Speaker Park is a concert installation, which aims to bring together the openness, spatial and explorative qualities of a park, with the sonic and sensory detail of a state of the art cinematic production.
The installation it’s self comprises 24 highly unique, hand-made speakers, which form an unconventional sound system, designed for the composition and re-production of original 24-channel compositions within an engaging visual landscape.
Bringing together speaker makers, artists, composers and musicians, the project shifts focus away from the commercially motivated Hi-Fi/surround market, and challenges the criteria by which traditional sound systems and listening experiences are evaluated. Speaker Park creates a listening environment that is an open-source, audio visual artwork, which rivals and challenges what we think of as state of the art surround sound.
Speaker Park is also a long-term, on going project with a firm political standpoint, combining text, research and an open source platform for musical exchange and collaboration.
The concert installation premiered at Borealis festival for experimental music in Bergen this spring (2019), where it was met with enthusiasm and interest from various international programmers and bloggers/journalists. It was then shown at Oseana centre for art and culture in Os, where it received much praise for it’s combination of thoroughness, playfulness and conceptual integrity, with highly positiv reviews in Bergen’s Tidene and Barn i Byen.
The concert installation features specially commissioned works from composers Mari Kvien Brunvoll and Antti Sakari Saario, which unfold in a park full of specially constructed speakers, developed by Jon Pigott and Roar Sletteland. The audience, who occupy this park, are able to move between and around the space, changing listening perspectives, and taking in different views.
Conceived and directed by co-directors of Wrap, Leo Preston and Veronica Robles Thorseth, Speaker Park reflects this duos particular interest in collaborative projects. Their collaborative approach, combined with the physical resources and framework at Wrap, enables a particular attention to detail and thoroughness, while nurturing and benefitting from the highly unique input from each individual artist. Collective research and experimentation is an integral part of the works story.
Sculptural Speaker design and construction: Jon Pigott (UK), Roar Sletteland (N) and Wrap.
Original Originalmposition: Mari Kvien Brunvoll (N), Antti Sakari Saario (FI).
Concept, direction, text and curation: Leo Preston (N/UK) & Veronica Robles Thorseth (N).
Lighting design/video: Leo Preston (N/UK)
Produced by: Wrap
In an interview about the state of the music industry with the Wall Street Journal on 17th May 2013, producer and Black Eyed Peas founder Will.i.am said: "You have to look at the origins of the music industry being hardware - our music was made to sell hardware... you were supposed to sell phonographs/record players... so, artists are supposed to make money when they come up with other things to sell, and use their music to sell it."
Aside from the hardware we use to consume/listen to music today, there is a huge market for both hardware and software within the realm of music production. Many of todays successful musicians are involved in the endorsement and/or development of music technology, and the practice of creating music, both live and in the studio, has become increasingly intertwined with rapid technological developments. These developments have radically changed the way people perceive live music, and arguably the definition of live music its self.
It is now common for audiences at large concerts to watch musicians on a video screen, performing to a click-track with pre-recorded instrumentation, all of which is fed to the performer through in-ear monitors which isolate the musicians from their acoustic environment. The calibration of a large modern sound system is an advanced science, involving complex calculations and specialist measuring equipment, with the aim of delivering a predictable and uniform spectrum of sound to the entire audience. Artists learn to demand predictability and uniformity, technicians obsess about particular brands and methodologies, and the concert becomes a re-production of the same "ideal" show again and again.
At the same time, in parts of Africa for instance, it is the practice of professional musicians to adapt their performance to suit the backline and sound system on which they perform. In a club in Segou, Mali, the bassist in a particular dance band uses the rattle and distortion of his sound to accentuate the groove, the drummer has a way of utilizing his trashy high hat sound to great effect, and the guitarist has quickly found where to fret his riffs on the neck so that they fit the mix. You can see the complicity between the members of the band. The audience is part of an organic live event that fills the club, and it is unlikely that anyone cares much whether or not there is more bass at the back of the room than at the front!
Based on the inference that most contemporary research and development into speaker design is motivated by commercial interests and predictability for artists and technicians, Speaker Park asks the question: How can we challenge the criteria by which traditional sound systems and listening experiences are evaluated, and create a listening environment that is an open-source, audio visual artwork of equal or greater "experiential value" to the surround systems installed in state of the art cinemas?
The Speaker Park repertoire currently (late 2019) consists of compositions by Antti Sakari Saario and Mari Kvien Brunvoll which constituted the original program at Borealis Festival, as well as a short (4 minute) introductory piece by Leo Preston, which was added to the program at Oseana, and a collective work-in-progress composition (7 minutes) which is being developed with workshop participants.
