ROUND is part museum audio tour and part participatory audio blog. Using mobile networked devices, museum visitors are able to leave audio comments about the museum’s artworks as well as hear those of other museum visitors, artists and curators. Voices are combined with music in an individualized audio experience.
Today, information gathering involves gaining perspective from a diverse array of sources, all available at our fingertips. Searching for a simple product online, individuals can read reviews not only from “expert” sources, but from the product users themselves, and subsequently add their own feedback. Content is no longer something created and maintained by a single authoritative entity. Instead, the public is accustomed to content that is available, participatory, and ultimately democratic in nature. Wikis, blogs, and sites like YouTube seek to involve browsers in an ongoing process of creation and collaboration that constantly changes the landscape of the Web. Why should experiencing art be any different?
ROUND probes this question by using networking and streaming audio technologies to create a hybrid of the traditional museum audio tour and a participatory blog. ROUND is an audio installation that seeks spoken voice contributions from museum visitors and uses them as part of an evolving musical composition intended to be listened to while viewing the work in the galleries. This interactive audio experience allows visitors to select from a diverse range of voices sharing their perspectives about the exhibitions—including artists, curators, educators, and visitors—and to add their own responses to the mix. Just as a dialogue about a work of art is forever unfolding, the flow of music changes continually as a result of being created using custom compositional algorithms.
The title ROUND alludes to both a musical round—a song in which two or more voices sing the same melody but in an offset fashion—and the age-old Arthurian legend about the Knights of Camelot who sat at a round table, affording no one person a privileged position. Equality of opinion and the opportunity for two-way dialogue are core ideas of this project. As participating visitors view the exhibitions, their comments are collected in a database of recordings and subsequently incorporated into the piece in real time. Thus, there is a continual loop of opinion and emotional response, all contained within a musical work.
ROUND sample – Gordon Cheung
ROUND sample – The Aldrich
ROUND sample – ROUND
ROUND on Weekend America – NPR
In keeping with the open and collaborative nature of the project, ROUND was built primarily using open-source software tools and packages. The custom server software was developed in Python and runs on Linux. The client software runs on a mobile Linux platform (Maemo) on Nokia N800 tablet computers. The algorithmic music was programmed in Max/MSP and various software samplers and synthesizers were used to turn the algorithm outputs into an evolving stream of audio.
ROUND runs on a wireless network within the museum which allows the N800s to connect to the server. Using a custom GUI, participants make various selections pertaining to the artworks and types of voice they want to hear. A SQL query is generated and sent to the server which returns all audio files that match the participant’s query. These files are then played back according to parameters which allow for randomness and chance while not devolving into total chaos. The audio stream of voices is then combined with the instrumental stream and sent out to the participant using Icecast streaming software. The system allows for multiple simultaneous users with the limiting factors being server processing power and network bandwidth.