Bits, Books, Buildings

Over the last six months I've been making things behind the scenes, from bits to books to buildings. A sorry excuse for not posting anything on the blog, really. But there is a lot of process here that I am excited to share.

From On the Making of Islands, 2012

I am making things at all scales. Small to Large. Architecture teaches us that the parts must relate to the whole, and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The small parts give me as much pleasure to work on as the big parts. When it comes to putting together a building, everything from the interface with the building environment (a light switch, a door handle) to the total experience of living/working inside the building must be considered as a cohesive thing.  Not an easy task, given that projects stretch out for years. The office I am finishing up in San Francisco is just under two years in the making.

Meanwhile, little bits can be prototyped in an evening. Using Arduino and Pure Data, I made a useless prototype in which my computer says out loud "The light is on" when I switch the light on in my dining room and "The light is off" when I dim the light beyond a certain threshold. It was just a pure experiment to see if I could get things to talk to each other, and  yet, there is a kernel of something essential in this experimentation.

Architecture is expanding, both toward the small and the large. The traditional building is becoming less and less the vehicle for architecture (in which architecture is defined as an experimental spatial practice, not a service). We are witness to the most staggering scales of development around the globe, and simultaneously architects are getting ever smaller and focused with installations, digital tools, rapid prototyping, etc... as though architecture can live at all of these scales at once. And I do believe it can.

The ongoing experiments here at Soundscrapers:

Bits 1: C / C++ / Python / Pure Data

I have started to pick up a few programming languages, just to gain the basics of how programs are organized -- the software architecture. After reading the standard programming text "K & R" and working through the surprisingly fun "Learn Python the Hard Way", I discovered that the programming environment that seems to have been conceived for specifically me, the sound architect, is Pure Data. It's a visual programming language that among many many things, makes sound, and allows you to change sounds by connecting lines to boxes. About that simple, too.

A musical score composed graphically in Pure Data:

Bits 2: Sensors / Hacking the Home

I got a big box of sensors (detecting flame, humidity, light, magnetic fields, touch, sound, vibration...) plus an Arduino board. Plugging + unplugging, fingers crossed that nothing fries... modulating voltages, cutting and pasting little bits of code to see if the sensors can talk the way I want them to. And then, at a GAFFTA workshop, I got even deeper into the madness trying to get it all to talk to a network and... still working on this.

Bits 3: Hydrophone Recordings

Back in September I made a hydrophone and went "Soundfishing". I then produced an installation of this work in the entry at my office this January. It is a stereo recording of the Oakland shipping channel, in which I pan from underwater hydrophone recordings to above-water recordings.

Sound painting of bits: pushing sonic bits from a landscape we know into another that is unknown, an experience only possible via digital montage.

Book 1: On the Making of Islands - 184 pgs.

This release was long overdue - in December I put out a document of my thesis work and world travels documenting bunkers, former military bases, and current US military bases overseas.

The project zooms in on a fictional jet noise barrier on the island of Guam, where the military built up a colossal landscaped edge to an Air Force base in order to block the sound of its runway. The landscape becomes home to the endangered species on the island, and eventually the military leaves due to internal pressures.  This book is the document of six professionals ranging from a geologist to a sonic archivist who go to the island 15 years after the military has left to examine what has become of it - a tourist mecca, a cave-dwelling bird sanctuary, a monument to military ruin.

From the preface:
In 2009 I traveled the islands of the world. The itinerary included actual islands such as Guam, Okinawa, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Azores, and Crete. I also traveled to places not normally described as islands: military bases, bunkers and walled cities clearly lodged within a continent. The common denominator of these “islands”, both actual and metaphorical, follows a simple rule: an island is exclusionary. ... The process of an island growing more distinct as an island or, alternatively, dissolving into its surrounding ocean, is fascinating to behold. It is a geologic process compressed into an observable timescale. The process of islands in the making and falling apart drove my travels during the year and continues to shape my perception of landscapes.
The publication is hosted on Issuu and available in print on Lulu. (Also mentioned on BLDG BLOG / Books Received)

Building 1: San Francisco Office

Certainly the most consuming work for an architect is the daily work of bringing architecture to fruition. Architects sketch, draw, make nice pictures, but it all comes down to seeing a project through, reinforcing the decisions made early in the design process. I have been fortunate to see through every detail of this remodel of a 1925 concrete building in the historic Jackson Square district of San Francisco.

I could offer a lot of observations here on the construction process but one really stands out for me. There are moments in the construction of a building when the reasons architects do what they do become absolutely clear. Even in the middle of the construction "mess", or perhaps especially because of the mess, the design intent of a project starts to feel realized. An imagined-reality becomes an ever richer lived-reality. Light comes down through a skylight and it feels as though you are seeing light for the first time. Trees beyond the unglazed skylight rustle in the wind and the stillness in you hears the sound of leaves brushing on leaves for the first time.

Building 2:

Lastly, a different sort of building project. Call it an "interiors" project. Together with the landscape collective DEMILIT (including Bryan Finoki and Javier Arbona) we are building an 8-speaker Ambisonic array - to play back 3-dimensional sound recordings from my Ambisonic mic!

More to come on the Ambisonic array, stay tuned.