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Wednesday
Jun242009

Liquid Architecture: festival of sound arts

Today the Liquid Architecture festival of sound arts opens in Sydney. It's the tenth edition of this festival with concerts, immersive sound presentations, audio-visual and recorded work, exhibitions and installations in what they call "a sense-specific feast for the ears".

The festival focuses on listening. In this world mainly focused on visual stimuli it's great to see events like Liquid Architecture emphasize the importance of sound culture in the world. There will be exhibitions and concerts in various cities in Australia. I would have loved to visit the festival, if it wouldn't be on the other side of the globe!

Tuesday
Jun232009

Sound Walk: a human sequencer

The Sonar festival is over, but there are some more projects from the exhibition which are worth looking at. Like Sound Walk, a 'human sequencer' created by Julio Lucio with music written by Nikka

Visitors walk through the space to interact with the installation, creating the music as they move along. A projector creates the images on the floor, and while moving though the space, visitors get visual feedback as well, as the video clearly shows. 

Sunday
Jun212009

10 tips for effective web sound design

Using sound on your website isn't always a good idea. In fact, it annoys people more often than not. This is probably caused by the enormous amount of web sites containing crappy sounds. The right use of sound though, can enhance the user experience. So if you want to do it anyway, here's a list of 10 tips to make the experience as pleasant as possible:

  1. Hire a sound designer
    This is a good one to start with. If you don't know much about sound design, hire someone who does, preferably a person with experience in user-interface sound design. He/she will (hopefully) already know how to include all tips on this list. 
  2. No background music
    A lot of people are listening to music while browsing the web. Don't interrupt them by playing music on your website. For some sites the use of music might enhance the overall experience, like web/sound-art and some specific sound-related web sites, but don't do it without warning your visitor (see tip 3). If you really want to give your website a continuous soundtrack, consider using a background atmosphere (see tip 4). 
  3. No auto-play
    If you decide to use music, don't have it start without the visitors' permission. If you ever opened an auto-playing MySpace page in a new browser tab for later review, you know what I'm talking about. And provide a mute-button: if a user doesn't like the sound and there's no way to turn it off, he/she will leave your website. 
  4. Try a background atmosphere
    If you keep it simple and quiet, this might work. Make a field recording at a location representative of your website and play it in the background at a low volume, like in this example. 
  5. Unobtrusive interface sounds
    Adding sounds to user-interface items can absolutely enhance the usability of your site. Try to keep these sounds unobtrusive in a way that a user can still hear them, even while listening to music, but without being disturbing while browsing in a quiet environment. 
  6. Keep sounds short
    A good way to prevent sounds from becoming annoying is by keeping them short. Imagine navigating a website with a second-long sound playing for every link your mouse cursor touches, that wouldn't be a pleasant experience, would it? 
  7. Use the right frequencies
    The human ear is most sensitive to sounds between 1kHz and 5kHz, so if you want people to hear the sounds, even on crappy laptop speakers set to low volumes, focus on this frequency range.
  8. Add extra functionality
    Do it right or don't do it at all. If you decide to use sound on your website you can give it extra functionality, more than just providing auditive feedback. Variations in timbre and pitch of the sounds can be used to tell the user more about the menu or the page he/she is browsing.    
  9. Make sound and design match
    Try to create sounds which match the design of your site as close as possible. If your design is rather futuristic, it would be strange to use very natural or recognizable instrumental sounds. In this case abstract electronic sounds would most probably complement the graphic design much better. 
  10. Care about the overall user experience 
    Don't just add sounds to your website because you think it's cool. Ask yourself what it means to the user, and how it will improve the overall user experience. If you don't find a clear answer to these questions, don't do it. Most internet users still prefer web sites to be silent. Be precautious, don't act like you don't care.

Do you know of a website with good sound design? Have you ever made sounds for the web? Do you have anything to add to this list? Please tell us by leaving a comment.

Friday
Jun192009

WeAreWaves: move your body

While we're having a look at ways of using the human body to control music, this is a project that should not be missed: WeAreWaves, created by Sebastián Gonzalez and Javier Chávarri, involves the human body in creating sound. The performer isn't influencing existing music. Rather, he is creating waveforms, using his body to influence the timbre of the sound.

