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Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: video

Drum Machine Ruler

20 centimeters of rhythmic wonder from ::vtol::

If you’ve ever plucked a metal ruler or banged it on the edge of a table, you know the vibrant, heady pulse of its taut rebound. The talented Moscow-based engineer Dmitry Morozov, who goes by ::vtol::, recognized the promise in that boinngggg and automated it. The result, a combination of processing power, two servo motors, and other items, is a programmable drum machine that makes all its sounds with a 20-centimeter metal ruler. This demo video shares some of its sonic and rhythmic potential.

Writes Morozov:

The device is based on the school experience of imitating bass lines at the desk and a fun way to disturb teachers. The instrument can be classified as an automated plucked contrabass monochord. Changing the pitch is done by quickly changing how far the ruler is extended relative to the nut. Movements, plucks and presses of the ruler along the nut are driven by powerful and fast motors, which allows playing pretty fast lines. 2 pressing motors can work simultaneously or selectively, which allows you to choose the register: the range and amplitude of oscillations depends on the place in which the ruler is clamped before the pluck. The sound is picked up by a small piezo element, which is getting hits by a ruler directly (the instrument has no resonator). The instrument is equipped with 12 touch keys, each of which can be reassigned to a specific length of the ruler. A small OLED display is used to select modes, tune notes, and indicate processes and states.

The device is called the RBS-20(cm), which stands for “Ruler bass synth, 20 centimeters.” Video originally posted at vimeo.com. More details at vtol.cc.

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Tennis for the Blind

Thanks to the imagination of Håkan Lidbo

The always inventive Håkan Lidbo has conjured up a proposed tennis “game concept” for the blind and vision-impaired. The game, called Invisiball (note the double l), is played in a highly prepared physical space, one in which sounds simulate the presence of a physical ball. That is, the sounds don’t help locate a ball in physical space. The sounds are the ball, simulating travel within three-dimensional space.

Lidbo explains in detail:

InvisiBall is a game concept for two persons. It’s a game played in a dark room, on a court with loudspeakers in the 4 corners, blindfolded or by blind people. The ball is represented by a tone, mimicking earthly gravity. If the racket, that plays a tone depending on it’s position in height, hit the ball at the right pitch, depth and left/right-orientation, it will fly back to the other player. The referee is a musical robot voice that also keep track of the score – and the whole game is built around music that change with the score between the players. With some training the players can serve, return, smash or lob the “ball” – and even bounce it on the ground. As the ball is invisible the game has a 3d visual interface for the audience. The game serves a training tool for those who have to adapt to a life without eye sight, due to illness or accident – and for us who can see, better understanding the challenges and possibilities of training our hearing sense.

Sound and sports are on people’s minds right now due to the attempts by various professional leagues, including Major League Baseball, to provide some verisimilutude of live, in-person events when the pandemic has required severe restrictions. Baseball is going cross-platform by employing sounds from an official, long-running video game series, MLB The Show. (The game’s title is interesting in this context, suggesting an awareness that baseball is, in fact, a show, long before it was, aside from some cardboard cut-out audience members, only a show.) A player on the Milwaukee Brewers has commented that “pure silence was tough for some guys” before sounds were added.

In Lidbo’s Invisiball, however, sound isn’t merely a backdrop that serves a utility purpose. Sound is the game, the framing conceit, the underlying structure, and the focus of the players’ attention. Lidbo collaborated with Magnus Frenning and Jonatan Liljedahl, who developed and programmed Invisiball, and by “young blind swedes.” It was supported by the PTS Innovation Prize (which aims “to promote digital inclusion”).

Video published to Lidbo’s YouTube channel. More from him and about Invisiball at hakanlidbo.com. Last month I wrote about his “hat for social distancing.”

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Listen Out a Window

Thanks to WindowSwap (dot com)

The great thing about window-swap.com isn’t necessarily the view. WindowSwap is a site where people can experience browser-spanning views out other people’s windows, and the folks sharing their view generally seem to leave the microphones on. So you don’t just see. You hear. You listen. When you have a glimpse out a window in Wangerooge, Germany, for example, you can hear water gurgling, as well as what seems to be office noise. When the feed switches to Haridwar, India, there’s birdsong. A siren passes, the source unseen, by someone’s pad in Mexico City, Mexico. There’s pots and pans rattling from a home in the Indonesian city of Tangerang. It goes on and on, around the globe and back again. It isn’t an endless itinerary, though. I’ve only used it a few times, and already come to notice repeat windows.

If WindowSwap brings the world close, details from the individual settings make the notion of distance (that is, of difference) more amorphous. The Tangerang kitchen has a radio playing, of all things, Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual.” The shot of Bangkok, Thailand, is as generic as might be: open laptop inside, dangling power cables outside; nearby are sounds of construction work. And then there’s the houseplants, which are universal, with an emphasis on pint-sized succulents. As it turns out, nothing is unusual.

