Sonic Sounds – Sound Arts? From plants to the sky, from bicycles to Beijing Hutongs…

Since working with and commissioning musicians and sound artists to create works for ‘The Temporary: 01’ project (listen to the limited edition CD here), research has taken me into the realm of sound art and sonic arts in China and more locally…into the realm of experimental music and sounds, all driven by new, digital technologies, where it seems that almost anything is possible. Below are a few projects and areas of research by others that I consider noteworthy from 2014…some China related, others the work of individual artists. They are all pushing the boundaries and line of possibility in this field…pushing my level of understanding to almost an illogical impossibility…where it seems language, the words used to define this realm, are getting even harder to pin down and the borders between sounds, sampling, performance art, sound art, sonic art, music, musaq are all blending and blurring…how do we even attempt to define this type of practice? Also, how do we define the work that is ultimately about an experience, the ephemeral experience?

Here, we acknowledge terms such as symbiosis, sonify, installation, paradox, variation, experiential, ephemeral, sound, song, synthesis, modification, recording, sampling, kinetic, robotic, visualisation, sonic, self-authorship, preservation, response, environment, tune, layers, harmonise and more. Should we just allow what we hear to speak for itself without this “language”? Or do we need these wordic prefixes to make sense of the aural wonderlands that we are playing in? Let me know your thoughts…

‘Cloud Piano’ by David Bowen

‘Cloud Piano’ by David Bowen is an installation that plays the keys of a piano based on the movements and shapes of the clouds. A camera pointed at the sky captures video of the clouds. Custom software uses the video of the clouds in real-time to articulate a robotic device that presses the corresponding keys on the piano. The system is set in motion to function as if the clouds are pressing the keys on the piano as they move across the sky and change shape. The resulting sound is generated from the unique key patterns created by ethereal forms that build, sweep, fluctuate and dissipate in the sky. This installation was commissioned by L’assaut de la Menuiserie, Saint-Etienne, France and completed with support from the Visualization and Digital Imagining Lab and Weber Music Hall, University of Minnesota.’ – Taken from David Bowen’s website


cloud piano


Sound Artist Mileece On Making Electronic Music With Plants

The latest episode of Motherboard‘s ‘Sound Builders’ features sonic artist and environmental designer Mileece, who creates music with electronics and plants. Her work uses a combination of sensors and software to sonify plant biofeedback. Her background as an artist is ‘as an audiophile and programmer dovetailed to turn a garden into an organic medium for music. She pulls this off by attaching electrodes to leafy limbs, which conduct the bio-electric emissions coming off living plants. The micro-voltage then gets sucked into her self-authored software, turning data into ambient melodies and harmonic frequencies. It’s simply not enough for these green little squirts to just spit out noise. All this generative organic electronic music must sound beautiful, too. As a renewable energy ambassador, Mileece’s larger goal behind her plant music is to enhance our relationship with nature. And if plant music can have a pleasing aesthetic articulation then hopefully we all can give a greater damn about our environment. While some may see the paradox in an organic medium generating electronic music, Mileece does not. She sees this as a symbiotic relationship, a vital one, and one that hints to a larger relationship she’s been trying to unify, which is that between humans and nature.’ – Taken from Synthtopia

Mileece sound artist

Mileece sound artist

What Do Tree Rings Sound Like When Played Like A Record?

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The Sounds of Old Beijing

Curator and artist Colin Chinnery has recently started the ‘Beijing Sound History Project’, a recording project that aims to preserve the distinctive clangs, songs and shouts of traditional Beijing life. In addition to sampling some recordings from the archives. Kaiser and Jeremy from Sinica interviewed Chinnery, where he speaks of his on-going work with the Shijia Hutong Museum, which recreates life in the narrow Hutongs of Old Beijing. You can listen to the interview here –

Beijing Hutong

‘During Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward in 1958, Chinese citizens were encouraged to bang on pots and pans to drive the country’s sparrows to death. Mao’s thinking was that the tiny birds, along with rats, flies, and mosquitoes, were pests that ate grain seeds, which the people needed for food. The sound of banging drove the birds from their nests to fly around until they dropped dead of exhaustion. Colin Chinnery wants to record that sound. He also hopes to recreate – with the help of actors and sound technicians – the voices of the Red Guards shouting Maoist slogans during the Cultural Revolution, the wind whistling through the imported Canadian poplars that were planted in Beijing in the 1950s, and even the screech of the brakes on modern Beijing buses. Chinnery’s ‘Beijing Sound History Project’ seeks to preserve history in a city that is rapidly destroying its own heritage every day. “There’s a goldmine of information and stories” that come from seeking out the sounds of Beijing, from its pre-revolutionary days to today, Chinnery says.’ – CITYLAB

Read more about the project through the CITYLAB article here…

‘Your Favourite Beijing Sounds’ and ‘Beijing Sonic Bicycle Ride’

In January 2005, the British Council commissioned four UK-based sound artists and musicians – Brian Eno, David Toop, Clive Bell and Peter Cusack – to create work in response to Beijing as a city, for the project ‘Sound and the City: Beijing’. The brief was to explore the city’s sounds and locations during a reconnaissance, and then to propose new site-specific sound work for realisation during a return visit. After a period of initial investigation, the researcher decided to develop ‘Your Favourite Beijing Sounds’ and ‘Beijing Sonic Bicycle Ride’.