The silhouette of the body is registered by a camera and this shape becomes the actual wave form. By moving around you change the wave form and the timbre of the sound. An interesting experiment. In this interactive installation we are all waves. 

Are you curious what you sound like? You can find out at the Sonar festival in Barcelona this week, where the WeAreWaves installation can be experienced.

Thursday
Jun182009

Oscillare: Movement controls the sound

Creating an interesting experience using sensors to control image and sound in a performance isn’t the easiest thing to do. You don’t want it to look like Mickey Mouse, and you still want the interaction between the performer and the sound/visuals to be clearly visible.

Oscillare, a project by a group called Electronic Performers is an interesting attempt to use a dancers’ movement to control sound and visuals without becoming too cheesy. The movements are analysed using accelerometers and gyroscopes, and Max/MSP/Jitter software is used to process the incoming data. The sounds we hear come from an Access Virus TI synthesizer. 

You can see this interactive multimedia performance at the Sonar festival, which starts today.

Wednesday
Jun172009

Soundclusters 2: Robotic instruments

The very first post on Everyday Listening was about music making machines. And while we know these machines can't put a lot of expression in their music, they're really fascinating to watch. Somehow it's hard to disconnect the image of an instrument being played from the person playing it. 

Roland Olbeter created Soundclusters 2, a group of mechanical string instruments and a drum. Pneumatic and electro-mechanical actuators operate the strings, which are picked like a guitar by two pneumatic plectrums. 

The movie shown here is an older one, where the machines are playing Elena Kats-Chernins' Fast Blue Air. At the Sonar festival, which starts next thursday, Soundclusters 2 will play pieces composed by Jon Hopkins and Tim Exile.

Tuesday
Jun162009

Listen to the world on Radio Aporee

Last week we took a look at SoundTransit, a website with many location based recordings, and I wrote about having a similar idea and how I was surprised to find out this already had been done. Apparently I wasn’t the only one, as I found a couple of similar projects.

There’s one of them I’d really like to share with you, as it comes closest to my vision of it. Radio Aporee shows us a large map, and each red dot resembles a sound recorded at that location. You can listen to the sounds by clicking on the dots, and add your own recordings without having to create an account.

One little problem: I tried to upload a sound myself, but it didn’t work. Hopefully a temporary bug? I really like browsing the sounds of the world like this.

Monday
Jun152009

Sound on websites: A sensitive subject

You probably recognize this situation: You’re surfing the web looking for inspiration, you click on some links, monitor your Twitter feed, and open pages in the background for later review. Suddenly your computer starts to scream!

It’s some rock song, very loud and unrecognizable because of it’s way-too-low bit rate. You don’t know where it’s coming from but you want it to stop immediately so you close all browser tabs and it’s quiet again.

Almost all people I ask about background music on websites tell me they find it totally annoying. A website just isn’t a thing you would expect to make any sound. People often listen to music while browsing the web, there’s no room for an extra layer of sound.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Jun122009

Octachord: Hail to the sine wave

A long rope hangs from the ceiling in the main hall of the Utrecht University Museum. Connected to the rope are eight speakers, spreading sine waves over the stairs. Low frequencies come from the lower speakers while high frequencies come from those at the top of the sound installation. The natural reverb of the hall cause the frequencies to melt together.

Octachord is a sound installation created by Mark Thur and Simon Snel, students at the Utrecht School of Music and Technology. They used sine waves as building blocks for the ever-changing soundscape generated by the installation. Here’s a small example of the piece:

Octachord is a good example of how to create an installation for a specific architectural space and its properties. Being aware of the influence of a space on your creation and using this knowledge in the design of the work is very important and can lead to a great result.

Thursday
Jun112009

Sonic Marshmallows: whisper to me

These Sonic Marshmallows, created by Troika, use sonic reflection and enable you to listen to the other side of the pond. They can transmit and receive a whispering voice over 60 meters without any amplification, using only their shape.

Apart from providing a quite spectacular experience, the Sonic Marshmallows are fun to look at as well. It seems like some giant aliens dropped their candy in the Wat Tyler Country Park in Basildon Essex.

Troika is a multi-disciplinary art and design practice founded in 2003 by Conny Freyer, Eva Rucki and Sebastien Noel, who met while studying at the Royal College of Art in London.