Site Specific Project Update – Jake

Important Update/Relevant Information

My goals for this project shifted dramatically last week when two key events took place.  Firstly, I finally heard back from the powers at be and was made aware of the reality that meaningfully broadcasting any sort of audio throughout the CFA great hall is an impossible task to achieve, at least in the sense that I was hoping for.  A steady stream of performances that can’t be interrupted makes after hours the only time that loud noises are allowed within the building, which fit in neatly with my original plan to make my piece available to the public starting at 11PM.  However, officially scheduling an after hours event became a new problem as I tried to work around when the custodians would be vacuuming (which is surprisingly loud).  As I was trying to sort all of this out, I continued editing the audio for my project in the A6 recording studio.  I’d been working on a narrated sound walk that the audience listens to by following instructions given through headphones along with a soundscape played through a PA system.  In an effort to get as most out of the reverberant space as possible, I’d been playing around with extremely low frequencies with very slow envelopes.  Needless to say, these sounds appeared drastically different when listened to in the extremely dry environment produced by the recording studio-in fact, an odd auditory phenomenon was taking place.  Depending on where I stood in the room, the low frequencies would appear to change dramatically in volume or even disappear.  I realized that because the waves were so large and the dampening properties of the room were imperfect, a combination of destructive and constructive interference was causing “hot spots” and “silent spots’ throughout the room.  A quick inquiry confirmed that the studio was not only available after 11 PM but also soundproofed from the wailing of the vacuum cleaner, so after playing a bit more to ensure that I could control the phenomenon I’d discovered, I booked the recording studio and officially moved the location of my final project.  Since making this decision my project has progressed much faster, as I find it far easier to control the atmosphere of a room that defaults to silence than one that defaults to extreme reverberations.

Abstract/Conceptual Overview and Site Observation/Reflection

After moving my project’s location, I felt that it was necessary to go back and revisit the conceptual overview to ensure that I still knew exactly what I was doing.  Luckily there was a fair amount of overlap, as the sound design I’d been working on with CFA’s Great Hall in mind was turning out to be far more effective in the recording studio anyways.  At its core, my piece is a very strictly monitored sound walk.  The subject is given a pair of headphones upon entering the room and is told to close his or her eyes after sitting in the chair marked “begin.”  The headphones then begin narrating and instructing the subject to move to different points throughout the room, focus on particular elements of what they hear, or attempt to remember certain other sounds.  The narration is a loose interpretation of a sound walk, but perhaps a more fitting name would be a guided meditation.  The recording studio offers two unique auditory qualities; the ability to produce complete silence when needed, and the ability to produce bass frequencies with pristine accuracy.  These elements both lend themselves to certain meditative acts; the accurate sub woofer can be used to locate the resonant frequencies of every object in the room-even the people within it.  I plan on slowly incorporating and taking away these kinds of low frequencies as the narrator instructs the subject to meditate on the sounds, making it as unclear as possible when the sounds are beginning and ending.  The subject also then be instructed to get up and explore the room, being pointed to the areas where constructive interference creates the illusion of a very loud sound, and then to other areas where deconstructive interference creates silence.  The climax of the experience will be when the resonant frequency of the subject’s chest is played and they are instructed to stand where the signal is most powerful.

Technical Challenges/Issues/Documentation

Documenting this piece is doubtlessly the greatest challenge lying before me.  The actual audio files that I have produced for the project thus far are all relatively simple; other than a recorded vocal guide for the narration, I’ve been mainly working on a specific collection of sine waves that I find behave particularly well in the studio for one reason or another.  However, when listened to on headphones, they are simply sine waves, so I will need to find some different way of displaying them that exhibits the fact that they sound different depending on where you are in the room.  One way I’ve begun tackling this issue is by mapping out what I’m calling “amplitude maps” for different frequencies.  To create these, I essentially play a single tone and then walk throughout the entire room, tracking on a sheet of paper what the perceived volume is in different areas.  I also plan on actually recording with a microphone what it sounds like to walk throughout the room while the tones are playing, hopefully capturing the sharp juxtapositions between spaces that are extremely close to each other.  Finally, I will videotape the subject as they actually experience the piece.  The videotape will likely be the most telling and strongest documentation I have available, because the piece is not only manifested in sounds but also space.


Attached are a few documentations of the first iteration of the project.  I already have learned that I need to change a lot of what I started with-namely the documentation is lacking, though I hope to have stronger video edited by later today.


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