Ambient Addition, music from surrounding noises

Ambient Addition

As human civilization devises ever more powerful machines, living among them may become more and more difficult. People find themselves surrounded by incidentally created sounds and noises which are out of synch with their momentary needs. In order to avoid discordant noises they tend to use music reproducing devices with sound canceling headphones, isolating themselves from noise but also from each other. Does this mean that the ‘i’ in Apple’s “iPod” stands for isolation? Three decades ago the sociologist Edward Hall introduced the concept of the ‘space bubble’ or the culturally conditioned distance that dictates how close we stand to another person and how much space we need around us to feel comfortable. The eighties Walkman has introduced another kind of bubble: a technological one of concentration and obliviousness to surroundings, a private space in public. This is the assumption behind Noah Vawter‘s final thesis at the MIT, a project called Ambient Addiction which tries to find a compromise between isolation and noise, integrating environmental sound into a personal soundscape. Consisting of a pair of headphones with small, embedded microphones, and a pocket-sized digital signal processing (DSP) system, it continuously records, analyzes, transforms and plays back environmental noise into more musical form. As Noah wrote in is thesis “Through its outward appearance and sonic-bridging capabilities, Ambient Addition reduces isolation”. In this new context, in fact, some surprising behaviors take place. Listeners tend to play with objects around them, sing to themselves, and wander toward tempting sound sources in order to direct their own random soundscape in a proper environmental immersion. Is this the future of Ambient Music?

Valentina Culatti