Pervasive Media Studios Residency: SWARM


SWARM: User Design / Sound walks / Narrative Experience

Our application for the residency was to support the development of our series of Noise sound walks for the ENLIGHT commission ‘SWARM’. We were creating portable Noise Machines that respond to light in the urban environment, creating sound walks in three European cities (Rome Media Art Festival, SPECTRA Aberdeen and Article Biennial in Norway) where participants form a walking drone orchestra, re-framing their relationship to architecture, the urban environment and spatial acoustics. As our first piece of public realm work, we knew we needed support in developing the work in the following areas:

  • Audience experience and narrative
  • Production considerations working in public space
  • How to create a sound walk in terms of routes and locations
  • Narrative for the work
  • User design and interface

You can read through the main stages of the project development at PM Studios here. Detailed blog posts of the main stages can be viewed by clicking on the headings below:

Research and Conceptual Framework

Key areas of research including working in the public realm and the political perspectives around public space and permissions to play. Experiences and perceptions of noise and democracy, offering an alternative to occularcentrism in urban design.


Technical Development

Circuit design reflected the need to create a sonic dialogue between citizens and the city. Our circuits include a three wave form light responsive drone, and a sampler section who’s pitch can be controlled with light. Each machine emits a single drone which on mass creates an of inter-playing of multiple frequencies – sometimes harmonious and sometimes not, all defined by light input and human movement.


PCB design and interface development

We developed our Cyrillic control panel with the text being intentionally difficult to understand for most audiences; adding to the curiosity and narrative of the machines as abandoned pieces of Soviet technology.  We worked with The Invent Hive to finalise our PCB layout.


Sound walk design, routes and locations

Considerations included defining sonically interesting areas in terms of lighting, urban acoustics, public access and thoroughfares.  Thinking around ‘events’ or happenings at key points on the route,  taking in both civic areas (impact on wider audiences) and hidden off the beaten track ways to navigate the city. We tested the idea of sonic borders within a cityscape and how this altered perspectives to the user.


Reflections on the residency

Our time at PM Studio was productive, enlightening and enjoyable. Through the support and critical questioning from Vic and David the residency has added an extra dimension to our practice helping us to consider the user experience, narrative and design of the sound walks, and allowed us time and space to explore our motivations, the thematic background to the piece and consider the wider contexts in which to site the work. We enjoyed the opportunity to dig deeper theoretically around public space, permission to play, spectacle, happenings and acoustic considerations.

Practically we learned a lot through being a part of the PM Studio community and talking to other artists and companies about their experiences of producing work in the public realm. We found this to be a unique characteristic of PM Studio, the conversations and chance encounters with other members of the community that helped push our thinking and technical knowledge forward.

It was wonderful to share the prototypes at the final residency talk and invite other residents to have a play with the machines around Bristol harbour side, we aim to come back in the future to undertake our Noise walk designed for the city. We are excited about the next step in our journey with the portable Noise Machines, thinking of models to translate these to other European cities and how to best present and site the work as a touring piece. Coming into the process we had a fixed deadline to produce working prototypes which we achieved, however the PM Studio experience has brought an added clarity to our understanding of our motivations and interests to produce artworks as Noise Orchestra.

Fabrication and technical development took place in tandem with this residency at Fondazione Mondo Digitale.  Information about the soundwalks and ENLIGHT commission can be read under the ENLIGHT project page.