The world as we know it is an illusion.
Though this concept of the world as illusion has long been discussed by philosophers throughout the ages, modern psychological study has brought about numerous examples and experiments that can empirically verify these ideas to a certain degree. This research follows the well known phenomenon of auditory and visual illusions, and it is these illusions that signify that our perception is tied with our expectations. We do not passively perceive reality, instead we actively experience it.
It is not as though we see the world in terms of a continuous light show, projected via our eyes into two mirrored images and fused in the mind. Rather our eyes perceive only a tiny fragment of the world as they leap from detail to detail, our mind then fills in the rest based on our memory of what should be there; a world that exists as an outside memory.
The demonstrable proof that we experience what we expect to experience is through a series of image experiments and it is using these experiments that I wish to create a multi media piece, utilising three concepts of perceptual illusion.
The first is Change Blindness, where an image is shown twice separated by a white “blink”, however, the second image is altered in some way – such a building moving, a reflection disappearing, etc. Despite searching and knowing that there is a change we fail to see it because the moment of change is obscured. I have chosen to work with a series of etchings printed in the Chatterbox magazine, a publication from 1873 that contained stories, morality tales, ballads and theological musings.
The content of the various etchings are strange and completely out of place with our modern ideas and reflect a period of our history that is difficult to relate to. The images portray various tableau’s and scenes that require a greater degree of attention and mental process in order to find meaning and as they are all taken out of context from their original story will serve to misdirect the audience. The quality of the etching as a visual medium also has an element of permanency that goes against our natural instinct to disbelieve or mistrust digital photography.
Twenty eight images were selected from the second volume of Chatterbox and subjected to subtle and vulgar manipulation. The first changes made are to act as further misdirection, by showing something that was bizarre or exotic, following the theme of illusion. Many of the characters are blind or mute, as if unable to comprehend the world they are in and reflecting the audiences mistaken attention; the real illusion is happening as they watch the images pass by and are not contained in the images themselves. Some of the changes are intended to be obvious and to draw attention to what is taking place, however, there is still no guarantee that the changes will be seen. If a large audience were to see the finished film, even with full knowledge of the methods of Change Blindness, no two people would pick up on the same number of changes. Therefore, it prompts a question : are any of us are experiencing the same things when we experience the same situation.
This technique of manipulating the recognition of change also works in other ways. If the white flash is replaced with a scattering of large white dots, the area of change is no longer masked but we still find it difficult to see the change occurring. Another method is to have no flash or break in visual continuity, instead the change occurs in colour over a long duration and again the mind only recognises it’s inner memory; once the image is assimilated into the mind it becomes almost impossible to spot the colour shifting.
I plan to use this technique of slow colour change as a continuous part of the film. One of the etchings will be coloured and changed over six minutes, in this case it is an image of a dead bird and some meat flies; the grass will begin green and slowly turn red. The image is framed and coloured in two differnet ways before importing into Premier and utilising a six minute crossfade; the image sits above the action and always in view.
The Thatcher Illusion is based on our ability to recognise facial expressions. When an image of a face is turned upside down but the mouth and eyes remain the right way up we are still able to distinguish the expression and the person involved. If we see the same face the right way up but with eyes and mouth shown upside down, we find the image to be ugly and disturbing.
The initial attempts at recreating this illusion worked but were intended as a closing image. I felt this robbed the previous images of some of their power and re-edited to give them more time on screen. This meant the Thatcher illusion would no longer be used; also the aspects of finding a suitable actor, arranging the right props and costumes to match the era of the etchings, all served to disuade me from going in that direction.
When the sound of “My bab pop me poo brive” is fused with the image of someone saying “My gag kok me koo grive”, both nonsensical individually, the resultant experience is of someone saying “My dad taught me to drive”. The B that is heard and the G that is seen combines into a D, and the P that is heard and the K that is seen combine into a T.
I have created my own set of sentences that rely upon the consonants T and D that are more suited to the piece. This is a very difficult illusion to replicate due to the timing and synchronisation needed between the image of the mouth and the words that are heard. The first attempts at this were done as an experiment in order to see if the effect would work and I am not wholly satisfied. I may attempt to try this idea again under more rigorous circumstances.
Including video is difficult to blend with the antiquated style of the etchings but will benfit from having a cleaner speaker, both in terms of having clean pronunciation but also in terms of being clean shaven.
Pitch Recognition within a Space
The octave illusion is used as the fundamental concept behind the composition of the music. It occurs when we listen to a tone of a certain pitch in one ear whilst an octave of that pitch is heard in the other ear, if they are then swopped over alternately we percieev something else than would be expected. Instead of hearing the flip there is a tendency to place the two pitches in difernet areas, becoming a single tone in each ear witch is pulsing.
I began by composing a melodic line, then created chordal harmonies for three other instuments, this became the base upon which I would apply the octave illusion. Within each line the instrument would move between the two pitches an octave apart then change to the next in the melodic sequence. I also used a range of note lengths, doubling or halving the number of pulses in each bar to alter the sense of rhythm.
The instruments were then doubled up to create two sets of four, playing the same music but reversing the sequence of high and low pitch notes. When instrument pairs were seperated in the stereo field the illusion should then alter the perception of the music.
Another sound illusion I wished to incorporate is based on rising and falling chromatic scales. If we take a chromatic scale from C to C’ and play it along side a scale from C’ to C, the mind will seperate the sound into two sets; it will sound as though the two scales have bounced of each other, with one containing the high notes and one containing the low notes. So by improvising rising and falling chromatic melodies for one instrument, then copying them to the other instrument and inverting the sequence, I was able to incorporate this illusion also.