Posts Tagged: ‘iPhone’

Sensory Postcard – Bikes (Binaural edition)

August 16, 2016 Posted by Milena D

I haven’t written about sensory postcards in a while but that’s definitely not because I haven’t been doing them, but because of, well, time, and trying to move more pressing projects out the door. I am applying for various grants to make my urban soundscape project “Listening to the City” (Listening as Intervention) a reality – that includes creating an interactive map of my recordings and short videos, featuring the capabilities of various apps, etc. If I get a bigger grant I’m going to be expanding my project to a more complete urban soundscape ethnography using mobile tools. So fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, one new and exciting development has been using in-ear binaural mics to record in the city: Roland CS-10EM. They do seem to be the best on the market, aside from the newcomers Hooke Audio for mobile devices (iPhone). They start shipping this September so the headset isn’t quite out yet. Here’s my review of the Roland buds: while the design is contoured for the ear canal I still had a lot of trouble keeping the buds in my particular ears, they kept falling out and generally feeling loose and kinda off. The good news: these mics produced amazing quality sound with very very little handling noise. To be honest I expected quite a bit of handling noise and wind noise just from my head movements, but in fact there was less body transfer noise than when using an external mic with a field recorder. It is also particularly nice to be able to monitor and record at the same time and on the same device – they look completely discreet and unobtrusive, and generally less equipment to carry around. It does, however, get exhausting on the ears after a while to hear everything in such an exaggerated manner, so I found I had to take breaks and turn off monitoring.

My initial goal was to record the sound of biking. I have been thinking about creating an ethnographic multi-channel sound story about biking in the city, mixed with listening to music and various city sounds that kind of weave in and out during a typical journey. I had been experimenting with a Zoom H1 for a while, with various placements on my body, upper pocket, back pant pocket, leg strap – but alas, everything produced the expected result – a fair bit of handling noise and tons of wind from the movement itself. Not something I could simply edit away, it’s throughout and it kind of drowns the sound of the bike itself.

With binaural mics it’s not too much different really, except if I am stationary in a place where a lot of bikes pass through (bike lane) I can capture some really neat bike clicking and wheel spinning sounds with Doppler shifts.  Interestingly, I would recommend recording Doppler shifts with a stationary field recorder, because due to head movement it’s actually harder to localize movement with binaural mics. Dopplers are best heard when stereo-flattened (but with decent left-right isolation). Here’s what I was able to record on the Seawall in Vancouver’s Yaletown district with my binaural Rolands.


Sensory Postcards as New Media Ethnography

March 14, 2016 Posted by Milena D

For a couple of years now, ever since I ‘seriously’ started engaged my dissertation research, I’ve been forming up this idea of sensory postcards as a methodology for doing everyday ethnography – but also, I guess, sensory postcards as a DIY new media practice that is facilitated by the ubiquity and mediation of mobile smart technologies. I even wrote this little thing for the Ethnography Matters blog. What I want to suggest is that by taking pictures, collecting environmental data and creating and sharing videos and recordings online, end users are participating in a kind of methodological approach to re-mediating experience and environmental surroundings. The only difference between that and a citizen-science or citizen-journalist initiative is that the same activity (of capturing multimodally) has a specific organization and structure, aimed intentionally at a public outcome. This post has actually marinated in my draft folder for a long time and I’d like to just let it go for now because there is a lot lot more to it, and I won’t fit it all in one entry, but one has to start somewhere. This blog is in fact already a collection of different ways of doing ‘new media ethnographies’ or ‘mobile ethnographies’ of the everyday: using visual, locative, measurement-based, and aural materials; putting them together in a variety of ways. The one limitation I have placed on my practice has always been – whatever can be accomplished on the device alone. Nothing leaves the device to be dissected and remediated on the computer as I’m truly interested in how mobile devices can be used, and how designers in fact respond to the on-the-ground use of these devices, so I see it as essential to continuously push the limits and communicate publicly about these experiments. Below is a small collage I made using several different apps: Over, which allows poster-font annotating of photos, SpeakingPhoto, which takes a static picture and overlays 10 to 30 seconds of sound recording over it, and again, SpeakingPhoto which allows collaging – stringing together of different ‘aural postcards’ into a slideshow. What I find interesting in making a slideshow is that it not only strings together individual entries into a narrative, but it also readily highlights the contrast between different sonic environments, by virtue of sharply transitioning from one to another.

Sensory postcard: People & Urban Spaces

February 12, 2014 Posted by Milena D

Following the previous post, I continue my offerings of Speaking Photo and Picle-inspired slideshow recordings, a series I’d like to call people in spaces. Meaning, what interests me is the type, level and timbre of ambiance that happens when you put one, two or many people in a given space. Once again, because I’m using the same software for all of these, it is interesting the compare the different sound envrionments through the slideshow. This one below begins in a mall on a typical weekend, followed by a dense house party over Xmas – apartment sized space without music; after that we zip over to a busy popular restaurant at night time, a large space with many nooks and crannies – sounding almost identical to the house party; finally we have the overall quieter ambience of an apple store.

