In Chat Room (2019) a lone female voice takes the viewer on a journey through a series of empty school classrooms. As she enters each room, she is greeted by a series of open-ended challenges or instructions. These instructions – extracted from the feeds of gaming chat rooms’ advice boards – give her advice on how to navigate the terrain ahead. What advice will help her and what may cause her harm is unclear. She is advised to remain vigilant at all times.
As the traditional elements of the classroom – child size desks, bookshelves and motivational posters – appear, they simultaneously begin to dissolve and reform as they are subjected to the algorithms of the game. Walls appear and then disappear. Multiple sets of voices become entangled and it becomes increasingly difficult to separate truth from fiction, the real from the imaginary.
The way forward remains unclear.
Chat Room (2019) is the latest iteration of Wendy McMurdo’s ongoing body of work exploring the relationship between young people and the digital world. In this piece, she uses animation, pixel replacement and still photography to explore the hyper-connected world of gaming. What does it mean to grow up in a world of constant connection where reality and simulation often seamlessly converge? In Chat Room, the four walls of the school room are transformed into the shifting borders and terrains of the game – a world where simulation takes over and the laws of gravity are suspended.
Shot in an Edinburgh Primary School, the camera moves through a series of empty rooms. The traditional elements of the classroom appear – chairs and desks, motivational posters, children’s self-portraits and school work – but as soon as the rooms appear, they begin to break down, replaced by colour fields of pixels as the algorithm takes over. The borders of the game become the borders of the room itself.
Fragments of multiple conversations begin to inhabit the spaces – disjointed questions, answers, rapidly typed commands and pieces of advice which have been harvested from gaming chatrooms. Above these fragmented and disparate communications, a single female voice – itself the product of an algorithm – rings out, providing a solace of sorts as she helps us navigate our way through the constantly shifting terrain.
Chat Room will be screened from the 23-26th September as part of ‘Imagining the Future‘ curated by Yining He for the 2021 Shangai Photofair.
Duration: Projection, 10 mins (looped)
Director: Wendy McMurdo
Animation: Andrew McKelvey
Sound: Zoe Irvine
Notes on Chat Room from sound designer Zoe Irvine
‘Taking my cue from the picture and conversations between myself and Wendy McMurdo over the years, I was aiming to work in the space between clear definitions of the natural and the artificial/ digital. I sampled both my own voice humming and singing, with a synthetic voice itself composed of many samples of a real voice actor. My voice is sometimes used as the signal carrier for vocoding so there isn’t a straightforward spectrum of natural to artificial or human to computer.
The primary processes used were granular synthesis (a micro sampling and recombination of sound), vocoding (a way of modulating one sound using tonal characteristics of another sound, in this case human voice) and the creation of glissando (a glide from one note to another). I also used the embedding of Shepard tones (superimposed tones creating an illusion of ever upward or ever downwards moving scales.)
I was also thinking here about all the female AI voices that people interact with – Alexa mainly but also car sat navs, high tech door entry systems etc. There is something compelling about the feeling of control combined with lack of control – how voice, desire and the visceral sit beside the disembodied nature of game space.’