Crystalline Unclear: sonified quartz and critiques of machine learning

Trailer: Crystalline Unclear

Crystallography is the process of shining a light through a crystalline material to reveal the qualities of its inner structure by studying its diffraction pattern. By sonifying diffraction data from a piece of quartz a key substance within the electronics industry since the 1930s – Crystalline Unclear creates a temporal experience of something that usually appears static to human perception; a mineral material. Referencing its six-sided hexagonal inner system, the sounds predominantly play in the Aeolian mode, with some sections being transposed to 327.68hz (relating to the 32768hz frequency that quartz vibrates at).

Placing this in relation to processes of machine learning, the piece asks us to reflect on what we choose to see as part of a pattern, and what lies discarded on the outside. What are we missing through this process of inclusion and exclusion, and the setting of boundaries? In itself, recognition implies a sense of significance, to be noteworthy of acknowledgement; the pattern offers security and belonging, although through means of conformity and homogeneity. A hierarchy of value. This problematising is surely amplified when patterns are reproduced, replicated and inform future models.

By combining diffraction data to shape the sound, and the molecular structure of the quartz with 3D modelling and the fluidity of the visuals, Kin creates an audio-visual experience that sits between fiction and reality. Therein a flexibility is introduced into something seemingly so rigid, in both physical materiality and structural symmetry. By moving between these forms, and through experimentations with scale, she shows how something essentially the same or deeply connected can become almost unrecognisable through different perspectives.

Continuing the use of light in her creative practice, Kin also pushes back against the assumption that light always makes things more visible, instead drawing attention to its potential to deflect and obscure.  

Extra notes:

  • Crystallinity refers to the structural order within a substance.
  • The defined geometric shapes within these homogenous structures are known as ‘habits’.
  • The continued explorations of the unknown and opacity are inspired by Glissant’s socio-political writings on this, in which he makes the case to embrace unknowability in opposition to pursuits of full transparency and visibility.

Presented by Cryptic on 25 February as part of the Sonic Bites digital series, available for 24 hours.

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