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December 06, 2006



Global Soundscape

The Mockingbird Project is a streaming, real-time, non-repeating, self-generating experiment in sound. Mike Skinner loaded in some of his own sounds but the most exciting part to me him is the ability for users to contribute their own small sound clips to the system. His hope is that as word gets out about the site people from around the world will contribute thus making it a truly global soundscape. Enjoy. And pass the word...

In February of 2006, Mike started a series of ambient 8 track/feedback/tape loop sound installation experiments. (The results of these experiments can be heard as the bottom, "foundation" layers of the Mockingbird project). At the same time, Mike also knew the limitations of these experiments: they are finite entropic experiences limited by time/sound sources/tape. He began to envision an online incarnation which, theoretically, can last forever, can run and develop 24 hours a day, and does not depend on the longevity of tape/tape machines or Mike's presence to play them.

In March, Mike brought the online idea to Gunny over lunch at Eva's Health Food in the West Village. Mike saw Gunny as a fitting collaborator, as his interactive expertise, interest in consciousness studies and buddhist meditation, and general demeanor would bring an interesting angle to the project. Stravinsky, Mike said, suggested that music as he knew it died when it could be recorded: no longer was it communal and happening in real-time. Suddenly, you could pause, rewind, remix, repackage, and sell it. The two were inspired by the capability of the digital medium to restore things to their Stravinsky-ian state and to create a vaster communal experience than possible in even the biggest concert hall.

Gunny fell in love with the idea. But he wanted to take the concept of entropy further and allow anyone globally to upload their own sounds into the flow. The resulting unpredictable collisions of sound would be fascinating. What might it suggest if a sound clip of an everyday grocery list played on top of a voicemail declaring passionate love? This made sense to Mike. His interest in the open source biology movement and concepts of entropy in performance, as embodied in the work of Merce Cunningham and John Cage, made this a natural match. Gunny took the project back to Allentium and consulted with Creative Director Mutlu Isik. Mutlu found the idea inspiring. Gunny agreed to finance all costs of design and development. Gunny called Mike who could not believe that this scheme was going to become a reality.

Days and months of conversation ensued about the conceptual implications of technological choices (is it really real-time if the local client machine is the one performing the sound? Should we use Flash Media Server and shared objects or can we do it with client-side Flash, ColdFusion, and SQL Server? What about bandwidth restrictions ruining the real-time effect?). Allentium Interactive Developer Isaac Morales offered a whole unique plan for approaching the technology of the project. In the end, Mutlu's technology model won out. Mutlu's model: scheduled tasks in ColdFusion would compose the music (decide what clips would play at what future times). This gets stored in a SQL server database. When a user logs on, their local Flash file talks to a Coldfusion file which talks to the SQL server which determines which files need to be downloaded and on what server those files reside. Files download. They start to play. Rinse. Repeat. Part of the genius of Mutlu's model is that, like online video games, the only traffic going between the CFMX nervecenter and the PC are the coordinates for the music files. Everything else sits on file servers. This makes the application supremely scalable.

Once programming was finished -- completed entirely by Mutlu and Isaac as the first official project of the Allentium Lab -- Isaac set to work on developing the visual animation for each of the layers. Mutlu integrated that into the design of the home page. Mike and Gunny finally settled on a name for the project -- Mike's idea had been to call it the Mockingbird Project.

And thus the Mockingbird was born.

Posted by jo at December 6, 2006 11:47 AM