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A four image collage of mushrooms, lasers, underwater footage and the River Avon, which each inspired a different innovative student project
Chris MackinMay 3, 2022 4:00:00 PM15 min read

6 dBs students share the inspiration behind their innovative projects

With our end of year showcase just days away, we speak with some of our final year students at dBs Bristol about their most experimental and ambitious projects to date. 

As well as being the name of one our postgraduate degrees, Innovation in Sound one of the module that make up our final year students study. Exposing students to techniques, ideas and schools of thought they've yet to encounter, it's an opportunity for them to forge a new creative path and work beyond their comfort zone. 

On Thursday 5th and Friday 6th May, our Bristol students will be showcasing these explorations in a free two-day exhibition - Innovation in Sound 2022 - which will be taking place at Watershed (installations) and Crypt at St. John's on the Wall (installations and performances). 

To give you an insight into what to expect, six students share the inspiration behind their projects, the tech they've chosen to utilise and their hopes for what people will take away from their works.

Earth Frequencies by Magda Hrynaszkiewicz

Third year student on BA (Hons) Music Production & Sound Engineering
Abstract: Earth Frequencies is a biodata sonification installation, that allows the audience to hear the hidden biological activities occurring within living mushrooms.

'Earth Frequencies' is an installation focused on biodata. What was the inspiration behind using this as the basis for your project?

"When brainstorming ideas for my final project, I knew I wanted it to be directly associated with nature. During my research, I came across an “instrument” known as Midi Sprout, which is a device that converts biodata from plants into music. I was intrigued by the concept of sonification of biodata and began researching how the device works and how I could perhaps make one. Digging deeper into the subject I’ve found that growing mushrooms still connected to the mycelium would be a perfect 'performer' because it naturally produces bioelectricity without the need for external stimuli. The fungus produces a faint electrical current, which constantly fluctuates according to the state of the organism.

"Although you cannot see it, the underground mycelium is the main part of a mushroom and it plays an important role in energy cycling within, and between, ecosystems. The mycelium composes what's called a “mycorrhizal network,” which connects individual plants together to transfer water, nitrogen, carbon and other minerals."

What will people actually hear when interacting with your project?

"Listeners will be able to hear the bioelectric activity of the mushroom. In a way, the mushroom is 'communicating' to the circuit, and part of the code in the circuit is responsible to interpret those signals and put them to music by generating MIDI notes. So yes, you are hearing the activity of the organism, but with a slight push from the code in the circuit.

"The system is comprised of three elements: Arduino Uno, a circuit board, and a pair of electrodes. Using the electrodes, which are connected to the mycelium and its fruiting body (mushroom), it is possible to detect changes in electrical activity inside the fungus. These fluctuations trigger an IC component in the circuit which essentially generates a pulse which is then sent to Arduino. Whenever Arduino detects one of these pulses it generates a MIDI note accordingly.

Have there been any issues with using a living organism as the foundation of the installation?

"The mushroom is still in the process of developing, so there is a degree of uncertainty and risk involved, however, with extra care and attention, it should be completely developed by the day of the exhibition. So far, I’ve managed to test the device on the plants and myself with positive results, and since the bioelectrical activity of a fungus is less than that of a human but more than that of a plant, I’m quite confident everything will work just fine."

'Earth Frequencies' is certainly one of the more experimental works being showcased this year; what has it been like to push yourself with this kind of project?

"At first, it was quite scary, mainly for the risk I was taking by undergoing this path with very limited knowledge of electronics while also not having a plan B in case this wouldn’t have worked out. But to be honest, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. There is a surprisingly big community online that focuses on this type of project and they certainly made it easier for me by working out some of the more complex stuff beforehand and leaving it online for people to use. Overall, it’s been a thrilling experience because I've never done anything like this before, let alone build an electronic circuit. Getting things to work properly has been both stressful and rewarding, and I've learned a lot in the process."

illimitable by Charlie Griffee (Terrarium)

Third year student on BA (Hons) Music Production & Sound Engineering
Abstract: Inspired by the works of John Cage, Curtis Roads and Chris Watson, illimitable is an installation that provokes the questioning of one’s own perception of time and its place in the listeners universe.

You reference some pretty avant-garde creators as inspiration on 'illimitable'. How did you first encounter their work?

"I first encountered the work of Chris Watson. I particularly love his work on the David Attenborough ‘Life’ series. For me, this was where I started to listen and explore sound compositions. After much experimentation and with the encouragement from my lecturers and peers, I started truly practising the art of field recordings and it just blossomed from there.

"As for Curtis Roads and John Cage, I have Emmanuel to thank, without his support and guidance I would never have dreamed of producing illimitable."

The project sounds incredibly deep and evocative. How are you going to channel such deep concepts through this project?

