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The function of public advertisements in an urban environment is still highly relevant to ways in which all sorts of strangers can communicate and organize business in highly-modernized times.  By placing a homemade-looking piece of paper on a coffee shop message board or taping housemate wanted ads on telephone poles, the city dweller is thus able to cut out the middle man of commercialized business and come into contact with figures they wouldn’t usually encounter otherwise.  Simultaneously, each ad, whether the maker knows it or not, carries a certain personality stamp to it no matter how small.  Inevitably, the maker has encapsulated their interests/concerns in how they created the ad, and these concerns are often the product of living in an urban environment.  Because of this, I wanted to respond to the small details that come through in these otherwise all-business scraps of paper, and I thought the best way to do that would be with music.

By recording my own minimalist works of music (all songs are 30 seconds) as an expression of personality, and pairing them with pre-existing ads to create a new environment in which sound and image combine the concerns of two strangers, I hoped to mimic what I imagine would be the interchange of these strangers in a city.  The songs are also meant to pay tribute to these ads in an absurdist way—focusing celebratory praise on something most people consider insignificant and completely blended into the urban atmosphere.  Still, the praise is only 30 seconds long, the songs are simplistic, and the speaker on the playback device is low tech in a rough way.

But because of this, and this forms a central concept to the piece, the participant is forced to move fairly close to the device in order to get enough information out of it.  In doing so, the viewer’s sight is inevitably drawn to what is paired with the device: the ad.  The ad hopefully becomes re-evaluated by the new emphasis placed upon it, giving the form of public posting a higher profile amid the rest of the clutter the brain pushes to the periphery.  My piece, though small in scope and simple in technology, is affiliated with ideas of the locative art movement, as its “focus on digital authoring within the environment…offers the chance to take art out of the galleries and off the screen”(Hemment, “Locative Arts,” 3).  In allowing the option of music to co-exist with a space of visual, advertisement-related information, thus altering the viewer’s response towards a more personal reaction, the work engages “in how people’s relationship to their environment changes,…not only in location but also in context”(Hemment, 3).

The context of the otherwise normal advertising message board is not the only element changed by the piece.  Divorced from any typical listening device such as mp3 player, computer speaker, stereo, etc., the music itself takes on a new identity that is specifically shaped by its environment.  This is not only through the marriage of the visual ads and the aural music but also through the conflation of music and pre-existing spacial sound.   The hallway in 15 West in which I’ve installed the work is overpowered by a loud, all-encompassing hiss of air ventilation.  This also mixes with the sounds of students greeting each other and the clanking of silverware in the nearby Portfolio Café.  The music thus becomes another personality in an integration of soundscapes.  Central to my idea is something R. Murray Schafer wonders in his essay “The Music of the Environment:” “is the soundscape of the world an indeterminate composition over which we have no control or are we its composers and performers…?” (Schafer, 30).  My piece is somewhat of an experiment in seeing just how much the fairly abstract and personal music I’ve written can impose on a sound environment completely based on being functional.  Where do these two points intersect in the sound world, the artistic and the practical?  And if they don’t intersect or combine very well, what does that mean towards bringing attention to the ads themselves?  They become then a moment of dissonance rather than an integration into any aural system.

By attempting to bridge the world of personal music with the fairly impersonal (and uniquely urban) worlds of advertisements and function-centered space, I hope to color in the human details that have otherwise been left out of the equation.  Hopefully the viewer wonders more about the origin of that ad—where did it come from, who made it, and what does this music have anything to do with it?  That disconnect is part of the piece, introducing an ambiguity into the environment that otherwise wouldn’t exist, and making the viewer think twice about the significance it has in being connected to a public message board.

My process of making this piece began by searching for a record/playback device small enough to fit on a messageboard while still being interactive and loud enough to hear.  After some searching I found this:

A figurine from the movie “Saw” attached to a 2 x 2 x2 inch recording/playback device.  I ordered 10 (it was a deal) and took off the figurine of each box and painted it with white acrylic.

