Yann: Introducing the Map Mixer Live!

Phew, the past ten days have been quite an adventure. I’ve been to St Andrews, Peebles, Kilmarnock, Stornoway, and I’m now in Inverness for the rest of the Festival. One of my main jobs has been installing the MapMixer Live installations in most of these venues. I’ve been getting a lot of questions about it - what is it? how does it work? where can we get it? - so I thought I’d write a blog post about it! That’s what people do these days, isn’t it?

I’ve been working on the software for the MapMixer Live for the past six weeks or so, with the aim of having it link with the MapMixer workshops I ran in schools around Scotland in September and October. In those workshops I worked with students to record sounds in and around their schools. Then I introduced them to the MapMixer software, (downloadable here), which let them listen to the sounds they recorded and mix them together to create their own original music.

We, the Love Music Festival team, decided a while back that it would be great to have an installation version of the MapMixer at all of the venues, and that’s what MapMixer Live is all about! It lets you explore a bunch of sounds recorded by students around Scotland, simply by moving around a room. What’s more, you can play with the installation with others at the same time, with each of you controlling any number of sounds.

The main component in building the installation is the camera. Digital cameras can be very expensive things, and we wanted to have as many of these installations happening at once as possible. Solution? The Sony EyeToy camera. These little cameras were originally made for the Playstation 2, but it is USB and can be plugged into virtually any computer. The quality is surprisingly good, and they are dirt cheap! I found seven of them at a used games shop in Edinburgh for £5 each.

The camera is mounted somewhere near the ceiling, pointing straight downwards. Check out this time lapse video of the installation at An Lanntair in Stornoway:

This bird’s-eye view means that it can tell where people are in the space, and the software can use that data to trigger different sounds. The only problem is that you need a really high ceiling...the gallery spaces in St Andrews and Stornoway were great for that, but in Peebles and Inverness the camera was just too low. To fix that I turned to the most important tool anyone has ever invented: Gaffer Tape.

lens

I found a cheap wide-angle lens on eBay (another £5) and taped it as solidly to the EyeToy as possible. The result was a super wide angle USB camera.

With the camera mounted above and plugged into the computer running the software, and the computer plugged into a projector and some speakers...

mixer

...the installation is ready to rock.

MML_ready

Here’s a short video of me testing it out in Stornoway and St Andrews. You can hear me playing with sounds that were recorded during my workshops in Benbecula and Barra, as well as a separate set of loops from beatboxer extraordinaire Hobbit, who is touring with Duncan’s Electric Loops day. You’ll also see that it doesn’t only work with people, you can use anything moving across the floor to play with the sounds!

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