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Tuesday
May132014

Carileon

On Everyday Listening we hardly every post about novel instruments. I don’t exactly know why. Is it because most instruments are not as aesthetically pleasing to the eye? Do they not get documented that well?

In any case, this half-instrument, half-installation is definitely pleasing to the eye. New York-based sound artist Sebastien Leon created the Carileon, which can be played by the wind and a performer simultaneously. In the video you see multi-instrumentalist Loup Barrow (who plays some awesomely strange instruments) with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop.

Some say wind chimes are the most basic form of generative music. In this installation, the generative nature and performance come together, which I think is quite interesting.

Friday
May022014

Five Sound Questions to Gordon Ashworth

I recently had the pleasure to support Gordon Ashworth in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Using only a handheld recording device playing recordings made during his travels and two fourtrack cassettedecks sharing a tape-loop, he played rich textures interwoven with noisy field recordings adding layer upon layer as he went along.

His album S.T.L.A. definitely captures the same spirit. Gordons music walks the fine line between abstract and melodic. As I was quite intrigued by his album, I decided to ask him for the Five Sound Questions series.

More sounds and info can be found at www.gordonashworth.com.

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

 An old grandfather clock in our living room that played “Westminster Chimes.” It played little versions of this melody in E major every 15 minutes for like 18 years of my life. It was next to the upright piano my Mom used to play, so that side of the living room was always associated with music.

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

Obsessively, because I’m always listening for interesting sounds, and because I have problems with my ears and I’m constantly adjusting pressure or analyzing my hearing quality. When I travel, I’m always seeking sounds and chasing them for field recordings, which is a strong reason that I like to tour alone. I’ve gotten used to finding and using public maps after getting lost while following sounds in new places. 

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

Once I was inside the narrow spiral staircase of the cathedral in Köln, Germany when the bells began to ring… that was a very heavy acoustic experience. I love the surreal mood that surrounds bells drifting through a city at morning and evening, something seemingly common in Europe but rare in the USA. I really like street musicians and the cries of street vendors, especially in Mexico. I’d like to travel through a lot of Latin America and the Caribbean for this reason. I remember hearing beautiful early morning sounds once in Adelaide, Australia. I like how Napoli sounds like chaos.

4. How could we make sound improve our lives?

Music is so closely connected with emotion and empathy, it seems obvious that it can powerfully effect and help people emotionally. We could also benefit from a lot more quietude, especially those of us that live in dense, urban environments. If people would generally open up to sound art, it would be really rewarding. I think there are still a lot of people that think art must be visual, and sound must be musical.

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

Real silence.

 

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

Friday
Apr252014

Mirrors

With MIRRORS, Sydney-based visual artist and musician Tim Bruniges wants to capture the immersive nature of sound. With two large slabs of stone, both almost measuring 3x3 meters, one can rightfully call this work megalithic.

Acting as “sound mirrors”, these curved surfaces collect, compress and amplify all sound occurring in front of them. When received, sound is pushed outward along the edges in the opposite direction. Because the two slabs are placed in front of each other, sound is being transmitted back and forth over a ~8 meter distance, constantly amplifying the sound in the room.

This all is supported by a second layer of sound: two speakers and a microphone embedded in the parabolic reflector, amplifying the sounds in the room and playing them back with different layers of digital delay, creating a tension with the purely acoustic “delay”.

You don’t see that much sound art with a very great visual appeal. MIRRORS is different in that sense. The medative environment, the empty industrial space it is set up in, are all very carefully thought about. I’d love to experience it sometime.

Tuesday
Apr082014

Sonic Movement

As cars become more and more silent, the question “what should cars sound like?” becomes more and more relevant. Already back in 2009 this was a question with the then evident success of the hybrid car, see this post.

We’ve also seen the project Play the Road recently - which is focused more on making music than making the city a nicer place.

Sonic Movement however, is a collaboration between Semcon, who have been developing automotive solutions for quite a while, creative director Fernando Ocana and hybrid designer James Brooks, and music/art duo Holly Herndon and Mathew Dryhurst. The project aims to make the car sound in harmony with the rest of the city, which is a great aim, if you ask me. Like they state in the video:

While our cities are in continuous visual and tactile evolution, our sonic landscape is primitive and disordered. With the dawn of silent electric vehicles comes a need for pedestrian warning sounds. This represents an opportunity to reflect upon the noise of our streets today and fantasize on what the future of our cities could sound like.”

I’m particularly amazed by the way they were able to tackle safety, took the surroundings into consideration, and made it musical. Would love to hear this in action, and to know more about the underlying technicalities!

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.