Sonic Graffiti: Hacking the SubconsciousThrough Aural Cues

Other than the aural cues of a distinct profession, what are the cues that tie the human race together? Do certain sounds connect us all? Obviously, the farmer has a very different set of daily environmental sounds and, therefore different reactionary cues in his environment than the urbanite would have in theirs. And while our daily experiences may be different sonically, we may have sounds that bind us all together through evolution.

It is well known that certain sounds trigger a mammalian response often referred to the flight or fight response. This response prepares the body to either run from danger or challenge it. Engrained in us over our evolution, our subconscious can inherently identify sounds in our environment that can cause us harm and react. This emotional, sonic exploit is often used in movies. Whereas, the low hum of bees will be laid into the background track of a scene to heighten a moment (The Exorcist, 1973). Or by the sudden loud sounds interrupting a quiet moment often used in every horror film since 1923. The effect is used to strike fear into an audience literally.


I believe that we all share a pool of environmental, and aural cues, that trigger an uncontrollable emotional or physical response. My project intends to manipulate those emotional responses by exploring these sounds via context, repetition, and source identifiable. How do these sounds interact with the conscious/unconscious mind?


Project Outline

My inspiration for this project came from the more effective, modern graffiti artists like Banksy. Specifically, a piece where, in 2005, he placed subverted artworks in the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. What worked about his art subversion was the subtlety that it was presented. His art was placed in an environment where the context allowed it to be accepted as “real art” and then interpreted by museum-goers as such. He used context to gain access to visitors’ interpretive minds. Without this subversion, the more traditional museum visitor probably would not have viewed his pieces in this new, established context.


The Sonic Graffiti project borrows not from Banksy’s social commentary but from what I believe his core approach is when choosing the environment for his art. A decision-making process to maximize context and interpretation and create an “art space” from nothing but a perceived area.

I plan to plant audio-projecting devices within spaces where people gather. These “Improvised Sonic Devices”, or I.S.D.’s, will then project sound through a variety of mechanical and acoustically practical means. Chosen sounds will be denoted by the context of the space and the audience available. The key to a covert Sonic Graffiti show is the subtlety of the piece and the physical and emotional responses that they elicit from the unwilling participants.


While the sounds and implementation may vary from any two Sonic Graffiti pieces, I believe that three main factors are used in both a Banksy project and SonicGraffiti.

The Hudson River Greenway provides everything that a good Sonic Graffiti installation needs to be sustainable and successful; A quiet space where people congregate and relax, access to energy sources (e.g. Sunlight, wind, public utilities, etc.), areas for concealment of I.S.D.s, and a relatively subdued background noise provided by the westside Highway.

The installation will utilize every type of I.S.D. in the SonicGraffiti arsenal. A minimum of 5 pieces will be used to create the installation. The main goal of this installation is to generate a certain sense of awareness in the visitors of the greenway. By using sounds and vibrations, visitors will seek their source, therefore exploring the space and changing the intent of the visit.


Devices Used

Thumper – Battery powered. Conductive transmission through steel by spring-loaded hammer mechanism.


Buzzer – Public utility powered. Buzzing and cracking sound emanated through the speaker and was concealed in a light pole.


Talker – Battery Powered. This device transmits a one-sided conversation to visitors sitting on the park bench.


Beekeeper – Solar Powered. Playing back the sound of a hive of bees in the grass, this device is meant to distress passersby’s curious of the ornamental grass.


Whaler – Wind-powered. This device is the only I.S.D that will not be concealed. Hiding the device is not needed because itis unreachable from the installation. The sounds of dolphins and whales emanate from the partially submerged pier off of the Hudson River Greenway.


The project presented to funding sources through 2015. Was abandoned due to legal and permit issues. Artist considering gorilla art and self-financing as an alternate installation method.