Creating an audio installation, part 2

Time has flown. How did it happen again? Many things have happened since my last post. One of the many things is that my interactive sound installation was selected for the exhibition at klingt gut! Sound Symposium in Hamburg, Germany.


The symposium opens in two days and I’m writing this blog post in an Airbnb room in the middle of Hamburg. The laptops in front of me have the installation running in a demo mode in preparation for the setup tomorrow.

The basic concept has stayed the same (read the previous post), but I have done some tweaking to the algorithms related to randomising how the sound clip will be played. It is an important part of of the experience for the visitors that they hear their voices before they leave the room, so I needed to make an algorithm that prioritises the most recent recordings. Not being a natural born programmer I had difficulties in figuring out how to create that, but luckily I mentioned the problem to a sound designer/artist Otso Sorvettula, who I met accidentially in Helsinki, and he sent me exactly the sub-patch I needed! Thanks, Otso!

Another step forward was to discover HOA Library, an open-source project where they have made super cool Ambisonic tools for several platforms including PureData. I had originally made my own simple first order encoders and decoders, which worked okay for my purposes, but after trying HOA elements I immediately fell in love with and the Cream GUI library that comes with them. They really help the artist to be creative while getting around the logic behind Ambisonics.

Even more important, however, was a test run with live people. For that I built the installation in a studio classroom at the school where I teach and invited students and colleagues to come and test it. That experience convinced me that the simple idea behind the installation works and I can attend the symposium without losing my face. The students were golden in trying different words, sentences, questions, opinions, languages and sounds into the microphone, listening to the evolving soundscape and suggesting ideas that would make the experience more interesting.

Students testing the prototype version of the installation at Kallio Senior Secondary School. Photo by author.

The demo run also gave valuable technical information on how I should set the randomisation values, what the mic gain and recording threshold levels should be, etc. The speaker setup in the demo was Quadrophonic, which was not nearly perfect in creating an immersive experience. However, at the symposium there will be a four-speaker setup, too, so it was necessary to test that. More speakers would be cool, but also much more difficult (expensive) to arrange.

This has been an interesting and educating side project in my career. Now let’s hope that the symposium visitors and contributors find their way into my installation and participate in the experience with open minds and ears!

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