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The hills (and everything else) are alive...
December 18, 2006 7:43 PM   Subscribe

The idea of treating everyday, ambient noise as music is not terribly new, but Noah Vawter's device turns ambient sounds into music (in a somewhat more traditional sense of the word):
Ambient Addition is a Walkman with binaural microphones. A tiny Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chip analyzes the microphone's sound and superimposes a layer of harmony and rhythm on top of the listener's world.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas (33 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
If this was improved and marketed, I think I might buy this product. It would sort of be like the Family Guy where Peter wishes that a soundtrack accompanied his life. I've always wanted that as well. The next feature I want: the chord progressions and tempo are affected by your mood!
posted by ageispolis at 7:49 PM on December 18, 2006


How fast does a handheld signal processor like this work? In other words, do you hear the truck passing in front of you as it happens, or a second later?

I would think it would be very simple to apply different algorithms depending on your mood, upbeat tempos, minor chords, etc.

I too would buy this.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:04 PM on December 18, 2006


i really hope he patented this...
posted by Kifer85 at 8:08 PM on December 18, 2006


I would also buy such a device. Most pleasant.
posted by setanor at 8:11 PM on December 18, 2006


I'd buy that for a dollar.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:13 PM on December 18, 2006


My mind already does this -- and without Sonic Stage -- but this would be pretty cool, if annoying when it gets it "wrong". Effortless and smooth transitions to a new track/mood would be the key.

And of course staying in tune with the predominant key of the noise around you. Irksome when that nearby garbage truck or vacuum cleaner is droning in a different key than what's in your headphones.
posted by dreamsign at 8:17 PM on December 18, 2006


I would definitely buy this. A possible improvement would be beat detection; the most common use would be your footsteps, but there are other repetitive noises out there that might work.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 8:26 PM on December 18, 2006


It's obviously a ingenious device...the sounds remind me of the lo-fi looping of FM3's Buddha machine.

I live on an island in Maine, and would LOVE to hear how this interpret's a walk by the shore on a windy day, or through the forest.

And um, I would totally buy this puppy.
posted by simonemarie at 8:37 PM on December 18, 2006


I <3 mit audio research technology. i would buy this and the a href="http://www.jamespatten.com/audiopad/">audiopad in a heartbeat.
posted by blastrid at 8:39 PM on December 18, 2006


stupid tags.
posted by blastrid at 8:40 PM on December 18, 2006


I think... I think I'm in love.
posted by loquacious at 8:44 PM on December 18, 2006


Cool idea. :)

(I tend to look toward Russolo/Cage/Cascone for my music, but that's back to the other stuff.)
posted by Foosnark at 8:46 PM on December 18, 2006


I had a fairly similar idea to this a couple years ago (you could read/write/edit both wavetable and granular synth 'patches' over a USB connection), but having neither abundant time, resources, or any digital circuit design skills, it never got past the "wouldn't this be neat" stage.

When will this thing be made a product and marketed? I want one for Christmas.
posted by chimaera at 9:03 PM on December 18, 2006


I think the real world sounds better without signal processing.

"Which is more musical: a truck passing by a music school or a truck passing by a factory?" - John Cage
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:05 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


Man what a tease. I definitely want to buy this too, but the tech companies that could afford to do this will look at it as a novelty or boutique item, and it'll never see the market. *sigh*

What'd be more likely, however, are headphones with an API to allow people to program their own filters. Then something like this could take off.
posted by philosophistry at 9:19 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


Great post! Neat idea!
posted by jason's_planet at 9:38 PM on December 18, 2006


Nice, nice. Though, yeah, it could use some improvement. At least the sounds on that video seemed a bit high-pitched and intense. If you could switch between various styles of music riffs and chords--rock, jazz, classical, hip-hop, etc.--and make the music not sound so electronic-y, it'd sell.
posted by zardoz at 11:40 PM on December 18, 2006


"i really hope he patented this..."

I thought students were expected to mostly give their patents to the university, who then sells the rights to some company. Students making money from their own ideas. That's almost Communist!
posted by Sukiari at 1:35 AM on December 19, 2006


I thought students were expected to mostly give their patents to the university,

At the ML (where Noah is) the school has the right to patent his work if they pay for it-- but they don't have to. The student then can negotiate for a royalty free license to the patent, but he'll share it with the school and the corporate sponsors that fund the ML. Of course, the school still owns it even if they don't patent it.

