Nothing to do this Saturday (13th July 2013)? I’ll be at Lewisham People’s Day making some weird noises and laying down a blanket of cozy audio in the Indian Canopy. I should be on from about 1pm for some experimentation!
Nothing to do this Saturday (13th July 2013)? I’ll be at Lewisham People’s Day making some weird noises and laying down a blanket of cozy audio in the Indian Canopy. I should be on from about 1pm for some experimentation!
After the last incarnation of my band, Lunar Rising, split I looked at various ways to become more self-sufficient. I wanted to create big sounds using instruments but with fewer people, or at least fewer people with specific skills. I looked into easy-to-play drone instruments such as the Shrutti Box, computerised sampling and looping and messing around with ‘found sound’ atmospheres. During this research, I also started to look at drone instruments that I could make cheaply and without much fuss and this is when I came across the Aeolian Harp, AKA Wind Harp. The nature of this instrument means that on it’s own, it wasn’t entirely suitable for use in a band (or was it…? more on this later) but I wanted to make one out of sheer curiosity and thought it could come in very useful for creating soundscape installations (more on this later too…).
So, what is an Aeolian Harp? Well, legend has it that the ancient Greeks came up with the idea somehow. Strings are tightened across a simple (or not so simple) body which is then placed outside or at an open window. The breezes and winds then brush over the strings and this creates a very beautiful, ethereal sound. Yes, the wind effectively plays the instrument for you!
You may be wondering how this is possible, as the wind isn’t agile enough to pluck or bow a string. Well, apparently the jury is still out on the exact science but the basics are known. Skip this paragraph if science bores you… Each single sound, instrumental or otherwise is made up of different frequencies (or pitches). These frequencies are usually mathematically related and these various frequencies all contribute to what you hear as timbre or tone (the way the instrument sounds). A string that has been pulled taut has a pitch related to it’s length and the various frequencies making up this pitch can be teased out by lightly brushing the string at various points. This is what the wind does to an Aeolian Harp and the (effectively) random nature of wind is why you can hear so many different, random notes all at the same time
So, how to make one! I found out how to make an Aeolian Harp by watching this great You Tube video by Stan Hershonik, a guy that has made many different types.
All you need is a bit of guttering, some wood, nails, instrument tuning pins and some fishing wire!
The video above shows you what you have to do but basically you fit wood blocks into either end of the guttering and screw your tuning pins into one end. Thread your fishing wire strings through the tuning pins and pull them over the other side of the guttering where they are nailed in place. Use two bits of thin wood as the bridges to hold the strings up. Tighten the strings using the tuning pins and you’re done! Exact tuning isn’t really necessary as it will still sound nice! If you fancy making one please do feel free to contact me if you have any questions or are having any problems.
Here is a video of my finished harp singing, including a duet with a train and some wind noise! How does the sound make you feel?
So, you can use an Aeolian Harp to bring a bit of cheer and background noise to a space and this is where an involvement with them could rightly end. However, how else might they be used? As I mentioned earlier, could they be used in a band? Well, mic’ing them up would provide a bit of a chalengle but maybe artificial breezes can be created so that human power can influence how the harp sounds. Could it be possible to rig a harp up to electronic fans controlled by a user interface? Collaborator Christopher Konopka is currently considering this in some interesting depth… maybe more on this later… The electronics and software programming could be very simple but considerations of breeze strength and fan noise would have to be taken into account.
If this set-up ends up not being possible in a band situation, these ideas could easily be transferred to a soundscape installation and various artists have already done this. Using a few harps, big or small, outside could create a space that people can walk around and enjoy the sounds created. If the fan ideas work out then maybe they can be used indoors as part of a more general soundscape. The natural harp sound could be teamed up with noises coming from speakers and, again, interactive elements could be used to control what happens when. The harps could be built into aesthetically pleasing sculptures to provide a visual spectacle as well as interactivity. But what still remains though is the sound; a beautiful, otherworldly sound that creates a serene and interesting backdrop to any space. I am really looking forward to having the opportunity to develop these ideas in my soundscape work. Watch this space but until then, have a go at making one yourself, anyone can do it!
Here is the last post in my four part series on the Sound Portal, displayed in Trafalgar Square as part of the London Design Festival last month. The Sound Portal displayed five soundscapes created by five sound artists. This post talks about sound in design and audio branding.