One thing that frustrated me in these exercises using the apps was the lack of annotation on the pictures. It is weird when you think of it – even for a slideshow program, not to be able to input a title or heading or something of that sort. The program certainly doesn’t input anything itself. So, I decided to extend the experiment and involve another app – Over. Over allows you to annotate pictures with funky fonts and titles. But, the problem is, what I’d have to do in the otherwise spontaneous moment, is pull out my phone, take a picture, open it in Over, enter a title, save it; open Speaking Photo, select the annotated picture, and press record. Basically takes the spontaneity out of it a bit. What should be a 10-second maneuver, becomes a 1 minute maneuvre, and if there was a transient sound I really wanted to capture, there it goes. It is also cumbersome and makes me want to do it less. This is exactly how apps and technology encourage – not define – but encourage specific behaviours and not others, specific expectations too. I expect for an app to do everything I want it to do. And when it doesn’t, I’m upset.

I don’t know why, but I like the recording better in this next video. Perhaps Speaking Photo has a higher quality of recording but these are better. I won’t explain the locations because they are listed this time. All I’ll say is that these spaces and actions sort of encapsulate my day working in gastown – including inside the office space, at lunch break, in the elevator, etc.

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.

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:

Review – Project NOW

May 15, 2012 Posted by Milena D

And to follow up – my review on RJDJ’s latest app, in beta testing, Project NOW – the “perfect music for every moment”. Basically it is a fancy, glorified version of iTunes shuffle/genius, compiles your musical preferences by your own feedback of whether they #win or #fail. The catch – it selects music based on its estimation of location/environmental/directional/motion conditions. So it reads the calendar, clock, weather, ambient level, motion, location, etc. and spits out a song selection that is “perfect for that”.

Technical note: I am using this app on an iPhone 4. Don’t bother using it on anything less than a 4, it will eat your battery like cake for breakfast in 10 mins flat.

To start, I must admit, I am not a big iPod listener (I only listen in very limited situations – now I drive, before I found transit way too loud to listen) and not a big music listener at home – as in, not constant, only when I am already in the “mood”. So, with that in mind, here’s what I found to be Project NOW’s most critical features:

  •  it is a HUGE battery drain. constantly scanning location makes listening to music – what should be a very low-bat experience – a very “expensive” one
  • too much babysitting for the app to “learn” my preferences, too ongoing. I’d rather spend some time to initially set it up, asnwer some questions, rather than constantly babysit it.
  • the changes to the environment “modes” are too sudden – in fact, several times i was happy i finally found a song to listen to and i guess i moved, and it went away….replaced by another song that was apparently “more perfect” for that next moment. Errr?#fail

Overall, pretty interface, easy to use, interesting idea vagely reminiscent of tinkering with your own Sims music universe (and all the nerdy goodness that goes along with it), but it adds up to a very battery-and-intervention heavy experience that i can replicate much more
simply by making a playlist. And ultimately, the “perfect” music for a moment in time is not so much determined by environmental factors, more so by mood, imho. And that would be very hard to do in an app. Yes, quiet/loud, still/moving can connote some different genre choices but not necessarily. Many times I saw what the app gave me for say a calm/still selection and I thought to myself – “i can totally see why it chose it, but I don’t feel like listening to this right now” And here’s an internal conflict – app asks you to rate a song selection by #win or #fail, but when I press #win and get ready to listen, if any of the monitored conditions happen to change, that’s right….the app phases out my current song – the song I was most happy to listen to – and cues in another song – a song that I now have to go back and rate, and decide if I want or not. getting back to the song I was most happy to listen to becomes an ordeal. Makes for a veeeeery disjointed listening experience. Well, what does it sound like you ask? I took the liberty of recording a small progression of songs, using Project NOW, take a listen here:

Update note: Just wanted to add a further reflection I had on Project NOW. Stumbled upon the project now twitter hashtag (and I swear, I’m not stalking RJDJ to kvetch about it! it was a coincidence, I barely even tweet) and was amazed at the feedback – everyone is just ecstatic to be getting random, weird music selections, they seem to be delighted by the randomness or pleasantly surprised and impressed by the choices. I would assume these folks are European so all of a sudden I felt kinda sad that I’ve found this app so dissatisfying, for the reason that it doesn’t read my mind. It’s like in north america it’s not ok to not get exactly what you want. If it doesn’t instantly satisfy, boom, it’s out the door. Europeans somehow have a much higher tolerance for experiences, for unpredictability, for suggestion. I mean, Project now is still too finicky for me, but I wanted to add this reflection because I think there is a real core cultural aspect to the design that might not be that well suited for a north american market, but well aimed at the european and developing world cultures. Oh, neo liberalism. You truly cripple the imagination.

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.

