Output name: Sonikebana
Date of premiere: April 2018
Sonikebana, August 2019 version, image by Anna Chapman Parker
Sonikebana is a long-form composition designed for nine loudspeakers inside wooden boxes on wheels. The audience is invited to move the speakers around the room in order to shape their experience of the piece itself. Sometimes the slightest touch of a speaker will cause the piece to take on a completely new direction, leading to the emergence of new sonic forms. At other points, the speakers react obliquely and audiences are encouraged to listen instead.
The formal idea for this piece is based on a model borrowed from the refined art form of flower arranging called Ikebana. This involves the careful arrangement of plant matter in order to reveal something already present (but hidden) in the materials being arranged. This approach has been applied to a sound piece where audiences take on the role of designer and listener. The compositional structure of the work includes modification by the audience, allowing variation, but without compromising the ultimate intent.
Sonikebana was first realised as the public facing dimension of an interdisciplinary research project with biologists, ecologists, computer scientists and artists called City Sounds. Version 1 was first shown in Edinburgh in April 2018. It used sounds captured in the research project as source material.
Version 2 was presented in August 2019 as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival. This work built on the knowledge gained in Version 1. Hardware was re-thought and code re-designed to enable a much heavier duty period of use.
Almost all of the sounds of Version 2 were synthesised from analysis of video shot at Little Sparta, the garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay. The animation of foliage shimmering in the wind was used in order to excite a range of novel synthesis and computer sound processes.
View a film of of the installation here: . THIS WOULD BE WHERE THE DOI’s DEFINITIVE VERSION OF THE THING WE REALLY WANT PEOPLE TO SEE GOES; score, film, documentation
Sonikebana, August 2019, version 2, image by Martin Parker
Sonikebana is a composition which lies at the intersection of computer-music, sonic art and fine art installation. It involves the crafts of sound design, product design & manufacture, audio-vision and creative coding. The work allows audiences to move mobile speakers around space in order to design how the composition sounds at any point in time.
Sonikebana version 1, public installation, image by Ewan Klein
Sonikebana version 2, public installation, West Court Edinburgh, August 2019, image by Anna Chapman Parker
For a full list of outputs relating to this work see the appendices.
Bosch BNO055 9DOF sensor attached to Raspberry Pi and IQaudio amplifier, image by Martin Parker
Mobile speakers are now ubiquitous. Alexa, Google Home and mobile phones with Bluetooth speakers guarantee not only portability, but also sensors that track and reveal information about their users. Even though these speakers know where you are, and are perhaps able to anticipate what you want, their sensing systems are not used in the generation and production of musical content itself. Very few projects exist where sensing loudspeakers do more than act as an alternative interface to the mouse and keyboard. Sonikebana uses sensors to actively develop and manipulate the sound materials that the speaker plays in real-time, turning the speaker itself into an instrument.
To do this a sensor with nine degrees of freedom gives data about the speed of movement and its heading. This information is fed to a Raspberry PI (RPi) running custom PureData code. The RPi is also host to an amplifier. Good quality hi-fi speakers are attached directly to this unit. With a substantial battery pack, the speakers can run for several days playing sound with up to 30 watts per channel.
Creating this system has enabled the exploration of compositional form and structure in completely new ways. A fundamental shape and structure may exist in the macro composition, but any one moment in the piece can be perturbed by audience interaction and new sonic events and relations set in motion. New parts of it are revealed to varying degrees based on how the piece is played by visitors.
Speakers secured and ready for box lids to be fitted, photo by Martin Parker
Score of one of the layers of the piece - screenshot
From workshop with Version 1, photo by Ewan Klein
The system has proven to be extremely adaptable and has been used in a variety of contexts, from education workshops (April 2018, May 2018, Nov. 2019), in collaboration with scientific research into the relationship between human and biological life in the city of Edinburgh (April 2018), as a sound installation (July-Aug. 2019) and as a live performance piece (Aug. 2019).
The system has also been adapted for collaboration with work by others. For example the speakers were used as part of an ensemble playing James Tenney’s In a Large, Open Space with the Montréal-based Bozzini Quartet in Nov 2019.