In the previous posts I talked a little about my thoughts on the soundscapes and how these soundscapes relate to the human experience and how this might relate to design as well as audio branding. This week I’ll go into more depth on my thoughts about what these soundscapes can teach us regarding the use of sound in design and how sound can make any design brief stronger through audio branding (aka sonic branding).
The first piece contained a chanting, processed voice. Language was central here and it’s use had a calming effect that induced security; but what is interesting here is the language used wasn’t decipherable and the fact that the voice was so heavily processed further removed it from humanity. Even so, the brain could still make out that some form of talking was going on. The fact that meaning had been removed from the voice seemed to allow the listener to experience the calm, meditative effect of the chanting while still appreciating that the voice had something to say. This shows that sound only needs to seem like a voice for us to register it emotionally. This could be important in the same way that some TV and radio adverts use audio branding. Popular text message bleeps to activate our attention and awareness to make us more susceptible to receiving information. We are social animals and we like human contact, so the voice is emotionally stimulating to us; it just appears that content isn’t necessarily important to gain an emotional reaction. If we pick out the qualities of the voice that provide emotional reaction, maybe we can use them to add emotion to a work of sound. Of course, film sound designers have been doing this for years by creating evil voices that speak invented languages etc, but there could also be less obvious, more subtle applications that contribute to audio branding…
A couple of ideas stood out with the second soundscape. Firstly, the use of birdcall seemed to have a pleasant effect, even though the birds were caged. For some reason, the human brain responds well birdsong. You could say that this is due to melody but birdsong is still very pretty, or maybe even more so when there are so many birds that you cannot pick out individual songs. Again, what are the qualities of the sounds that evoke this emotional response? It could be said to be a product of evolution. Birds aren’t dangerous to us so we recognize their calls as comforting. If this is the case, then using ‘friendly’ animal noises in soundscape will produce favourable emotional responses. In terms of branding and audio branding, connecting positive emotion to a product helps people relate to that product, makes them more open to accepting it, and therefore increases the sale volume of that product.
The second idea that stood out here was the use of space and how this could be use din audio branding. During this piece, the soundscape moves through various spaces. On one level, as this happens, the listener gains a sense of journey as the scene changes, giving a sense of wonder and intrigue. On another level, the listener is moved through various sensations and emotions related to the spaces. Both ideas could contribute to audio branding. Think about how it feels to be in a large cathedral, a walk-in cupboard or on an open field; a sense of freedom and large space could be beneficial for somebody living in a small flat/apartment or a sense of coziness could be set up for those who want to get away from a sterile atmosphere. This could all be done purely in the audio realm, but space could also be manipulated by use of audio delivery – positioning of speakers, headphones, subwoofers could all be used to different affect. All could enrich audio branding.
Tom Jenkinson’s piece, talked about last week, used hardware as well as sound. A quirky, interesting use of speakers could add so much to audio branding; imagine hidden speakers giving out sounds every now and then, or even speakers that are activated when somebody sits in a chair, etc.
The soundscapes exhibited at the Sound Portal also used music to varying affect. As described in an earlier post, using musical instruments to make sounds that don’t follow the rules of music invites the listener to think about the piece as music; this could allow the listener to create their own meaning. Of course, this relinquishes some control of the experience to the listener and their memories, which isn’t right for every design situation, but when you know the tastes and experiences of your target market, this could actually work for the designer; music genre in adverts is always tailored to the target market. Of course, the rules will change if the sounds used only suggest music but a stimulus that provokes meaning will offer intrigue and deeper cognitive processing that will cement an atmosphere and it’s associations in the listener’s mind.
The use of actual music can have more subtle effects away from audio branding too; did you know that faster music is used to encourage people to act more quickly in a store with the goal of increasing sales? Obviously, this is to do with tempo and rhythm not the likeability factor of the popstar, therefore designers do not have to pay huge copyright charges to gain this particular effect. On the flipside of music, in other situations where less is known about an audience, simplifying delivery and removing idiosyncratic meaning from audio will make it more relevant to more people. Some sounds are pretty much universally recognised as they reference the world in general and not a particular lifestyle; birdsong, gentle waves on beach, wind, rain, heartbeat, breathing, a calming melodic hum made by a person, etc.
Although sound has been designed to meet a brief (arguably) since Walter Murch worked on Apocalypse Now the late ‘70s, there are various applications that you may not even know about: the spaces inside cars are designed with their effect on acoustics in mind, as well as the audio for indicator tick-tocks, the engine sound and even what noise the door makes when it is closed. Audio branding is a growing application: companies think about what sounds they want associated with their business to allow them to project the correct image. This includes the music used in adverts and call-waiting as well as the noises their websites and software applications make. Music can easily be used to target a particular audience – taste and consumer habits are related – but the use of sound outside the realm of music really taps into the psyche; the space the sounds are recorded and played back in, the physical qualities of the sound, associations between sounds and emotion, evoking memory with sound, etc, etc.
