For all the visuality of our design, it’s odd how many audio-based projects we get to work on at Helios. For instance, let us introduce Aurator, an online public engagement platform masterminded by science storyteller Britt Wray, and scientist and media producer Nadja Oertelt.
At the core of Aurator is a set of audio diaries from seven leading practitioners in the field of synthetic biology. Recorded over a period of time: at home, while driving, in hotel rooms, at the office, the diaries delve into questions of ethics, bio-hacking, politics, business, art, social science, pure science, art. The first aim of Aurator is to create a pool of science that invites the public to immerse themselves within and to leave their own thoughts and voices with the collective.
To visualize the diaries we enlisted the help of our creative technologist friend Ewan Kavanaugh Cass. Through him, and the Gentle forced aligner, the Amara cloud-based subtitle editor, many spreadsheets and some brute force, thousands of spoken words from the diaries became thousands of time coded written words.
But we wanted the timecode to drive something more procedural and visual than just the subtitles.
We had already started using fractal equations as part of the interactive design of an earlier project. So, it was a quick jump from Sierpinksi carpets to L-Systems, which are a set of recursive rules and symbols developed in the late sixties by biologists seeking to synthesize the growth processes of simple organisms like algae. It seemed like magic that a simple set of signs and symbols like this (X → F−[[X]+X]+F[+FX]−X), (F → FF) could endlessly draw a plant, or crystal, or anything for that matter.
Under all this lies a commenting system that allows listeners to input text and audio at any point within a diary, a sort of fractal-ized Soundcloud. The public can also input their own diaries in the Public Voices section of Aurator, which in turn form the foundation for ongoing, in a recursive process not unlike the L-systems describe above.
This idea of public engagement is key to the overall aim of Aurator, which seeks to open a door to the idea that much of science is indeed storytelling, and that more than ever, we all live in a world described by science. So perhaps it is time to listen to and speak those stories more.