Category: ‘Media reviews’

#SoundCon-ing for World Listening Day 2016 #WLD2016

July 18, 2016 Posted by Milena D

Just finished speaking just very briefly on the idea of critical soundmapping – which I’m happy to say is not at all even remotely original an idea. It is wonderful to see a global emergent field of sound studies entering the conversation, which at times in acoustic ecology has been stale – new and diverse voices all pointing to the fact that listening even as an unmediated practice is NOT value-free, or objective or neutral, it is always subjective, political, personal, critical. Amazing feeling to be part of this community – I’m very grateful and wish you all a wonderful listening day. Jul 18th – the birthday of R Murray Schafer, and also Nelson Mandela, who, let’s remember emphasized the importance of education as a tool for change. Let’s listen critically, and to a variety of voices, not only those that are closest and scream the loudest. Sounds lost and found.

Sensory Postcard: The Sound of Coffee

June 28, 2014 Posted by Milena D

I came by an interesting post today on Facebook, from the Creative Post about a study (I am yet to read, but very curious) which suggests that coffee shop ambience fosters creative intellectual labour. The story goes as so – as more and more independent creative contracts are moved to the cafe instead of to the (home) office there is a new ‘normal’ for creative workflow. Apparently ambient cafe noise at around 70dB is optimally productive, while levels pushing the 80dB are distracting (not to mention harmful, given the average laptop worker spends over 3 hours in a cafe).

I’m reading this in a cafe called The Bean in Mid-town Manhattan NYU, right across the Strand bookstore, and below we see the sound levels, which are in the mid-70s. So even according to the author of the original article this is a bit high. The problem is it’s hard to find a place that hovers at the flat 70dB mark. In my, now over four-year long extensive ‘study’ of North American coffee shops, it is quite rare to find a place that comes in at any less than high-60s dB. In fact, a popular ‘working’ cafe with all the ‘fixin’s’ – constant coffee machine turnover, steam, dishes, lots of voices, shuffling of chairs, background music – typically measures at mid-70s to 80dB. According to worksafe regulations, regular working exposure to sound at a magnitude of 85dB or over causes hearing loss over time. If we spend more and more working time in cafes, I ask then, why don’t we care more about the levels of sound we expose ourselves to? And what about those who work in cafes and restaurants? Restaurants are even louder than cafes, in my experience, based on past measurements.

In fact, not only isn’t anyone bothered (ok, I know that’s an overstatement) but people seem to like loud-ish environments to do creative work in. The article also pointed to a website called Coffitivity, which showcases an app, or rather a ‘revolution’ I think in productivity apps. Coffitivity offers the light ambience of a cafe for the creative worker who is getting writer’s block or coming up dry in the creativity department in the silence of their home. In fact, Coffitivity cite a paper that suggests some levels of noise is positive and productive for creative pursuits. The Creative Post article actually rallies against cafe noise, however, instead advocating ‘rain’ apps. That’s right, apps that play you an ambient rainscape that you can control in terms of intensity and type of rain. I am writing about this today because I’m just caught totally incredulous and open-mouth about this. It reminds me of the time I first heard about white noise machines for sleeping. The idea of adding undifferentiated constant sound when I need silence to sleep seemed like the strangest idea.

So, having grown up in a ‘keep-silence’ type of educational environments I cringe at the idea of adding ambient noise to my workflow in order to squeeze more creativity out of myself. Especially given that I hate the sound of North American cafes and whenever I am there I work ‘despite’ the noise, not because of it (or at least that’s what I tell myself). But I am starting to think there is something to the idea of sound levels and intellectual labour. In the past six months I’ve been intensively writing my dissertation at a work group on one of the SFU campuses. A public space, which albeit quiet, is still distracting. I’ve been listening to music on headphones while I work, and over time I noticed, when I turn it down I am much more distracted by it then when I turn it up past a certain level. Past that level my brain somehow puts it in a different category and it functions concurrently with thinking/writing instead of competing with my brainwaves. Very strange for me, because I am so fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of pumping noise into my ears in order to drown out distractions. It’s like a metaphor for urban noise – because the idea of eliminating it seems impossible, we instead focus on managing and counteracting it with other noise. And then again, maybe we haven’t eliminated city noise because we do in fact function better with it somehow.

