The Yawn Chorus

Role: Creative Direction & Sound Design

Creative Direction & Technologist:
Alex Rothera
Creative Technology:
Christopher Baker
Shekpoint Charlie

The Yawn Chorus

The Yawn Chorus is an interactive sound, and video installation that was conceived as part of a three-week residency at The Festival of Curiosity 2016. Since then, the installation has also been exhibited at the Siggraph Art Gallery in 2019.

The Yawn Chorus has as its main component an artificial intelligence (AI) that can identify yawns. As yawning is contagious between humans, when an audience member yawns, stimulated by the video and music, the AI responds with another yawn, thus creating a feedback loop, a dialogue between human and machine.

My main task on this project was to create the audio experience for the installation. I created a sound pallet of yawns that could then be played by the AI. It was essentially a choir made up of individual yawns that the AI could then bring in to build increasingly more complex compositions, or take away to create more minimal compositions. All of which was in response to the audience’s interaction with the installation.

The title of the work references the figure of speech ‘dawn chorus’ which describes the morning occurrence when birds sing at the start of the day. Often overlapping, birds sing as they each wake and trigger one another into a layered warm morning song. The Yawn Chorus invites the audience to sit, lie back, relax and listen to the AI sing melodies constructed purely out of yawns. Experiencing a similar warmth of music similar to the morning dawn.

Alex Rothera: ‘While the work is quite playful and fun, it speaks to the invisible power of algorithms. In this case, the installation’s ability to use algorithms to hijack one’s body (i.e. human’s response to yawns) is visible, but similar algorithms exist elsewhere (often in social media) that are less obvious in hacking one’s online interests, behavior, or habbits.

The Yawn Chorus aims to shed light on the growing prevalence of AI in our daily lives and its limitless ability to understand and effect human behavior. By engaging visitors’ imaginations with a playful topic such as contagious yawns, the artists aim to democratize the conversation of what the future of algorithms might be, or at least give visitors a firsthand experience with AI.’

Video credits:

Director & Producer
Talia Shea Levin

Alex Knell

Kevin Stiller

Still Life photography
Shekpoint Charlie

Christopher G. Thompson