"Ambient Addition is a Walkman with binaural microphones. A tiny Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chip analyzes the microphone's sound and superimposes a layer of harmony and rhythm on top of the listener's world. In the new context, some surprising behaviors take place. Listeners tend to play with objects around them, sing to themselves, and wander toward tempting sound sources. With Ambient Addition, I'm hoping to make people think twice about the sounds they initiate as well as loosen up some inhibitions."
Watch the video and you'll get the picture, as it were. It's a quite lovely effect, taking as input the ambient sound surrounding you and then processing that into something more 'musical'. I'm not sure about this aural enhancing of the city's noise; any more than a visual enhancing. Yet it's probably better than isolating oneself with an iPod.
Of course, it's not the raw sound of the city filtered; there is definite a musical sensibility at work in the choice of effect in Ambient Addition. Just as there is in 2006's other great music toy, the rather more basic Buddha Machine. I picked up one of these - from Boomkat, £14.99, bargain - and it's huge fun. It's a small, mass-produced - in China, for maximum futurism - plastic box, containing some very simple noise-making hardware. Nine electronic loops, which you can switch between via a small button on the side. On/off switch combined with volume. Headphone socket. That's it. But the loops are charming, in an ambient electronica kinda way. Very well crafted loops, actually, by Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian of the FM3 label in Beijing. Most charming of all, the low cost production values and combination of slowly fading batteries and simple speaker technology mean that every box will sound slightly different. The plastic box and lo-fi AM radio-style reproduction lead to a fuzzy, crackling tone which offsets the ambience perfectly. It's also fun to mix with other music. When most people hear it, they either say a) "That's perfect accompaniment for a massage/yoga/beautician" or b) "That's perfect accompaniment for my hardcore electronic music project." Apparently the first customer was Brian Eno. Who bought six, based on seeing a prototype at dinner. As you do. You can imagine the conversation with the VCs: "We see our target market as beauticians and Brian Eno". Either way, they've sold over 10,000 and counting.
There's a compilation, Jukebox Buddha, which is pretty good, and Boomkat has an excellent interview with the creators.
Thirdly, Barry Blesser writes, noting that readers of cityofsound might be interested in his new book with Linda-Ruth Salter, "Spaces Speak, Are You Listening? Experiencing Aural Architecture" which has just been release by MIT Press. It does look right up our strasse. The blurb goes: "We experience spaces not only by seeing but also by listening. We can navigate a room in the dark, and "hear" the emptiness of a house without furniture. Our experience of music in a concert hall depends on whether we sit in the front row or under the balcony. The unique acoustics of religious spaces acquire symbolic meaning. Social relationships are strongly influenced by the way that space changes sound. In Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?, Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter examine auditory spatial awareness: experiencing space by attentive listening. Every environment has an aural architecture. The audible attributes of physical space have always contributed to the fabric of human culture, as demonstrated by prehistoric multimedia cave paintings, classical Greek open-air theaters, Gothic cathedrals, acoustic geography of French villages, modern music reproduction, and virtual spaces in home theaters. Auditory spatial awareness is a prism that reveals a culture's attitudes toward hearing and space. Some listeners can learn to "see" objects with their ears, but even without training, we can all hear spatial geometry such as an open door or low ceiling. Integrating contributions from a wide range of disciplines - including architecture, music, acoustics, evolution, anthropology, cognitive psychology, audio engineering, and many others - Spaces Speak, Are You Listening? establishes the concepts and language of aural architecture. These concepts provide an interdisciplinary guide for anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of how space enhances our well-being. Aural architecture is not the exclusive domain of specialists. Accidentally or intentionally, we all function as aural architects." Sounds good eh? You can pick it up at Amazon [UK | US]
Finally, Christian Marclay's 'Video Quartet' (2002), recently installed at the Tate Modern is one of the best artworks to hit London in recent years. A four-screen projection, room-sized, a 13-minute collage of hundreds of clips of music and sound effects in films, tightly cut and orchestrated together into a glorious new piece of music and film. It's utterly stunning. I saw it today, and I'll be going back. I could sit and watch it for about an hour.
It was commissioned by SFMOMA a few year's back, so it's fairly well-covered online [Wired | Kottke | Brooklyn Rail] but Greg Allen has a good description of the production process, apparently all done in Final Cut Pro: "What had seemed impossible or magic before was now revealing itself as a complex creation, the product of arduous, inspired effort."
Fifth floor, north-west side, room 8 I think. Go and see it if you can. You won't be disappointed. Here's a few pics; a couple from the Tate site, a couple from me.