sound space

I'm pleased to share a music app experiment, entitled sound space. The app uses your earbuds and headset microphone as an intermediary between the real sonic environment around you and your own alternate, skewed version. The app has two controls — sound and space — for tuning to an environment. Which sounds you choose to focus on, from the harsh and ugly to the gentle and natural, is up to you as a listener.

I built the first prototype of sound space a couple of years ago, a simple delay-line-in-your-pocket that turns your sound surroundings into a spatialised concrète melange through the headset connected to your phone. With this prototype, I grew quite fond of listening to the different spaces around me — offices, voices, trains, streets, elevators, roadworks — and developed it a little into sound space. The app adds a couple of controls: sound, which filters out or hones in on different parts of the frequency spectrum; and space, which sweeps between reverb and delay.

The output of the app is highly dependent on what sound surrounds you, but there are some common somewhat-musical patterns that I've noticed emerging (drones, rhythms, dissonances). The samples below show some of these different effects that I've enjoyed listening to.

Audio samples

Slammed doors are common rhythm-formers. Offensive sounds can take on a different personality when organised into a pattern.

Conversely, sounds that are ordinarily understandable and pleasant, like speech, become cacophonous. There's something very claustrophobic about being in a small space surrounded by incomprehensible swirling voices.

The 'blurring' effect of spatialised audio creates a trail between different sound environments. In this clip, the beeps of a ticket barrier hang over into the street sounds that follow.

At the lower reaches of the 'space' control, delays are swapped for reverb, which creates a much more subtle warp on the sound environment. Taking off headphones after 15 minutes of this you realise how much this small shift affects your perception.