Padworks is my MA thesis project where I explore the possibilities of the iPad as a musical live instrument. I’ve composed music for different iPad apps and built a live set. In addition to showcasing different iPad instruments, effects and workflows, I also want to bring the touch screen closer to the audience by using live stream from my playing as live visual.
The last course of the Spring in was called Tangible Auditory Interfaces. I expected it to be about developing new musical instruments, but it was more about sound art and sound installations. The goal of the course was to create a sound installation in the Botanical Garden of Helsinki in Kaisaniemi.
Teacher was Till Bovermann from University of Art of Berlin together with Mila Moisio, a textile designer from Helsinki.
The technical part of the installation was created with Arduino equipped with a small amp and a small speaker. The tangible part was felted wool, with touch points for interaction. Both of the aspects were somewhat new to me. I had done Arduino stuff only once before and I remember having done felting at at school when I was 8. Luckily Mila taught us how to felt, and Till provided us with the basic Arduino setup so that we had a sound already from the beginning. Our job was to design what to felt, and how it should sound like.
Our project was called Borborygmi. I was working with two fellow students, Ava and Gabi as a team. We designed and felted imaginary fruit-like objects which we stuffed with wool and pressure sensors. The stalk of the hanging fruit was a flexible, with stretch sensor and the fruit itself had touch points. There were 3 different types of sonic interaction in one Borborygmus: squash from squeezing the fruit, squeek from pulling the stalk and ping from touching the fruit.
The initial idea was to create something that would not only invite the visitor to touch but also bring joy to the visitor. We wanted them to be familiar part for the environment, but on the other hand be visually striking. We hoped that the visitors would play with them – we wanted to make art that can be experienced instead of just watching.
I concentrated on setting up the Arduino and designing the sounds plus planning how the wires should go. Ava made the design of Borborygmi and together with Gabi they did the felting. The speaker, togther with the arduino, was placed in a small sack along the green stalk. Borborygmi were installed on a branch using a metallic wire inside the stalk.
There were 3 different Borborygmi: Bor, Bo and Rygmus. I think the the overall concept was really nice and suitable for a sound installation in a botanical garden. However, something went wrong with the wires and how they were isolated from each other: touch points and pressure sensor didn’t work together but were intervening each other. In practice it meant that none of the three sounds worked as we planned. Luckily they worked in some way, so we were satisfied.
Making them work properly would have needed a couple of days more work. However, I think the design of the fruit was excellent and at least they had some sound. Having made the fruit work better and having better weather during the installation week I would have been very proud to show the installation to each and every visitor of the botanical garden. Now it was mostly raining (except for the first day which you can see in the picture) and the electricity wasn’t water-proof, so we got them up and running only a couple of days.
Learning Wwise and lots of other useful stuff. More about them a bit later.
Introduction to Sound Design and Music was a course in Media Lab that gave us a broad view on topics around sound design and music. In overall I really really enjoyed the course. There were two assignments that were part of the course that gave us extra credits. I was quite excited about both of them.
The first assignment was a field recording in the Helsinki Baltic Herring Fair. The recording needed to be a one-minute unedited recording, cut to the length from both ends, not from the middle. That was the only brief we had.
In general, I haven’t done much field recording but always been planning to try out how to do it properly. I borrowed a Zoom H4 from a friend. At the market I realised I didn’t have a wind shield for the recorder. It was very difficult to catch sounds without the wind disturbing too much. After all the last attempt of the day was successful:
However, the recording above wasn’t the one I wanted to present for my classmates. I went to the marketplace a few days later and tried to focus on recording the ambience created by the chatting people, but without concentrating on individuals. This was the recording that came out of that session:
There were several challenges in capturing a good moment on the tape. First of all the use of windscreen is a must. It’s very difficult to catch sounds without the disturbance of wind, even if there’s just a tiny bit of wind. I thought it was even more of a problem when doing a recording as long as minute. Second challenge was to set a decent recording level. With poor Apple headphones it was difficult to listen if the the recorder was on a good level. Additionally, adjusting the input level with zoom is almost impossible on the fly because of the noise it creates when turning the level knob. (That was the biggest reason I decided to buy Sony PCM M-10 recorder).
The second assignment was a composition with the same lenght, 1 minute. The brief was to use MIDI as much as possible. I thought it was a very brilliant task. How to create an interesting but solid composition that is only 1 minute of length?
