21% is a site-specific sound installation that invites Northern Spark participants to influence a sound collage in collaboration with the trees they walk among and other visitors to the park. As people enter the dedicated area of Target Park, an exchange begins to take place—invisible, silent, ethereal. We are colluding with the plant life around us. Leaves absorb the noxious gases we expel (carbon dioxide), transforming them into energy for themselves while excreting oxygen—and, in turn, supporting all aerobic life.
21% is the proportion of oxygen present in every human inhalation of air that materializes this exchange. Carbon dioxide for oxygen, breath for energy, life for life: 21% calls attention to the delicate balance we humans maintain with plants.
The largest extinction event ever known to this planet occurred 2.5 billion years ago, when oxygen entered the earth’s atmosphere. All anaerobic life on earth was wiped out as the stage was set for human existence. Now another gas, carbon dioxide, is growing increasingly concentrated in the atmosphere, posing a threat to some and presumably a promise for other life forms. As our atmosphere continues to transform, 21% uses sound to remind us of our interdependence with the plants around us.
Sensors among the trees activate with the presence of people. Lights beckon visitors to enter the space. As they do, the lights dim and sound emerges, attempting to lure more people to join this exchange of breath. As the space fills with people, the sounds grow stronger. When the environment reaches the perfect balance of people and leaves (the ideal exchange of O2 and CO2), the soundscape becomes enveloping and celebratory. If people overrun the space, the soundscape grows repulsive in an attempt to expel people from the space and return balance to the environment. Additional sensors are affected by movement—by humans, animals, or leaves blowing in the wind. These sensors activate rhythms and sounds that layer on top of the sound collage, adding elements of sonic movement and chance over time.
Dan Scofield is an artist, musician, and filmmaker based in Brooklyn who blurs the boundary between sight and sound. He formed the acclaimed avant jazz quartet SHOT x SHOT and has toured the world in numerous musical ensembles. He is a graduate student in the Interactive Telecommunications program at New York University. danscofieldstudio.com
Miriam Simun designs interactive experiences. Her work explores new possibilities for interacting with our machines, our environment, and each other. She has exhibited and lectured at Postmasters Gallery, New Museum, CUNY Graduate Center, New
York University, Concordia University, and Conflux Festival. She speaks Russian and designs creative disruptions at www.miriamsimun.com.