Following the submission of the project document and the installation of the demo at OnSite, I have had a number of thoughts about the current technology setup. There are certain elements, particularly during the installation, that have proved bothersome, and I would likely redesign the unit to account for this.
One potential alternative to the current setup would be to use contact mics rather than the stereo condenser mic. If contact microphones were installed on the structures, then they would pick up the vibrations caused by traffic, be it road, rail or pedestrian. I quite like this idea, however there area couple of reasons why i thought it would be better to record all ambient sound rather than using contact mics:
1. By using the current setup, the unit is able to pick up audio from a much wider variety of sources. If I were to use contact mics, then the unit would only pick up vibrations within the structures. Given the broad variety of sounds that come from the Ouseburn area, as a result of the transport network that runs overhead, the local wildlife and farm as well as the flow of the Ouseburn river below. By having multiple locations situated around the valley, the technology draws attention to the varied soundscape of the area
2. Multiple artists have installed contact microphones in structures in order to create audio reinterpretation of structures. Although I find this idea appealing and I am very interested in the subject, I feel that such an installation would be almost too derivative of such artists as Mark Bain and Jodi Rose.
I am still very interested in using contact mics in a piece, possibly using them as the audio source in a similar setup. Given the high flow of traffic over the Tyne Bridge as well as the tower structures at each end, I feel that this location would be a really interesting site for such an installation. Will Schrimshaw has made really interesting use of this location at the AV Festival in 2010, installing multiple loudspeakers in the tower structures. I think that s imiliar setup would be really interesting. However, rather than using a looped signal to determine the audio, I would rather use a series of contact microphones, which would be used to trigger sub bass frequencies. These frequencies would then be played via the loudspeaker, resonating within the structure creating a feedback loop, much like the use of audio looping in the current setup.
Another issue that I have encountered when working on this project is the issue of microphone to line level signal conversion. In the project book, I refer to the need for the commuter to have a microphone level input, or to have a soundcard that has such capabilities. For the exhibition installation I used a mac mini which unfortunately does not have such an input. Therefore, I had to run the microphone signal via a mixer to increase it to line level. For a permanent installation of the project, i would likely not use a Mac Mini, given the cost of the unit and the lack of microphone level input capacity. Instead, I would use a cheaper unit and install it with either a USB external or internal sound card, or use a reconditioned second hand laptop as the basis for the unit. However, given the client’s requirements as well as the timescale required for the current project, such a design and (re)construction would be unfeasible.
Another issue is that of signal loss and distortion during the installation. For the original setup, I planned on using a 10 metre audio extension cable so that I could install the microphone in the high in the side of the railway viaduct. However, due to the buzz that using such a long cable created, as well as the proximity of some particularly large looking cables, I decided it would be best to install the microphone much lower and closer to the unit, to minimise the need for extension cables and reduce the loss of signal. Were I to install the piece again, I would probably use wireless micas, allowing for the unit to be installed at a significant distance from the microphone without the need for long, potentially vulnerable cables that could cause distortion or loss of the signal.
I would also like to make some further modifications to the programming of the unit. Firstly, I would like to make the whole unit more ‘tamper-friendly’. This is a result of watching people use the interface without understanding it, sometimes resulting in them changing the interface program. One alternative would be to make each program on the midi interface identical, so that such problems would not occur. Alternatively, the buttons could be covered with a piece of plastic or deactivated so that this sows not happen.
I am also considering including a number of additional features with the unit, possibly integrating drum loops that could be controlled via the top, unassigned dials. This would emphasise the rhythmic nature of the sound, whilst giving the unit additional potential as a musical instrument. These dials could alternatively used to control additional effects, such as reverb, distortion and a flanger.
Finally, I think that the unit could include some more clear instructions. I have tried to include instructions for use, to some beneficial effect: people seemed intrigued with the unit at the launch and many people interacted with it. Part of the difficulty of coming up with instructions is the level of detail to include, wanting to provide sufficient information without patronising or confusing the audience. I decided to include simple instructions in regular font, with more detailed instructions in italics. The idea behind this was to provide simple, accessible information for general users, whilst providing more detailed information for those who desire it. I also included a hint on how to use the pads to create more interesting effects.