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Thursday
Apr032014

Wow&Flutter

Over the years, we’ve seen quite some artists working with old media such as tape recorders and records. Jimmy Eadie is also exploring the imperfections of old media. In his work Wow&Flutter he explores the phenomena of mechanical instabilities of turntables that can cause subtle pitch variations and beating effects on playback.

The first recorded music I experienced was on vinyl and I always seem to remember the hiss, static
and random jumps of the needle as much as the music itself. I would play with the turntable speeds, changing records from 45 RPM to 33 RPM and was intrigued at this new slowed down sound world.
This piece could be considered a listening sculpture celebrating and evoking that memory.
To Eadie, the imperfections are as important as the music itself. To enhance this effect, he chose to put the music on acetate disc instead of vinyl, as those disintegrate more rapidly and thus the composition will “age” with each successive play until the surface noise becomes intertwined with the music itself. Furthermore, he used the properties of the turntables to make his composition. As he wanted the visitor to be able to make their own composition by changing the position of the needles on the eight turntables as well as the playback speeds (33, 45 and 78 RPM), he chose his sounds wisely and composed his music by calculating what the pitches of the sounds would be at other playback speeds.
Monday
Mar242014

DIRTI

At IRCAM, the Paris-based Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music, Diemo Schwarz and his team have been developing the very interesting CataRT for quite some time now.

CataRT is a software instrument that realises interactive “corpus-based concatenative synthesis”. That means that it takes a sound, and splits it into little bits which it then analyses. These little bits can then be arranged according to loudness or pitch, for example, and can be played by navigating through the sonic landscape, or the “corpus” if you will. It’s like granular synthesis including knowing what all the grains are and being able to navigate them.

For DIRTI, Diemo Schwarz teamed up with UserStudio to create a physical interface with which children can play the little grains of sound, exploring the sonic body of the source.

There is a webcam under a transparent dish that contains the physical grains, tapioca grains in this case. The movement of the grains is tracked by a camera under the dish, and is sent to a Raspberry Pi, which in turn sends this information to an iPad where the interaction is visualised and sonified using the CataRT realtime sound synthesis system.

 I love installations or applications that are about exploring sounds and invoking active listening, especially for kids, as this really adds to their development. DIRTI makes it nice and tangible, making for a nice exploratory interface.

Friday
Mar142014

Visualising Porto's soundscape

Back in January we saw the Stereopublic project, which crowdsourced the quiet, and used it as an inspiration for short musical pieces as well. The URB project in Porto, Portugal takes a more academic approach, very carefully measuring and analysing the urban soundscape.

URB is a soundscape storage and analysis system idealized by José Alberto Gomes and developed in partnership with Diogo Tudela. URB’s goal is to keep record of the sonic profile of Porto, allowing researchers and artists to use the dataset freely within their own projects.

Using four Raspberry Pi’s equipped with a soundcard and an electret mic spread throughout the city, URB constantly listens to the environment and stores sonic features in an on-line public database. See the map above for where they placed the listening spots.

The datasets are freely available online, but you can also navigate them using URB XY, a data visualisation tool by Diogo Tudela. It’s interesting to see the differences between day and night, for example. Analysed properties like amplitude, zero-crossings, irregularity, spectral centroid, etc. are all very easily viewable and the tool is great to get a grip on the urban soundscape.

What I really like about this is that the data can be used for multiple purposes. From giving the government insight on noise pollution in a city and using this info in city planning, to artistic purposes. Which is exactly what the We The Citizens project (above) is about; using the data from the URB-system in artistic ways to make the audience aware of the sound ecology of the city. I hope this’ll happen in more cities, as most citizens are still unaware of the effects of noise pollution and sound ecology.

Friday
Feb282014

Porcelain

Continuing in the theme of Oliver Jennings’ work we saw last week, “Porcelain” is also about exploring sounds present in everyday objects. The interactive sound installation is based around a concept by the Swiss artist Jacqueline Rommert. In this interactive sculpture she wants to merge the “old” and the “new”. By drawing you in with the old-fashioned looking porcelain plates, she wants you to touch and play the plates. As you do, you get to hear it’s “soul” and listen to it’s voice: the voice of the material itself.