It ended up looking like this:

After recording my songs onto the computer I played them back and recorded each one to the box.  I mounted them to the messageboard with white tape and wrote “Push” on them in red letters.  The finished product looked like this:

Below I’ve included videos of each song in action.

Song 1

Song 2

Song 3

Song 4

Song 5

Song 6

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canned_canal_orchestra_fall2009_sound_media_proposal ‘A Canned Canal Orchestra’ – Nov 2, 2009 Final Proposal for Sound, Media, Urban Space 2009 Final Project[/caption]


canned_canal_orchestra_fall2009_sound_media_proposalThe idea of ‘Playing the Canal’ originated from a wintersession 2009 independent study which looked at applying Robert Irwin’s four categories of sculpture as landscape interventions. That idea was to construct a 40 foot wide bridge with movable/floatable/interactive staffs:

Winter 2009 – The Transcendence of Futility Concept



“The Transcendence of Futility” is the insertion of a physical instrument of process [of tidal forces and industrial uses] into the canal that links together [physically and contextually] the Roger Williams National Memorial to the Blackstone Canal and beyond.

The intervention approaches the canal as a tidal instrument — both complementing and completing each other  — as if the staffs crossing the canal’s path are strings of a musical instrument that the river is plucking  as it attempts to move past these obstructions. Thus the river acts an instrument — or, one of hundreds of instruments circling about these staffs and thus creating an orchestra, but the staffs act as the composer while the visitors passing through the intervention are the audience and the players…

But this was completely unattainable to physically build. It was too complex and too complex (upwards the cost of a semester at RISD perhaps?) to build in roughly six weeks. Therefore, I revised the idea  (how could I simplify the idea of playing the canal?) that I would end up collaborating with Stephen C.:

If I used an amorphous clothes-linerobe-and-bucket (an archaic method for retreiving well water) typology for creating the instrument it would be possible to create the instrument. Instead of using staffs, the intervention would use “found” objects that were once synonymous with the canal. Unfortunately no such data exists for the original use of the canal. There is, however, the remnant of the meatpacking industry on the canal as recently as the late 1960s when the last stragglers of that struggling industry closed their doors and their buildings torn down (their platforms spanning the Blackstone Canal still, albeit deteriorating, exist).

Therefore, using SPAM cans and similar objects, I propose playing the canal with its prior  “occupiers.”  The intervention may be designed with various sized objects or they will all be the same whereas their installation will differ. These objects will be strung on cords and hung across half the canal (if access to center aisle proves difficult, cords will be strung across entire wdith of canal). The cords will be tied to the pedestrian barrier but players would be able to untie them to interact with the cord (and thus the objects floating/submerged in the water).

As mentioned earlier, I teamed up with Stephen to accomplish this installation. An early concern for the project was amplification of the cans in the water — that at the intervention’s present location there was a lot of road noise to deal with and it would have been nearly impossible to audibly distinguish the orchestra (even with amplification). So we moved the installation to the Providence River; right outside the area around the RISD design center. It was the only place with suitable river and power access (for amplification).

Our new site, center right with the four flag poles


DSCF9479We did some concept sketches of the construction and then proceeded to build the devices for amplification — hydrophones. After considerable research, we discovered that building a poor man’s hydrophone (no one at RISD had a real one we could borrow) could be accomplished with a piezo disc (essentially a doorbell buzzer) and waterproofing it. We at first used latex which took too long to cure (over 8 hours and it still wasn’t completely cured when we tested it in water), then Jade Glue (a complete bust though sound in concept) and then finally wax when Stephen mentioned that he still had some from a thesis concept model. The wax worked best as a waterproofing agent but the latex, as an elastic material, had a curious sound response to that of dolphins:

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Sunday 12/6/09:

Full scale mock up on the canal.  It was time to install our project on site for a test run.  We ventured out to the Canal with a fender guitar amp, patch cables, hydrophones,  rope, pulleys, empty aluminum cans, extension cords, and a five gallon pail.  We set up shop directly behind the risd store.  Our plan was to set up a clothes line type structure that would span the canal from which we would hang our ‘bouquets’ of cans.  Because of the distance of the span it seemed like it would be easiest to walk the rope across the college street  bridge with one of us at each end.  I walked across the bridge first and realized we needed a plan B.  We didn’t take the lamp posts into account and I wasn’t ready to risk my life to get around them.  So plan B was to throw one end of the rope, pulley attached, to the other side of the canal.  Easy enough, right?  Because neither Jeremi or I are skilled like Macgyver or were cowboys in our past life we just couldn’t get it further then half way.  Turned out that had something to do with the rope.  To short.  So we got a 200′ rope and picked up where we left off Monday morning.

Monday 12/7/09

Crit day.

1. rig up clothesline that is approximately 18-24″ away from the water and spans the canal

2. attach aluminum can bouquets equipped with hydrophones to clothesline, ensure that the cans are in the water

3. run hydrophones to patch cables that are attached to clothesline

4. attach patch cords to speakers

5. create sounds by pulling ‘feeder’ lines that are attached to the cans

Armed with a longer rope in addition to the other materials mentioned above and three speakers we checked out from risd media resources we resumed our set-up.  Lasso time!  Neither of us could get the rope to the other side yet it seems so close.  Oh well, time for plan C.  Move the instillation down to the Washington Street Bridge, behind the Illustration Building.  Walk the line across the bridge as originally proposed and we will not have to worry about the lamp posts.  That was easy.  Once the pulley was strung up between the east and west sides of the canal we needed to add a weight to the west side so that the line would be level.  For this we used a five gallon pail which we filled with water and hung from the line.  Next we attached the aluminum cans to the clothesline, 3 separate bouquets each containing  a hydrophone.  The clothesline allowed us to send the bouquets out into the canal by simply pulling in the top line.  Once the cans were in the water we were able to plug the cables into the speakers and interact with the canal.

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Sonic detection of gunshots
Shot Spotter Video

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NEW YORK, June 20 UPI — The New York City mass transit system provides affordable and efficient transportation, but it could be hard on the ears, a team of researchers said.Richard Neitzel of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington and Robyn Gershon of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health conducted hundreds of measurements of noise levels at platforms and stations, as well as inside of vehicles on New York subways, buses, ferries, commuter railways and the Roosevelt Island tramway.The study, scheduled to be published in the American Journal of Public Health in August, found that on average, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s subways had the highest noise levels, at 80.4 decibels, followed by the Path trains, at 79.4 dBA and the tram at 77 dBA.The lowest average levels measured, 74.9 dBA and 75.1 dBA, were obtained from the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North trains, respectively. The very highest levels measured in the study were found on an MTA subway platform at 102.1dBA and at a bus stop 101.6 dBA — a chainsaw is 100 dBA.”At some of the highest noise levels we obtained such as on subway platforms, as little as two minutes of exposure per day would be expected to cause hearing loss in some people with frequent ridership,” Neitzel said.

via Mass transit can be hard on the ears – UPI.com.

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Under most circumstances, a metal spike jabbing you in the head is not likely to elicit a smile. Unless, of course, you’re wearing the “Happiness Hat” created by designer Lauren McCarthy. The New York Daily News says McCarthy’s creation includes a sensor to determine whether or not you’re smiling. If you’re not, the hat jabs you in the head until you do. McCarthy says she thought of the idea after reading that even a forced smile can lift people’s moods: “I’m interested in whether technology can teach us to be more human.”

via November 3: Hat Trick.

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Under most circumstances, a metal spike jabbing you in the head is not likely to elicit a smile. Unless, of course, you’re wearing the “Happiness Hat” created by designer Lauren McCarthy. The New York Daily News says McCarthy’s creation includes a sensor to determine whether or not you’re smiling. If you’re not, the hat jabs you in the head until you do. McCarthy says she thought of the idea after reading that even a forced smile can lift people’s moods: “I’m interested in whether technology can teach us to be more human.”

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via November 3: Hat Trick.

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Video link

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Video of installation

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