Sound has uses from being specifically tied to a product, such as the noise of car indicators, to subconsciously imprinting atmospheres and emotions on a group of people. Powerful stuff. Recognising that sound is as important as sight and touch opens up many exciting possibilities for design and also gives the opportunity for forward thinkers to get ahead of their peers and offer something unique to the world. Audio Branding in design could be applied to any type of event, a company’s reception office, a business website, retail environments, public spaces, promotional material; in fact I’m pretty sure sound can be used to bolster any brand or atmosphere in any traditional design situation.
If you would like to know about how sound and audio branding relate to your own work, please feel free to get in touch.
As part of the London Design Festival 2012, the BE OPEN Sound Portal was commissioned for exhibition in Trafalgar Square to show the public ‘design that you can’t see’. The BE OPEN Sound Portal, a large black rubber box, contained a cutting-edge sound system which uses a system called Ambisonics: a system of recording, mixing and presenting sound that uses nine speakers placed all around the listener for total sound immersion. Over five days, five sound artists displayed their commission; one on each day.
Because this event was such a landmark for the use of sound in everyday design (my main interest!), I will talk about the BE OPEN Sound Portal over four weekly posts. This post will introduce the event and talk about the first piece and what effect it had on me as a listener. The second will talk about the next two pieces and the third will talk about the remaining pieces as well as the talk on the BE OPEN Sound Portal I attended hosted by Ben Evans, the Director of the London Design Festival. The fourth and final post will be about the application to real-world design of the ideas and lessons gained from this wonderful experience.
Elena Baturina, Russian businesswoman, entrepreneur and philanthropist who founded BE OPEN, explained what the Sound Portal is all about: ‘Our project at the London Design Festival, the BE OPEN Sound Portal and associated events, involves working with people who represent the future of acoustic development. We will effectively be setting up an ambitious mobile laboratory for exploring the boundaries of what can be achieved with sound technology – an active demonstration of design’s transformational abilities – and holding talks and discussions to put these ideas forward. We engage with people across all platforms – the arts, science, education and the media – as we believe that the most innovative discoveries are made where these disciplines meet’
The first piece displayed at the BE OPEN Sound Portal was created by Russian Ivan Pavlov (also known as CoH). It was an electronic piece that brought together precise digitized noises as well as the processed chanting of the human voice. The effect was a somewhat otherworldly quasi-religious feeling brought about by the chanting and ethereal noises. The function of all religious noise-making is to totally envelope the noise-makers and/or listeners to bring them closer to a deity and the immersive nature of Ambisonic sound really contributed toward this. For me, the overriding lesson that I learned from this piece is the power of the human voice and how it can be applied to really effect atmosphere and mood. Even though the voices in this piece were heavily processed, inhuman and were making sounds that made no sense to me, their power was so very strong and totally changed the environment of the Sound Portal. Language is very important to the human experience and actually shapes the way our brain develops; I have even heard it suggested that language can account for cultural stereotypes. For example, the German language is very ordered and logical – is it therefore more likely to produce a brain that uses these aspects in everyday life? The Welsh, for whom singing is a famous part of their culture, speak a language that seems to sing poetically. English seems to break all the rules; could this produce an eccentric, creative way of thinking? These are all stereotypes of course and therefore have limited value, but I think it’s food for thought – more on this later… to be continued…
Binaural recording is an idea quite new to me. @TOther_Simon introduced me to it at the end of last year, and ever since I have been having quite a few thoughts about it’s potential. I have been making some exploratory recordings which have come out very well but to get a well-put-together experience of binaural recording put some headphones on and watch the video below:
Fast Tube by Casper
How Does it Work?
