We wanted to create a sound making session to work as part of a programme we run called Allsorts, a six week series of creative workshops for [adults]. Our friend and composer Michael Price had planned a sequence of creative workshops all about listening and sound creation called The Listening Season.
The SoundLab team designed a session that gave participants the opportunity to use a range of different sound making devices to create their own distinctive sounds that would then become part of a sound installation called the ‘Forest of Deptford’.
Our SoundLab video was filmed at this sound making session and you can see many of the instruments and devices we used in it.
To create the session we thought about a lot of the things on our [workshop checklist]. We settled on a clear and simple purpose for the session - each person would create their own new sound for the installation. We thought it might be easier to think of that sound as a character in the story of the Forest of Deptford installation, and we asked each sound maker to think about the creature they were making a sound for and then to tell us about it when they played the group their sound.
The session was two hours long and broke down into these parts:
- introduction to the session and the purpose of the session
- introduction to the sound making machines
- play - everyone gets to play on all the machines - 10 - 15 minutes on each one
- choose - participants decide which machine they want to use to create their unique sound with
- develop - participants develop their sound through experimentation and performance
- perform and record - each participant performs their sound for the group, we record that performance
- storytelling - each participant tells us something about what creature sound they were making
This storytelling element turned out to work really well and really added something personal to the purpose of the session. Everyone created amazing sounds but also created a developing story that built up as each person added their new sound and story.
Here are some examples of the sounds that were made in the session.
For the technical setup we wanted to keep things as simple as possible.
- an iPad with Bebot and a few other apps
- a Moog Theremini
- an Alphasphere connected to a laptop
- an Ototo board [link to their website] connected to a range of fruit!
- a Korg MS-20 (which unfortunately didn’t work at the last moment but we think would still be great)
- two LittleBits synth kits [link to the product on their website]
- a Macbook with Ableton Live
- an ONYX 1620i mixer/audio interface
- PA speakers
- two sets of headphones per machine
- six rockstar headphone splitters to enable each machine to have two headphone outputs plus another output going to the mixer (more on these handy devices and our other favourite tools here)
In the second half of the workshop participants could develop their particular sound for some time and then had the opportunity to play live and recreate that sound, but now to the whole group. This worked because we had an audio output running from each machine to the mixer and out through a small PA system. The Mackie Onyx 1620i allowed us to simultaneously listen to the performance and record the sounds so that we could use them in the final sound installation.
Although we had used iPad, the Theremini and the AlphaSphere in lots of other ways before, this was the first time we had really used the LittleBits and the Ototo. They are quite fiddly to set up and use but they are really fun and open to experimentation, ideal for a sound making workshop and fairly cheap.
It is worth noting that we think you could use any sound making devices in this setup - if you happened to have a bunch of iPads you could just use those, exploring and experimenting with the vast range of apps available.
Tips & Tricks
- Keep it simple, having one sound per participant worked really well but taking the time over finding the sound they want is really important.
- Having the ‘story’ element or something descriptive can be really useful in contextualising the workshop, it can either be the outcome or a starting point. For example if someone doesn’t know where to begin in what sound they would like to create, suggesting options like a character, a place or an emotion can be a great way to focus on what it should be like, like in the video with the angry bee!