Skylanders Lost Islands

February 21, 2014 Posted by Milena D

So I’m addicted to a new little game – a pretty, catchy ‘farming’ game. The graphics and joyful atmosphere do a lot to draw one in, and if I may add, the game mechanics are clever and do a lot to hook you. Before I knew it, I had been playing for 4 hours and had spent $20 of my own dollars on in iOS game!

But this is about the game soundscape. I have been fascinated for a little while by the soundscapes of farming games. Like the brightly colourful graphics, naive world in which happy workers plow fields and the sun is always shining, the sound usually contains matching elements – a mellow, uplifting melody in some form of polyphonic orchestration in major tonality; the sound effects are sparse and typically triggered by click or touch. They are usually a variation between representational sound (e.g. liquid sound for interacting with water) and a timbral riff or blimp – some sort of abstract short sample that affectively represents the game action. What hasn’t clearly been given much thought is the flow of game sound – since sound samples are triggered in close succession in farming games this results at times in a bit of a harsh cacophony  of interrupted sound samples. Some of the sounds that are likely to be most common are most shrill-sounding by nature, which again isn’t the smartest design. That said, the overall feel is addictively joyful and uplifting.

Sensory postcard: Downtown Vancouver in Transit

February 12, 2014 Posted by Milena D

Even though I drive now, and have been for a while, the sound of various transit and traffic vehicles are still quite forefront in my experience and my urban sensibilities. After all, even when I walk on the street, I am affronted with the sounds of various cars and public transit vehicles. In celebration of finally upgrading my phone from a 4 to an iphone 5S, I have been on the lookout for various applications for ‘urban experiencing’ to play around with. I was hoping for a newer and improved version of RJDJ which would take advantage of the new Motion+ chip, but alas, there appears to be no money in that as RJDJ have closed doors and abandoned even hosting the scenes and recordings I used to be crazy about (see previous posts and this one too). I was dreaming about even more ‘reactive ambient experiencing’ from the company, but alas. They have focused on a niche of ‘intelligent’ delivery of music. Strange, I digress, but their model originally was always that – to deliver music in the urban soundscape, as a music label company. The reactive environmental sound pickup was actually just a smart gimmick – an add-on, to promote small music labels. Yet I’m sure I’m not the only one who got crazy about the concept and idea of picking up live sound and processing it in real-time. I didn’t really need any musical accompaniment?! I mean, it *sounds* like music, once you grab sounds around you and modify and filter them in, it’s magical, everything is animated, like your otherwise boring commute is telling you a story. Well. That was that. End of rant.

Below, are two videos of an app I have been experimenting with – Speaking Photo, and later, Picle. Both  essentially allow you to snap photo + record sound. Both encourage you (seem to be geared towards) combining these tiny static videos into a ‘story’ or ‘slodeshow’. Picle is better looking but more crashy, and allows only up to 10 seconds of recording (perhaps tearing a page out of Vine’s book?). Speaking Photo is not the prettiest thing but it works and allows up to 25 secs or so of recording (taking after Instagram). I want to come clean right away – what I really wanted was Foundbite but sadly and I’m sure purposefully, it only comes for Windows Phone 8. Foundbite seems perfect – an all-in-one: location-based geo-tagged, you record sound while you take multiple pictures and the app puts it together for you in one nice, slick package – a little slideshow that gets tagged to a location on a giant (global?) soundmap. Oh well. The moral of the story is, there simply isn’t enough interest in audio-based or primarily audio-based applications for ambient, locational experience. I did dabble a bit into Digisocial, Dubbler and Hubbub, which besides the horrible off-putting names (who comes up with this seriously? why does a sound-based social network’s name have to sound like a fat bee buzzing around). But ultimately they all seem a bit silly. Dubbler allows you to change the pitch of your voice (or any sound) as you record so it’s trying to encourage a bit of experimentation, but mostly browsing around it, I’ve found people recording themselves signing, etc. Doesn’t really work as a social network. I mean, part of text-based platforms like the web (and yes, I know it has images) is the anonymity. Voice feels wayyyy too personal, far too revealing about ourselves. I just can’t see it working, and I really want to.

So once again, below is a slideshow of one of my first attempts at using Picle. It’s comprised of several typical downtown Vancouver spaces featuring….yes, the sounds of traffic. Especially when listened to on headphones, what is interesting is to hear the difference in sound levels and sound quality in the different times and conditions. That’s kind of what I like better about this approach to sound recording versus pure sound recording. The photo does provide the context I think, for fully appreciating the contrast between the different sound environments.

