A Virtual Canoe, An Interactive Poem, A Barking Dog

We built a virtual canoe that lives in a virtual forest. Take a seat and use your forward arrow key to move downriver at your chosen pace, using only your sense of hearing to guide yourself. In this post, we examine the “virtual canoeing trip” as a model for composing audio poetry, and the efficacy of binaural audio at painting a convincing setting.

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What is a Poem?

“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” - Emily Dickinson

A poem is a way of expressing an idea that expands outside of strictly syntactic and grammatical English. It’s a very powerful tool for the expression of abstract concepts or feelings which tend to be difficult to explain. How can language express the feeling of anguish? Of ecstasy? The pain of death? Better yet, poetry is a great tool for empathy—how might my anguish read differently than yours? How might you connect with my description? Poetry is unique in that it is not always intended to be persuasive. Instead, it’s a tool that lets us abstract away the denotative to the point where others can empathize. A poem about the loss of a loved one, for instance, might resonate with many people for a variety of reasons. How it affected me, the author, is rather unimportant. Poetry leaves space between the lines for us to be vulnerable and introspect on how we can find ourselves in a piece, and it leans on metaphor to paint pictures that we can relate to and attach our own experience to.

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Image is Everything

On April 12th, 1933, several hundred guests stumbled into Philadelphia’s Academy of Music for what they presumed would be a typical concert. As the lights dimmed, the audience found their way to their seats until the room was plunged into an inky blackness. The Philadelphia Orchestra, as expected, lept into a rousing Wagner overture. But as the lights slowly crept on, the performance took a plunge into the unexpected. Instead of an orchestra in full regalia, the audience instead saw nothing. Or rather, two enormous loudspeakers amidst an empty stage. The recording engineer Harvey Fletcher, who had been standing in the wings, sauntered into view in front of his befuddled audience. “What you’ve just witnessed is an illusion,” he proclaimed.

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