Thinking about discovering the Barcelona essence this week? Mark Bain knows how. Bain is a researcher and creative mind who started exploring the acoustic waveforms as a teenager while playing the bass guitar and a few analogue synthesisers. Now he brings to Sónar+D Wave Shift, an acoustic installation in the Mies van der Rohe pavilion where we’ll be able to listen how the walls and each corner of the building talk to us through seismological sensors and a sound system. You can think about this installation as a way to freedom to the ‘living entity contained in the walls’. 
You’re an artist-researcher on vibrational mechanisms and experimental sound. How did you become so? What path did you follow?
I come from a background in architecture; a family of architects and engineers is what I grew up around. As a teenager I was also playing bass guitar in various bands, which later expanded in working around analogue synthesisers. This got me interested in exploring waveforms and certain elements of low frequencies with the bass. At the same time I was listening to a lot of dub music and experimental industrial. When I went to college I was studying fine arts and design, and then eventually started using the sound influence to glue the two together. Later, when I was at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), I had access to some special technical spaces that were used in the ‘60s to develop guidance controls for ICBM warheads and rockets. These spaces were designed as anti-vibration rooms, so it was there that I thought to reverse this and magnify the architecture instead, developing a system for infrasonic experience called the Live Room. 
What does design mean to you? When designing about sound and vibrations, I expect your spectrum is even wider than usual.
I guess design – or at least ‘good design’ – is about a kind of intangible; when you feel it, you know it. For me it’s about the investigation of spaces and structures. Essentially what I try to do is design an invisible entity, sculpting form in space using sound as the clay or medium. I think the body plays an important part in how we navigate space. With sound, the ear is only a part of the experience; it’s the body that feels the real form of the sound.
“Essentially what I try to do is design an invisible entity, sculpting form in space using sound as the ‘clay’ or medium”.
Which are the topics you usually talk about within your projects? Do you think that meditating about actual issues is essential to be a ‘good designer’ or a ‘good artist’?
It all depends on the situation. Each project is made for the location and the history of the site. This sometimes can add elements that can be interesting to work with. As an artist it’s good to be aware of these backgrounds and old stories, sometimes just through simple investigation the project designs itself (or at least it seems so).
One of the main things you analyse is the vibration of materials, objects and buildings. What does interest you about it? How and when did you first discover your interest in this specific subject?
While at MIT I had a girlfriend who was researching crystalline structures for semiconductors, some of the most stable elements on earth. She used to book time on one of the most powerful electron microscopes that existed at the time. Invariably she would break her sample twenty minutes into her booking so she would hand it off to me to finish off the hour exploring with it. It was amazing to zoom into material with such a powerful machine; it was like traveling on a spaceship inside of stuff. I could image the atomic shell structures and see them all lined up in orderly fashion, but the weird thing is that nothing was stable, they had this (visual) vibrational energy emanating out. So that got me thinking about how all material has this secret energy within this buzzing of atoms. With my background in architecture, which is usually perceived as stable and strong, along with some heavy experiences of earthquakes while living in Los Angeles, I thought: “why not try to divine this energy using resonance and sound?” It’s a bit like casting a shadow with light and getting a representation of what is blocking it. I use sound as a reflecting agent to define the materials and elements of structures and spaces.
Could you tell us more about the creative process you follow when creating and researching?
I’m a bit of an information sponge when it comes to the diverse influences that affect my creative life. I tend to like putting things together that aren’t necessarily meant to be together and see what result takes form. It can be a bit tangential, but when you find a groove you can follow it and see where it leads.
Mark Bain Metalmagazine 1.jpg
Mark Bain Metalmagazine 2.jpg
Do you create these transversal projects in an autonomous way or are you used to collaborating with other academics and designers?
Occasionally I’ll collaborate with other artists or researchers, but essentially I work in an autonomous way. I have a twin brother who is an architect and also an electronic instrument builder so when we are together performing or something it can be really interesting, a like minds collaboration, a mind meld – it can even get a bit creepy sometimes.
How does the constantly changing/evolving technology world affect the way you work? Have you been able to develop better or more precise artworks thanks to the improvement of high-tech?
Technology is to be used and abused; if I need a certain piece of tech I’ll seek it out. But there is something always a bit sweeter about working with the obsolescence and especially analogue techniques. A waveform is a smooth space existing in three dimensions and it doesn’t always have to be chopped up by digital technology.
Wave Shift is the name of the installation you have designed for Sónar+D 2017. Why did you choose to explore the Mies van der Rohe pavilion? Were there other buildings in Barcelona you were interested in?
Barcelona has some amazing architecture and history. I remember an old bodega in the old town – before it was gentrified – that was crumbling from the inside. It had water dripping down the brick walls with moss and algae growing on it. I thought this was fantastic, a truly living architecture even if it was from neglect.
The Pavilion of course is an icon of modernist thinking about architecture. To work with this site is quite special. I visited one of Mies van der Rohe earlier houses in Brno (Czech Republic) last year, which was a precursor to the pavilion, and already you can see how his ideas were developing.
“I use sound as a reflecting agent to define the materials and elements of structures and spaces”.
What are we going to live there this week? What can we expect from the sound installation?
I’m setting up a specialised sound system that will sense the building with seismological sensors, picking up all the micro-vibrations travelling throughout the structure. There will be an echo chamber in the basement, which will process the sound and feed upstairs into a large speaker system. I will be using a ‘self listening’ filter bank to control the system live and automatically and out of my control. You can think of this as an architectural auto-composer, a living entity contained in the walls and circuits and materials of the total system.
And what do you expect from the users that come to visit the pavilion this week? You’ve been working for quite a long time now; do people react differently depending on the environment, their origin, or the general atmosphere of the installation?
I get the best reactions from people who just stumble into it without knowing what is going on. Ideally if you visit, you can just move through the space like normal but also investigate the resonant frequencies, the nodes and antinodes as it pertains to the relationship of the built space.
Wave Shift will take place from the 14th to the 18th June, from 10h to 20h, at Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Avinguda de Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia 7, Barcelona.