"The composition has four evolving and moving sections that help suggest the development of the piece: time, familiarity, inevitability and illimitability. What this means to the individual listening to the composition is entirely personal to them and their perception of time. I could go into immense detail on each and every decision but, you’ll then be left listening through my ears and that’s not what this project is about. Question your own beliefs through illimitable."

Your installation is a multi-channel piece. What was it like to create such an immersive soundscape?

Charlie Griffee (AKA Terrarium) next to an SSL Duality mixing console

"Working in multi-channel has been mind-blowing! When you get a stereo track right it can sound amazing but when you introduce multi-channel immersion and you’re sat in the middle, you find yourself thinking: “WHOA!?”. To create a truly immersive experience is an incredibly rewarding venture that has opened new avenues for me to explore. This won’t be my last, that is for sure."

What have you learned while creating this project?

"It’s only now, I’ve realised how much I’ve developed and grown as an engineer. From field recordings and learning how to really capture a space, to finding greater philosophical meaning behind music and what it is conveying in an artist form, not just audibly. Better still, this project helped me to discover that a close friend of over 15 years can throat sing as though he’s been doing it for 70 years! All through casual conversation about the project in a pub, honestly!"

The Waves by Meg Archdale-Evans

Third year student on BA (Hons) Music Production & Sound Engineering
Abstract: The Waves is an ambisonic soundscape based on the Virginia Woolf book of the same name. 


Your project is based on 'The Waves' by Virginia Woolf. What was it about this work that spoke to you?

"I can't say exactly. I love the way that Virginia Woolf writes. The descriptions of scenery in The Waves are so precise and vivid." 

Some refer to 'The Waves' as Woolf's most experimental work. Was it a conscious decision to use this book on what is probably your most experimental project to date?

"I actually hadn’t thought about that! I already had a pretty solid idea and knew I needed a book or poem to use with it. I was really struggling to find one and then I came across it one night completely by chance and knew it would be perfect."

Can you give some brief insight into how the project will be experienced when it's exhibited?

"Probably not as anyone has experienced influential literature before. It’s a work in progress, a really tiny portion of the final version."

How did it feel exploring a project such as this compared with more 'traditional' work?

"Daunting, exciting. I’ve been really enjoying mixing in a different way."

What does the Earth listen to? by Michael Kelly

Third year student on BA (Hons) Sound for Film & TV
Abstract: A multi-channel soundscape composition exploring how the sounds of humanity impact the evolution of the surrounding environment.

Where did the concept behind the project come from?

Michael Kelly looking over a synthesiser in a studio live room

"The idea for 'What Does the Earth Listen To' stemmed from a paper by John Levack Drever called: Soundscape Composition: The convergence of ethnography and acousmatic music (Levack Drever, 2002). There were many interesting parts of the paper that have contributed to the work, but the key aspect was his understanding of the work of Stephen Feld in the 1970s (Feld, 1984). Feld spent years making detailed recordings in and around a tribe in Papa New Guinea called the Kaluli. His work describes how the language of the Kaluli people shared many significant sonic artefacts with the sonic environment around them such as birds or waterfalls or the forest etc. In effect their language and religious semantics had evolved from what they had been listening to over time. The thought came to me that if human language is affected by the sound around it, then how is the Earth affected by what it hears? How do we sonically impact the evolution of our environment?

"I also want to add that it is impossible to put into words the teaching of Emmanuel. It feels like he has systematically evolved how I think about sound. One specific final influence for the piece is Kyema by Elaine Radigue, a piece I had never heard of before Emmanuel’s lectures. The subtle movement of electronic synthesis over time is specific and loving in equal quantities. A truly beautiful, simple and complicated piece of art."

How did you come to choose the area that would be the focal point of the project?

"I became interested in the area below the M5 motorway bridge over the mouth of the river Avon. The area below the bridge is a fragile tidal area, with many unusual grasses, birds and frogs that are unique to an environment that spends a few hours every month or so underwater. The area is continuously impacted sonically by the sound of the motorway, How does the sound of the motorway rumble influence the environment. What other sounds exist in that area that can or cannot be heard or are overridden?"

You'll be exhibiting the piece using an 8.1 speaker setup. Why did you want the installation to be delivered in this way?

"Sound has no boundaries, it is just an energy and, according to Newton cannot be destroyed or created, it can only be converted from one energy to another. Sound or energy is all around us constantly. This piece originated as an exploratory sound walk and explores the sounds and energies around us at all times and in all directions."

How has this project pushed you creatively compared to the work you've been doing on the Sound for Film & TV course?