In this one here, while it’s just a continuation of my recordings in-transit, is interesting I think because it features richer details of the soundscapes inside different public transit vehicles. I especially like the second one because it is done in one of the skytrain cars from the old, original skytrain – the King George line. That line I find has a pronounced train-like sound, there is something about the construction of the wheels and cabin, how they travel over the rails that is very attractive and more pleasant for me. The newer lines sound very sterile inside, still loud, but somehow wooshy and ambient and hydraulic. Less like a train. The last bit in the video is actually me standing outside, in a bus loop while hearing the passing of skytrain cars overhead.

Tainted Love – floppy music

February 11, 2014 Posted by Milena D

And since this is going viral, I’ll repost it. I do love the sound quality of the floppies. Reminds me of tinkering with my old PC in 2000 and hooking up dial up internet, and listening to it connect, with all its buzzes and grunts and purrs. Happy listening 🙂

Are smart phones ruining the world?

December 11, 2013 Posted by Milena D

Convergence_device1There is a lot of buzz of recently about the nature of presence in public spaces, including inter-personal communication (or lack thereof) and individual behaviour. Countless pieces have surfaced on the microblog universe and become ‘viral’ across different ‘virtual’ venues and online participants. WIth over 5 million views there is the interview with comedian CK Lewis talking about how we use our smart phones to avoid loneliness because we’re too scared to experience being alone (“Why I won’t let my daughter use a cell phone”). The recently popular youtube video “I forgot my phone” offers a poetic warning for how devices disconnect us from the present, from ‘authentic interaction’ is going strong with over 32 million views. In the TED-universe Sherry Turkle’s talk “Connected but alone?” predates the more recent pop culture contributions with a more well-rounded discussion of how the presence of ubiquitous technology is re-shaping the relationships we have with ourselves, with each other and with technology itself. In addition to numerous  articles on the bloggo-sphere organized around the theme of ‘how the iphone is ruining the world’, the presence of this critical mass of cultural resistance points to some important collective fears we have with regard to presence, communication and relationships.

When I say ‘we’ I really think digital immigrants fit this condition most accurately for a number of important and unique reasons. As occupants of a truly transitional world between print/old and new/digital media we inernalize the angst and moral panic of a technological culture that is rapidly surpassing our ability to adapt; we are naturally mired in nostalgia over the very different nature of our childhoods that were built on face-to-face interaction, yet we cannot get on the exclusive “text is best” horse our parents and grandparents seem to be riding. Meanwhile, what is probably more accurate of the present day is a gradual shift towards withdrawal from the public sphere, retreat into our silos of family and close friends, particularly in urban centres that have overtime become concrete jungles filled with strangers and institutions. De-personalization of the public sphere in this sense way predates the emergence of the mobile phone – it is more appropriate to see it as a symptom of an already shifting social and inter-personal relations and an evolving nature of presence.

Coming at it from the old paradigm of defining communication technologies by their sensory affordances – yes, it seems as if we bury ourselves in the screen, privileging a visual, virtual field; however, if we let go of this type of conceptualization of communication technology, we can see mobile smart devices as micro-worlds that are receptory as much as they are participatory for activities we control (see pic above) – so we are in fact burying ourselves primarily into a world we control, full of connections, sounds, images, gestures and haptic interactions. I’m not saying that smart phones aren’t changing the world; but I have to reflect on my own pre-conceived notions – both theoretical and personal – before I aim to point out exactly how, or why. As McLuhan said, rear-view mirror vision is 20-20, and we often discover that the changes we ascribe to technologies were in fact at play long before technology arrived to the stage of social action and cultural practice – particular technologies such as in our case the “smart phone” simply captured and promoted those changes especially well.

Some fun blog posts on this:

http://runt-of-the-web.com/ruining-everything-smartphone

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/technology/micwright/100010648/louis-c-k-is-right-smartphones-have-become-a-blight-on-our-society/

http://www.thejanedough.com/burnout-101-why-the-smartphone-is-ruining-everything-for-everyone/

We Are Losing our Listening

October 14, 2013 Posted by Milena D

Scouting through TED today as a form of highly productive procrastination I came across this from “sound expert” Julian Treasure. It’s interesting hearing a very Schafer-esque approach to the idea of active listening but with a few Jean Luc Nancy quotes and with handy guidelines for the public.

