learning the ropes

things I made at ITP and after: sketches, prototypes, and other documentation

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sound Inspirations

Act I – The HighLine


My father and sister came to visit this week and we spent a bit of time out and about in New York City.  One of the places we visited was the HighLine – a recently opened park utilizing elevated space along the west side of Manhattan that was formerly a railway freight line.  As we walked through one of the more “designed” areas of the park (pictured above) which passes through a building, I heard something which got me thinking about acoustics in a space.  At certain spots in the space, I could hear  music playing and in others, I simply heard the background.  There were also spots where I could hear conversations around me more clearly.  This got me thinking about the role of “obstructions” and surfaces in the context of this installation work.

This idea seems to resonate somewhat with Wendy’s last post about focusing sound.

What if the space had features which reflected the sound so it could be focused in different ways?

Act II – Moveable Type

I also revisited the “Moveable Type” installation at The New York Times building on 42nd St and found myself much more focused on the sound of this installation.  In addition to the ambient sound design that accompanies the transitions between the scenes in the work, it seems to me that each of the 560 vacuum-fluorescent display modules also contains a speaker.  This has the effect of providing localization to some of the specific transition sounds.  I have a hard time imagining the installation without these sounds.  While they are almost akin to “sound effects”, they seem to me to add impact to the visual transitions in a way that just feels right.  The little clicks and zaps add dimension and context (perhaps through subtle sonic editorializing) to the information that is displayed.  Without these sounds, the quantity of text is overwhelming.

I’m also thinking about the connection  between the movement of the text and the way the sound reinforces the visual effect of that movement.  They’re bound tightly together.

Act III – Fashioning Felt

The Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s Fashioning Felt exhibition gave me an opposite experience from the one I had while walking through the HighLine.  Several of the works in the exhibition were acoustical panels made from industrial felt.  I wasn’t aware of felt’s sound absorbing properties.  Seeing (and hearing) how much the Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed conference room wall divider (a sandwich of clear polycarbonate between two patterened sheets of waterjet cut industrial felt) absorbed sound make me think of how this sort of material could be used to control the acoustic space of our installation.

posted by Michael at 6:54 pm  

Friday, November 2, 2007

Making Ear Rigs

I constructed some ear rigs for Urinetown based on some notes I found at Bright and Loud. The first set of rigs had long boom arms on them which the audience could easily see, so when I had to make a second version for Officer Lockstock in Urinetown, I modified the design to be much more discrete.

You’ll need the following supplies to make the rigs:

* 18 gauge wire (available from hardware stores — used to hang suspended ceiling tracks and repair fences)
* assorted diameters of heat shrinkable tubing
* solder
* flesh-colored Prismacolor or Zig paint markers
* pliers and wire cutters
* heat gun
* soldering iron

I took photos of each step. You can see annotations if you click on the images.
Ear Rig 002 Ear Rig 003 Ear Rig 004 Ear Rig 005 Ear Rig 006 Ear Rig 007 Ear Rig 008 Ear Rig 009 Ear Rig 010 Ear Rig 011 Ear Rig 012 Ear Rig 013 Ear Rig 014 Ear Rig 015 Ear Rig 016 Ear Rig 017 Ear Rig 018 Ear Rig 019 Ear Rig 020

posted by Michael at 5:27 pm  

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Working with Effects Processors

We played with the Sony DSP-V77 multi-effect processor this afternoon and found some good and bad effects.

The first bad thing we found was that the EEPROM battery is running low (or maybe even dead). We couldn’t get the unit to start up at first. Fortunately, initializing the unit got us up and running again.

Factory Reset
1. Turn unit off
2. Hold down SYSTEM and ENTER buttons while powering on, until you see “Initialized” on the screen.

There were a couple presets that might be useful for the ghost voices in Urinetown.

Bank 1 #11 – Large Hall
Bank 1 #15 – 3D Catheral
User 1 #19
User 1 #1 – Magic Space

There was also a Darth Vader mode that might be useful for Christmas Carol.

The following pictures document how to change the apparent size of a reverb room simulation.

Voice Editing 001

Voice Editing 002
Use the edit button to, well, you know… edit!

