Soundtrap II Installation – Installed June 2007

I was invited to propose a piece of work for the Beaconsfield art space back in May 2006. I was not at all sure if I really wanted to start making work in an ‘art gallery’ kind of way after several fairly miserable years spent pursuing this goal at the end of the 90’s. Regardless I decided to go and visit the entire two-story building which is a former Victorian Ragged School and includes cavernous railway arch space to the rear. I was particularly inspired by the upper space (the girls school room) especially it’s original 160 year old wooden floor which creaks and groans underfoot, I left thinking about what kind of things I could do with the floor. On the way home I fantasized that I might turn the floor into a big instrument played by moving about on its surface.

I decided to use contact pick-ups (C-ducer phantom powered units) placed at 6 positions under the floorboards and two conventional microphones to pick up the sounds of the floor and any other sounds present in the room. These sources run into a MOTU 8-Pre interface which is connected to a Mac Laptop running the Max/MSP patch.

Removing floor boards in order to position the contact pickups

 

When I come to program a complex Max patch, I try to break the problem down into manageable chunks. In this case I have a floor that is capable of making creaking noises when walked upon. I decided that I wanted to incorporate the floor sounds into the piece as well as using grouped sets of pre-recorded sample material.

Simplified schematic showing the relationship between the space and the software patch

The patch itself has a number of discrete parts. Firstly there is the ‘listening’ part, which monitors the level of sound from the 6 contact pickups and the 2 mics. The data from this section is mathematically compared in order to obtain useful information such as: Is anyone in the space? Is someone in there talking but not moving? Are there a few people in the space? How is the visitor moving (softly, heavily) etc.

I call the next part of the software program ‘What now?’ It takes the data from the ‘listening’ and decides what to do. For instance if there has not been any sound input for a while it might decide to load a different sample set into the audio buffers. If the visitor is moving very softly on the floor this section will pick a suitable sound set to use for accompaniment.

There is also a section of the software that records both the room sound (using two Octava microphones) and the sounds directly from the software output. The recording is triggered when activity is sensed on the floor.

The following video by Niky Lanos shows a performance in which Seb Rochford, Enrico Glerean, Joe Zeitlin and myself attempt to play the floor

2 Comments to Soundtrap II Installation – Installed June 2007

stibstibstib
October 17, 2008

What a superb idea, love the thought process involved in the patching especially to sense when there’s no movement in the room but talking and to adjust the sounds produced in this situation.

inspiring stuff!

[…]  This sincere looking chap is Alvin Lucier, Artist, and sonic explorer. One of his most memorable works is ‘I Am Sitting in a Room’ in which he records himself speaking a phrase in a room. He then plays that recording into the same room and records that. Each subsequent recording has more and more room tone until the fundamental frequencies of the room completely obscure his original narrative. It’s a simple idea and a great one, the best thing about it is that you can try it out for yourself really easily. My sound today is a recording made in the upper room of Beconsfield Art Space in South London where I was making an installation lat year. The room is acoustically very active with old wooden floors, reflective walls and a very high celling. I played the sound of a one sample click (sounds like a glitch at the start of the mp3) into the room using a PA system then recorded the results using a pair of Oktava MK012’s, normalised the recording then played it back into the room and recorded that. I repeated the process 10 times. As you will hear the results are fascinating. I really like the way the tiny impulse gradually turns from a percussive sound into a pitched sound as the attack time gets stretched out and the room’s fundamentals take over. You don’t have to have a big room to try this out it’ll work well in any slightly reflective space, you could even try it through a convolution reverb. My installation is documented here. […]

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