Birds Whispering

Second year project (Group project (6 members))
Duration: 14 weeks – Sept. 2005
Coach: Koert van Mensvoort

The assignment was to “use the sounds of birds function as a calm information display that represents the presence of certain people in a certain space.” Nowadays we concentrate on computer displays, television and mobile phones for information. Indeed they inform us, but all too often their busy flickering noisy screens are also a source of distraction. The main advantage of using bird sounds is that they can merge into ones focus peripherique. When you walk outside you’ll probably not notice any birds unless you deliberately focus on them or when something “out of the ordinary” happens.
We’ve used this phenomenon and tried to design a fully operational soundscape that can give its “users” information but only when they want to have the information. When they do not want to have the information the information medium (the bird sounds) should merge into someone’s “surroundings”. We designed and prototyped a soundscape that measures peoples’ activity and moved the birds(sounds) from an active,loud place to a quiet place. When the system would be installed in an entire story or building people could derive information about the activity of people in other rooms.

Birds Whispering – Realization of the prototype.

This page explains the technical details behind the soundscape.

Hardware: To make the system interactive we’ve used 8 microphones as inputs and 8
speakers as outputs. The speakers can each be seen as a spot in the room and the 2
microphones surrounding that speaker together measure if the sound level around that
spot is too high and orders a bird (if it’s there) to leave. The microphones and speakers
are connected to a MOTU which is an external sound interface.

Software: In order to make a fully interactive soundscape we’ve used Max/MSP as our
sound modeling software. One of the difficulties in this project was the connection of
bird sounds and the peoples’ senses and their (un)conscious interpretation of those
senses. The bird sounds had to be present enough to make the people able to derive
information out of it meanwhile they shouldn’t be too present and cause disruption. It’s
a permanent system and it should add something to a space. The funny thing about
birds is that they have a very distinctive sound and still can be very different from each
other. It was crucial to make the birds sound “real” otherwise soundscape would never
merge into the background noise. Birds’ songs are repetitive (depending on the bird)
but there also is a kind of inaccuracy in it that makes it real. Just playing the same
sample over and over again doesn’t make it a real bird. The system consisted out of 16
birds which all had their own model specific to the bird controlling their pauses, melody
and “randomness”. We’ve also added intelligence to the birds so that they respond on
what is happening in the space around them. In the picture at the right you can see the
main control panel which is the basis of the program.

Small article in the universitypaper. Click to enlarge.

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