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R & D Update!

There’s been a lot going on since our last update at the end of June with our Innovate UK funded R&D project! 

The server is now running in super top condition, our hardware device has been designed, christened Autonomous Noise Unit (from here on ANU!) and is in a fully global test stage and the website is under construction as we speak.

ANU logo prototype

ANU. We were pleased to discover when batting around names and acronyms for the hardware device that ANU was in fact the ancient Sumerian God of the Sky so we figured that was a good one to run with.  Alot of July & August was spent with David designing, iterating and testing functionality with Sam towards a final bespoke version of our NoisePiHat board. The plan was that this would connect seamlessly with the Raspberry Pi 4 and sound cards we had identified in the initial test stage to provide all the elements needed to make our ANU.  In the end we decided to make two variations based on the two soundcards we thought gave the most options to user. The first is the Hifiberry soundcard which gives low latency and simple to use input and outputs.

ANU with hifiberry sound card with ethernet cable connected (top left), headphone output (top centre) and mic in (left)

The second is the Pisound soundcard which adds the option of onboard volume and gain controls for the input and headphones. 

ANU with pisound soundcard with ethernet cable connected (top) mic input connected (left top) and headphone output (left bottom)

Both boards give you an OLED screen and a rotary switch so users can easily scroll and chose options. Once the unit ANU is turned on a single click will connect you straight through to our JackTrip server. There’s various settings and that can be easily tweaked by clicking and scrolling through the menu. This automation work getting JackTrip and the connection to the JackTrip Server running has been done by Sam who has done an amazing job of making the running of the software and its application for the user a really smooth and accessible experience. One of the barriers we felt right a the start of the project was the level of technical knowledge needed in setting up JackTrip so this automating this process into a push and click way that is familiar to casual technology users has been a massively important milestone for the project. It’s a really exciting innovation as the quality of audio and latency afforded by JackTrip is second to none. The whole process is documented in the Autonomous Noise Unit section of our GitHub here.

Close up of screen and button on ANU

We started running tests exploring the use of the ANU and the server system with a great team of people who were totally new to the project in September in the UK. People are really excited by the audio quality and the very low latency achievable. 

“I was blown away and amazed” CK

“It sounded amazing and felt like a new intimate way of performing” KA

“It was like being in your own private rehearsal room” GB

“We found it really straight forward to use and it felt very ‘plug and play’ which is ideal…we loved the unit, and as musicians we think it’s a great product.” LG

Home testing set up from one of our testers

We’ve found that with a distance of 200 miles (for example between Manchester and London) with good quality ethernet connection musicians are able to play in time and collaborate with each other as if they were in the same space. The server is able to output recordings of the sessions and can stream directly via an icecast link and we have begun some streaming tests to see how this can be utilised.

So far we’ve connected up to 4 locations in the UK for music making sessions: London, Manchester, Newcastle and West Wales with positive results. We have upcoming tests confirmed between the UK, Berlin, Beijing and Yogyakarta. This will really give us a chance to stretch the limits of the system and test how it can work over global distances. We know this is going to present a challenge to the low latency interaction but the question here is more about maintaining good audio quality and workable latency for collaboration over much wider distances.

screen grab of FAQs section of website currently in development

The website is currently under development with Sam and Vicky working on the coding and visual design aspects respectively. The public end is going to be an info point about the project and what we have developed so far and how it works. There’s also going to be a password protected prototype user section where we output recordings and data about sessions. Vicky has designed an awesome ANU logo for us as well as taking care of the overall design of the site.

Another area of research we still plan to open out a little before the end of the project is to explore the ease of using mobile phone 4G signal as an internet source for the ANU as this would make the devices totally portable!

Announcing R&D project for playing music online together

We are super pleased to announce we have received funding from Innovate UK to work on developing a platform and accessible devices that create a networked online multi person space for playing music, rehearsing and broadcasting with good audio quality and stable low latency!

Growing out of online improvisations between Manchester and London in the wake of the lockdown in April between Noise Orchestra’s David Birchall, Sam Andreae and Otto Willberg, we quickly realised that there was a need for an accessible way to connect musicians together with good audio quality and reliable low latency. We soon found that all of the easy to access online voice meeting platforms for multiple people are optimised for speech not music and the best software for audio quality and reliable latency we could find; Stanfords JackTrip, seemed to us to be a little too complicated to set up without some technical knowledge. So through various conversations we realised we could design a project that brought together these elements of accessibility and the potential for good quality audio and stable low latency.

