Sound Spheres

Sound Spheres

Sound Spheres experiments with the intertwingled potentialities of hypertext, as an information system, and sound(s), as the basis for non-linear storytelling. Through its combination of digital media, interactivity, and sound(s), Sound Spheres explores storytelling as a sense-making mechanic. Participants use sounds carried in multiple, colored spheres moving about the screen space to create and consider narratives that are both linear and serendipitous. The creative research associated with Sound Spheres seeks to explore new modes and methods of storytelling where sound is a fundamental component.

EXPERIENCE Sound Spheres


ACM Hypertext 2019 Conference
Juried exhibition, international)
Institute of Information Systems
Hof University, Hof, Germany
17-20 September 2019
Event website

Sound Spheres was jury-selected as one of eight works included in the exhibition/creative track associated with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Hypertext 2019 Conference. The conference theme "Hypertext—Tear Down the Wall," sought to unite different hypertext research directions and communities and celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Held in partnership with the ACM Document Engineering Conference, in Berlin, 16-23 September. The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is the world's largest computing society. It's mission is to raise awareness of computing's important technical, educational, and social issues around the world.

Sound Spheres Electronic Literature Organization 2019 Conference Media Art Festival
Juried exhibition, international
The Lewis Glucksman Gallery
University College Cork, Ireland
15-17 July 2019
Exhibition program
Exhibition website

Sound Spheres was jury-selected as one of twenty-four works included in the Media Art Festival associated with the Electronic Literature Organization 2019 conference. The curatorial theme of this exhibition was "Peripheries: Electronic Literature and New Media Art." The Lewis Glucksman Gallery is prestigious national institution of the contemporary arts. The Electronic Literature Organization is an international organization dedicated to the investigation of literature produced for the digital medium.

Sound Spheres International Conference for Interactive Digital Storytelling (ICIDS)
Juried exhibition, international
Studio 2, Science Building
Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
5-8 December 2018
Event website
My work at festival website

Sound Spheres was jury-selected for inclusion in the Art Festival associated with the International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling 2018 conference. The curatorial theme of this exhibition was the combination of digital media and non-human sound sources for interactive storytelling. Dedicated festival webpage.

ICIDS is the premier conference for researchers and practitioners concerned with studying digital interactive forms of narrative from a variety of perspectives, including the theoretical, technological, and applied design practices. The annual conference is an interdisciplinary gathering that combines technology-focused approaches with humanities-inspired theoretical inquiry, empirical research, and artistic expression. ICIDS Conference website.


I created Sound Spheres as an experiment with the intertwingled potentialities of hypertext and hypermedia as information systems, and sound(s), as the basis for non-linear storytelling.

Specifically, Sound Spheres focuses on two research-practice goals. First, it combines computational digital media and storytelling techne with which participants can create interactive, participatory sound-based narratives. Second, Sound Spheres experiments with hypertext, using sound(s) rather than text as links. Through both active and passive listening practices, users are asked to consider non-linear narratives connected through sound(s), created and accessed through participation. The links are the associations one makes in listening.

The experience begins with an interface visualizing a night-time city skyline. Atop one building is an antenna mast. Three seconds after activation of the interface, this antenna broadcasts eight colored spheres. Thirty three seconds later is the second broadcast of eight more colored spheres, followed at seventy eight seconds by the third, and final, broadcast of another eight sound spheres.

These spheres circulate above the city skyline, rebounding from the monitor's edges. Each sphere carries a unique audio sample. Participants may listen to these samples, and construct stories using multiple interactive approaches.

First, by moving the cursor to intersect the trajectories of the sound spheres, participants can hear the audio samples they carry. The cursor is a listening device.

Second, participants can position the cursor anywhere on the screen, and wait for sound spheres to pass within its range of hearing. As sound spheres approach the cursor, they glow and their audio contents are heard.

Finally, participants can click sound spheres, moving them into an audio player embedded in the building skyline. Up to five spheres at a time can be placed in the audio player. Once in the player, the sound spheres can be heard in the order they were selected. Participants can stop and restart the audio narrative as they wish. And, they can, at any time, eject any sound sphere from the player.

In these ways, participants can create serendipitous linear narratives based on interactivity and narrative elements provided by the selected sound spheres.


Title: Sound Spheres
Object: Audio file
Format: MP3, 320kbs
Creators: John Barber and Greg Philbrook
Creation date: 2018
Original/Edited Files Available: Yes
Rights and Status: Copyrighted, all rights reserved. Available for broadcast, installation, exhibition, and/or publication with permission.
Source: Field recordings, manipulated audio
Image: Created by Greg Philbrook
Original/Edited Files Available: Yes

Artist Statement

Sound Spheres encourages users to create and consider serendipitous, non-linear sound-based narratives through interactions with different colored spheres, each carrying a different sound.

The interface is purposefully game-like, to encourage participants to explore the narrative contents held in each of the colored spheres. It is also challenging as these spheres are constantly moving. How to create narratives in this moving/changing context is one of the questions explored by Sound Spheres.

Another question is the nature of narrative itself. Using this interface, can participants dip in and out of ongoing, continuous potential narratives by "listening" to the surrounding sounds?

And what of these sounds? Do they have to be known, identifiable sounds, or might they be acousmatic, sounds heard but their sources unseen?

Sound Spheres answers both questions affirmatively. Within this work, engaging narratives do not necessarily require definitive beginnings, middles, or ends. Nor do they require linear arrangement. Instead, narratives are ongoing, constantly changing, rearranging themselves, depending on to what we listen, and how. Narratives create worlds, sounds create ways to be in those worlds. Through its visualization of narrative components, and invitations to participate and/or interact, Sound Spheres points us toward the listener's imagination as the glue cementing components of interactive digital storytelling into satisfying and fullfiling narratives.