The concert installation program, as performed at Wrap (Borealis Festival):
Songs From the Inside of the Outside (20 min) by Mari Kvien Brunvoll
Above the Blackened Skies. Beneath the Remains (20 min) by Antti Sakari Saario
Total length of event: 41 min
The concert installation program, as performed at Oseana:
Intro (4 min) by Leo Preston
Songs From the Inside of the Outside (20 min) by Mari Kvien Brunvoll
Above the Blackened Skies. Beneath the Remains (20 min) by Antti Sakari Saario
Total length of event: 45 min
It was initially thought that each of the two speaker designers/artists would make 12 speakers for 12 channels. This number was based on the fact that Wrap’s newly acquired digital mixer had 24 analog outputs, and that this seemed to be a reasonable number.
As the individual design strategies of Pigott and Sletteland began to crystallise, it became clear to the curator/directors that they wanted to group some of Slettelands designs into clusters with shared channels, to free up two channels for the implementation of complementary ideas of their own. Here they also acknowledge that Speaker Park might morph to suit future situations, in which case these two particular channels, referred to as “joker” channels, could provide a way of re-adjusting the installation, without undermining the design contributions of Pigott and Sletteland.
It was clear to the directors that Pigott’s designs had a clear front, and therefor directionality much like traditional speakers, which is not a prerequisite in the Speaker Park context. This prompted discussions in Bergen (including with Sletteland) about acoustic directionality and designs with no fixed front. Sletteland dealt consciously with these issues in many of his designs, in spite of the fact that they all used speaker cones which have an intrinsic directionality. In order to present as broad a spectrum of speaker directionality (and “omnidirectionality”) as possible, it was decided that one of the “joker” channels would be used by a large sheet of brown paper. This idea was originally implemented by Pigott during an initial workshop, and developed as a team effort between Sletteland, Preston and Thorseth.
The second “joker” channel was used to power a resonant pyramid shape, fitted with a powerful transducer, in an effort to create an omnidirectional bass speaker. The idea here was that the speaker cabinet became a four-sided speaker driver, in contrast to traditional speaker cabinets which are designed to enable speaker drivers to focus sonic energy in one direction. It was hoped that a pyramid shape would prevent any particular frequency from resinating above others, much in the way speaker cabinets are traditionally acoustically neutral or “dead” to enable a full range of sonic frequencies to be transmitted at a similar level. In order for all audible frequencies to fit/resonate inside the pyramid, it would have to have a base of about 17 x 17 meters (current design = 1x1m which is the wavelength of about 340 Hz).
To continue on a scientific note, Slettelands speaker designs focus on accessible materials that are relatively affordable or recycled. However these designs are not standardised in the way that Pigott’s designs are. This consciously poses challenges to the idea that Speaker Park can be easily replicated in venues where this is preferable to shipping the original installation. Sletteland feels that there should be scope for future hosts of Speaker Park to experiment with and adapt his designs in order for them to participate in and engage with the project as fully as possible. He intends to co-author a manual with HDU in which appropriate guidelines will be provided to makers of future Speaker Park installations, in order to enable them to design speakers with similar enough acoustic properties to be capable of re-producing compositions mixed on a sibling installation.
Not only do Sletteland’s designs pose this potential acoustic challenge to future hosts, but Pigott’s designs are also sensitive, and can change their acoustic properties due to small changes in the placement of the transducer, the way it is fastened, and the amount of glue used in construction. For these and other reasons, it is conceivable that Speaker Park will have to be tuned by a specialist, using EQ filters and volume adjustments. Some minor volume adjustments were made already when the installation moved from Wrap to Oseana.
Composition for Speaker Park
Due to Speaker Park’s combined acoustic, aesthetic and spatial parameters, none of which are based on any standardised theory of acoustics or spatialisation, it is essential that any audio composition for the installation is made with consideration for these specific parameters, and with mixing and panning taking place within the physical installation it’s self. This unconventional approach encourages composers to think about acoustic spatialisation in abstract and new ways, and invites the development of new techniques for positioning and moving sound sources within the spatial composition.
Both the initial compositions for Speaker Park (by Brunvoll and by Saario) explored very different approaches to the placement/movement (or perceived movement) of sound within the “park”. New possibilities are also being explored, both by developing a specific interface for fluid panning across the horizontal plane (see panning interface below) and by experimenting with ways to record audio that anticipate a given effect within the final composition.