A multi-authored paper where Version 1 is explained was published in the SSRN and presented at the 3rd International Conference on Smart Data and Smart Cities in Germany.
Recording plant movement at Little Sparta as part of the research for Sonikebana photo by Martin Parker
This submission represents several years of research and development into both the technologies required to realise the piece, the compositional and performative potential offered by the interface and the sounds that are synthesized or processed in real-time.
The first version of the piece (Version 1) was fully developed into a sound installation as the public face of an interdisciplinary research project called City Sounds in 2017-18. This was funded with a grant from an organicity.eu grant. This work involved establishing a range of “listening devices” across the Meadows public park in central Edinburgh. These were set up in order to track sounds in the area over several months in order to better understand what sound recordings might be able to tell researchers about anthropocentric impact on biological life in the area. The sound materials captured by these analysis devices were then used as the basis for the installation.
The main work of the second version of this project began during Parker’s residency at Little Sparta, the Garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay in 2017. This was funded by the Little Sparta trust and enabled exploration of ways to link the movement of plants with sound synthesis algorithms.
Version 2 was presented during August 2019 as part of Edinburgh Art Festival. This work built on the knowledge gained in the first version and led to a completely new construction and software system that was more robust and able to withstand a longer run in the public domain. This version features the sound synthesis techniques described above.
The second version involved a much closer collaboration with visual artist Anna Chapman Parker. Her conceptual response to the idea of moving speakers around a room led to an enriching installation experience that reflected the main goal of composing a sonic parallel to the art and philosophy of Ikebana.
The code base upon which the project stands is being maintained on github at the following URL: https://github.com/tinpark/sonikebana.
Composing interface for one of the speakers - screenshot
Sonikebana has been supported by various funds and as part of larger projects.
Artist Residency at Little Sparta funded by the Little Sparta Trust, 2017
Sonikebana v1.0 research, development and presentation funded as part of CitySounds.eu grant (€70k) from http://Organicity.eu
Sonikebana v2.0 research, development and presentation funded as part of Edinburgh College of Art’s Edinburgh Art Festival.
Version 1 - April 3-6 2018, St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh | sound recording available here (Parker, 2018)
Version 2 - July-August 2019, Edinburgh Art Festival, Edinburgh College of Art | video documentation available here (Parker, 2019)
Performance - 22 Aug 2019, 30 minutes, Edinburgh (Parker, n.d.)
Performance in James Tenney’s In a Large, Open Space with Bozzini Quartet, Berwick-upon-Tweed, 2019.
Public workshop for 15 participants led by sound artist Zoë Irvine around Sonikebana and its findings, April 2018
Crafting a digital object with Eleni-Ira Panourgia and Matthew Hamilton. A workshop explaining the use of Raspberry Pis and sensors in the making of digital objects, May 2019
Schools workshop using the speakers to explore sound with 8-9 year olds, November 2019
Klein, E., Chapple, S., Fainberg, J., Magill, C., Parker, M., Raab, C. D., & Silvertown, J. (2018). Capturing the Sounds of an Urban Greenspace (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 3262010). Retrieved from Social Science Research Network website: https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=3262010 (Klein et al., 2018)
Research Seminar talk, sonikebana, rich immersion and responsive play, can we have both?, Edinburgh, September 2019. Summary here.
Public talk, sonikebana — using sound to help us escape,** Berwick-upon-Tweed, November 2019
Klein, E., Chapple, S., Fainberg, J., Magill, C., Parker, M., Raab, C. D., & Silvertown, J. (2018). Capturing the Sounds of an Urban Greenspace (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 3262010). Retrieved from Social Science Research Network website: https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=3262010
Parker, M. (2018). Sonikebana, version 1.0 documentation example. Sonikebana V1.0. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.7488/ds/2351
Parker, M. (2019). Sonikebana_exampleVideo_01_stereoBounce. Retrieved from
Parker, M. (n.d.). First performance with Sonikebana. Retrieved from https://media.ed.ac.uk/media/sonikebana_performance_region_01_stereoBounce_colourCorrected/1_ykx6gqq0