Sonic Arts Exhibit

I keep calling this module "Sonic Arts", but my lecturer Nick has taken pains to point out that it’s actually called "Sound Design for Interactive Media"… “Sonic Arts” sounds cooler.

For this module at college, I had to research, conceptualize and realize an interactive audio exhibition. As the subjects of binaural and experiential audio have always been close to my heart - and even closer to my ears - it was clear from the outset that they would form the basis of my exhibit.

For this exhibition, I worked with two colleagues to organize a collective showcase of our work (instead of an individual exhibit). The event was scheduled to take place at Perth’s North Inch Community Campus.


Noise.

Noise Poster

Noise Poster


My colleagues’ perspectives on the “Noise” project can be viewed here: David Macfarlane’s SoundScape and here: Ryan Banks’ Sonic Art.


Reverb Impulses and Binaural Capture

The initial plan was to capture a series of reverb impulses from a variety of locations (such as the art galleries our group had looked at as potential exhibition spaces or from underneath a bridge in Perth City Center from where the most insane phase cancellation could be observed). These impulses would be presented via headphones, a microphone, an audio interface and computer - thus enabling the audience member to “insert” themselves into that particular environment using their voice. The downside of which would be either expecting/teaching the audience members to operate a D.A.W. - in the few minutes of time allotted to each viewing - or designing software and/or hardware to switch between impulses.
So, I decided to go with the simpler “Experience A Day In The Ears Of Stevie C”.

“Experience A Day In The Ears Of Stevie C” was, in effect, a simple concept that allowed an audience member to follow myself through the course of a normal day using only the sense of audio.
The focus of the project changed to “A Day In The Life” from a “Virtual Pub Crawl”, although some of the latter elements still exist in the project.


Outside JD Wetherspoons

“The Virtual Pub Crawl”

Inside The Salty Dog Pub

The project involved performing a number of Binaural location recordings using a portable stereo recorder and a pair of in-ear omni-directional microphones. The mics recorded audio from all around my head - in the same manner that my ears would have sensed it, using the density of my head as a baffle in order to discern vital inter-aural cues, again just as my ears would do. When played back via stereo headphones, each recording allowed the listener to hear the capture as if they were in the same physical location and position.

Because of the manner in which Binaural information is stored and perceived (i.e. as phase information in a standard stereo file which is then interpreted as positional data by our brain), this negated the need for large bulky hardware such as speakers, amp racks or audio interfaces. This was because all that was required to listen to the recordings was a laptop and headphones - using the built-in sound card.


Sonic Arts Exhibition Software

I used my Windows coding skills to develop a graphical user interface application to control playback of the Binaural recordings. The application (as seen below) consisted of a number of buttons, each displaying an image of the sound they represented.


Sound Design for Interactive Media aka Sonic Arts Screenshot

Graphical User Interface

You may download my binaural audio sampler (for 32-bit Windows) complete with binaural audio samples to try it out for yourself.
Click here to download Stevie C’s Binaural Audio Player [64MB].

It is my intention to release a second version of this software in the future. The next software revision shall include many more audio samples from many more locations, as per the user feedback. I will also look into the possibility of releasing the software for other platforms.


Visual Basic Sonic Art Code

SDIM/Sonic Art code sample


Stevie C setting up his sonic arts SDIM application

Stevie C setting up the exhibit


Audience member experiencing my exhibit

An audience member experiencing my ears


Noise Exhibition Feedback & Statistics

Below is the general user feedback from the Noise exhibition - please note that most of the feedback represented the exhibition as a whole, although audience members could register a comment about one exhibit if desired.

Sound Design for Interactive Media aka Sonic Arts Audience Feedback
Sound Design for Interactive Media aka Sonic Arts Audience Feedback
Sound Design for Interactive Media aka Sonic Arts Audience Feedback
How realistic did you find the exhibits?
minimum = 7/10
maximum = 10/10
average = 9.2/10

How involved did you feel with the exhibits?
minimum = 6/10
maximum = 10/10
average = 9/10


Source: anonymous post-exhibition survey, 26 attendees

From the limited number of audience members, it would be unscientific to draw conclusions about the topics covered in the exhibition, however we can see that audience members were generally happy with the experience. It is also possible to form ideas for future development of the project(s) based on this information.

From speaking with the audience, one particular thought was that, while satisfied with the immersive and interactive nature, many thought that there could have been a wider source of material.
As previously stated, this will be addressed in version 2 of my software.


My Conclusion

“Everyday life is full of three-dimensional sound experiences”
- Francis Rumsey

This project has opened my ears to the wealth of audio information that surrounds me on a day-to-day basis. There were times that I thought to myself “If only I had the binaural mics with me now!” - in response to: a morning police raid (complete with choppers, police dogs and loudhailers) I was walking past on the way to college, a stairwell with a reverb time in excess of 10 seconds, a cave, a bar brawl and an explosion that I witnessed.

I really enjoyed the process of realizing as many sources of Binaural audio as possible. I love how a cheap pair of in-ear microphones can allow another person to experience what I experienced without ever having been there.


References

Bartlett, B & J (2007). Recording Music on Location. 115.

Blauert, J (1997). Spatial Hearing: The Pschophysics of Human Sound Localization.

Brown, D. (2009). Derren Brown - Bat Sounds - Channel4. Available:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjFcvixIRxs. Last accessed 25th Nov 2011.

Chion, M (1994). Sound on Screen.

Gibbs, T (2007). Discover Sonic Arts. Available:
http://www.sonic.mdx.ac.uk/discover.html

Moore, B (1997). An Introduction to the Psychology of Hearing.

Plack, C (2005). The Sense Of Hearing.

Rumsey, F (2001). Spatial Audio. ix-xi, 1-2, 9, 34.

The Sound Professionals, Inc. Binaural Mics. Available:
http://www.soundprofessionals.com/cgi-bin/gold/category/110/mics