There are three main elements to the project and with the support of the Innovate funding we have been able to pull together an absolutely amazing team to develop the these complimentary strands of the project in parallel.

The first element is building a dedicated Server. We realised early on that the most accessible way to utilise the JackTrip software was to host a server running this high quality audio communication software which could be connected to by external users.

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Back of an envelope server model explanations. We have made the one on the right.

Tom Ward is our server wizard who already has version 1.0 of the server up and running. Live tests with groups of up to 6 musicians linked as far apart as London, Manchester and Newcastle have produced positive results both musically and in terms of the usability of the technology so far, we expect the server to undergo further refinement as the project develops. This model of a high quality dedicated server for laptop and hardware users of JackTrip to meet on, is one we think could be replicated widely and be really useful to musicians. The server itself runs the JackTrip software in the background, provides routing and automated audio panning as musicians join the session, fires out recordings of the session afterwards and can stream live with Icecast software. Tom will also later in the project develop the API code which will allow the server to communicate with the project website.

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Heavyweight coding going on from Tom

The second element came about when we realised there was a barrier to access with JackTrip. Even with a dedicated server people will need to use a laptop, soundcard and some technical knowledge to connect to the server. So we are developing a simple to use piece of hardware; a ‘Noisebox’ which will allow anyone to connect directly to the server at the click of a button. This is currently in development with Noise Orchestra’s David Birchall and Coder/Improvisor Sam Andreae at the helm. The work is looking at running JackTrip software for battery powered Raspberry Pis alongside a quality soundcard and a bespoke ‘NoiseHat’ shield to give users access to controls and settings in the software. The ultimate goal is that this can be a mobile, completely accessible tool for playing online with a single button connection to the server. This is currently in a version 1.3 prototype with continual daily developments. The plan is for this to appear as a prototyped unit by September this year with bespoke enclosures designed by Noise Orchestra’s own Vicky Clarke and ergonomic design by the whole Noise Orchestra team.

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Noise ASCII welcome as you upload V1.3 of the Pi Software!

The third and final element to be developed will be a web platform which Sam Andreae and Vicky Clarke are working on coding and visuals for. This will provide key information and documentation about the project and its different elements. It will also provide data, information, recordings and user-interaction with the ‘Noisebox’ hardware and server for users.

We’re all really excited to be working on this project. It is both very useful in practical terms right now; in supporting musicians work and communication in the immediate and longer term pandemic conditions but it also raises the question of whether use of this technology could become the norm as ecological concerns come into focus; ultimately musicians will still need to travel to do their work but having a high quality web audio connection with reliable latency could mitigate some of this travel and give rise to new collaborative possibilities.

Manchester Science Festival: Sound walks and Psychogeography

Noise Orchestra have been commissioned by Manchester Science Festival 2018 for the SOUND OF LIGHT installation at the Museum of Science and Industry and to deliver a series of CITY SOUND WALKS. In the lead up to the sound walks we will be running an electronics ad psychogeography course with our partners Brighter Sound where participants create their own machines and devise the Manchester routes for the walks.

 

Reflections on PM Studio residency

Our time at PM Studio has been productive, enlightening and enjoyable. Through the support and critical questioning from Vic and David the residency has added an extra dimension to our practice helping us to consider the user experience, narrative and design of the sound walks, and allowed us time and space to explore our motivations, the thematic background to the piece and consider the wider contexts in which to site the work. We enjoyed the opportunity to dig deeper theoretically around public space, permission to play, spectacle, happenings and acoustic considerations.

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Practically we learned a lot through being a part of the PM Studio community and talking to other artists and companies about their experiences of producing work in the public realm. We found this to be a unique characteristic of PM Studio, the conversations and chance encounters with other members of the community that helped push our thinking and technical knowledge forward.

It was wonderful to share the prototypes at the final residency talk and invite other residents to have a play with the machines around Bristol Harbourside, we aim to come back in the future to undertake our Noise walk designed for the city.

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We are excited about the next step in our journey with the portable Noise Machines, thinking of models to translate these to other European cities and how to best present and site the work as a touring piece. Coming into the process we had a fixed deadline to produce working prototypes which we achieved, however the PM Studio experience has brought a added clarity to our understanding of our motivations and interests to produce artworks as Noise Orchestra

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We look forward to keeping in touch as members of the PM Studio, a huge thank you to Vic and David and the rest of the community – we have had a blast!

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