Category: ‘Mediated aurality’

Aural Postcard: The Smithsonian

June 11, 2013 Posted by Milena D

Smithsonian-2IMG_0622I’ll preface this post by saying I almost missed my flight back to Vancouver because I was so set on visiting the museum of american history one more time. WOW. I could live in the Smithsonian area. I have actually been thinking about writing them a letter and begging them to give me a job. Any job, in one of the museums. I am trying to think now, writing this 3 years later, what was it that was so magical about the museum exhibits – the two big ones I spent the most time in – Natural history and American history. It wasn’t just the ‘tech’. In fact, I don’t feel like the exhibits were overly ‘tekkie’, rather there was a lot of effort to create a mis-en-scene for each individual exhibit. Something to draw one in and immerse them in the story of that artifact. A lot of detail to the physical structure of the exhibits, the material objects corresponding to its meaning – e.g. the first picture represents the ‘vietnam war’ which the exhibit calls the ‘television war’ – I was actually surprised at the level of however minor self critique. I really expected the museum of American history to be all about how great Amuhrica is. Which it was. To a degree. But it involved a combination, at each site, of official and popular culture materials/references to tell a story. So the TVs were tuned to reportage from the vietnam war and as a nice touch, the TVs represented the type of TVs one would find in that era. The second picture is from the Natural museum, and it is a giant suspended sphere with projections on it that display infographic data visualized across the whole globe – environmental statistics, oceans, plant and animal life, climate projections, etc. It was in its own blackspace room and the overall ambience level was really not that bad – 68dB! Honestly, the tech and media exhibits were just wonderfully balanced with material displays, lights and sound. There was minimal bleeding from one exhibit to the next, so that each item/story makes you feel like you’re in a cocoon of a world, like being engrossed in a novel.


The two pics below show two different types of set designs – a big rotunda hallway with big exhibits, made so that people could linger and sit and basically serve as transitional space in between different thematic spaces. It is evidently louder due in part to the reverberation and resonance of the dome-like structure, and the fact that people raised their voices more and children had room to run around and shriek. The second picture is a typical controlled-path theme space where you are led by the exhibit in a sort of linear progression that itself tells a story (btw I really like that in contrast to a big open gallery space where you don’t know where you’re supposed to look first, second, third). So in this type of space, each exhibit is separated by a sort of theme presentation board. Enough to create a bit of sonic isolation so that if the exhibit contains sound it is not being heard all over the place. However, a bit of sound always makes its way into the centre space, almost as if to draw you in, a voice, a quality of recording that betrays its time period, interesting little cues that really reflect an attention to detail. I can’t remember but I think in addition to each exhibit, there might have been a PA announcement loop going in certain areas, that gave general information about a theme space – e.g. in the WWII area. I think I liked most the different quality of sound in the different historical periods, it definitely really made it feel like you’re transported there. Smithsonian, please take me!

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.


Aural postcard: Disney in the Aquarium

June 30, 2012 Posted by Milena D

20120630-133824.jpg So as part of ICAD 2012 in Atlanta, GA we got a private visit to the aquarium and as per usual, in addition to the amazing fish, whale sharks, belugas and giant manta rays, I was paying some attention to the sonic designs of each exhibit. Along with some cool “authentic sounds” by the beluga tank and the African penguin habitat (recorded real-time sounds piped into the viewing gallery), there was a prevalent Disney-style musical backdrop to a lot of the big-tank fish exhibits. For the first hour I was reflecting on the media intertextuality of Disney musical traditions, evocative of film soundtracks as a level of remediation. But as regular patrons tapered out, and our group was left to enjoy the fishes on our own, sans children screaming and running around, I caught myself getting into the music, despite myself. Suddenly the slow, airy and breathy melodic tones synced perfectly with the gliding of large fish all around and above our heads, and the occasional buildup of cymbal or trilling of bells that punctuated the dreamy musical score seemed to perfectly align with the emergence of some fish from behind a reef or corner. Almost like it was orchestrated to do so, like a film-dance fusion of aquarium choreography.  I am left to ask myself was this type of design so intentional that it leads my mind there, or is my mind so habituated to the conventions of cinema and remediated audio-visual synchronicity that it leads me there regardless of design?

From the Walkman to RJDJ

May 4, 2012 Posted by Milena D

A recent interview I accidentally came into with Co-op radio Soundscape programme hosted by Brady Marks urged me to rediscover my previous work with RJDJ. Since I’ve been driving, it’s been honestly less enticing to use soundtrips and such, and work hasn’t allowed me that much time for playing around with interactive music and process composition. While preparing some new recordings for the broadcast I came to appreciate it once more – and was especially excited to discover a ton of new user-generated scenes. I kept forgetting they show up under interactive and not soundtrips. This is a short one I did in a nosy area near my house walking to the taco place. I am having to upload these sounds to Soundcloud, because honestly, I feel like RJDJ has completely abandoned what I thought they stood for, which is building a community around creating, composing, sharing and exploring reactive music, augmented listening and such.

Perhaps I was wrong all along, but after Inception – which I’d still applaud for its clever and aesthetically/musically striking design (a little boo for using Hollywood commercial music) – after that, it’s all been downhill in my most humble opinion. The scene uploading, the RJDJ app, the RJC1000 software are no longer (or not currently, for a while) being updated due to developers being busy with other projects – Dimensions and a brand new project, called Project Now. Those however, to me, are the components that made RJDJ a community, an open-source mobile music movement, and not just a company for apps. I was expecting a newer, better RJC1000, with more options to create more striking augmented soundscapes. With Dimensions I was expecting an auditory treasure hunt – a geo/art cache app with sounds. Perhaps because of my foundations in soundscape listening and composition, and acoustic ecology, I had been wrong all along, and RJDJ is actually just an alternative music label, a support platform for delivering commercial music, I don’t know. But I do know that they started something maybe they didn’t even expect, that has now been dropped by the wayside. if there seems to be any spite in my words, it’s only passion because I care. Or I did. But I’m just one person.

Taking back the soundscape!

April 9, 2012 Posted by Milena D

Just a little Prezi thing I put together for last day of class (Cmns258) a bit of a hodge-podge of different initiatives, projects, uses of sounds and listening that are, at least in my view, transgressive and interesting.

McLuhan Prezi – at the UofT conference, Nov 5-9, 2011

December 20, 2011 Posted by Milena D

Review – Dimensions: The Sonic Adventure Game

December 13, 2011 Posted by Milena D

Ok, here are my super precious and wise thoughts on Dimensions the app, from the makers of RjDj and Inception. I am a long time RjDj user, love it, used Inception, it’s neat, so I was naturally really looking forward to Dimensions. An alternate reality ambient sound environment, for the iPhone? Yes! And here are my thoughts in detail:
– nice sleek interface, cool overall narrative idea of space and dimensions, alternate reality
– it’s nice to have soundscapes that (unlike Inception) are neutral and not commercial tracks, so generative audio
– it’s nice to have a game component to make it an option to just passive listening, a bit more interesting
– the game mechanics have NOTHING to do with sound or location, which turns DImensions basically into a really really boring farming game. At first I thought the artifacts would be actual ‘discoveries’ in space, maybe related to sound evens, thresholds etc. Certainly the map view suggests it, but then it becomes just about mining space for points.
– I would NEVER pay money to buy points and it is frankly taken all the fun and excitement out of the game for me to be “reminded” to purchase them. Feels like a cash grab. I would be happy to pay a one-time fee of say 4.99 for the game and never be bothered to buy anything within it again.
– the soundscapes for each ‘level’ so far have been pretty boring. I mean I appreciate the difficulty in making a generative soundscape that is neutral enough to work in a variety of environments, but the baseline here – a bit too understated. Overall I have not been motivated to go into that universe at all.
Sorry for the scathing review guys, I’m sure it was hard work to make, and more than one person’s precious baby project. I still LOVE RjDj, but Dimensions is kinda of a disappointment. I really wanted to see more of an alternate reality game and instead feel like I got a farming game.

A Little Bit of Noise

August 23, 2011 Posted by Milena D

I feel like noise is implicit in a lot of my posts, especially the aural postcards posts, but I often won’t feature it directly or elaborate on particular offending instances. Where I live is a fairly noisy location. Even during the night, the road is a thoroughfare for cars, ambulances (close to major hospitals) and various sirens and engine noise. To add to that, last summer there was construction for at least a couple of months fixing the outside envelope of my building, which essentially involved a lot of drilling into the outside concrete, and sounded like (sound 1). Now that that’s done this summer, the mall across the street has decided to do roof repairs or something rather, which involves them using a truck generator that has a large hose protrusion into the roof either sucking up or dispensing gravel. The sound is a combination of loud machine humming drone and the sound of millions of sharp pebbles shooting up and down a tube. It conveniently starts at 7:30 in the mornings, including weekends. The picture is the generator truck with its hose.

Aural postcard – LANcouver

July 24, 2011 Posted by Milena D

It’s been a little while for aural postcards for me … And I’ve actually collected some good ones but haven’t put any up. This weekend was LANcouver, a LAN gaming event at an old warehouse behind Great Northern Way campus…It was a rich and amazing aural atmosphere that included pretty much drag queen techno from the 90s blaring over the general hum-drum of excitement over various gaming events, mixing in with the muted soundscapes of each major game – Starcraft II being the, well, star of the show, Mario Cart, as well as the new Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II. To the side were the magic and warhammer miniture figure battle games, encased in a curiously quiet, introspective soundscape broken only by the sound of flipping pages through large paper instruction manuals, measureing precise angles and moving around the change physical perspective.

One of the recordings I made on the last day (hear below) was inspired by the early morning atmosphere of a Counter Strike (or Halo or something rather) raid in the back of the space where one guy – the “leader” presumably periodically shouted either platitudes or colourful insults and exclamations at the game and his co-gamer friends. This organic soundscape was – from where i stood – mixing in with a front display of a Counter Strike walkthrough on a large projection screen, narrated live by a game commentator, amplified and played through speakers to a small audience, and at the same time being recorded for subsequent broadcast. The simultaneous naturalness of live-amplified speech and its redundancy only contributed to a uniquely gaming space sonic environment, in addition to the very particular vocal style of narrating a walkthrough. A unique and interesting acoustic community with obvious strain of power dynamics of voice in the case of co-op mission players, and an un-imposing style of game narration; the mixture of situated aurality and broadcast-ready voice; and a backdrop of techno, along with generous helpings of pure guarana energy drinks – errr..unforgettable! 🙂


Audioboo: Another Mall Rant

May 22, 2011 Posted by Milena D

It is what it is – another mall rant from me, in audioboo, I believe it has been many months since I last visited Metrotown, or any mall for any length of time for that matter…but it’s true, every time I do, the same feeling overwhelms me – that there is a compulsion, a design in place for me to act, be, feel a certain way inside, and something in me just rebels immediately against it. I feel instantly alone, simultaneously overstimulated and exhausted, numbed and yet safe. It’s a timeless black hole of the universe. Weird.

Another mall rant (mp3)