“Porcelain” is an installation made for Schweitzer AG. The artist worked together with sound/installation artists Fedde ten BergeMalu Peeters and Marloes van Son to realise the project. Fedde gives us an insight on the technical workings of the project:

The sound is picked up by 4 electret microphones. When you hit a plate, a knock-sensor registers, and a short bit of the sound is sampled and used for the sounds. The knock-sensors are furthermore used for different parameters of the sound transformation and synthesis. Transformations include additive synthesis, modulation delay, sample playback speed, noise modulation and reverb. The speakers are mounted and hidden in the box itself. All of this is running in a Pure Data patch on a Raspberry Pi.

I like how this installation is quite playable reacts in different ways, and is built very neatly: everything from the system it’s running on to the speakers are neatly built in to one box.

Monday
Feb242014

Every Object Has a Spirit

Oliver Jennings is a graphic design graduate from the Camberwell College of Art. Strangely enough, he’s been focusing on sound, exploring the natural sounds present in everyday objects.

In “Every Object Has a Spirit” he does just that. Using contact microphones, he captures the inner resonances of objects. Using a device to capture bio-activity in plants, he generates MIDI-notes based on the miniscule electronic impulses.

I especially like the contact mics, as they’re an amplification of a physical resonance, and are very closely related to the object one sees. For the MIDI-triggering plants this is less true, although Jennings does make a nice composition, in sound as well as images. In the description under the video on Vimeo, there’s a legend explaining the source of the sounds in the video, which gives an insight in how the sounds are made.

The ending is also quite strong, pulling the contact-mics out of his recorder, moving from the internal sounds of the bridge to the external sound of his surroundings.

Wednesday
Jan292014

Five Sound Questions to Machinefabriek

Picture by Michel Mees.
Last November I wrote about Stay Tuned, an installation by Rutger Zuydervelt who operates under the name Machinefabriek. Besides making sound installations, he’s been making lots and lots of music for the last fifteen years or so. Lately I’ve been really fond of his latest collaboration with Michel Banabila, called Travelog. I decided to ask Rutger some questions. 

More sounds can be found on his website: http://machinefabriek.nu.

1. What sound from your childhood made the most impression on you? 

It might be the rattling sound of pieces of carton in the spokes of my BMX-bike. You know, the trick of attaching pieces of heavy paper (or playing cards) to the fork, just touching the spokes to make the bicycle sound like a motorcycle. It took quite some experimenting with the right size and weight of the paper to get the best sound (obviously with the roar of a Harley Davidson in mind). It’s amazing how such a small intervention can work the imagination. 

2. How do you listen to the world around you?

I must confess: a lot the time I walk around with headphones on. Whatever I listen to becomes the soundtrack to what I’m seeing and blends in with the environmental sounds. 

When I don’t have the headphones on, I’m easily distracted, especially in an urban environment. Sometimes I can’t hear the world around me without giving the sounds a musical, ‘compositional purpose’. It’s like a occupational disability and can actually be a bit tiring.

But I love to go hunting for sounds. Portable recorder in hand, capturing sounds that interest me. Then the environment comes to life. It’s with this listening mode that the sounds around us show their musicality.

3. Which place in the world do you favor for its sound?

I don’t really have one favorite place but one place that comes to mind is Gdansk, particularly the abandoned bunkers and industrial buildings at the outskirts. I was there last years, and there were a bunch of empty silos with a tremendous reverb. Just like with the old bunkers, there was nothing blocking the entrance, so you could just walk in and, in my case, make recordings.

4. How could we make sound improve our lives?

Less sound would actually be a big improvement…

 

5. What sound would you like to wake up to?

Fuck it, I’m going to answer with the most cliché answer ever: the sound of singing birds. I live in the center of Rotterdam, and the only birds I can hear are seagulls and pigeons, which both don’t have much talent for singing. A blackbird would be nice for a change.

Thanks Rutger! Also read the answers of other artists in the Five Sound Questions section.

Thursday
Jan232014

Stereopublic: Crowdsourcing the quiet

 

In urban areas, silent places where one can enjoy some quietude are getting more and more scarce. There’s a lot of what some might call “noise pollution”, sound harmful to human health and disturbing a balanced life. With cities still getting more crowded and thus louder every year, no wonder that this is quite a hot topic, also with artists. We saw Music for Forgotten Places by composer Oliver Blank last year for example, a project where one can dial a phone number on a sign to hear some music for a silent place in the city, and take a mindful moment in a busy city.

