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(UN)STABLE

Cassie Smith 𝄅 Nisha Rastogi 𝄅 Cecilia Kramar

2022
generative sound, speakers, wood, wool, foam, sensors, software: max/msp

22" x 18"

 

artist statement

What does it mean to remember? The neuroscience of memory highlights the liminal nature of human experience and identity, which exist in a constant state of flux, yet nevertheless depend on a degree of continuity and coherence.

Memory consolidation is the neurological process by which new memories slowly stabilize into long-term memory. When a memory is recalled, this process of consolidation recurs (reconsolidation). Memories which have been previously stabilized are rendered once again unstable at the point of retrieval. This instability leaves them susceptible to alteration. Thus, we can never remember the same memory twice, as the mere act of remembering introduces change. 

 

(UN)STABLE is an immersive, sonic exploration of this process. The piece is guided by a series of delicate tensions, hovering between stability and instability, between the organic and the computational. Rather than understand these in-between places as sites of discord, we hold space for contradiction. (UN)STABLE celebrates the beauty of change, and the ephemeral cycles of memory and identity that allow transformation and growth to emerge.

artwork

 

remember

(UN)STABLE is a generative soundscape created from your memories. The geodesic helmet contains a microphone and four speakers. You are invited to recount and record a memory. The sound of your voice is then processed and played back through the speakers. Layers of memory reverberate around you, disingetrating into tiny grains of sound before reconsolidating in endless cycles of stability and instability, cohesion and decay.

example: original memory

example: processed memory

listen

 

artist bios

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Nisha Rastogi

Nisha Rastogi is a Design student at Concordia University that works with both physical and digital design. As a multidisciplinary artist, Nisha is always looking for new mediums to explore. Studying the neuroscience of art and creativity has been an interesting convergence point for them as an artist.

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Cecilia Kramar

Cecilia Kramar earned her Ph.D. investigating the mechanisms involved in learning and memory. She’s always been interested in how our brain decides what memories to keep and which ones to forget, and how that can shape our cognition and our entire self. During her Ph.D., Cecilia started using art as a way of expressing herself; not only making art, but also studying it, and understanding its importance in our mental health and well-being. During her scientific career, Cecilia has also been very interested in taking the science outside the lab to the community, making it more approachable and understandable.

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Cassie Smith

Cassie Smith is a multimedia artist based in Montréal, focusing on generative interactive art, physical computing and sound design. She frequently works with movement and processes of sonification, leveraging non-traditional interfaces and incorporating elements of machine learning, sensors, biofeedback, and gesture tracking.  Cassie likes to challenge the dichotomy between the normal and the absurd, using the limits and affordances of specific materials as an entry-point. Her work often explores phenomena, such as noise, that appear across different systems and disciplines.

 

scientific exploration

In the past, scientists believed memories were stored once, permanently, in the brain. Today we know the process of memory storage is much more malleable and complex. Memory consolidation is the process by which new memories stabilize into long-term ones. This occurs slowly, allowing the release of specific neurotransmitters, hormones and other internal processes triggered by an experience to modulate the strength of a memory.  Experiences that our body perceives as significant, often signaled by strong emotion, tend to be well-remembered.

 

However, when a memory is recalled, the process of consolidation recurs (reconsolidation). Memories which have been previously stabilized are rendered once again unstable. While they are unstable, they are impressionble and subject to alteration. In other words, it means we never recall the same memory twice, as the mere act of remembering introduces change. This is why treatment for trauma often involves confronting traumatic memories. Accessing these memories renders them unstable at a neurological level, providing an opportunity for impactful therapeutic intervention.

 

The idea of memory instability may sound terrifying. Losing our memories is one of the things that frightens us the most. But we shouldn’t see this process as a loss. Rather, we should view it as an advantage. Updating our memories with new information is necessary for our survival. Our ability to change and adapt is fundamental to what makes us human.