Audio piece: Winter’s Rest

This is a short audio piece which was originally created for the In The Dark Christmas party – however it didn’t quite fit the bill in the end, being as it is, devoid of any Christmas cheer. Anyway, I thought I’d better not let it go to waste and instead make it available on here – I suppose this is the obligatory Christmas themed post.

Image: youngdoo (Flickr)

It’s another short piece (see Adam as machine) which has fallen out of The D-Word, a documentary I produced over the summer which will be appearing on Transom.org early in the new year. This piece features pathologist, Dr Stuart Hamilton and was recorded in the mortuary at the Sunderland Royal Infirmary back in July. The material I recorded with Stuart at the mortuary only forms a small part of the overall documentary, yet I think it’s interesting enough to justify an entire piece on it’s own, maybe I’ll get around to it one day.

Dr Hamilton explained to me how winter was a particularly busy period for the mortuary staff, with mortality rates increasing in the elderly over the colder months of the year. Another interesting point was that they tended to receive an increase in the number of decomposed bodies at Christmas, but I’ll let you listen to the piece to find out why…

I’m not going to go into a massive rant on how important it is to make an effort to spend time with family, because I’m particularly guilty of not doing so. It just seems that the mortuary staff gain a depressing insight into the mistakes we make and how we choose to lead our lives.

 

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Birdsong: An Escape From The Noise

Image:_John Brown (Flickr)

I was interested to read today about a new research project being undertaken, to investigate the psychological impacts of exposure to birdsong. In particular the project will look at how birdsong affects our psychological state, including its effect on mood, attention and sense of creativity.

The research is being conducted as a joint collaboration between the University of Surrey, National Trust and Surrey Wildlife Trust. Researcher Eleanor Ratcliffe, highlighted that there was a real a lack of evidence on the effects of birdsong, stating:

“A great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that we respond positively to birdsong. However, currently there is a lack of scientific research on the psychological effects of listening to birds.”

You can find out more about the project here.

For me the sound of birdsong offers predominantly positive associations. Living in London, I’m now surrounded by a largely synthetic soundscape, which is strongly connected to the stresses and frustrations of city life (the daily commute, working long hours and a persistent sense of fatigue).

Living amongst this hubbub has unsurprisingly increased the value I attribute to natural soundscapes. Standing in binary opposition to the din of urban living, natural soundscapes offer potential for escape, not just from noise, but from all the negative associations paired with it.

It may be that natural sounds can help us escape from a chaotic lifestyle or at least provide a restorative effect from stress. Understanding the psychological impacts of birdsong will allow us to better understand how we respond to such sounds and perhaps learn more about this relationship. If birdsong really does improve our state of mind and / or sense of wellbeing then it could have real potential in it’s application as a therapeutic tool.

Birdsong as a therapeutic tool?

Back in April / May – I produced a radio piece which looked at the use of Birdsong in the healthcare environment. Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool has been experimenting with the use of birdsong to improve the experiences of it’s young patients.

Installed in the central corridor is a sound installation playing the beautiful birdsong recordings made by Chris Watson and Alder Hey patients. These recordings are also used with patients during traumatic and painful procedures, often as a way of calming them down or taking their minds off the situation.

Speaking to the hospital’s Arts Coordinator Vicky Charnock, I found out that there was already tremendous anecdotal evidence in support of birdsong as a therapeutic tool. They were also interested in setting up some form of trial in which to test the potential therapeutic benefits of birdsong.

You can listen to and download the piece here:

(Re)constructing Reality

Okay, so here are a couple of interesting videos relating to the field of photography (or digital image processing to be more precise) that I’ve come across over the last couple of months. Some of these have been around for a while, but I thought as a collection they were sufficiently interesting to post up on here. What I find interesting about them is the way in which they deconstruct or alter the way in which we relate to reality; slowing down time to observe imperceivable movements or reinterpreting images to reveal seemingly hidden information.

A trillion frames per second

The first is a video from researchers at MIT who’ve developed a trillion frame per second (fps) camera. That’s correct – a trillion. So you’re probably used to watching video in the region of 30 fps and that’s fast enough to trick your mind into perceiving motion between frames.

However, this camera is capable of capturing light, as it travels from point A to point B. Although it doesn’t seem to be able to capture the movement of individual photons, it does seem able to capture individual pulses of light, as they move across the frame or scatter as they interact with certain materials.

Interestingly, it’s dubbed by it’s creators as the world’s ‘slowest fastest camera’ – despite being able to capture the speed of light, it can only record data in two dimensions and only one of these is spatial (the other is time).

So in order to record enough data to obtain a multidimensional movie, it must record the scene multiple times from slightly different angles and this takes time (up to an hour apparently). Anyway, the video below elaborates on this and features some of the incredible footage captured by the camera.

As the camera requires multiple takes to obtain enough data, it’s seems that its applications are somewhat limited. However it’s ability to capture light as it scatters across a scene is certainly valuable in the analysis of different materials and could even be used for what its designers describe as ‘ultrasound with light’. Read more here and here.

The camera never lies?

The first time I saw this I was pretty stunned. This video basically outlines a new and simple method of realistically inserting objects into an image after it was taken (in post-production essentially). This is done without the user having to perform complex measurements with perspective or lighting – instead, with minimal annotation the user can place objects into an image and the system will work out all the necessary lighting conditions to which it should to conform to. The result, as you will see, is incredible – with the inserted objects appearing as if they existed in the original scene.

What’s more, the researchers also found that subjects were unable to tell the difference between real images and images generated by their system. It’s looks so good it’s almost a little disturbing.

You sort of have to see it to believe it:

You can read more about it here, or their research paper here.

Reconstructing reality?

The last two videos are also pretty smart, describing processes by which poor quality images can be reinterpreted or reconstructed using the information within them.

If you can get past the rather dry voice over, the first involves the reinterpretation of data within an image allowing one to:

“Decide later if it stays a photo, becomes a video or turns into a lightfield so you can digitally refocus”

The final is one you are likely to have come across and details an extraordinary feature in the upcoming release of Adobe’s photoshop series (CS6) – It’s an image deblurring feature which seems to work remarkably well, able to pluck lost detail from what seems like nowhere:

I definetely ran out of steam towards the end of this post.

Thanks.