My approach was to teach myself away from the major key I always tend to have in my compositions. I planned to start with minor key and then create a bridge that would turn the key from minor to major, sending the listener back to the field of happy major chords!
I was very proud of the end result. I liked the sounds I selected. The Roland 808 model of Ableton Live accompanied the synthesised sounds quite well. The arpeggios for the midi notes work quite well together, keeping the song alive and breathing. The bridge from from minor to major leads to the last melody that tends to stay echoing in your head still long after hearing it.
The first course of my studies in Sound in New Media was called Understanding Media, Art and Design. Despite the promising name it was simply a general introductory course for studying in Medialab Helsinki. The main point was to get to know all the teachers, researchers and fellow students of Medialab.
However, the best part of the course was the final project, done together with other 1st year MA students of Department of Media, namely graphic designers and photographers. The project instructions were simple: with the group of 8 students, design and create an installation with the theme Metamorphosis. The exhibition was held in the Design Forum Showroom in the center of Helsinki.
The final project was a very nice opportunity to get to know other students of the department and form connections that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It was really nice to see other installations and hear about the processes of designing and creating them. The theme was sort of an art school cliche but it lead our group to some really interesting discussion, ideas, and – in the end – to our installation. The most interesting idea that we didn’t develop further was about invisible metamorphosis that happens to a valuation or perception towards a person and a product or an idea.
Metamorphosis of perception
I was thinking about metamorphosis of the perception while watching Tomahawk playing live in Helsinki. I knew I would appreciate the band and its music. I knew Mike Patton would be great and John Staniers’s world’s highest symbals would amuse me. I knew it was a superband but I wasn’t really interested in the other members of the band. Not until I asked my friend who the bass player was. “The bass player of Mr. Bungle”, he replied. The bass player of Mr. Bungle! It was a total metamorphosis to me. I couldn’t perceive the bass player as just a member of the band anymore. He’s one of my favourite bass players. Even though he didn’t play anything special that night, after finding out his identity my eyes and ears were following mainly him. It’s was interesting.
There are many similar situations: you find some information you didn’t know before and then your perception changes. I think it’s a very interesting concept and I need to develop it further at some point.
Your Personal Space
Our installation was called Your Personal Space. It was also dealing invisible metamorphosis. We wanted to create a space that would be isolated from outer world in a similar manner as a larva when becoming chrysalis. We wanted to create a cocoon.
But how to create a cocoon that would be interesting and really isolated from other installations in the showroom? We ended up with a quite radical idea: let’s have a coffin where the visitors can lay down, close the lid and experience their very personal moment. For some it would be a bit frightening but we thought we should do it. And so we did it. We painted the coffin white on the outside, black on the inside and put a mattress and pillow inside. We wanted to create a space that would resemble a cosy living room. The coffin itself was really comfortable. It was a bit frightening in the first place but after trying it out, I wanted to go there again and again. So, during the first time, I really went through an invisible metamorphosis. After the first time I didn’t have the same fear for being inside a closed coffin.
My job, with a fellow member of our team, was to design and install sounds inside the coffin. The idea was to create something soothing and meditative. And something that would also be interactive: the sound would be triggered when the lid was closed.
We came up with four elements for the sound design:
- Theta waves created with Max/MSP
- Sound of waves of an ocean, which generally have similar frequency to average heart beat
- Wind with some bird chirps to create a calming white noise background
- Sample of a heartbeat, to create an illusion of being inside a womb
These elements were played through a small laptop speakers which were installed behind the pillow in the coffin. The interactive system was built on top of Arduino. There was a button that was pushed when the lid was closed. The push triggered an Max/MSP patch which started playing the sounds. It was our first Arduino and Max/MSP project ever and we got it working! Unfortunately the button got broken during the test day. But then trying to solve the button issue we realised we need to hide the Mac Mini we were using as a source for the sounds. So, in order to make things less complicated and more maintainable we decided to record the sounds into a loop and play them from my good ol’ iPod mini (model from 2006). It actually worked very well. The fact that now the sounds were audible all the time didn’t matter, because the volume was very low and the the visitor could actually hear the sounds only after lying down and closing the lid.
I think the sound design worked really well. It was great fun and I think we presented a nice piece of art for the exhibition.