The new digital platform simplifying sound design for creatives

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An innovative sound design platform makes sound design accessible to the creative industries by simplifying the coding required for complex sound installations.

The Creative Coding Toolkit, HappyBrackets, supports the networking of audio devices in sound installations, making them more accessible, affordable and scalable. It creates new opportunities for using sound to enhance commercial facades and foyers, creative arts venues and other public spaces.

Associate Professor Oliver Bown from UNSWit is School of Art and Design developed the platform in collaboration with colleagues from UTS, electronics producers Bitscope Designs, and leading media arts collective Calamari soup.

Sound can enhance an atmosphere in nuanced ways, creating compelling artistic and interactive environments, A/Prof. Bown said. The platform, which is open source for public use, has the potential to broaden the use of sound installations and improve their complexity.

“While there are many out-of-the-box options for lighting setups, the sound is different. The sound is a fairly high-res medium,” a/Prof. Bown says.

“The goal of the platform we are creating is to make it very easy and scalable for someone to design a large distributed light and sound artwork for a space and design the content for it in a simple way. We make this as simple as possible, so you don’t need to have a PhD in Computer Science to do this.


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Creative coding made easy

Teacher. Bown is a practice-oriented researcher, electronic music producer and digital artist who works with creative technologies. He is interested in how artists, designers and musicians can use advanced computing technologies, such as AI and scalable systems, to produce complex creative works.

“A lot of my talent is in the creative design itself,” he says, “but I use that skill to do user research and design conceptualization to figure out what makes something really useful. for an artist.”

The HappyBrackets project creates media architecture and art installations, interactive performances, tactile gallery and festival experiences, and interactive toys. It lends itself to use in art galleries, museums, commercial venues, theaters and public and event spaces.

“Fundamentally, there’s a huge problem with doing a job like this is that you’re completely stuck in solving technical problems. So we want to remove that,” A/Prof. Bown said.

The digital platform allows the user to configure and program multiple Interactive Distributed Audio Devices (DIADs) from a single computer. It allows the user to write simple computer programs that send messages to remotely control networks of audio devices via WiFi.

Programs can be written to respond to environmental factors within the facility measured via sensors embedded in the DIADs. For example, used in an interactive performance, gently moving an audio device can trigger one sound response, while shaking it or sensing a change in light intensity can trigger another. A speaker then plays the sounds as dictated by the program written in HappyBrackets

“If you get a big speaker and you get a lot of sound out of it, then it’s a very intense sound source. “[But if you] get lots and lots of small speakers, then they don’t have to be very loud at all,” A/Prof. Bown said.

“You can fill a room with sound in a much more even way – and in a much more managed way – to define more precisely where sound is in a space. This way, you could create less boring and more possibly enticing installations where listeners discover sound sources.

The HappyBrackets team hopes to develop more out-of-the-box tools within the platform for use in live music performances. In this case, the platform would work “like a big synthesizer”, A/Prof. Bown said. “You can connect your computer to it, send messages to it and control it.

“You can play notes on it; you can choose the sound it plays; you can change the sound settings. But in addition, it is spatial, so you can choose how the sound is moved in space and distributed. And then in the same way you can also tell what the lights are going to do.

Sound has the potential to become as valued as light in media arts and architecture, says the acting professor. Oliver Bown. Photo: Chantel Bann, courtesy of Casula Powerhouse.


Read more: Sound, art and meaning


The future of sound

Teacher. Bown is currently working on an interactive sound and light installation using the platform entitled Speech Bubble, a commission for the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre.

“It’s just a giant cloud of bubble-shaped lights and speakers,” he says. “It’s a vocal playing instrument, so you can sing a note to it, and it triggers a sonic and light response like a firework or a pinball machine. It triggers this chain reaction of vocal sounds…it evokes vocalization , sound and rhythm of speech.

Teacher. Bown and the HappyBrackets team are also currently developing a 120-speaker system for a theater company mounting an immersive voice-based sound installation in Melbourne. They are also exploring the commercial development of additional support resources, services and products for end users.

BitScope’s Bruce Tulloch says immersive sound is at the forefront of creative research in interactive multimedia.

“We believe that research and industry partnerships like this are key to leveraging the collective expertise needed to deliver innovative and deployable solutions to the creative industries.”

Teacher. Bown says there will be a growing demand for technology to help develop bespoke immersive sound installations.

“I think there is huge potential for [sound] becoming increasingly common as a type of media installation… and [ultimately] become as precious as light in media arts and architecture.

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