‘Your Favourite Beijing Sounds’ was aimed at uncovering Beijinger’s attitudes to their acoustic environment. One of its manifestations was a competition, launched through the internet under the auspices of the British Council, that invited Bejingers to nominate their favourite sound and to relate an associated story. The researcher coordinated the recording of a selection of nominated sounds, gave workshops at the Beijing Conservatory and the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and contributed to discussions about acoustic ecology with the designers of the 2008 Olympic Park. ‘Your Favourite Beijing Sounds’ was shown at the City Museum in Beijing as part of its inaugural exhibition in January 2006 and released as a CD by KwanYin Records in 2007.

‘Beijing Sonic Bicycle Ride’ focused on Beijing’s bicycles and their ubiquitous sampling loudhailers used by street vendors to advertise their wares. Eight loudhailers were attached to eight bicycles and used to play specially composed sounds as they were cycled around an older Beijing district. The eight layers of sound were designed to be heard separately or to harmonise when brought together and to blend with the local soundscape. Listeners could follow on their own bikes or stay in one place. The project was analysed by the researcher in the bilingual Sound and the City publication, which also included an 8’ 30” recording.’

Text taken from UAL –

Sound, Noise and the Everyday: Soundscapes in China (Conference – August 2014)

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‘China is filled with sounds; indeed, some people would say that it is a noisy place. Some sounds immediately come to mind, for example those of music, radio and TV broadcasts, along with blaring loudspeakers, public announcements and street conversations, or speech/language and communication more generally. Some types or notions of sound may be difficult to grasp or to categorize, for example the sound of a city, sounds of progress, sounds of revolution or sounds of change. Sounds may be deliberately produced (and manipulated), or may be brought forth unintentionally, and they can be direct and physical or indirect and abstract (or both at the same time). To all events, sounds appear everywhere, with a variety of different intentions and meanings; the same can be said for noise and silence. Aarhus University and CHIME invite scholars from all disciplines to explore ‘sounds & noise’ in China. This conference (featuring for CHIME as its 18th International Meeting) does not focus on any particular historical period or research methodology, but seeks for the first time to bring scholars together who share an interest in aspects related to sound. Can we identify a specific Chinese sound? If so, where are the roots to be found, and how did this sound achieve its current form? Sound production, associations and entanglements, meanings and (listening) effects as well as issues of promotion, manipulation and elimination will be discussed in relation to Chinese history, culture, society and politics. The broader aim of this conference is to establish ‘sound’ as an analytical category that provides us with new perspectives on and a new understanding of China.’

More information about the conference can be read here –

Mogees – Turns Any Object into Electronic Music

‘Mogees turns the everyday objects around you into unique and powerful musical instruments. Play the world! Mogees is an innovative new way for everyone to let their musical imagination run wild, transforming the objects around us into unique and powerful musical instruments. Mogees consists of a mobile app and a small sensor that detects and analyses the vibrations that we make when we interact with the objects around us. It uses a special sound technique to alter their acoustic properties so as to make them musical. Above all, it’s about everyone making beautiful music out of ordinary objects. Just plug it in and play the world. Mogees lets everyone – regardless of their musical or technical abilities – express themselves in what for many will be an entirely new medium. The creative and musical dimensions that Mogees adds to life – whether planned or improvised, professional or novice – makes for exciting, creative musical experiences.’ – Read more on their Kickstarter page here…


Read more about Mogees in an interview here…

Ototo: Make Music from Anything

Ototo is an all-in-one musical invention kit which allows you to make an instrument any way you want. Ototo has got everything you need to make sound interactive: it’s a synthesiser, it’s got 12 onboard touch sensitive inputs and a range of different sensors which can be connected to 4 sensor inputs. You can make sounds straight out of the box by touching the keys to trigger notes. By connecting conductive materials or objects to the keys on Ototo you can make them react to touch; turning anything you can imagine into an instrument. The keys on the Ototo are arranged like one octave of a musical keyboard. When you connect an object to a key using crocodile clips, you can trigger that note on your object. There are four sensor inputs which control the different elements of the sound, one each for pitch and loudness and two that control the texture of the sound. Connect a light sensor to control the pitch or create a sound that reacts to your breath – it’s up to you! Find out more about Ototo here on their Kickstarter page…



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