As you will be able to hear, binaural recording is a way to get what may be called 3D sound. Conventional two channel recording (stereo sound) is the product of trying to get realistic sense of space into recordings by working from the fact we have two ears. Different signals go to both the right and left speakers to enable a more realistic sound, meaning sounds can be positioned within the 180 degree arc between the speakers. Using reverberation (echo), we are also able to position the sounds up close or further away. However, stereo recording does not account for the physical intricacies of our hearing. As you know, we are able to place sounds from all around us without looking and stereo recording only allows this to happen in front of us (if we are facing speakers), or inside our heads (if we are listening to headphones). Our brain uses the fact that there is a certain distance between the two ears, as well as information about the very shape of our ears to allow us to pinpoint where in the world a sound is coming from; you can hear sounds from behind you as well as in front of you. Binaural recording, takes account of these facts to trick your brain into thinking that what you are listening to is actually occurring in the three dimensional space around you. Of course, our ears are on the sides of our heads and not on our faces so to get the full effect from a binaural recording, it is best to use headphones. The effect is more realistic on headphones that have a clear emission of sound from across the audio spectrum but it seems to work pretty well even when using the cheapest headphones. Achieving this is very simple: use a dummy head with realistic ears containing microphones or use tiny microphones that resemble earphones and be the dummy head yourself!
Where Would You Use Binaural Recording?
So, this is all interesting and gimmicky, but how can binaural recording be used? Well, as you will see from the above video, the guy who made it is promoting a video game that uses binaural recording to make the game experience more immersive. With the rise of portable entertainment with iPhones and iPads etc, the rise in use of headphones could really facilitate more widespread use of binaural audio. This technique could mean more realistic simulations for different kinds of training, or maybe use in film to place the audience in the same space as the actors. This technique has also been used to record bands too, and was apparently used as far back as the 60’s. Some test recordings I made of me playing my acoustic guitar got a very rich and full sound without having to mess around with mic placement at all. For me though, the most fantastic thing about binaural recording is the possibility to take an audience somewhere that would be totally impossible to go to, like the video game example. You could mix the real and the imagined and blur the line between them to get closer to the ultimate escapism.
Please do put ten minutes aside to listen to the example of an audio composition located at the bottom of this web page. It’s nothing to do with my own work but you wont regret it… very cool. I’m raring to go do some experimenting now…
Please feel free to contact me if you would like to add such ideas to your own projects.
The odd thing about recording is that your end product, the music, isn’t exactly real… it is a process that allows replication of something that has gone on before: The music etc is played live and a snapshot is taken. Also, you may know that the recording process cannot capture every single aspect of what the sound was like when you took that ‘snapshot’. Current technology is very good at trying to emulate the original sound and you could argue that it does it so well that the imperfections are not even noticed, especially to the non-musician.
However, there are aspects of live music that the face-value capture of sound encapsulates with great difficulty. Think about listening to a great busking band on the street. You have the excitement of stumbling upon the performance; the personalities of the performers as they interact with the crowd, verbally and with their instruments; the collective experience of being part of a crowd; your own state of mind, if you are on holiday for example; and all of the sounds and feelings associated with these aspects. Then there are the more physical aspects: the way the sound of the different instruments reverberate around the buildings (even depending on where each musician is sitting), the qualities of that reverberation (imagine the difference in sound of a cathedral to your living room); other sounds working with/against the music intentionally or otherwise; even the state of the air could influence the total experience. You then buy a copy of the band’s CD as the experience was so wonderful but, although the CD may sound good, it just isn’t the same.
The total experience (the actual music added to these aspects missing from the CD) is atmosphere (which I go on about all of the time!) and modern recording technologies can even go a long way to accounting for this; think about those realistic reverbs for example. To my mind, maybe a change in focus is what’s needed to get closer to this elusive ‘atmosphere’. When recording, maybe don’t think of it as recording music; or even as recording a performance. Maybe think about the process as recording an experience. This combined with keeping an open mind about what you can use to achieve this may produce even stronger results. Music in particular tries to reproduce the thoughts and feelings of the song-writer using abstract methods (communicating with a guitar is very different from talking!), so why not extrapolate this to the whole process rather than just the sound-making? You could even take this to the extreme by reproducing the atmosphere of a performance without actually including the instrument being used, although this would be a little silly if you are recording a virtuoso violinist because they are technically brilliant, for example! Obviously, the balance of sound reproduction and atmosphere would have more real-life applications…
So, that finally brings me to the more overt topic of this post. Architecture could be said to be one of the unsung heroes of the life experience. We take it for granted that buildings, trees, and the rest of our surroundings are ‘just there’ but as any architect will tell you, these surroundings mold our lives and our life experience/atmosphere. Therefore if we are thinking about the recording of music as above, it follows that we should take time to notice how sound interacts with the spaces it is immersed in. This could go further than just putting the sounds in a reverb that emulates the space, and many musicians work with furthering this idea (for example Gustav Holst tried to describe the planets of our solar system in his music ‘The Planets’ using an orchestra; The band The Gathering used samples of crowd noises and street noises in their album ‘If Then Else’ to manipulate the atmosphere).
