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  

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sequencer Wheel

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For the past month I’ve been working on a hand-cranked beat sequencer.  This device grew out of a bunch of ideas I’ve had while working on my residency at DPI.

In short, the sequencer consists of two large, concentrically-mounted wooden wheels.  One of the wheels rotates on an axle and the other which has sixteen sliding levers attached to its face remains stationary.  As the front wheel rotates, a switch mounted on its back is depressed by levers on the back wheel which have been pushed toward the wheel’s center.  Each time the rotating switch strikes a lever, a sample is triggered on the attached computer.  It is possible to play repeating sequences of samples by rotating the wheel at a constant rate.

The following video shows the operation of an early cardboard prototype:

Since shooting this video almost a month ago, I have been building a more substantial prototype out of wood.

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Tonight, I’ll be testing out the wheel with the software I wrote before I made the cardboard prototype.

posted by Michael at 2:59 pm  

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