Liminal Dream

Audio Interactive Exploration Game | September 2020

Liminal Dream is an interactive audio-spatial experience that takes you on a sonic journey as you walk through a virtual space. You’re invited to enter the space with the provided game console and explore the interior of a circular building.

Everything in the environment is contained the one circular building that is also an island on the water, and as you step in it becomes a maze. With a bit of navigation, you’ll find yourself going between a (few) circular corridor(s) and a (few) circular room(s) that all seem to be the similar but with differences in detail. The circularity of the corridor suggests a never-ending path that leads to the same point for potentially infinite times, and its lack of orientation disrupts any sense of judgement for location. As you explore further, you’ll notice that sometimes you’re simply shifted to an alternative corridor when you continue the journey in the same way. Some doors lead to an interior circular room, but not always the same one, and when you exit the room, it’s not always the same corridor that you walked in from.

The Liminal Dream project is an exploration of the concept of Liminal Space. The term liminality was first coined by Anthropologist Arnold van Gennep and developed by Victor Turner in his 1967 essay “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage”. The term was first used to describe the in between stages in the context of rites in small-scale societies, specifically in the process of “rite of passage”. In a more general context, Liminality refers to a set of qualities that are associated with ambiguity, disorientation and discomfort that occurs in the middle of a transition, where the previous state of condition was put to an end but a new phase has not been defined.

The quality of Liminal Space has inspired a style of aesthetics in films, photography and games, usually represented with images that bring us to places with an atmosphere of nostalgia, loneliness and uncanny. These places evoke an uneasy sense of familiarity through scenes that seem ubiquitous and mundane but empty, lacking people and objects that would normally give us the temporal/spatial/societal contexts, thus appearing as if they were being left behind. One explanation of why these images creates such unsettling emotions is that our brains are constantly seeking contexts for our sense inputs, but when presented with such images and experiences with strong sense of familiarity and the apparent lack of information to make sense from, they fall into a state of anxiety and confusion.

Throughout the journey, you’ll hear ambient music playing in the background continuously though constantly shifting. In fact, it’s the journey that the player goes through that brings the sonic elements together into a composition. Different layers of sounds get triggered by the player’s location but react to it in different ways. In a way, the audio signals are the best indicators of where exactly one is in the spatial sense, but they are not always noticeable as they melt into similar patterns of repetitive ambient soundtracks.

The environment is built in Unity and the sound is interactive through OSC communications with Max/Msp. As the player walks past different points of triggers, some instruments shift into different loops and some ambient sound start to play only when they linger. The spatial exploration disrupts the linear nature a soundtrack, and even though there is a sense of linearity along the path of the corridor, it’s the player that controls the speed and direction of the path, and each time a player walks through the space they recreate the structure of the piece.

Non-Interactive Soundtrack Version: