Monday, May 17, 2010

Finishing touches to the patch and website

I've pretty much finished the website now. I've put on it pretty much everything that you need to know to do this project yourself and a lot of links to books, kit and software to help get ideas for other projects etc.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Making the box functional

How the project is presented is key to creating the kind of atmosphere and sense of occasion I'm looking for, and as such I have been spending a bit of time lately making sure the inside of the box is as clean cut, simple and functional as the outside. This is in part for trouble shooting purposes and as a way of keeping the computer cool enough, but also is a continuation of the key ideas behind Wabi-Sabi that I am keen to display in every aspect of Sonic-Cha, from the tea set itself to the Max/Msp patch that makes everything work. Keeping the cables, and there is a lot of them, organized and discreet as well as using 'velcro' on certain parts of the circuitry to keep them in place in the box has made the assembly time far quicker, which is something one must consider when moving the installation from venue to venue.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Finalizing the patch

The patch has been getting more and more complicated and confusing but I think I'm nearly there. Part of the problem is that I haven't used sub-patching very much so most of the main workings of the patch are on the one page. If I have the time I will revise this aspect but for now I'm just trying to get the patch running how I would like it too.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Documenting and showcasing the teaset

I have been working on a few different ways to get my project out there and here the ideas I've had and am working on at the moment.

- A website. I have bought and have started building a very simple website to show the installation through a number of different media and group everything (including this blog) under one URL that I can send to prospective galleries or people who might want to put it on for a few days.

- Picture collections. I have been documenting some parts of the building of the teaset and will be taking a great deal of high quality photos of the final piece. These will be being displayed both as slide shows on the website, and as a printed hardback book that will sit next to the teaset when it is on show to let users see the different places it has been put on.

- Videos. I have been taking some videos of the teaset which I will be compiling into a very simple, short promotional that will be viewable on the website. I will also be filming the teaset when it is use in the various venues I have lined up over the next few months to allow people to get a better sense of the way people interact with it and whether it will work in their venuewithout necessarily having to try it out in person first.

- Prints. I have been working on a simple image that is essentially a collage of different elements of the teaset and things that symbolise what the teaset is about. I am having this printed onto a canvas that will hang on a wall close to the installation when it is use in much the same way the teamasters in Japan and China would have a carefully selected print hanging in their tea room which exemplified their values and ideas.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Contextual Ideas and re-drilling

By changing of the microphones I'm using I had to re-drill the holes in all the teacups and in the box which they will sit on as the new capsules are larger and belong to my university so I won't be able to cut the wire, pass it through and re solder it on the other side. This was particularly challenging in the teacups because they already had a smaller hole in them and are so fragile, my advice is go very very slowly!

On another note I have continued my reading of and around the subject of tea and sound installation work of this kind and have been developing my ideas behind what my project will symbolise and convey to the user. These can be found in the 'About' section on the website I am building for the project at

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A test run of everything

I've been adding some more elements to my main patch and have been some tests with everything linked together, as opposed to working on individual elements in isolation. This has helped me get a handle on the way things are working together and has thrown up a few things that need to be addressed, such as my gain structure. There is a low hum coming from somewhere and I can't find out where or why! But I'm sure I'll sort it out soon. For now though I am just doing some initial test with the tea set.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Further Arduino work

I am now working getting the five Light Dependent Resistors powered by the Arduino (which is powered by usb) and then taking each of the five individual readings from them into a different analog input on the Arduino to enable differentiation between cups once in Max/Msp. This is proving slightly confusing at the moment because the I need to make a 'series circuit' connected to both the 5v and ground pin on the Arduino, but powering five different LDR's with different readings.

Should all be sorted out soon though after a few hours of fiddling with it. I think getting a larger breadboard would help make things clearer and easier to see whats going on so I'm going to buy one this afternoon.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Problems with mics and preamps

I have been working at getting these mics and preamps working for a week now and have been having no success, I'm sure the solution is something obvious to a professional electrician type, but I have had the help of two technicians and a friend that works in an electronics store but we can't find the problem. Having soldered the mics and built several preamps I have decided to call it quits with this aspect of the project and look for an alternative.

