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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.

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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.


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.


Bridge Music by Joseph Bertolozzi

We've already taken a look at the Singing Bizovik bridge and the abstract soundscape created from it, but Jodi Rose isn't the only one capturing the sound of bridges. Composer Joseph Bertolozzi recorded the sounds of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge and used them to compose his music with for this site-specific sound installation. Bertolozzi used various mallets made of different materials to strike the metal surfaces of the bridge.

There are two listening stations on the bridge itself, and there's a 24/7 transmission on 95.3FM within the parks surrounding the bridge. 


Go on a sonic journey with SoundTransit

I like to share my own recordings of the places I traveled to in the 'Places' category. I've been thinking of creating a system to collaboratively share these 'sonic pictures' from all over the world. It would be very inspiring to be able to listen to any part of the world.

But it seems I'm too late! SoundTransit, a project created by Derek Holzer, Sara Kolster and Marc Boon, does exactly that. You can search for sounds by keyword, country, city. You can also book a transit: choose your point of departure, a destination and an amount of stopovers, and your journey will be ready in a moment. I just went from Marrakech to Antwerp via Vienna. It basically just crossfades the files, but it's a nice idea.

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Passage: a dynamic sound corridor

The idea of creating a ‘sound corridor’ is not new, I’ve heard about similar projects before, a buildings hallway seem like a suitable place for a sound installation. Things change all the time, people move up and down the corridor, creating an ever changing pattern for an artist to capture and use to generate or influence sounds.

You need a good technical system to capture these movements though, and that’s exactly what IRCAM created and and what Pierre Jodlowski uses for his dynamic sound corridor ‘Passage’. 16 sensors detect visitors movements. The information is sent to Max/MSP so the composer can use it to control his music.

You can experience this sound installation yourself at the Agora event in Paris: Monday, June 8 and Saturday, June 13, 1pm-6pm.


Put your sounds in the clouds with SoundCloud

As you might have noticed I use the SoundCloud player on my website. For website owners it’s a nice way of offering streaming audio without having to worry about hosting and the use of bandwith. I’d like to share my experiences with this review.

What's SoundCloud?

As a artist it’s great to have a professional looking way of sharing music with fans, label owners and venues. You can create a set of tracks on SoundCloud to embed it on your MySpace page, a much better sounding solution than the standard MySpace player.

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This is what sound looks like

Sound is made audible air vibrating air molecules. Sound is a form of energy, we can’t see it, and we can only hear it when the volume is high enough and if it exists between 20Hz and 20kHz, the audible range of the human ear.

Sound also moves through liquids though, and Eva Schindling created a computer model which simulates the collision of two sounds in a fluid environment. The resulting form is then modeled out of Styrofoam. Now we have a sound we can touch, but we can’t hear it!


Voxstrumental at Futur en Seine festival 

The Futur en Seine festival takes place in Paris this week. The festival shows interesting new technological experiments and futuristic products. Voxstrumental is a sound installation shown by Voxler, a development team focused on vocal interaction, mainly for the gaming industry.

There are four pipes connected to the Voxstrumental sound installation. Singing into one of the pipes triggers a musical sequence. The pitch of the music changes with the pitch of your voice. The microphones are able to capture multiple parameters of expression. Four people can play the sound installation at the same time, you'll have to listen to each other to make it sound good together. And if you do, the robot in the middle starts dancing happily!

Watch a short movie about this sound installation on the Futur en Seine blog.


Listen to the streets of Mexico City

We are looking down at the intersection of Av. Juan Escutia and Calle Zamora in Condesa, Mexico City, from a window on the third floor. Normally I'm not that interested in the sound of cars driving by. But this urban soundscape is so remarkably different than the western European one I'm used to!

We hear lots of trucks, big ones, with loud diesel engines, fuelling the air with smog. We hear the typical sound of the green and white Volkswagen Beetles which form the majority of the taxis in Mexico City. And then we hear a melody. A man is selling some sort of corn product down on the street. The melody stops and the man starts to recommend his goods using a megaphone, followed by the same melody. I guess it's lunch time!

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