"One of the first things I learnt on the degree was that the sound for a film was almost exclusively added after the cut of the film was completed, even the dialogue. I’ve spent three years learning to listen to the sounds around us and what sounds would be most beneficial to promote a particular emotion. This work feels like a natural extension of these thoughts. In terms of how this project has pushed me, it has been important to consider the impact of what we can hear but also what is outside of the limited specific human hearing range. It has pushed me to consider sound as energy and its vibrational manner through time."

Cassen Awa by Amber Grieve

Third year student on BA (Hons) Sound for Film & TV
Abstract: A meditation on the concept of home, belonging and community created through the sonification of a video live stream from my home in the Shetland Islands. 

Your project stood out to us because of the live stream element that's coming from your home in the Shetland Islands. What was the inspiration behind the concept?

"The idea started as a data-driven soundscape but I wanted to incorporate a live-stream element into it; I wanted to bring as much of Shetland to the installation as I could. In the last few weeks, it's gone from a meditation on the concept of home to a commentary on the disconnect between technology and 'home'. I can see my home on a live video feed but it's no replacement for the real thing. The interactive element comes from rocks from Shetland which helps to connect the virtual landscape to the natural one."

What does 'Cassen Awa' mean?

"Cassen Awa is a Shetland Dialect idiom meaning 'lost at sea' - which is occasionally how I feel being so far away from home."

How do the interactive elements affect the installation and how do they pair with the live stream?

"The interactive elements allow people to feel the natural landscape of Shetland. When touched, the rocks play field recordings from around the islands, bringing the natural soundscape to life. They also alter the pitch and intensity of the electronic soundscape derived from the video feed."

What are you hoping people experience when engaging with 'Cassen Awa'?

"I want people to think about the role technology has in their lives. It can be a brilliant connective tool but it is not a substitute for real life, real communication and a real community."

Recycled Sound by Oscar Brain

Third year student on BA (Hons) Electronic Music Production
Abstract: An instrument built from recycled materials utilising contact microphones and a mixer to create sound source separation with real time playback.

Straight off the bat, 'Recycled Sound' stands out from the crowd. When did you first come up with the idea of creating this custom instrument?

"I initially came up with the idea after some frustration with being unable to recycle at the flat I'm living in this year. Due to living on a main road, the council provides no recycling collection for tenants living here where most of the housing is above shops and businesses. In all honesty, I'd probably gone through 10 ideas for the assignment brief in my head before coming up with the idea, however none of them ticked all the boxes.

"My initial ideas either had a good concept with little or no context or a great contextual idea with a concept that was lacking. Many of the initial ideas were too technically difficult to pull off in the given timeframe. Recycled Sound came about from wanting to take matters into my own hands after the frustrations with collection on my road. In fact, some parts of the instrument came from the very same road where I or others had put out recyclables materials that I knew would unfortunately be taken to landfill if left there."

What was the inspiration behind it?

"My written honours project for the final year extensively explores 'reduced listening', a term coined by Pierre Schaeffer. The written project explores reduced listening as a compositional tool, investigating how composers can use the reduced listening experience and for what benefit. After deciding to create the instrument from recycled materials, I then expanded the idea to also 'recycle' the sounds that were generated from the instrument.

"Using some cheap contact mics from Amazon and some creative processing within Ableton I was able to explore the process of "reduction" (removing the inferrable source from a sound) in a live, instrumental sense. This was an interesting concept to me as the instrument now explored semantics, understanding and the art of reduction all within one project. Although there is a certain level of juxtaposition between those topics, I believe I created something new, experimental and different from my other creative avenues, which I think can be a driving purpose for creatives of all kinds."

It's been a real passion project - expensive, unwieldy and also frustrating at times. Are you excited to finally exhibit it in public?

"I had no initial intention of involving this much passion and attachment to the project however, as the instrument began to take shape, from prototype to final build (all the while taking up space in my small one bed flat) I began to get more and more engaged with the project. This also came with difficulty, when getting through some of the more costly issues with the project, either expensive in time or money, it led to some high levels of frustration. As the deadline got closer, the level of intensity around creating something that worked comprehensively and didn't look like a badly put together primary school arts and crafts project became a little overwhelming at times. All in all, I'm very excited to exhibit the instrument, even if I'm painfully aware that the noises it produces might be a little confusing to the general consumer."

What's been the biggest lesson learned while making 'Recycled Sound' and has it prompted further experimentation in this area?

"I guess the biggest thing I've learned from this particular project is don't be afraid to run with your crazy ideas, even if it means putting blood, sweat, tears, time and money into something to see it to completion. Within that, often it is more important to be decisive and work with what you've got than to be contemplative and try to come up with the very best idea. This could be the first and last instrument I build or it could be the start of a new avenue. In these uncertain times, who knows what the future holds?"

Head to our End of Year Showcase mini site to secure your tickets and discover more projects being exhibited at 'Innovation in Sound 2022'


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