Fortunately, I have acquired four AKG 417's which look like they might do the job. Although I own't be able to use the experience and time I have spent on my own solution in the final project piece I am satisfied that this solution will work and allow me more time to focus on some other factors.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Microphone and Preamp completion

I have successfully got the microphones soldered well and ready to be used with the preamps I am just finishing making. With the help of a more experienced solderer and a soldering iron with a very fine point and variable temperature the mics are now connected up to the necessary wires and are ready to use once the preamps are fully working and powered.

I will be testing for how well the mics pickup the sounds I expect people to be making into the teacups, their overall sound quality and directionality. I will also be checking the preamps for noise levels that they may introduce to the signal.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Arduino Success and mic faliures

I've now managed to get the Arduino chip sending Light and toggle switch data to my Max/Msp patch. This is a crucial step to have achieved and I can now move on to trying to solder the mic capsules which have been proving quite tricky.

I am altering a patch called 'Sensor Box' by Andrew Benson to make it more useful for my project.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Patch development

The main patcher is coming along now, I'm just in the stages of refining it for simplicity purposes and adding the elements that will alter the recordings on playback when the tea cup lids are lifted. Once the Arduino element is fully up and running I will have to make a few more adjustments I'm fairly sure, like parsing data etc to create a smoother more workable data stream with which to work.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Preamps and Building the mics

I've bought a few of these little preamps to power the tiny little Panasonic microphone capsules I'm using inside the teacups. They need to be soldered up to a power source and mics at one end and and output jack at the other, should be fairly straightforward.

Soldering the little mic capsules is proving very fiddly indeed and I have wrecked a few already so have had to make another order. They're just so small and I think the soldering iron heats the capsule
up too much which is breaking them. I've spoken with a tutor today who has given me a few new ways to do it, and some soldering advice which should help.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hooking up the Arduino

Currently I'm doing a few important steps at once on the project.
The first is getting the Arduino chip to talk to the computer and give information about how much light is being received by each sensor. This coincides with writing an Arduino 'Sketch' which will interpret the voltage data coming from the chip and enable me to send it to my Tea Set patch I have built in Max/Msp. Its all proving quite challenging. I'll post a few pics of how its all looking in a few days.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Linking Wabi-Sabi, and ancient Japanese Tea ceremony values to my project

'All things are impermanent' - Wabi - Sabi says the inclination towards nothingness is unrelenting and universal and this is one of the key concepts in my project. People will come to the tea set, make their sonic marking in each of the four cups and leave, but this sonic proof of their interaction will be short lived lasting only until someone else comes along to try. This transience is key to Wabi - Sabi teachings, and Japanese philosophy to some extent, and represents an intrinsic element of my project, and I think will effect how people use the tea set as-well.

'Everyone is equal in the Tea room' - This age old notion that is included in the teachings of Wabi - Sabi is another linchpin philosophy behind the installation. In days gone by the sanctuary and calmness of the Tea room represented one of the only places one could escape from notions of class and wealth. Nowadays, with the class system being what it is in Britain, this is still something of an issue and I want the tea set to provide this sense of equality among different people that the Wabi - Sabi/Japanese Tea room once did. Not only will the installation unite people in curiosity when in its final installation space, but the fact that everyone becomes equal by the recording process is fundamental too. All people are the same once recorded into the teacups. Who ever you are, your voice is recorded, for a time and then erased to be overwritten by somebody new.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wabi-Sabi, values and ideas.

I've been reading 'Wabi-Sabi, for artists, designers, poets and philosophers' recently and have been using it mainly to build on my knowledge of both ancient Tea Ceremony practices and also the types of thinking and philosophy that were underlying in the cultures that practiced such things.

In short, Wabi-Sabi itself is a fairly expansive ancient Japanese aesthetic and world view anchored around such concepts as seeing beauty in the unusual and imperfect and also the acceptance of the transient nature of things. Here are a few underlying values that I have found and consider key to the Wabi-Sabi and also very linked to the way I have been trying to present my installation.

