Sophias Web
Interactive sound art from Amie Slavin

Sophia's Web is currently installed as part of
Shape in the City, GraceChurch street London.

© 2007 Amie Slavin

Working with Amie and showing Sophia’s Web in the Beldam Gallery was a very interesting experience. The piece itself has so many themes… it’s about connections, relationships, aspirations, fear and hope and makes both a visual and emotional impact on the gallery visitor. The work demands some interaction and input from the viewer – they don’t get to really experience the content of the piece until they push one of the buttons, which is quite deliberately irresistible, due to the sculptural qualities of the smooth aluminium planes and lovely green rounded surface of the buttons. Whilst the piece is fun and its interactive qualities appealing, it’s also a personal and delicate work that both allows for and prompts introspection and reflection on our own family life, specifically the connections and relationships that tie a family together”

George Mogg - Curator, Beldam Gallery.
Brunel University West London

Inspiration :

The idea for Sophia’s Web arose from the birth of my daughter, Sophia. I began to contemplate the amazing number, range and diversity of the individuals who are connected, through family threads, to Sophia, and the amazing wealth of knowledge, wisdom and love available to Sophia through these threads. I became interested in the idea of using the medium of sound to document this web of connection, by which I mean capturing an essence of Sophia’s family members, and representing them as audio samples, grouped within a representation of the web itself.

"Sophia’s Web was selected for inclusion in the 2008 SightSonic Artists Platform, a showcase for emerging digital artists from across the UK and Europe. The piece proved popular with visitors of all ages and broke down the barriers that people sometimes perceive when interacting with digital artworks - few folk could resist pressing the inviting green buttons. I was interested in observing the ways in which people interacted with the work – some attempted to trace the family links by listening to the pieces one by one, while others preferred building up the sort of hubbub one associates with family gatherings and happy reunions by pressing as many buttons as possible simultaneously. Playful and thought-provoking in equal measure, Sophia’s Web invites reflection on the people who are important to us and on what we might wish for our own children as they make their way through life."

Kirsty Halliday, Producer, SightSonic Artists Platform
St John's University, York

Intention :

My intention, in making Sophia’s Web, was: firstly to create an artifact to commemorate Sophia’s birth, with a sonic snapshot of her family and, secondly, to explore the concept of family as a universal experience.

There are very few people in the world who do not have an idea and experience of family in their own life. Families come in all shapes, sizes and configurations, with and without blood ties. In this instance I have begun with a web of blood ties, expanded to include people connected through their partners, married or not. The outer edges of this web are defined by the point at which social contact thins out, and the consequent likelihood of future influence and social contact shrinks. It is not, therefore, a conventional family tree, reflecting, rather, the family in a social context, based on the ways in which the included individuals might influence Sophia, as she grows up.

My intention, in doing this, was to create a piece which celebrates the individuality of the people involved, whilst also representing a sense of family as a clamour and babble of disparate voices, drowning each other in distant places and time zones, connected by personal contact, phone and Email, across physical and social borders. I also wanted to focus, with each voice, on the ways in which they might hope to influence Sophia : what they considered the most important quality (talent, attribute, understanding, resource or possession) with which they would like to imbue Sophia.

Methodology :

I began by making lists and lists of family members, linking them together in their immediate family groups, counting and counting them. Next I mapped these connections onto a pyramid with twenty-three points, (screws, at that time) placed regularly on each side, making a total of ninety-two points at which samples would later be attached. It was like doing a wriggly jigsaw, shuffling the family groups together so that all the connections were as straightforward as possible. This map was then used to produce the metal structure for the piece, each point being associated with punched holes behind which speakers and samplers could be attached, each linking correctly with its most direct connection back to Sophia. From this point on the web, and the individuals to be included, were fixed. The worst flaw in my methodology had its roots in this first stage. To date I have counted eleven additional people whom I would have included, had I realised they were relations at this point. Later on I did take the liberty of using one of these missing people : a highly articulate and appealing child, to stand in for another child, not available for interview.

Next I spent six months collecting and processing ninety-two voices, bringing each one into the studio for editing and audio optimisation.

The majority of the voices were collected by interview, either face to face, on the phone, by proxy or, as in one instance, by Email. I specifically wanted to avoid the production of studio quality tracks as I wanted to include all the noises off of family life. I asked each person variations on the following questions, adjusting the pacing and phrasing of my approaches to each interviewee:

1 : Who are you?