In doing away with principles such as speaker uniformity and symmetry within the installation, Speaker Park provides composers the opportunity to also depart from the uniformity and symmetry one generally expects in traditional surround recording practices. This opens up many exciting creative possibilities, which we hope composers will continue to explore.
To continue expanding the repertoire of compositions for Speaker Park, and exploring the many artistic and technical strategic possibilities, Wrap began a collective composition during the Speaker Park residency period at Oseana art centre (30.03 - 07.04 2019). Various musicians/composers have contributed in response to an open invitation, and this composition has provided a framework for workshops aimed towards youth.
HDU hopes to set the installation up in new locations where composers can develop new pieces, as well as hosting composer residencies at Wrap, providing access to microphones and recording equipment, technical advice and the installation its self.
Speaker Park at Oseana. 2019. Photo: Veronica Thorseth
Speaker designs by Jon Pigott. Photo: Jon Pigott.
It was intended from the outset that the Speaker Park installation would be accompanied by a 24-channel panning interface which would enable composers with no prior technical experience to move sounds within the horizontal plane of the installation. This would enable sounds to be transformed by the unique acoustic properties of the speakers, while moving through the installation in a fluid maner.
Two third-party software solutions have been tried as a solution to this aim, one of which, MNTN, was adopted by Brunvoll to enable the spatial composition of her piece, Songs From the Inside of the Outside. MNTN being based (like most spatialisation interfaces) on the premise that symmetry, “realism” and a static audience (listening position) are fundamental to any process of spatialisation, presents a number of significant issues in the context of Speaker Park. However, with technical assistance Brunvoll was able to achieve her compositional goals using this solution.
The second software solution is to use Madlight, a built-in component of Madmapper which is intended for use as a means of mapping LED’s/LED strips in visual art installations. This solution involves sending 24 MIDI CC values to control sends in the composer’s DAW. This solution is promising, although in practice there have been various challenges in setting it up successfully. The Madlight/Madmapper software licence would also be a problem in the long term with regard to the intended open-source ethos of Speaker Park.
During summer 2019, Leo Preston and Veronica Thorseth, with programming assistance from Leaf Preston Thorseth, have developed a physical interface which uses a miniature replica of each speaker in the installation to transmit MIDI, dependent on shadows cast over these replicas. This physical representation of the Speaker Park installation can be simply configured to suit different setups in different venues (Speaker Park is site sensitive) and to react desirably under various lighting conditions.
During the development of this interface (ISPI or Intuitive Spatial Panning Interface) Preston was in dialog with Robin Gareus, a software developer at Ardour (Open Source DAW), who has explained some important processing limitations and how to overcome them by implementing a 24 x 24 matrix mixer plugin which he has developed for Ardour.
For Videregående (highschools):
The first half of this workshop takes place in the classroom, and also involves some field recording in and around the school.
Here we cover a brief history of music technology, and discuss how the way people listen to and engage with music has evolved in time with technological developments. This includes some slides and video, as well as listening to and discussing some of the students favourite music.
We present the Speaker Park project, and some of the central ideas and technology behind it, and invite the students to contribute to a composition by recording their own sounds. Recording is done in groups - one group with a field recorder, and one in the classroom.
The second part of the workshop takes place in the Speaker Park venue, with the full installation ready. Here the students can listen to finished compositions, and experiment with positioning, panning and mixing techniques developed specifically for Speaker Park. These techniques make it relatively intuitive to mix and pan sound sources within the installation, which is not limited to one channel per voice.
Collective composition workshop for musicians and sound enthusiasts:
This is a workshop where participants are invited to contribute to a collective composition, based on an audio recording of a 10 minute walk. There are sections with a clear rhythmical structure and tempo, whilst other sections become less formal.
The more formal sections of the piece have a predetermined baseline that sets a particular key and groove for musical improvisations over these sections.
The Speaker Park artists provide an Akai MPC sampler, for editing and sequencing samples, with multiple outputs (8) as well as other instruments and relevant equipment, which also enables advanced and unique panning and mixing possibilities.
The collective composition can be played for an audience at the end of the workshop period.
Early experiments with physical panning interface. Photo: Veronica Thorseth.
Original Speaker Park team (left to right): Mari Brunvoll, Roar Sletteland, Jon Pigott, Veronica Thorseth, Antti Saario, Leo Preston.
Workshop participants at Oseana. Photo: Veronica Thorseth