HOLON

HOLON

Public Art Installation • Docklands, Melbourne • 2023

An interactive, solar powered installation of 130 cybernetic creatures that listen to their environment and communicate using sound and light.

HOLON: something that is simultaneously a whole in and of itself, as well as a part of a larger whole.

Strapped to heritage-listed pier pylons at Melbourne's waterfront docks, 130 solar-powered holons float above the water, signalling and communicating to each other and to biological species in their vicinity using sound and light. Staged for two weeks in August 2023 as part of the Now or Never festival.

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Inspired by scientific research into acoustic and soundscape ecologies, HOLON is a provocation on the colonisation of our landscape by technology. Each electronic creature seeks to communicate with its neighbours via sound. Creatures listen to their acoustic environment and attempt to find sound frequencies that are currently unoccupied by human, machine or animal sounds. Based on the organisational principles outlined by Arthur Koestler in his 1967 book "The Ghost in the Machine", each individual holon is part of a collective whole: an network of multiple agencies that includes the biological, natural, computational and human.

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Every holon is a self-contained cybernetic organism, equipped with microphones, speakers, LED lights and an on-board computer. Holons get 100% of their energy from the sun via a photovoltaic cell attached to their backs. Sun charges an internal battery, allowing them to make sound and light at night. The more energy they receive during the day, the more lively they become at night.

There are three different kinds of holon:

  1. The generator/composer (O) generates sounds based on its local sonic environment. Each composer targeting frequencies that are not already in use, attempting to claim those frequencies not used by others.
  2. The collector/critic (X) collects sounds from the environment, passing on those it thinks are novel. Collectors harvest sound, keeping samples of sounds they find unique. Later in the day they emit those sounds in response to hearing the generator/composers.
  3. The disruptor (/) listens for sounds made by other holons and tries to change and disrupt them by modifying the sound before repeating it. Disruptors use digital signal processing (DSP) to modify the sounds they hear.
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Holon suggests a possible future where electronic life seeks to co-exist with biological life, each contributing to a shared ecosystem.

Design & Development

HOLON was commissioned by the City of Melbourne's Now or Never Festival in collaboration with Experimenta.  The project was designed, developed and built at SensiLab, Monash University from March – August 2023. The images below show stages of the design and build process from initial sketches to completed work.

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Production Credits

Concept, programming, development

Engineering & design

Production

Commissioned by

Jon McCormack

Elliott Wilson

SensiLab, Monash University

Now or Never & Experimenta

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HOLON was commissioned by the Now or Never Festival, City of Melbourne in collaboration with Experimenta. The work formed part of the Now or Never Art Trail, 17 August – 2 September, 2023.