The inclusion of this question was intended partly as a warm-up, and chance to confirm recording levels, partly to encourage the interviewee to introduce themselves in their own words, and partly to give me an opportunity to assess the possible nature of the interview. People have a huge range of ways of dealing with the slight stress of being interviewed : some have a clear and confident picture of themselves, which they speak openly and clearly, expertly evading any probing beyond their chosen opening gambit. Some people become tongue-tied and awkward, convinced they’re getting it wrong. Some need nudging into eloquence, becoming expansive, as they relax. Some people take each question and fly with it, to a world of metaphore and/or madness, where I must quietly follow, allowing them space to express fully, whilst also keeping them a little grounded in structure.

2 : What are your defining characteristics or qualities?

This question, often repeated in many different ways to elicit fullest response, was designed to provide the meat of the content. My idea was, with this question, to invite and facilitate the interviewees to expand on their self portrait, focusing on what they believe are their best points, their particular skills or talents, their way of life, and what is important to them.

3 : If Sophia was the Sleeping Beauty, and you were one of the fairies at her christening, what magical gift do you think you might choose to give her?

This question, the last, was designed to elicit the interviewee’s fundamental feeling of what is the most important resource to have, for a successful and happy life. I did consider, sometimes, whether people might also be telling me about the thing they personally feel is missing from their life, or their own biggest challenge. However, as I had and have no wish to make the interviewees (who are my family, after all!) uncomfortable, I did not pursue this thought into action, beyond noting the tone of voice some people used when answering the question.

Having collected the interviews, I brought them into an audio editing environment, and set about distilling each one into the maximum ten seconds allowed by the tiny playback devices used in the finished piece. This was the point at which the work became most intense. Most interviews began at about ten minutes duration, some shorter, some much longer! My task was to capture the essence of what the person had said, meaning intact, so that, within ten seconds, they were represented fairly. I had to convey a sense of the individual, whilst also working in the variously abstract ways dictated by the ten seconds hard limit, and the fervent wish not to leave out anything important.

Additionally, there were several individuals who, for one reason or another, could not take part directly. My youngest interviewee was 3 years old. One baby spoke for herself, along with her mum. Sophia herself, together with one other baby of a similar age, were represented by the rich audio seam of my daughter’s giggle! Some people were represented by their partner speaking about them, in absentia. Other represented voices belonged to family members who have already died, including, most recently, my own beloved and much-missed father. He, in company with four others, was represented by the voices of close relatives. Sophia’s great grandfather was represented by the sound of the machine which punched out the aluminium sheets to make the web. In that instance I wanted to convey a sense of his legacy which has sent an enjoyment of creativity down through the generations. One far-flung cousin answered the questions by Email, and his words are voiced by a synthetic computer screen-reader. Finally, one entire family of six grown-up children could not be pinned down for interview, so I represented them with sounds depicting the chaos of family life and the difficulties of long distance communication.

Finally, with much help from my trusty engineer, the samples, each now reduced to ten seconds maximum, were transferred, one by one, onto the miniature playback devices (usually used in recordable greetings cards), and attached, first with masking tape (my job) and then by solder (engineer, Daz Disley’s job) in their correct positions. Subsequently, the battery operation of the web has been replaced by mains power capability, thus expanding the showability of the piece by removing the need for battery changes every few days.

Video :

The YouTube hosted video of Sophia's Web is at the bottom of this page. See the video at YouTube here.

Credits :

Artist : Amie Slavin
Engineer : Daz Disley

Suppliers :

Drury Sheet Metal
Talking Products

Funders :

© 2007 Amie Slavin
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If you have enjoyed what you have seen and heard of Sophia’s web, perhaps you would like to think about commissioning a similar web, all of your own, to represent your family, business or community.

The Sophia’s Web concept is appropriate for adaptation to a huge array of formats and purposes: the web you have seen is a pyramid, and you could have a similar looking web of your own, with your distinct network represented. Alternatively you might prefer a uniquely designed structure, and this is perfectly possible.

Similarly, whilst Sophia’s Web is comprised of ten second edited samples, you could have longer samples, including multitrack designs, if this would meet your needs more exactly. Twenty and Thirty second samples are easily achievable with similar technology to that used for Sophia’s Web, and with additional technology the sky becomes the limit, in one simple step.

Finally, Sophia’s Web is a representation of a family, but you might like to have one to represent any sort of community – sports team, social or political society, or even a business or academic structure. The Web format is ideal for depicting both personal and more formalised relationships, and would, for example, lend itself very well to the purpose of illustrating the departments within a University or College campus, as well as almost any other structure you can think of.

The Web format provides a visually striking artefact, as well as an absorbing audio experience, and it would make a beautiful centre piece for any major anniversary party, AGM, or formal gathering, as well as making an emotionally and intellectually captivating focal point for family events and/or landmark occasions.

The possibilities are endless. You can contact Amie Slavin directly, to discuss your Web aspirations. Every project is unique – price on application.