Guerilla interview - part 2

This time, teaming up with Cyrus, we installed a table by the canal not far from CIID and asked people to play. Cyrus had his cyborg towards utopia activity. I had a noise machine and an iPhone running an app that let people trigger samples. Those samples were different kind of abstract sounds I recorded with my modular synthesizer.

A few good things came out.

The first striking insight came from a tour guide, guiding an international crowd around the city. She started playing, telling me a few seconds later “it sounds horrible”. She eventually played for a minute or two, being undemonstrative on the switches. For the final “how did it feel” question, a very surprising “stressful because people are looking at me”. How unexpected from a tour guide. This reinforce my idea of a solitary experience, and if that lady felt unsafe, it was probably because she was expressing herself with a medium she did not master.

“I like to have peace in my ears”
I wish I was reactive enough to ask this lady how peace sounds like. Though I can easily imagine how “not peace” sounds like, the sound of peace is yet to be described.

From that point I knew that the beating chaos of my square waves was not how I’ll have people feeling good (about making noises).

And then a couple on bikes stopped by. The guy played for a long moment. He seemed to really enjoy it. He wasn’t the type of player that was reluctantly flipping one switch, here and there. He was playing. Coming back to that one switch I suppose he understood. Trying to come up with patterns. That man happened to be a composer, named Niklas Ottander. He introduced me to Helmut Lachenmann. I’ll tell you more about Helmut soon.

What is noise ? What is music ? It is all about context and conventions. It is about the frame around the noise. For Italian futurists, the sound of machines was the future of music. The most beautiful piece of Chinese music is going to sound dissonant for European.

“This is annoying because it doesn’t change”. Noise might be ok. Perfectly still noise is not.

“I was just flipping switches, it has no emotions”. How might we design a switch with emotions ? Some found flipping switches very satisfying, though.

When I asked people what they would add to the box, they all told me about knobs. Knobs for pitch, knobs for tempo... “That would make me feel like a DJ”. What do I learn from that ? It is exactly what I want to avoid.

The sampler game wasn’t a success. “I like this one because it sounds funny”. “This one is nice because it sounds like a piano”. People like to hear what they know.

I think I can draw a conclusion from this experiment. I know want to work more extensively with a few people. The open air, surrounded by people, not focused, not framed experience of the guerilla interview taught me several small things. I now need to plan a different format. And with people to closely work with.