- All things are impermanent, the inclination towards nothingness is unrelenting and universal.

- All things are imperfect, this becomes clear when looking closer and nothing is an exception.

- All things are incomplete and in a constant state of either becoming or dissolving.

- Greatness exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details.

- 'Material poverty, spiritual richness''

- One must find a balance of pleasure gained from things, and from the freedom of things.

I think that each of these concepts can be linked to the ideas I am trying to convey with my, simplest of installations. It will be impermanent, as it moves from venue to venue sometimes only being displayed for a matter of hours. It will be imperfect, as the sounds it will take from those who use it and will combine will certainly not always be pleasing or pleasant to the ear. It will be in a constant state of incompletion and dissolving, as each new user begins to fill the cups with their own verbalized thoughts some of the previous user will remain until overwritten, possibly allowing for a collaboration between people who have never met but inevitably resulting in the slow disintegration of one individuals efforts, one cup at a time. It will be materialistically impoverished appearing sparse and plain, but the sonic results it will yield will produce a richness that exceeds its appearance and aesthetic.

These are some of the ideas I am exploring and trying to convey with the piece and will, I hope, add to the users enjoyment and understanding of the tea set if I present them in a more detailed and accessible way to each user.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Using these high quality elecret microphone capsules is the best option for capturing the sounds played/made into each tea cup. They are relatively inexpensive and while they do require some fairy extensive soldering and wiring to get them working I think they will produce a really clear sounding resulting audio. I have most of the parts required now and start building them in a few days. I'm glad to have found such a flexible, durable and (I'm told) good sounding microphone solution, and may start using them for a whole host of other audio recording situations.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The main teapot function...

I have been thinking about a way of involving the teapot in the main sound making part of the project and have decided to use another LDR which will, when the teapots lid is lifted, will apply an audio effect to whichever teacups buffer is playing. I think a relatively subtle reverb or delay could work well with the more the lid is lifted the more the reverb affects the sound recorded in the teacup. This way the user can control two parameters at once, by lifting the lid of the teacup which will choose the sample to playback, the amount of the teacups effect that is being used and also how much of the teapots effect is being heard also. I think this will make the experience more interactive and engaging and will go some way to enabling the user to really 'play' the teaset as an instrument.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Documenting the final piece

Having had talks with a lecturer of mine, I've decided to produce a DVD documenting the full process of the project, start to finish. I think it should include as much as possible about the project and be well enough produced in itself to be interesting to watch without using the final tea set.

Things I want to include on the DVD are:

This Blog, tracking the idea development

Nicely shot footage of the end product in its environment

Footage of it in use

A collection of good quality still photographs of the piece

The Max/Msp patch used for the project

Full instruction on how to do it for yourself

Recordings of music it has produced
More to come I think....

A performance within a performance?

The notions of the 'Chado' (Japanese tea ceremony or 'way of the tea') being a performance in itself is something I'm reading about at the moment. I'm looking for ways to explore this concept within the framework of my installation, perhaps promoting questions about the idea of the music people create using the tea set being a performance within a performance, and what sort of significance that has.

Idea's of the tea room itself being a stage of sorts, with the whole performance only viewable to the select few who are actually involved are also conceptual area's I'm looking at exploring sonically in the piece.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I've just got a new book all about the concept of 'Wabi-Sabi', the ancient Japanese aesthetic that finds beauty in the modest and humble.
These are concepts that have been intrinsically linked with the tea ceremony since it began and I'm keen to find out more about how I can adopt some of the principles of these teachings in my project.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Drilling the holes

I've had a bit of a lull in progress lately so I thought I'd get on with all the drilling that needs to be done. Last night I drilled out all the individual tea cups and the tea pot ready for the microphones and light detecting diode wires to go through. This was a very slow process as the
tea set is made of something very dense, maybe terra-cotta, and I couldn't afford to break anything from drill pressure or the friction that was generated. While I had the drill out I made the necessary holes in the new sewing box, one for each of the tea cups and pot, one in the bottom of the box for power and another for ventilation of the Mac Mini.