Thinking about how sounds interacts with architecture or the environment may not lead to placing sounds in a space as such, but it may also deepen an understanding of sound by looking into it’s real-life behaviour, which could loosen-up a musician’s perspective and therefore increase creativity. For example, watch this you-tube video of a fantastic sound-art installation and see what you learn…
Also, think about the application of sound within the architectural field. Have a read here for some actual buildings/projects that have been designed to work within an environment that takes sound into account. A couple use fountains to put up a mask of ‘white noise’ (which contains sound from all frequencies- i.e. the ‘snow’ on blank analogue TV channels) to cover traffic noise; a classroom was also designed to reduce spill of outside noise whilst emphasising the frequencies that the human voice occupies; raised portions and physical barriers evade noise and different materials sound differently when walked on. Related to this, there are companies out there that design sound for business, taking every sound made within the company’s remit a part of their brand i.e. you wouldn’t use a noisy, clangy metallic floor in a shop that specialises in massage or meditation.
Of course, this is a two-way street as well. Musicians and sound recorders can learn from sound in the real world and architects can learn from musical idealism i.e. calming soundscapes may be used in a massage parlour so maybe the building can be constructed in a way to emphasises these sounds.
So, if you are a music fan see if these ideas change the way you listen to music; musicians out there, maybe try thinking about sound differently and see if it enhances your output; and if you are involved in any aspect of creation think about how sound is as much a part of experience as your chosen field is and how careful thought around it can enhance the end product.
This week, I wanted to plan a piece of music I’m writing for my Dreams project. Now, I’m inexperienced (although not ignorant of) traditional music notation as I have always found it a little irrelevant to my needs and ideas. Of course, there’s no denying that it orders things nicely and brings about ideas just by it’s use but when you have an audio scratch-pad like Logic Pro, it’s not the best way to create. So basically, I create and organise using the sounds themselves and the computer visuals (as well as my mind of course). This week, I had various jobs to do so I thought I’d see if my efficiency in making music could be improved by making a more detailed plan than usual.
As I have written about before, my current interests include drawing sound from abstract ideas and creating atmosphere. I have been using a main theme and using descriptive words to describe that theme in the context I want to write about. I then translate these descriptive ideas and words into sound (through the filter of my own perception of course). Notes aren’t important so much as I rely on my playing instincts to provide those, although theory is used when layering and directing the textures.
So, what is a graphical score? Basically, traditional notation is a visual cue and organiser of music. Somewhere along the line, someone thought ‘why don’t we use any picture or symbol to elicit a feeling, note, series of notes, sound etc.’ As a graphical score also deals with atmosphere in an abstract way it seemed very relevant and natural to put my plan down on paper in this way. I had seen a couple graphic scores before although they weren’t accompanied by explanation, but in any case the great thing about them is they are pretty self-explanatory, meaning I felt comfortable trying my own. Just giving it a go also follows part of my ‘ethos’ where you should never be afraid to try something if it is doing it’s intended job.
The piece I worked on this week is called ‘Flying’ and is in the context of a dream (thought I’d start with something pretty obvious to make it easier on myself!). I started by making a list of ideas surrounding the theme. Usually I would go straight to designing the sounds for each theme and sort out the structure once I have those but this time I chose a symbol for each sound and created a structure and map of them interacting over time. This produced the graphical score below:
The next step will be to create sounds for each symbol/symbol section and start weaving them together!
A great thing about a graphical score is that some one else could also use it in their music, or anything else for that matter, allowing for individual creativity within the guideline of the score; making the work so much more than it could be otherwise. This is because, theoretically, it’s full realisation may never happen until every person on the planet has added their perception of it i.e. when there are still options open it remains unfinished. It therefore follows that one idea or score could (potentially) be absolutely huge with an incredible amount of depth after many many influences have contributed to it. You could say this about any score of course, but here the guidelines are far looser than the traditional score and it follows the results would be more varied and richer as a result.
I haven’t yet worked on the music for this score but am very much looking forward to it. It feels very natural and comfortable so I have a feeling the results will be better than usual…. Hopefully I wont be eating my words…
Search the internet for graphical scores. Some of them are normal-looking photographs while others use parts of traditional notation, but they are all designed to the same end: the production of sound derived from abstract thought; or music, if you like…
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