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Wednesday
Aug052009

Cybraphon is happy with your tweets

Does your Facebook follower count or the amount of Twitter messages you receive influence your mood? It does for Cybraphon, an interactive sound installation by Edinburgh-based artist collective FOUND.

Cybraphon is like a mechanic band in a closet which plays everything between very sad and very happy music, depending on its ‘mood’. This mood is determined by things like Facebook friends, or website visitors.

Cybraphon is an interesting attempt to link the physical with the online world through music. It actually sounds quite nice! What I do miss is a live stream of some kind which shows the effect of the online activities.

Cybraphon will be unveiled at the Edinburgh Arts Festival today, 5 August 2009. Here are some demos of the music it plays:

<a href="http://cybraphon.bandcamp.com/album/cybraphon-demos">Demo: Aeolian Ode by Cybraphon</a>

Monday
Aug032009

Quiet lakes and rumbling waterfalls

After a month of silence on Everyday Listening, I’m back and ready to hear and write about new and inspiring sonic experiments! If you know of any, or work on something yourself you’d like me to write about, please contact me.

During July I travelled to what appeared to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Via Germany and Denmark we drove into Sweden, to travel halfway up north and then west, into Norway.

Sweden is a land of extended forests, beautiful lakes and the further you drive up north, the quieter it gets. The perfect place to breathe some oxygen after a year of city life, if you can handle the mosquitoes.

Norway is a bit more overwhelming. I didn’t expect it to be so impressive. Norway is loud and strong, nature showing us her all her pride. Thousands of waterfalls covering the steep mountain walls.

In the Netherlands there is no place were you can’t hear the constant humming noise of a highway somewhere in the distance. In Norway it seems like there is always the sound of water rustling somewhere not too far away. I prefer the latter.

Here's a little slideshow with some of the amazing landscapes we encountered. And what does it sound like? I'll give you some examples later!


Tuesday
Jun302009

And now for some quiet time...

It's been three months since my first post on Everyday Listening. It's been a great start and now it's time for some rest! I'll be traveling to Sweden and Norway for a month, hopefully recording interesting sounds on the way. I will not update the site during this period, so expect to read and hear about fresh and inspiring sounds from the beginning of August. 

I might be updating my status on Twitter now and then, find me at twitter.com/hugoverweij. In the meantime, don't hesitate to send me your links, sounds and interesting projects you'd like to see featured on Everyday Listening. See you in August!

Photo by sebilden

Monday
Jun292009

Mapping noise levels with WideNoise

WideNoise is an iPhone app made by WideTag for measuring noise levels wherever you go. You can use it to take a noise sample of your neighborhood and upload the data to the WideNoise website to show it on a map. 

I just tried it and apparently I live in a place with a 'sleeping cat noise level' at the moment. Probably because it's quite late in the evening, and the only thing I clearly hear outside is an airco installation on the building next to mine, and some cars passing in the distance. 

Once I uploaded my noise sample data within a second the map on the WideNoise website showed a notification about my measurement. But now I wonder what happens next. It would be nice to be able to see a more accurate heat map showing the average noise levels at places all over the world, but that's not available. Maybe more people need to use the app to accomplish this. 

I'd say it's an interesting idea but the processing and representation of the captured data needs some work. It could be surprising to see how noisy most of our cities are. Noise pollution is a serious issue.

Friday
Jun262009

SongExplorer: browse song galaxies

My own humble digital music collection contains roughly 15,000 songs at the moment. The larger it gets the harder it is to browse through, and if I don't remember the name of an artist or song, I tend to forget I even own the music. Browsing trough my own music collection can be quite surprising. But I don't like using the old iTunes interface. Could it be a bit more intuitive?

Carles F. Julià explores this area with his research project SongExplorer: a tabletop system for exploring musical collections. It presents the user with a 'galaxy of songs'. By touching the table in an iPhone-like manner you can browse through the collection, create and manipulate play lists, and discover relationships between songs.

I'm very interested in new ways of organizing information. I think there still is a lot to be improved in this area, even in the organization of regular files on your computer. I tried tagging my files for some time, but still didn't find a satisfying workflow. I definitely think throwing everything in one big 'box' and using some search functionality and meta-data to find things is the way to go.

Click to read more ...

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.