthesizer parameters using data related to COVID-19 for use in a wide array of applications, from therapeutic to strictly artistic. 

    3. MIDI Mapping

      1. Create a playable “keyboard” if you will, where each waveform is stretched and able to be tuned to any frequency to allow for maximum utility across disciplines and environments

  2. Review of Literature II - How to use this sound in today’s world

    1. Therapeutic

      1. HFCWO

        1. Understand mechanics and processes of High Frequency Chest Wall Oscillation

        2. Examine existing products and technology specs 

        3. Different percussive methods

      2. Particle disruption 

        1. Fisher Scientific has a device which does this using ultrasound

      3. More generally, the applications for ultrasonic and infrasonic signals in ISM bands

      4. Radio waves

    2. Artistic

      1. Performances which engage with sound

        1. John Cage

        2. Bill Fontana

        3. Nam June Paik

        4. Holly Herndon

        5. Electronic Musicians

      2. Performance/art which engages with biology

        1. Blue Morph

        2. Relationscape Berlin

        3. Heather Dewey-Hagborg - Stranger Visions

      3. What does it mean to be artistically relevant in times of crisis?

        1. Crisis psychology

        2. The goal of multimedia art 

        3. Considerations and engagements

        4. Sound’s place within this environment

  3. Implementations

    1. Therapeutic

      1. Design own HFCWO device, using COVID-19 waveforms

      2. Particle disruption and ultrasound

      3. Other uses

    2. Artistic

      1. Art installation ideas of my own utilizing this sound - I have three or four ideas here which I will be exploring and describing in my paper, potentially with visual renders.

      2. Performance - using COVID-19 waveforms, and other forms of sound, an array of short recorded performances highlighting the emotionally evocative artistic potential of the sound, while also firmly grounding it in the present.