Smiling is something we see, not something we hear, right? Well, artist Ben Vida wanted to change that, creating a synesthetic representation of smiling sounds for an exhibition. The artist asked six people to smile for five minutes, then translated their smiles into electronic tonalities.
The result is a bizarre and unnerving hard look at how smiles work and how they affect both the smiler and their audience.
A Long Time to Smile
A smile is a powerful expression that deserves to be explored in more complex ways. After all, just
Vida wanted to give us a more complete understanding of this impact with his Soft Systems Music.
If you think about it, smiling for five minutes into the camera is a pretty hard request. Most smiles last only a few seconds, and in order to muster a smile for five full minutes with nothing to inspire the smile but a person telling you to smile, you have to work pretty hard.
The result is not a person making a single expression for the full time, but, instead, their smiles change. The smiles may come and go, or they may stay on for a long time, waxing and waning with numerous microexpressions arising and disappearing. The smiles show a remarkable variety considering how little variety there is in the stimulus the smilers are given.
And it’s that variety that Vida wanted to capture in Soft Systems Music. The term “soft systems,” refers to the impact that human subjectivity brings to a piece of art or music.
Translating the Smiles to Sounds
In order to capture that variety, Vida watched the videos and coded midi messages into a program that created sounds he felt corresponded to the smiles. He didn’t use a specific coding system or algorithm to control his inputs, just his own subjective responses to the smile’s changes. The result is a grouping of electronic tonalities that often drones on, but also peaks and recedes along with the smile and its various forms. The tones reflect major aspects of the smiles, and also capture many minor traits as well, reminding us that although six teeth dominate our smiles, there are many other important aspects.
We haven’t seen the full piece, but this five-minute sample gives us a good idea about what Vida attempts and actually accomplishes with his piece. It’s a powerful look at the variety of human expressions.
Your Smile Can Be a Work of Art, Too
One of the great things about a piece like this is that it reminds us of the truly magnificent nature of the human smile. Even as uncomfortable as some of the video is, we can still feel the impact smiling has on us, and enjoy the surge of emotion as each smile appears repeatedly.
But many people are reluctant to share that emotional reward with others. If your smile makes you uncomfortable, you might not want to smile in public, or may only smile slightly. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you are unhappy with the appearance of your smile, we can help you get a smile makeover that will help you feel comfortable sharing your smile on every occasion (though maybe not for five minutes at a stretch!).