The Sound Engineer’s Hard Work

March 10, 2013 Posted by Milena D

This was just too funny not to post, and I was introduced to it by one of my sound class students. Right after I sort of trashed the scientistic nature of the studio process that negates freeflow of creative expression. I guess some flows need to be genetically engineered!

Sensory Postcard: The Ghost Train

November 10, 2012 Posted by Milena D

This is going to be a picture-less, sound-less postcard, but nevertheless I feel compelled to comment because it was such a unique, simple, yet savory experience. I was really charmed by the simplicity of multi-modality – an open train or real tracks, in the brisk cold night, huddled with strangers going through a narrow passageway with scenes from various fairy tales unfolding off to the sides. A combination of real actors, props, detailed fabrications of scenes from fairy tales just enough to evoke memory of each one, really gave the train ride a sense of presence. In some ways it made me aware  (and hopefully others) how used I am to the flatness of experience provided by media – whether it’s my TV or my computer, or even my beloved iProducts.

Auditorily, the delightful part was that each fairy tale scene was announced by sounds first, before it became visually present. But let me backtrack. The train itself has cheapo variety park speakers built in and played music constantly. Let’s see if I can describe it. It was a cartoonish melody but it wasn’t contemporary or popular, and not too childish. Had a fairy-tale character, perhaps reminded me of old vinyl records I listened to of dramatized fairly tales, or perhaps other people were reminded of their Disneyland experiences and so on. In any case, even tho it appeared to be ‘generic’ in a sense, it was actually a custom mix, because it mixed in elements – melody, voice and sound effects that represented in a refreshingly subtle way the fairy tale scene that was just about to materialize out of the darkness ahead. A particular highlight for me was the sound effect of hundreds of mice scattering and screaming in that pattern mice do, sound intensifying as we came up on a fabricated scene on the side of the tracks of a fake corpse covered in at least 50-ish plastic mice/rats.

Reflecting on this experience, again, I just can’t say enough how refreshing it is for me to re-conceptualize this notion of ‘multi-modal’ display/interface that gets thrown around a lot in the interaction design community, and for that matter, in education(al technology). The way this train ride was multimodal, with the darkness of the forest around us, eery branches and leaves, fog-covered pond, water reflecting the moon hiding monsters below, cold biting night air, analogue metallic clanking of wheels on rails with its distinguishable crackling when direction changes, the low-fi sound melody and effects played via speakers, plus the immediate sounds of the live actors on the various fairy tale sets. It was a truly multi-modal experience with a presence that the most sophisticated piece of technology hasn’t been able to get close to. The sheer depth of – that’s how I can really think about – the depth, dimensional effect of different sensual experiences layered together, sight, sound, touch, temperature, smell, emotion….Makes me realize – duly so – how limited the conceptualizations of even the most contemporary forms of multimedia, multimodal, tangible technology are.

 

No More BIAS

July 26, 2012 Posted by Milena D

Having upgraded to Peak 7 LE a few months ago after frustrating incompatibility issues between Peak 6 and Lion OS, I was frustrated once again looking for an MP3 and MP2 encoder, not to mention an AAC encoder for Quicktime for making iPhone message tones. After a few unsuccessful tries to find and download said encoders, I cleverly clicked on the cached link to the Peak site, and discovered that BIAS Inc is no more! Yikes. My first response was outrage at having NO support for a product I was just pushed into upgrading to by a tech person (telling me straight up Peak 6 was incompatible with Lion forever) and since they don’t include documentation for easy access to additional encoders, THANKS a LOT, I am stuck. However, my second response was sadness and embarrassment at my very consumer-like response to what is obviously an economic downfall with very human dimensions…Steve Berkley, BIAS CEO’s cryptic explanation implicates strained employee relationships, conduct and morale issues…remding all of us somehow that behind every business/company are actual people, with actual problems and good days and bad days. I hate to think I too have bought unquestioningly into this idea that the customer is always right, and corporations are somehow there to be always, without fail accountable to me, and nice to me, and working for me, and that is somehow my right as a customer. Eeeesh.

So, a proper good-bye, I’ve been using Peak since 2001, Peak 2 or 3, somewhere around there, and the first Peak I owned by myself was Peak 6 with Sound Soap. I’ve enjoyed, recommended and used Peak for over a decade! Sad to see this company not be able to adapt to the “changing audio software market” as many have pointed out (see article link above)…this is no doubt yet one more move towards a global obliterating of medium-size business and vertical mergers into bigger and bigger corporation monopolies.

Now, let’s watch what happens to RIM next.