Nothing is unusual in part because a shared aesthetic has kicked in. No human is in view, at least not on the inside of the buildings. The window in each is likely centered and fairly horizontal, or outside the frame of your browser. No brands are to be seen. And what we hear is quiet precisely because the people doing the filming are themselves, for the most part, keeping quiet. We’re hearing their world in a unique circumstance where they are doing their best not to be heard. It isn’t everyday life; it’s life minus us (with some exceptions made for actual activity, generally at least a room away).

It’s also not everyone’s life. It’s a self-selecting cohort who have the interest and time to participate, and whose domestic life allows for such a thing. The supposed quiet of right now, amid the pandemic, can be overstated. There is violence, and protest, and anxiety, and noise. To a degree, the windows viewed through on WindowSwap comprise the opposite of disaster tourism. It’s a depiction of placidity in a world that is, in point of fact, anything but. That siren in Mexico City is the rare discordant sound in all the videos I witnessed. WindowSwap is, in a manner of speaking, another form of peer-to-peer sharing.

That said, though, the service is beautiful, and serene at a time when serenity is in short supply. In my office-chair travel, I didn’t just tour the quiet world; I also came across some familiar views, one from far across San Francisco, where I live, and another from a window on a rainy evening in Manhattan. The latter was especially familiar, and then I noticed the name Nomadic Ambience in its corner. That’s a YouTube channel I subscribe to, one of several that post lengthy, uncut footage of stationary and ambulatory periods. It was a uniquely internet experience to run into not someone but someplace, someplace that was familiar, a place I’ve never been and yet where I have spent considerable time. I often have such videos running in slow motion on a secondary screen at my desk.

According to a Guardian story by Poppy Noor, WindowSwap’s developers, Sonali Ranjit and Vaishnav Balasubramaniam, are based in Singapore, and initially created it for friends during our extended pandemic, and later opened it up to submissions. The videos aren’t live, which explains why so many tend to be shot during daylight hours. The submission guidelines request the recordings be 10 minutes in length, long enough to immerse oneself in. And there’s a caveat, listed as an “update” on the submissions page, that brings up privacy concerns: “All videos have sound. So please make sure not to say anything private or sensitive. If you want your sound to be removed please let us know. Or record a video without sound. To safeguard your privacy, we will only display your first name in the credits. If you want your full name to be added, let us know.” Sound may have been a secondary consideration upon launch of WindowSwap, but it’s at least 50 percent of the experience.

Check it out at window-swap.com. The above images are, from top to bottom, of Shanghai, Copenhagen, and Singapore.

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Feedback Light as a Fjærlett

Feather, that is

This beautiful instrument from Norway feeds back through spring reverb, and then lets the player adjust the audio with a 10-band graphic equalizer. It was created by Kristoffer Gard Osen, who is based in Oslo. The resulting sounds range from ethereal drones to industrial clanging, and the drones have a metallic vibe while the clanging has a rich resonance. Which is to say, this instrument isn’t about either/or; it’s about the varieties of sound in between. The name of the instrument is Fjærlett, which apparently is Norwegian for feather, or feathery. Which is to say, as Osen has noted, “You have to play it as light as a feather.” While this video serves as a product announcement by a small, one-person company, I’m sharing it based on the beauty of the sounds made during the performance. (In a June 30th update, Osen wrote that an audio-input jack will be available as an option.)

Video originally posted at youtube.com. More on the Fjærlett at tilde-elektriske.com.

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The Sound of One Gallery Clapping

A room tone test from the Fridman in Manhattan

Like so many so-called “non-essential” businesses, art galleries largely sit empty right now. Some have been finding uses for the social distance, maintaining connections — and building new ones — through virtual events. The Fridman Gallery in Manhattan, for example, has been hosting live performances, under the title Solos, starting back on May 14. The gallery’s Vimeo page just yesterday uploaded a 12-minute video titled “SOLOS 04 – Room Noise Test.” Presumably it’s for the event scheduled tomorrow, June 23, at 8pm New York time (5pm here, I say to myself, as I enter it into my calendar). The footage, which is continuous and unedited, opens with actual room tone: near silence against the sheer absence of visible activity, aside from cars passing in the street just outside the distant glass front. Then a voice begins speaking and there is clapping, signals testing out the space’s reverberations (the sound of one gallery clapping, as it were), and the actual reverb on what must be the house sound system. There’s an extended bit of reverb right around 10:30, the echo so long and deep that sounds layer atop each other, spoken statements rendered unintelligible as the syllables cascade into a pile. The video is a strange thing, and a welcome one for someone who is used to spending lots of time in art galleries and who hasn’t been in one since February.

Video originally post at vimeo.com. More about the series at fridmanlive.com.

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