In The Dark at the Folly

On Friday I attended the latest In The Dark listening event which was held at the Folly for a Flyover venue (a peculiar pop-up cinema / art space) in Hackney, East London. What was particularly exciting about this event was that I was having one of my very own pieces exhibited / played and it was very humbling to hear my work alongside those from well established and respected radio producers!

If you’ve never heard of In The Dark, it’s a fantastic organisation which champions and commissions experimental radio pieces. They basically encourage producers to play around with the radio format to create weird, yet wonderfully original audio pieces. If you’re a fan of  WNYCs RadioLab then this is definitely something for you.

The organisation regularly holds ‘listening events’ across London, bringing together a community of producers and listeners to hear a selection of audio shorts, curated by founder Nina Garthwaite. Although sitting ‘in the dark’ with a bunch of people, listening to radio may sound like an unusual way to spend the evening, it really is a great experience and I must say something very unique! Each of the pieces played are stylistically distinct and certainly always thought provoking, so you can never be sure what you might end up listening to.

On Friday, the night was arranged into three parts:

  • Fables,
  • Structures
  • Fragments, Apparitions & Visions.

My piece, entitled ‘Adam as machine‘ (you can read more about it here), fell into the ‘Structures’ category and followed Leo Hornak’s  ‘All You Can Hear is Breathing’ – which explores the insane Empire State Building ‘Run-Up‘ race. Favorites of the night included a piece by Sarah Cuddon called ‘The Books’ (an extended edit currently available on iPlayer) and the latest Hackney Podcast entitled ‘Wild Hackney’, produced by Francesca Panetta and Russel Finch (listen to it here).

I’ve re-posted my piece below if you want to have a listen…

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Adam as machine

Audio piece

I’m currently in the midst of producing a 30 minute radio piece on the subject of death. To be more specific, I’m exploring contemporary attitudes towards death and doing so through the perspective of those who deal with death on a daily basis.

Part of my project took me to the basement of the Royal Sunderland Hospital where I spent the day exploring it’s mortuary with pathologist Dr Stuart Hamilton. Recently, as I was listening back to his interview I begun to find myself fixated on a particular section, in which he discusses the way in which he views the human body. He describes his view of life as being very ‘mechanistic’ and as I listened to him talk about the body as ‘pumps’ and ‘shunts’ I was inspired to compose a short piece from his words.

Adam and Eve; the body electric. Image: Mike Reedy

As a biologist myself, I have always considered the human body to represent a beautiful feat of natural engineering. From the minute intricacies of the inner ear to the extent of the circulatory system, pulsating to the rhythm of a beating heart – the human body is living machine. Our consciousness and everything that makes us, ‘us’ is a product of this machinery and when the machine stops – so do we.

The title of this piece toys with the idea of Adam and Eve and how this throws up a very different view of the human body. However which ever view you take, both are unified in the fact that they find certain beauty in the human form.

Soundcloud’s audio compression has reduced the quality of the piece somewhat so please get in touch if you’d like a copy of the original file.

Space Transportation System (STS-1 / STS-135)

Atlantis waits patiently. Image: NASA

I’m posting two little audio pieces to mark the end of NASAs space shuttle program which will (with any luck) enter its final mission today with the launch of Atlantis (STS-135) in a few hours.

The first was produced for the latest Imperial College I,Science podcast and features science writer and producer Piers Bizony speaking on the history of the space shuttle program at a Super/Collider event in May.

The Second is a short piece extracted from the first, imagining what it might sound like to be inside the shuttle during take-off. The radio chatter you hear comes from Columbia (STS-1), the very first shuttle launch which blasted off over 30 years ago on 12th April 1981. The eventual winding down towards the end symbolises the ending of the project’s 30 year run.

The BBC has produced an excellent interactive history of the space shuttle program here and a friend from my course has also written an excellent article on the future of manned spaced flight here

Sounds of Science #04

Dark Energy

So most of our universe (over 70%) is made up of something called Dark Energy. We can’t see it and we don’t really know what it is…

Hello darkness my old friend. Image: New Scientist

Matter – everything that makes up me, you, planets and stars – appears to make up only a very small fraction of the universe, about 4%. Instead, the universe seems to be filled predominantly by a very strange material known as dark energy and it is this material, with it’s anti-gravity properties, which seems to speeding up the expansion of our universe. We’ve known that the universe was expanding since Edwin Hubble made his observations in the 1920s, however it’s only in the last 20 years that we’ve realised that this expansion is actually speeding up! The problem is that we can’t directly detect dark energy and this makes it very difficult to understand what it is and whether it really does exist.

