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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SPECTRA festival: 1st Noise Walk

SPECTRA Festival . Aberdeen. First Noise Walks

Ahead of our travelling to Aberdeen was the news that we had SOLD OUT all of our walks for the festival. Good news. No Pressure. Tech must work …. It did!

We arrived a couple of days early to scope out potential routes and key locations for the sound walks. As we could only properly test the machines at night (we need darkness and a high level of contrast between brightness for the best experience) we spent the days navigating the city and tweaking the tech, checking our new rechargeable units.

SPECTRA Festival (by Curated Place) covers the entire city venue wise, with the main concentration of public light installations and interactions situated around Union Terrace Gardens in the centre of the city. We planned a route that would take people off the beaten track and explore the less well trodden routes that were sonically interesting. Aberdeen is fairly hilly, our route came off the main high street, down the stairs and under bridges into Aberdeen’s hidden tunnels.

The walks were 30 mins starting on the hour. It soon became clear that the walks had been advertised as interacting with the light festival exhibits, so our alternative more psycho-geographical route wasn’t right for this event. The new route traveled along the high street, down into Union Terrace Gardens, via a mirror cave area, through to the flashing seesaw and a giant led lit cycling competition installations.

The combination of being within the festival exhibit areas and the usual public space such as the main shopping areas worked really well, with the groups testing the machines out in shop windows, standing under streetlights and pointing at passing traffic. We gained feedback from participants, here are some of the key findings/observations from the walk:

·       Narrative : worked really well. Some people really believed that we had found the machines in a skip on a Moscow street!

Interface deciphering: We ran a short demo/instruction at the start of the walk, the interface being in Cyrillic meant this was a conversation and interaction point, with participants helping each other out throughout the walk – it added an additional element of play and curiosity and experimentation.

·       Spectacle: Great response from the wider public. The festival was quite busy and we got caught up a few times, with not being able to get away due to so many people asking what the machines were!

·       Participants: youngest was 5, oldest was 70, we had groups of friends, families, professors – a real mix of people.

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Improvisation/play: we were impressed with the sounds people were able to get from the machines, there was collaboration, thoughts around sound and placement and a real sense of fun.

·       Logistics: Thermals are essential. Timings were crucial – we needed a longer gap between groups really.

·      Tech: Machines worked wonderfully for our first prototypes. Some had their own individual quirks, but we brought back up machines and it was easy to swap around tech with the group. The abandoned soviet tech angle meant we had a caveat if some temporarily went on the blink!

·       Response: everyone who took part were extremely positive about the experience, we were blown away by the feedback and kind words. It was definitely a team atmosphere and dare I say a major success!

Looking forward to the debrief, 2nd iteration of machines and our next 2018 noise walks now.

DIY ELECTRONICS GRAPHICAL SOUND INSTALLATIONS SOUNDWALKS WORKSHOPS