CAFA Undergrad Thesis
Kulangsu(Gulangyu), is an island that echoes the historical footprints of European colonization during the World War era and now resonates with the bustling rhythms of tourism, the internet, and commerce. In recent years, it has been celebrated as a World Cultural Heritage site. Once hailed as the “Island of Music” or the “Island of Pianos” — a reference to its imported piano culture of the last century — Kulangsu now witnesses the fading of this musical heritage.
What then, truly, is Kulangsu? It stands as an immersive collage of “elsewhere’s,” a tapestry of various identities that remain unrecognized and undefined. How do we encapsulate Kulangsu? Through pianos displayed as silent relics? Through transient images scattered across social media? Or through the ever-evolving storefronts?
What narrative captures the essence of contemporary Kulangsu — the experience of the here and now? Throughout the cycle of history, how do we generate new identity for Kulangsu?
“GAP+” emerges as a comprehensive synthesis of my explorations in algorithms, sound/media art, and installation. It embodies an experimental spirit that seeks to dissolve the boundaries of traditional architectural design. I envisage architecture as a generative system, a crucible for new forms and possibilities, fueled by diverse theoretical frameworks.
Drawing inspiration from the “live set” music concept — where the mechanisms of sound mixing shape the aural space — GAP+ offers a critical lens on the conservation of “historical” urban spaces. It constructs an auditory landscape, a soundscape that engages with the commercial-dominated urban soundscape. GAP+ redefines architectural presentation, introducing novel concepts of “real-time” and “remote” experiences within the built environment, in form of spatial instrument.
Architectures of Sound
The Sensory Experience of GAP
GAP - the back alley way of urban soundscape
When I walked through Kulangsu, I noticed those GAPs – hidden behind the crowded streets, even narrower than alleys. Kulangsu is an island of GAPs – which connected spaces of houses, streets, backyards or beach.
I abstracted two prototype from GAP – a void(outside), and an object(inside).
Outside the GAP
As a binary structure from point to point, the GAP connects, mix, filter and compress sound from ends. It brings us to the other side of GAP.
In GAPs, the visual space is weakened. What we could see is the ray of sky above our heads – the GAP is a devisualized aural structure. Sound fades in and out – spaces are mixed and compressed ambiguously.
Inside the GAP
What we generally see – the commercialized city is a visible Kulangsu – the invisible part inside GAPs is another Kulangsu. The GAP itself, which holds piles of infrastructures, machines and data streams, is the most sophisticated element inside the gigantic sound machine – Kulangsu.
A computational sensory structure
As a medium of sound mixing, can GAP generate new aural space?
Then, based on GAP – a medium of sound mixing – is it possible to generate a new aural space? I believe that as a single component, the structure of GAP is simple, but new possibilities can be produced in a specific way – a way of 1+1>2.
For me, Kulangsu is an on-going Live Set. Whatever the past or future is, whatever lived and died on this island. History is history, the space just goes on, as a non-stop show. It is the enormous “now” composed Kulangsu – we should more focus on what is happening, rather than the past. As a structure of Live Set, can GAP+ be a space of progressive tense?
Our footsteps replace timeline, becoming the storyline of composed scenes
When people walked through the GAP, through different scenes and ambiences, is same as what happens when we are experiencing the scenes of LiveSet – and GAP is the key part of mixer.
What soundscape is divided by GAP? How do we experience Kulangsu inside?
Now, comparing with the museums exhibiting piano as a dead thing –
Could this architecture of sound be a sound museum of recording and exhibiting the sound of on-going Kulangsu?
ARCHITECTURES OF SOUND
Instrument units and sample units are designed in pairs and embedded in curved chambers of community space. Sample Units are connected with samplers, which collect and store sound from GAPs in Kulangsu. While walking through the space, we experience a remixed soundscape of the whole Kulangsu. Instrument Units are semi-open gallery spaces, audiences tracked by sensors trigger notes of the performance.
To record and exhibit the sound of on-going Kulangsu? Could audience becomes a performer of their own “Kulangsu Set”?
Here comes “GAP +” – a space projection wandering out of Kulangsu. In a simple walk, people interact with the space, and thus, emotionally connected to Kulangsu.
diversified and controlled hierarchy – a space consists of GAPs.
In several iterated options, a 16*16 grid system of GAPs is chosen, to generate transformed GAP space above.
By overlapping the twisted grid with the original grid, a complex space system of holes and tunnels is generated. From bottom to the top, single spaces are gradually open and mixed together.
Before entering the island, people get into “GAP+” by pier. “GAP+” is free, we can join the performance, or just experience and walk by.
Instrument Units and Sample Units are designed in pairs, for vertical circulation and community space.
Sample Units are connected with samplers, which collect and store sound from GAPs in Kulangsu. While walking through, we are experiencing the whole Kulangsu.
Instrument Units are semi-open community spaces, new residents can become a note of the performance. The mechanism works like a Sequencer.
Space is awaiting – before we are attracted, and touch it. And loop breaks, time begins as we join the space – the sounds we triggerred are mixed again, for the latecomers. As we leave, the space goes back to loops.
With sensors and a spatial audio system built with c# and MAX/MSP, it translates space information into sound scenes. By collecting sound in Kulangsu, what we play on GAP- HERE, is connected to THEREs on Kulangsu.
The “GAP-” controls a Live Set, in a explicit-to-implicit manner – by detecting space info, it take space as the guideline to generate sound – which is totally different from traditional midi controllers – which works as implicit-to-explicit, to generate visual and space based on the guideline of sound.
In the coordinate of “GAP-“, areas are distributed with specific ambience. In the same ambience area, there are several similar clip pools – when user re-trigger an area, the clips will be re-assigned – clips are changing, but the ambience never change.
1.Wave to start LiveSet！
2. Swipe horizontally to switch clips
3. Move vertically to compress/reverb/fx
“GAP-” is a standard controller to perform a Live Set.
It’s also a remote sound museum played by audience at exhibition – the Kulangsu is HERE.
It is, a wandering part from Kulangsu itself. With interaction of audience, emotionally, audience and urban space are bridged – GAP is mixing spaces inside itself, as well as between “HERE” and “THERE”.
MORE ABOUT THIS PROJECT:
An early essay written in 2019, about the first iteration in the thesis project at CAFA.