Exposed Building: Installation at Ars Electronica Festival 2020

Exposed Building is my attempt to turn security research into art. Together with sound artist Michael Mayr, I developed the concept for an art installation at the Ars Electronic Festival 2020 that playfully provokes thought about the vulnerability of modern technology and its growing risks for society. By hacking into the electronic locking system and taking control over all door locks, the installation transformed a whole building (JKU Science Park 2) into a huge walk-in musical instrument. The building Science Park 2 became one giant sound sculpture for the duration of the festival (9.-13. September 2020).


Initially, we expected the door lock system to be rather limited in what sounds we could play. Each door lock is equipped with a 2 kHz constant-frequency buzzer. Thus, we expected to play patterns distributed across the building but we did not expect to be able to play (complex) melodies. However, after initial technical experiments, we found that we could modulate tones over the buzzer base-frequency by pulse-width modulation in very fine-granular steps. This allowed us to play complex sounds consisting of several different tones with each door. After negotiations with Johannes Kepler University Linz (which provided the venue for the Ars Electronica Festival) and the artistic lead of the festival, we got the offer to use a whole building as a standalone art installation without disturbance from other parts of the exhibition. Therefore, we designed the artistic concept to turn all door locks of the Science Park 2 building into one giant musical instrument that played a complex musical composition throughout the festival.

With this concept we were even able to attract the team of Sounding Linz (Linzer Klangwolke 2020) for our project. This lead to our sound sculpture being recorded and integrated into the live stream of Sounding Linz on 12. September 2020.

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Thanks to funding by LIT and the State of Upper Austria, two of my master students (Robert Holzinger and Markus Vogl) implemented the software that allowed to automatically hack into the physical access control system of the building (abusing vulnerabilities discovered in my preceeding research). Our software implements the Open Sound Control (OSC) protocol to allow attaching standard music composition software to our new musical instrument. The software then turns these commands (essentially consisting of instructions which sub-instrument, i.e. door lock, should play which tone) into commands that can be injected into the electronic locking system to let the buzzers of specific locks play a tone. Besides the actual instrumentation of the electronic locking system, we also created a 3D visualization of the building showing which door locks currently play a tone. Michael Mayr leveraged this OSC interface to create a composition played during the festival.