Sound Sculpture

New developments in micro controller technology are allowing me to realize some ideas that started decades ago, regarding installations for long-duration audio experiences. The pandemic in 2020 allowed me some downtime to experiment with building cubes with electronics inside. These constructions helped me realize two ideas that I call Cloud Box and Day Box. Here’s an example of the Cloud Box, with four solar panels controlling the pitches of 64 sine wave oscillators:

Here’s a test of the first prototype of the Cloud Box:

I could never have done this without the help of software and hardware wiz Eric Brombaugh, who designed and programmed the custom processor which functions at the heart of these concepts. It looks like this:

The beginnings looked like this, with a Raspberry Pi for prototyping, and some raw electronics.

Cloud Box

24” black cube, with two speakers installed on the sides, optical sensors installed on the top. A bank of sine wave oscillators responds to light from these sensors.  Custom firmware can generate up to 64 sinewaves in four groups of 16. The box could be placed in a window that receives mottled light from trees outside, or it could respond to light from a projector pointed at the box from above. The piece is interactive, because people could “play it” with their shadows, obscuring the light source. Sensors control center pitch of each cloud. Controlling the environment of the room is very important. A low light calm atmosphere is ideal, with darkened surfaces. The light striking the Cloud Box should be the main illumination in the room. 

The guts of the prototype Cloud Box looked like this:

Day Room (R. Rich, 2020)

A 24” black cube sits in a gallery room, hiding circuitry that creates a 24 hour audio buffer from sounds recorded with a live stereo microphone, mounted on the box. The sounds play back continuously through built-in speakers, but delayed until the following day, layering upon each other for the duration of the installation.  The room could contain other interactive sound-making sources to augment the natural noise of people in the gallery. The live 24 hour long audio loop builds a document of the sounds that have occurred during the installation, layering the sounds while maintaining their relationship to the time of day when they occurred. Sounds from a week or a month in the past slowly fade away as new sounds enter the loop. The installation could run continuously, or for a delineated time period. The resulting audio can be extracted as a set of sound files, for playback elsewhere.

“Day Room” is part of “The Hours” series, started in 2013.

“The Hours” is a series of compositions to express the unique relationships of sound, time and place, like a book of hours, or book of days, but in sound. This entails a series of projects that manipulate ambient sounds by expanding or contracting their durations, freezing their harmonic components, shifting their spatial or temporal relationships; offering an acoustic microscope to the fleeting moments that define our experience of time and place through sound. 

This first of these projects was the easiest to accomplish, called “Frozen Day” and realized in August 2013. “Frozen Day” can be downloaded for free on Bancamp here: Frozen Day

The remaining projects have been awaiting the development of suitable technology to allow their realization. With the recent development of small programmable embedded computers and high capacity solid state memory, these other concepts are now easier to realize.  – R

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