Living Sounds

Thoughts on a NIME Paper | Living Sound

In this blog post I will share my thoughts to an interesting paper published at the 2021 NIME (New Interfaces for Musical Expression) conference. The paper carries the title Living Sounds: Live Nature Sound as Online Performance Space and was written by Gershon Dublon and Xin Liu.

One of the remarkable aspects of the experience was that small, otherwise inconsequential events, such as a bumblebee flying around a microphone, could bring distant, isolated listeners together in the continuously unfolding story.

(Dublon & Liu, 2021)

Living Sounds describes itself as “an internet radio station and online venue hosted by nature” (Dublon & Liu, 2021). It essentially streams the sound of microphones that are installed in a wetland wildlife sanctuary around the clock on the homepage livingsounds.earth. Furthermore, the project regularly invites artists to perform on the stream, using the live sound from the microphones via a self-built online interface which provides the artists with the raw multichannel audio stream to work with.

While there are various sources of visual live nature streams around already (one of the most wide-spread might be explore.org), I could only find a limited number of internet radio stations dedicated to nature sound, which mostly also just stream prerecorded material. This alone makes the idea of Living Sounds so special already – however, where it really starts to stand out is when it comes to the importance of the quality of sound and the artistic interactive possibilities. Not only can artists access the material from their own studio and stream it live back into the station, but even multiple artists can perform at the same time, with their outputs mixed together via the central mixer, controlled by the artists themselves.

While I usually am a quite critical person, I am so astounded by this project, that I simply wanted to share it without having any specific critical input. I do, however, want to reiterate the points that I find so fascinating about Living Sounds and additionally list some ideas that I would love to be able to experience in the context of this project.

First off, this is a project that was done during Covid-19, and in my opinion that becomes clear even without knowing that fact. In a time that most people spend more time inside their own walls, an escape into nature becomes more important than ever. Sounds from nature provide wellbeing and relaxation (Van Prag et al., 2017), and many people are striving for short breaks between their online meetings. The fact that Living Sounds provides a live stream of sounds might also make the sounds seem psychologically less distant, however, that is just a lush hypothesis of myself based on a paper about streaming in general (Gong et al., 2020).

Secondly, I am deeply fascinated by the artistic concept of creating source content that other artists are able to collectively work with, while also providing the “stage”. While this project already seems as open as it gets, I would like to see a little bit more openness in the spreading of the source material though. Since all the audio channels are available as streams, I would really enjoy a completely open source approach (of course against a donation), where the raw material streams of those high quality live sounds are openly accessible – this would introduce a different and very interesting new way that artists could sample nature sounds.

As you could probably tell from the previous paragraphs, I am very impressed by this concept, and at the same time relaxed from the sounds. As a fan of ambient soundscapes, I will definitely keep coming back to Living Sounds, and can only recommend for you to do the same.

References

  • Gershon Dublon and Xin Liu. 2021. Living Sounds: Live Nature Sound as Online Performance Space. Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression. http://doi.org/10.21428/92fbeb44.b90e0fcb
  • Van Praag, C. D. G., Garfinkel, S. N., Sparasci, O., Mees, A., Philippides, A. O., Ware, M., … & Critchley, H. D. (2017). Mind-wandering and alterations to default mode network connectivity when listening to naturalistic versus artificial sounds. Scientific reports7(1), 1-12.
  • Gong, X., Ye, Z., Wu, Y., Liu, K., & Wu, N. (2020). Moderated mediation of the link between live streaming information content and impulse purchase: the role of psychological distance and streamer admiration. Revista Argentina de Clínica Psicológica29(2), 121.

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