Groove Coaster! A proper Guitar Hero for the iThing of your choice

May 1, 2012 Posted by Milena D

Groove Coaster is a not so well known iPhone beat-matching game I heard about on … of all places, Feminist Frequency. Unlike the few other imitation Guitar Hero’s out there, like Rock Band, GH, Tapulous, etc. Groove Coaster is reminiscent more of the rhythm-point stylus game Osu! (original Japanese title Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! for Nintendo DS) and later reincarnated as Osu! the PC social network. I was an early adopter of the online Osu! and subsequently acquired the Japanese Nintendo version (which highly disappointed btw). But back to Groove Coaster. Don’t be fooled by its bit-art icon. I mean, I do wish they made a better one. But the game’s graphics are simple and beautiful with a simple 3D aesthetic, and the beat matching is inuitive. The tracks are fun and campy, kinda dancy, so far I’ve unlocked a bunch of content with more to come in-game (that’s right! you don’t have to immediately go purchase in-game content) and the game is pretty challenging to play.

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.

Review – Finally…My Wisdoms on Inception, The App

April 2, 2011 Posted by Milena D

Inception The App

I downloaded Inception the app almost right away when it came out, because of course, as an RjDj fan I knew about it. At the time I had a 3G iphone and had a really bad experience with it. It essentially wouldn’t play for me at all…It downloaded – so I assumed it would work, since I had been using RjDj, and then it didn’t. Dismayed, I posted a bad review of it on the Apple site. Then, I tried it on my iPod touch 4, worked like a charm, fast and furious, but I didn’t really see much point in using it. I was at home at the time…not much going on. This was similar to my early RjDj experience…you just really have to take that baby out and about to experience the magic. So, recently, bored with my usual soundtrips, I turned on Inception on my new iPhone 4G and rather than trying to tinker with dreamscapes, just hit enter…

Fast-forward a week…I’ve been listening to it almost every day, for long periods of time, on my too-long commutes, and reflecting on this experience. It’s just a week past my sound course’s “ipods and headphones” lecture when we all talked about our headphone/ipod listening habits, desires for retreat into a musical world, for orchestrating our own accompaniment to life. I try not to be a hypocrite. I’ve never told my students listening on the ipod is bad, or escapism is bad. I don’t even think it is. But, only *i* know when i do it, and I certainly sometimes do escape. RjDj has already been a fresh change, and I’ve written about that, but Inception is interesting in yet other ways, and I’ve become somewhat obssessed.

One of the things I talked with my class about is how you don’t have to carry huge books of CDs like before, now you have all your music on a tiny ipod, all the variety you need…because who can stand to listen to only one album all day? We’ve also been talking about film sound and how it evokes certain moods or expressions (or rather, as many of my students say if it’s a happy scene and the music fits ’cause it’s happy – surely, we’ll never know why that is… but i digress). So Inception in some ways is like listening to the same album all day, for days on end in fact. Except, its “interactive” nature makes it sort of random when the musical score would appear and take charge so in that way it’s not really predictable as an album, but nevertheless, it’s the same soundtrack.

The voice modulation at certain points of the experience is also pretty dramatic and sophisticated. Coupled with the deep, raspy tones of the tuba inside the lavish orchestration of the Inception Main theme, I caught myself wanting to whisper dramatic things like “One Day… (one day… one day…) …. When This is All Over (all over…all over….) … We Can Start … (start….start….start…) Again (ehn…ehn….ehn…). I get that  urge every time and am quite saddned there is no recording capability…I presume for copyright purposes. Of course I will soon get around that and post a file on my Soundcloud…but for now, reflections.

The last of which being the Action dream. It cracks me up. It is an un-intended parody of everything I’ve talking about in class in the last three weeks. Once the ipod senses you moving, and taking in mind the rate of displacement, it starts the action sequence music, which is basically, as I recall, the “action shots” music score from the movie. It is a fast-paced minor-pitched staccato rhythm, rising a half tone in building suspense every once in a while. What makes it hilarious is that instead of shooting at subconscious agents trying to kill me or driving a van off a bridge, I am demurly walking down the street with the usual mundanity surrounding me – buses, people, clouds. It is funny how so many people (many of my students too) like rhythmic music to give them energy and accompany their travel/walking. This music though, fully orchestrated, rather than musically mixed, infinitely clashes with the mundane mise-en-scene, and in so doing brings attention to the fact of how “constructed” film music is; which brings me to ask myself – why is other music ok? Why does it feel more “natural’ to walk around or ride the train with lady Gaga on – it is just as much a constructed soundscape? is it that its spatial or contextual connotations are more open, and therefore it is easier to imagine oneself being anywhere or doing anything with this type of music backdrop on?

To continue on this meta-level, it was also interesting in itself to be reminded of the functioning of the Inception app itself – “You are active” – hah, like I don’t know that. In a sense pulling me out of the cocoon of the ambient, film-orchestrated score I was immersed in, I become aware of its built-in functions, the limitations of its “intelligence”. Yet always, the dramatic, culminating parts of the movie soundtrack seem to come at the “right” moment, or at least seems to make the moment right, giving that scene just the pomp-and-circumstance to make real life movie-like.