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Designed by Michael Bussiere and sculpted by Mark West, Virtual Instrument Paradigm (VIP) is an interactive sound installation commissioned in 1994 for the Festival Plaza at what is now Ottawa City Hall. The installation consists of five oddly shaped concrete pillars arranged around a paved pathway, forming a space about ten or fifteen feet in diameter. Four of these pillars are speakers about three feet tall, and one is about twelve feet tall with a motion sensor mounted in the top.

As you move around within the space defined by the speakers, a computer program processes input from the motion sensor and outputs sound from any or all of the speakers depending on where you are and what you're doing. The program cycles through a number of "paradigms", each with a different set of samples and different criteria for interaction.

Sometimes the result is a chaotic cacophony of blurps and gwarks and tinkly synth samples. At other times the samples are very quiet and ethereal ocean and wind-like sounds. Sometimes the control is very limited and the program only distinguishes between very broad movements, while other times you can get very fine control over the sounds. The computer even belts out random samples every once in a while to tempt those nearby to come and play.

My favourite mode in the cycle has a variety of sonic flavours and textures, and very subtle control of the sounds. As you accelerate and decelerate your movements, you learn how to prolong each sound as long as you want, and how to manipulate frequency with an arm motion of only a few inches. This mode really epitomizes VIP's potential for giving the feeling of "painting with music", as physical space blends seamlessly with auditory space.

An interesting gem which I found one night in one of VIP's soundscapes was a heavily distorted voice sample. At first I caught only the edge of what sounded like someone speaking. As I played around and explored the space in front of the North-West speaker more fully, I managed to extend the sample further and further until I made out the phrase, "can you hear me". This was very cool. I had a friend with me and we were both quite impressed. We could still hear something being said after this phrase, so we continued our exploration, and to our dismay, we realized that the sample actually said, "can you hear me suffer". This unnerved us quite a bit, and we weren't sure if maybe we were just hearing things. Since then, though, I've let others hear the sample and they agree that it does in fact say "suffer".

So, if you live in Ottawa or are just visiting, check this out. City Hall is located on the east side of Elgin street, between Laurier avenue and Lisgar street. VIP is just a few steps south of the pool with the fountains in the Festival Plaza, which is on the Laurier side of City Hall, across the street from Confederation park.

VIP was awarded "best public artwork" in the 2000 Ottawa X-Press reader's poll.

Michael Bussiere's company, Sonic Design Interactive, has a website at www.sonicdesign.com which has a section on VIP with pictures and two videos of people playing in the installation.

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