Would also like to mention this excellent predecent, "Sonic Interface" by Akitsugu Maebayashi. Much bigger and more an installation than a device, but same idea.
posted by neustile at 4:53 AM on December 19, 2006


I think the real world sounds better without signal processing.

I tend to agree with this sentiment, still I think this is a very interesting idea. It has enormous potential. For me personally, there would need to to be a high degree of user-programmability: I'm sure listening to someone's chosen chord sequence or whatever would get old really fast.

Irksome when that nearby garbage truck or vacuum cleaner is droning in a different key than what's in your headphones.

The device could/should incorporate a harmonizer, I suppose, which would go some way toward addressing that particular problem, although things like machines produce complex drones that can't necessarily be "harmonized" in the way we generally use that term. I like wavering, indeterminate-pitch machine-drones in the first place, though, so the glitchy result of some harmonization of such sound sources would, for me, probably be pleasing or interesting. For folks who need their 12-tones-to-the-octave and nothing-in-between, though, that probably wouldn't make it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:56 AM on December 19, 2006


The wavering can be excellent, especially as two drones slowly, achingly come together to match pitch and then separate again, but when putting a beat to it and otherwise making it "musical", it'd be better if this wasn't too random.

Course, I'd like to see this thing have a "gamelan" mode where all kinds of odd pitches and dischords achieve an overall balance in the chaos.
posted by dreamsign at 6:17 AM on December 19, 2006


Its kind of like being stuck in that deeply thoughful scene towards the end of some art flick. As a matter of fact, he should kick it up a notch and make a visual processor with VR glasses (even though it may make it harder to walk around).
posted by elkelk at 8:19 AM on December 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Very cool. I'd get one of these if it wasn't a too expensive, but I would be more interested in using it as a guitar or voice processor. In truth that's all this is really, a tiny harmonizing digital delay thingamabob. Grab a mic, some guitar pedals (delay, octaver, flange, aural exciter etc) and headphones and it's simple to approximate this, the impressive thing is that it's such a portable unit and it's also pre-programmed to apply certain sound treatments / algorithms (i.e. Loud spikes in sound are looped to form a rhythm etc...).
posted by Skygazer at 8:33 AM on December 19, 2006


Cool post and idea. Yes, John Cage came immediately to mind. I think the "chord progressions and tempo are affected by your mood" idea is in the works too, like in the Musicovery site. "Gamelan mode" oooh, what a *wonderful* thought!
posted by nickyskye at 9:22 AM on December 19, 2006


All this time and effort to do what LSD's been doing for ages.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:58 AM on December 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


dreamsign, if you haven't heard it, this is your album for drones slowly, achingly coming together and separating. If you play it at a sufficient volume, you get the distinct impression that the sound is spinning around the room. It's freaky.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 11:50 AM on December 19, 2006


Next thing, rose-tinted spectacles...
posted by Skeptic at 2:00 PM on December 19, 2006


I would pay $250 for this thing and would take it with me everywhere. I really, really want this to go to market.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 3:20 PM on December 19, 2006


Skeptic, this isn't just rose-tinted spectacles for your ears. It's like having Bobby McFerrin describe the world to you. It's neat.
posted by tehloki at 3:30 PM on December 19, 2006


So fucking awesome.
posted by Tlogmer at 7:09 PM on December 19, 2006


I had a fairly similar idea to this a couple years ago [...] but having neither abundant time, resources, or any digital circuit design skills, it never got past the "wouldn't this be neat" stage.

I know it's not a contest, but I think I can beat that. Back in 1985 the little clique of teenage nerdboys I ran with had one of those BBS-based take-turns-posting-a-chapter storyboards. Given our ages and proclivities it turned into a Miami Vice-with-Apple IIs techno-fantasia pretty quickly, and among the symptoms was the car my pal Synth imagined for himself: a DeTomaso Pantera with an integrated digital synthesis/audio processing system that (among other things) harmonized and reamplified the sound of the engine while you were tearing down the highway at 125 miles per.

It was definitely worth waiting 21 years for the tech to catch up...too bad you can't say the same for our prose.
posted by Lazlo at 11:28 PM on December 19, 2006


I would love to get my hands on something like this. I already like music that experiments with ambient sounds, this seems like the next step in an excellent direction to me.

Of course, give it a few weeks, and Belkin will probably have made an iPod attachment to do this.
posted by Spike at 11:35 PM on December 19, 2006


Oh yeah: detailed technical documentation has survived. I knew I had this lying around somewhere...
posted by Lazlo at 11:43 PM on December 19, 2006


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