The Stereopublic project is similar in that it is also about taking a moment and listening, but different in the sense that it is built around an app and website, which document the quiet places and pieces composed for these. Not only the artist, but everyone can participate.

Sound artist Jason Sweeney started the Stereopublic project to help create a unique record of different places and make people more aware about their sound environment.

“Stereopublic: crowdsourcing the quiet” is a participatory art project that asks you to navigate your city for quiet spaces, share them with your social networks, take audio and visual snapshots, experience audio tours and request original compositions made using your recordings.

Originally started in Sweeney’s hometown Adelaide, the Stereopublic project is now catching on in other cities, mapping the silent areas around you. When I tried it last year, most cities weren’t open to map, but it seems Sweeney’s now opened the platform to anyone who wants to add a silent space, no matter where you are. Adding a space also means recording 30 seconds of ambience, which means slowing down and actively listening to your surroundings. Last year, 600 quiet spots were added in cities all over the world. In the future, we might just have big cities with dedicated quiet zones.

Tuesday
Dec172013

Dinámicas del Vacío

Sound art or installations are often hindered by their surroundings. As sound waves travel through the air, they also travel through walls and ceilings. This makes it difficult to completely close off a space from external noises, especially in an environment like an art museum, for example.

“Dinámicas del Vacío” (translation: “Dynamics of Emptiness”) is a sonic sculpture by artist Ariel Bustamante (we’ve seen work from him before) and architect Alfredo Thiemann. They created an huge artificial and soundproof space, isolated from the exterior. This way they can create a completely different, totally immersive experience. By using a 18 meter long, 3 meter wide suspended tube stuffed with sound equipment such as sub-basses and speakers hidden between the layers of insulation, they can set up an environment totally disconnected from the outside world on an ordinary street.

Inspired by a month’s stay in the Antarctic, Ariel Bustamante created a cold, distant, imagined landscape for the viewer to dwell in. Eerie sounds of snow are played against flashing abstract representations of the Antarctic, fueling spectators’ imagination of the unknown.

These kind of immersive experiences are quite scarce. A famous example is the Philips Pavilion, thought up and built by Le Corbusier, Iannis Xenakis and Edgar Varèse for the World’s Fair in 1958. These kind of works show that architecture and sound go hand in hand very well, and the effect the architecture has on the experience of sound is often underestimated.

See the process of placing the installation as well as an impression of the experience (from 04:15 on) in the video below.

 

Sunday
Dec082013

Very Quiet Records

Tony Whitehead is a sound recordist and owner of the label Very Quiet Records and sub-label Very Quiet Records Static. He releases recordings of quiet places and situations from sound artists and field recordists from all over the world.

I met Tony back in january 2010 when I was an intern at Sound and Music in England. He organised a 12-hour soundwalk through the town of Plymouth, which was an unforgettable experience. Walking the fringes of the town, we found some beautiful spots near the sea. The longer we walked, the more we got into a trance where we were purely focused on the sounds, sights and smells of our cold winter surroundings.

Plymouth by night

The records he releases on Very Quiet Records range from quite static, noisy wind recordings to more dynamic recordings of objects or nature. Most of these recordings exist of one-takes of around ~40 minutes to an hour. When listening on headphones, they quickly become your artificial surrounding. When the recording ends, the silence is almost unbearable, as you’ve become accustomed to the crickets or sounds of the shore.

Tuesday
Nov262013

Play the Road

There’s some music I associate with traveling by car. I don’t own a car and travel by public transport most of the time, so it’s mostly based around memories of sitting in the back of my parents’ car, listening to Phil Collins, Crowded House and the like. But I do ‘get’ what people call “driving music”. Some music’s just better suited to drive to.

Volkswagen played on this concept, taking driving music further. Collaborating with dance music artists Underworld and audio specialist Nick Ryan, maybe best known for his 3D audio game Papa Sangre, they created an app which reads different data streams from a smartphone which are then used to generate the music. So when you’re slowly driving along a country road on a rainy thursday morning, the music’s going to sound a whole lot different than if you’re speeding down the motorway on your way home that night.

I think it’s good to see technologies like this that have been around in more open-source efforts like MobMuPlat being used by R&D departments of bigger companies to bring new experiences like these to a broader audience. The app isn’t commercially available yet, but they are inviting people to “play the road” themselves.