Instead we must rely on indirect observations, looking at light travelling from the far reaches of the universe to determine whether the properties of this light has changed during the time it has taken to reach us. A good way to measure the expanding universe is to make observations of distant supernovae (huge explosions which follow the death of large stars) which act as ‘standard candles‘ or ‘lighthouses’ because we know how bright these object should be. Measuring light from distant supernovae has allowed us to see that it is different to what it should be if these objects were positioned within a static universe. Instead what we see is changes in this light which indicates that these objects are being flung outwards and away from us via some sort of cosmic expansion.

A nice analogy to describe the expansion of the universe is what happens when two points are drawn on the surface of an inflating balloon. As the balloon is inflated, the two points begin to move further and further away from each other and as the material expands outwards, the distance between the two points also increases. Applying this analogy to the cosmos, we could imagine the same happening with two galaxies being pulled apart from each other as the space they exist in expands.

As dark energy is so difficult to detect, scientists have recently been looking for new ways to independently verify its presence within the universe. Whilst at the BBC I was lucky enough to interview cosmologist Dr Chris Blake from Swinburne University, Australia who has recently published two papers reconfirming dark energy via a new set of methods. Blake and his colleagues produced a galaxy map of over 200,000 galaxies and used this information to look at how these galaxies were distributed and how they grew relative to each other. Through this work Blake and his colleagues were able to reconfirm the presence of dark energy and perhaps most importantly were able to determine some of its properties.

I thought I’d use the audio from this telephone interview and spruce it for the next sounds of science episode:

It probably sounds better with headphones (or obviously decent speakers).

Useful links:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13462926

 http://preposterousuniverse.com/writings/cosmologyprimer/faq.html#dmde

http://supernova.lbl.gov/PhysicsTodayArticle.pdf

Sounds of Science #03

EchoBank


In this Episode I visit Dr Kate Jones at the Zoological Society of London to find out about a bat call reference library they’re developing called ‘Echobank’ which is being used in conjunction with the iBats monitoring program. Scientists at the Zoological Society of London are using Echobank to teach a neural network to identify specific bat species from the acoustic properties of their calls.

Although this may sound pretty niche, it’s really cool stuff because the technology has much wider applications. Firstly the team are using it in combination with a smart phone app which can be used by anyone to take bat call recordings. In doing this the team hope to collect global distribution data for bat populations, which Dr Jones is hoping to use to determine whether bats can be used as a ‘heart monitor’ for the state of the environment. As bats represent one fifth of all mammalian species and exist in a huge range of habitats (from your local park to the tropics), changes in their global distribution could be used to monitor the impact of climate change on the natural world.

Secondly, the team are doing a lot of really important science engagement, working with ‘citizen science’ networks across Europe to gather data on bat populations. The team have been helping groups across Europe to develop and carry out their own monitoring programs, which feed data back to the iBats program. What’s great about this work is that it’s not only efficiently collecting distribution data, but also getting people interested in the state of their local environment. Standardisation is obviously an important factor when collecting data from multiple sources and with this in mind the team have developed the smartphone apps which can be used easily to take recordings and GPS data.

Finally (and what really excited me) was the suggestion that this ‘digital infrastructure’ could one day be adapted to identify any sound producing species from a recording taken on a smartphone. So imagine going out to your local park, taking a recording of a bird on your iPhone and getting probability results back on the identification of the species!

You can listen to the episode here:

Download it here

Or listen to the edited version as part of Short Science episode 89

Special thanks to Katie Draper who helped out with this episode!

The Sounds of Science #02

SEEING WITH SOUND

In this episode I take a listen to the vOICe technology which has been developed to help the blind ‘see’ with sound.

I’m joined by Dr Michael Proulx of Queen Mary University London who is currently using the vOICe technology to understand how different sense modalities interact to give rise to perception.  Dr Proulx tells me how the vOICe technology can be used to induce a type of ‘synthetic vision’ and how this is achieved through the process of ‘sensory substitution’.

To find out more about how the software creates sound from visual information we put it to the test with the use of several interesting images (below).

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So if you ever wanted to know what a banana or even a goat might ‘sound’ like you’ve come to the right place!

You can download the episode here (right click ‘save target as’ to download)

Or listen to this feature within episode 078 of Short Science.

For further information on the vOICe technology, visit: www.seeingwithsound.com

The Sounds of Science #01

LHC Sound Project

In the first episode I explore the work scientists have been doing to turn the data from the Large Hadron Collider at Cern into sound.

Through a process known as ‘sonification’ – data from the ATLAS experiment at CERN can be transformed into sound, providing an insight into what the elusive Higgs Boson may sound like.

You can download the episode here (right click ‘save target as‘ to download)

Or listen to this feature within episode 074 of Short Science.

For more information on the LHC sound project check out http://lhcsound.hep.ucl.ac.uk/