COMA (I WAS IN PINK) (2014)

COMA

Coma (I Was in Pink) (2014) from Jenny Olivia Johnson on Vimeo.

COMA (I WAS IN PINK) is a hybrid performance/installation piece commissioned by percussionist Elizabeth Delamater in 2014. The piece was inspired by the story of a close friend of mine who was recently in a coma in an ICU. She described a vivid impression of being “in pink”—in a pink box—and being told by a “voice” that she had a choice: to stay “in pink”, or to leave “pink” and enter a place that was actually no place at all, but vast, terrifying emptiness. The difficulty of the choice was that “pink,” while beautiful and slightly serene, was also a place of deep, chronic discomfort (she was intubated). She knew instinctively that the “other” place would remove this discomfort. That temptation was difficult to resist.

It’s pretty obvious what this decision was about, and I’m grateful she decided to stay “in pink”—and then eventually find her way back to us. After she emerged from the coma, a friend of hers suggested that the “pink” she experienced throughout her deep sleep was all the love surrounding her.
COMA is my attempt to build my friend’s “pink” space. It’s a seven-foot cubic structure made of pipe fittings, designed to be cage-like; the “bars” are made up of small 8-ohm 1-watt speakers (80 total, 20 on each side) strung up with hookup wire and cannon ball sinkers, and also strips of RGB LEDs to illuminate everything “in pink.” The box is surrounded on the outer perimeter by small foot-switches, which allow the audience to control the spatialization of the sounds coming from these speakers.

The sounds in question are simple square waves, meant to imitate the intensity and urgency of the many ICU (Intensive Care Unit) monitors emitting loud beeps and other sonic indicators. I coupled these timbres into a series of “chord clouds,” or blends of different combinations of perfect fifths. The sounds are produced by 80 individual battery-powered circuits involving an ATTiny85 IC (integrated circuit), which is programmed by an Arduino to produce the square wave patterns; a TIP120 transistor to boost the amplitude; and a series of switches (both the outer “audience switches” and the inner “Elizabeth switches,” which allow her to control content while the audience controls diffusion as well as rhythmic phasing).

PERFORMANCE HISTORY
Premiered November 1, 2014 at Houghton Chapel, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA.
Performer: Elizabeth Delamater

Performed November 21, 2014 at PASIC 2014 (Percussive Arts Society International Conference, Indianapolis, IN)
Performer: Elizabeth Delamater