Eric Archer’s incredible sound cameras

Thursday, 19 February, 2009

One of Eric Archer’s recent projects has been to capture the sound of light by converting discarded 8mm cameras into what he calls optical microphones.

Although human eyes are marvelous sensors, they don’t tell us the whole story. The effect called persistence of vision limits our ability to percieve rapidly changing light sources. Thus if a light source is blinking or modulating faster than about 20 times a second, it appears continuous. However, there are many types of light around us that oscillate and modulate much faster than that, coming from both nature and technological sources. I’ve been curious to hear these modulations for quite a while.

Check out some of his recordings. Sunrise, for instance, will never be the same after listening to the sound of it!

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Doctor Who saved by audio “pirates”

Friday, 27 June, 2008

This is an amazing story on two levels.

First up, the BBC almost wantonly destroys 108 archived episodes of its classic science fiction production, Doctor Who, from the 1960s.

Why? Because they wanted to create storage space for copies of newer programmes, and obviously didn’t want to find larger facilities to store all their archived productions.

However some of the old Doctor Who shows have now been partially restored, thanks to fans who, way back in the 1960s, used to tape record each episode, meaning audio recordings at least of the old shows remained.

By combining the audio recordings with hand-drawn 2D animations, the “lost” episodes are, one by one, being re-created by dedicated Doctor Who fans.

Garrett Gilchrist is a director and artist based in the US, where he has produced a series of low-budget movies. For the past eight months he has been working on an ambitious project to restore to life an episode of the lost 1967 Patrick Troughton epic, Evil of the Daleks. “The Invasion DVD was such a gift to fans, such a wonderful project,” he says. “The first thought in everyone’s mind was, ‘So, when are you animating the rest of them, then?’ ” Working from a basis of hand-drawn 2D animation, Gilchrist has created a series of artworks of all the main characters needed and has worked them into the animation. “I use a very painstaking method, working very closely from photos,” he says. “Everything has to match the original photo perfectly. I wanted my animations to look like a painting come to life – looking just like the original actors, only with cartoon lines around them.”

Painstakingly amazing.

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Is it time to re-introduce sound to the web?

Wednesday, 30 April, 2008

Δ Is it time to re-introduce sound to the web?

So long as any audio files you incorporate in your website are not auto-players, and there is a way to switch the sound off, sure, why not.

It was probably one of the first things you did when you first started playing with HTML, but background music, and funny sound effects when you clicked buttons, went the way of the spacer gif – web design matured, and web standards took over. But – now that “the web is the desktop”, and online applications become increasingly harder to tell apart from their OS-bound counterparts – can anyone remind me again just what is the compelling reason for not using sound effects on the web?

Back in the day when I did dabble with sound, which was pretty much during the height of the browser wars of the late 1990s, the main problems were related to file size, and the need for differing HTML code to make the files work in both Internet Explorer (IE) and Netscape Navigator (NN).

While both NN and IE (versions 3 and 4 respectivley) supported the embed tag, which was generally used to place audio files on web pages, they both had slightly different ways of playing the sound.

A read of Embedding Sound in Web Pages, Part I: The EMBED Tag, written in May 1998, by the way, sets out some the rendering differences between NN and IE.

Finding the “happy balance”, that is, tweaking the HTML is such a way that the sound file would behave the same way cross-browser (and cross-platform), tended to be problematic. If an audio file “worked” in NN, nothing would happen in IE.

Audio files also tended to be quite big, relatively speaking, considering most people were using dail-up connections ten years ago, so many readers had moved to another page before the sound file had even loaded.

I concluded that in 1998 the web was more a visual medium, that the time just wasn’t right for sound, even though applications such as Flash and Shockwave were about, and was quite happy to leave it at that.

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