When I first heard about Sonic Pixels, it was nothing more than a concept mixing audio and visual stimulants using technology and engineering. Doing a quick Google search only brought up a certain blue hedgehog and a distracting window shopping experience to upgrade my home cinema – that was it, no sketches, prototypes or examples that could be drawn from.
How would it sound?
How would it look?
How would it work?
And most importantly, for me, how the hell would I document this thing that hadn’t been done before?
Lewis Sykes, from Corbrook Creative, wanted to explore sound within a space. Creating a sonic experience where the listener is surrounded by the audio. Not through standard surround sound and 5.1 channel audio, but through a grid of speakers totally immersing the listener.
An exciting idea that began to develop in the lab. With the help of James Medd, the Eagle Lab Salford engineer, the idea quickly began to take shape. Experimenting with electronics boards, such as an Arduino; an open-source hardware and software platform (Arduino, 2018).
The Arduino boards are incredibly capable being used in diverse projects such as:
Using the facilities and knowledge at Eagle Lab Salford and experimenting with different electronic components to achieve what was now becoming apparent that each device had to be powered and controlled by a computer board.
Key to the project was the micro:bit, with each device hosting the tiny computer to control the playback of audio and link to the master controller, also a micro:bit. The micro:bit is a small computing device, designed to be affordable, interactive, accessible and adaptable. For such a tiny computer, it has a built-in 5x5 LED display, motion detection (accelerometer and compass), temperature and light sensors with radio and Bluetooth wireless communication. The device also has two programmable buttons, micro USB interface and physical connection pins (for connecting devices, such as keyboards, speakers and a banana!)
Perhaps a documentary was a too formal platform to depict Sonic Pixels, the project itself was more playful and experimental than the authoritative tones of documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth. I wanted to tell the story, perhaps influence and inspire the audience. esearch led towards a vlog, usually a video documenting an aspect of person’s life. A vlog can also tell a short story, such as that of the hobbyist. It can be both instructional and entertaining usually centring around an individual (VloggingPro, 2015).
Social video platforms like YouTube and Twitch have allowed anyone to express themselves through video and talk about anything. An example of this is the Ben Heck Show.
A study from GlobalWebIndex (GWI) surveyed more than 17,000 internet users. From their findings, researchers found 47% of people aged 16-24 said they had watched a vlog in the previous month, this figure increased to 50% for people aged 25-34. Debunking the notion that vlog viewers are all teenagers (Digitalstrategyconsulting.com, 2015).Vlogging is still heavily associated with entertainment, rather than reportage or documenting a complicated process. Take the Ben Heck show while it does a fantastic job of tutorials and step-by-step guides, there’s also a significant proportion of humour in there too. Also, take one of YouTube’s massive stars, such as Zoella, with over 12 million subscribers. Her vlogs, while informative and tutorial in nature are primarily entertainment, something you could quite easily see in Saturday Morning Kitchen – BBC One.
GlobalWebIndex survey results about purchasing decisions (Digitalstrategyconsulting. com, 2015)
What happens when that trust is abused? In 2014 Zoella (Zoe Sugg), found herself inundated by angry fans after it surfaced that she used a ghostwriter for some of her vlogs and to help her write her teen novel, Girl Online (Owoseje, 2016). Fans felt bitterly betrayed that the content they loved was written and influenced by advertisers paying vloggers to promote their products.
Video and selected comments from Gingerbread Christmas Light Cupcakes | Zoella | AD (Zoella, 2017)
Zoella, now clearly references that a vlog is paid for by a company. Even the title of the above video is marked as ‘AD’. This doesn’t deter her loyal fan base from deeming the content to be entirely created by the vlogger.
Taking the vlogging-style approach for Sonic Pixels and modifying this by asking questions to direct the documentation. I set up in the lab with a DSLR, monopod and a small selection of open-ended questions for Lewis. His answers drove the interview, shaping the subsequent flow during the filming. I wanted the piece to look natural as if Lewis was talking the audience through the assembly and experimentation element of during the engineering of Sonic Pixels.
Sonic Pixels – rapid prototyping at Eagle Lab Salford
The first edit and documentation of Sonic Pixels achieved it vlogging style. However, while engaging with engineers, developers and geeks. The film lacks in telling a diverse story to those outside of these areas. The first endeavour failed in storytelling; unless the audience is engaged with technology, audiology or engineering, it did little to engage outside of these areas. If it were to gain any comprehension outside of these areas on social media, the narrative had to change. Reflection upon this version may be Sonic Pixels associated with the surroundings, and cultural consciousness within the context of the lab could be indicated in the documentation format. The lab is a haven for engineers, developers, 3D printing enthusiasts, technology start-ups and geeks. So inevitably this influenced the subject matter for the interviewee and the interviewer.
Experiencing the sound, which I never expected from sub £5 speakers and a plastic tube, changed how I wanted to reflect this during the editing process. Recording a ‘wild track’ of the ambience that Talbot Mill and Sonic Pixel provided became the focus to translate to the screen. I wanted to create a distortive experience for the view, the sense that sound changed and distorted from different angles with audio generated from NASA’s Voyager missions, giving the feeling of ethereal exploration and wonderment. To achieve this is played around with the balance of the ‘wild track’ recordings to shift the audio senses along with the visual stimulation of the visible camera pans and unfocused shots that draw the attention in, almost mystifying the audience during the first 30 seconds. Later clarity of the visual styles reveals more to the viewer yet treating shots with colour blending to highlight the Sonic Pixels playfulness with sound and lighting.
In conclusion, my depiction of science and art weaves in with other forms of science engagement, such as museums, science documentaries and two-way communication on social media. In the hope that Sonic Pixels can engage informally with science and non-scientific communities through different channels, each appealing to the audience in different ways. Engineers and inventors may be inspired. Technologists could be contributors to opensource development allowing others to, more efficiently, create their own experiments. Scientists could engage with research in audiology and non-scientists may just empathise and be a little more aware of their relationship with sound and vision.