Voice Editing 003

Voice Editing 004

We also played with the Alesis MidiVerb (which has nasty digital sounding reverb tails). The following presets might be useful.

#68 – Vocal Plate
#96 – Med Hall

posted by Michael at 5:23 pm  

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

MAX/MSP Patch for Making Wind

I needed about ten minutes of a spooky wind for “Off the Beaten Path,” but couldn’t find a good recording. I first tried making some wind sounds with my mouth, but found I couldn’t sustain the sound for long enough. The thought of manually editing a string of my ten-second samples into a ten-minute wind was not appealing, so I dug up one of the filter patches we worked on in Audio Art to adapt it.

The patch was already feeding white noise into a filter, so I figured I could automate the frequency parameters to simulate howling.

I used the “drunk” object to randomly walk through numbers between 0 and 128 and then scaled those numbers two different ways to drive the filter and cycle frequencies. Initially I used a resonant filter type, but I found that the wind hissed too much. To get a lower, moaning wind, I tried sweeping the frequency of a low-pass filter instead. After tweaking the frequency ranges, I duplicated the wind generation and routed it to the left output channel so I could make a swirling stereo wind.

Since I need to burn this file onto a CD for the show, I connected an “sfrecord~” object to the outputs of the wind generators and then let it run for ten minutes.

wind patch

Download MAX/MSP patch
Download sound sample (9MB)

posted by Michael at 9:07 pm  

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Goodship Pride of Communipaw Flats

We put up a production of The Goodship Pride of Communipaw Flats on Saturday at DeBaun Auditorium in Hoboken, NJ as part of the Stevens Alumni Weekend 2007 Festivities.

Several sets of “old gangs” got back together to bring the show to life — it was truly an alumni show, rounded out by the presence of the “Old Guard” — members of the class of 1957. The show was campy, as intended, but the audience had a blast. Thankfully none of the attendees became ill from the droning 30Hz tone I laid down at the bottom of the sound design.

Good Ship Pride 2007 002 Good Ship Pride 2007 018 Good Ship Pride 2007 021 Good Ship Pride 2007 028 Good Ship Pride 2007 047 Good Ship Pride 2007 048 Good Ship Pride 2007 051

On the technical side of things, I ran all 8 audio channels of the show out a MOTU 1296 driven live from MAX/MSP. It took a little effort to get the MOTU unit working with MAX, but once I understood how to interpret the PCI Console configuration dialog box, things were smooth sailing. I think this was a successful first attempt at running ambient sound along with triggered sound effects. This is fertile ground for future experimentation — especially for synchronizing with lighting effects.

One problem we had during the show, though, was that the sound design was overwhelming the actor’s lines towards the end. As the sounds of failing steamboat’s engine grew, they drowned out some of the final lines of the show. I realized afterward that adjusting the EQ on the sound design patch so that it dropped out in the human voice range might have helped.

Final Patch Screenshot
- the control panel of the Goodship Pride in MAX/MSP

Final Patch Screenshot 2
- “behind the scenes”… it’s a little scary in there; eight audio channels, especially with automated fades can really complicated the routing. I couldn’t figure out a good way to start making subpatches out of things in the time I had to work in.

I “invented” a couple of new things for my MAX/MSP toolbox while working on the show

  • Randomized wave file player
  • Automated fader
posted by Michael at 10:26 pm  

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Goodship Pride of Communipaw Flats

I am working on sound sketches of the sound design for a Stevens Alumni Weekend production of The Goodship Pride of Communipaw Flats.

Major components of the design include environmental elements: wind, waves, birds, and a steam engine sounds.

I am building a simple live performance environment in MAX/MSP so I can trigger simultaneous sound cues live. This way, I can run some of the sound beds in the background and play special sound effects from a piano keyboard. Since this will be a very short production run (and consequently a very short rehearsal run), the timing of sound elements will be dictated by action on stage.

2007 05 24 Patch Progress
- Screenshot of the MAX/MSP patch which will run the performance.

Sound Samples
To access the following sample(s), you may need to create an account at freesound.

I’ve created a basic “steam” engine sound bed using vocal samples.


Sound System

posted by Michael at 10:11 am  

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