Atmosphere Project

Atmosphere is the combination of the media elements: image, sound and space. It “…refers to the sensory qualities…” the combination of elements emits. “The experience and emotional sensibility of an atmosphere … contribute to the sense of being present in a location…”

The ‘Atmosphere Project’ requires Exploring Media Arts students (as a group) to discuss, develop, design and create an atmosphere. Lily Milburn and I, began our discussions with a brainstorm of what context our atmosphere would take – what we would create. A key instruction of the project was: “projects must be on La Trobe grounds.” We were conscious that we could interpret this instruction to any extent imaginable (adhering to the University laws of course); however, it inspired the two of us to create the atmosphere of the University lecture theatres, contrasting the sensory qualities of the environment from the beginning of a learning semester to the last week of the timeframe.

The Mockingbird wireframe above illustrates the concept Lily and I discussed for our atmosphere project.

The Mockingbird wireframe above illustrates the concept Lily and I discussed for our atmosphere project.

The Mockingbird wireframe (pictured above) depicts the design of our atmosphere project. To showcase the atmosphere of the University lecture theatres, Lily and I discussed that we would have a progression of images that highlight the contrasting number of students who attend their lectures in the first week of the semester to the last. Whilst the audience is focused on these images, we discussed that a soundscape – played as a backing track – would really immerse the viewers into the atmosphere we wanted to convey. The soundscape would begin with excitement (the first lecture of the semester), it would be fast paced, only to transcend to a dull environment (capturing the last lecture of the semester). To incorporate the element of space into our designed atmosphere, we decided to incorporate a map that highlights the attendance of students over the semester; which would be viewed in conjunction with the images and the soundscape.

To begin with, we created the soundscape using Audacity. The sound file (above) opens with the chattering of students before the lecturer begins their presentation. I downloaded and copied the chattering from a recorded Exploring Media Arts lecture from this semester.

The soundwaves of the chattering track in the completed soundscape.

The soundwaves of the chattering track in the completed soundscape.

The sound of students speaking loudly, ignorant to the lecturer wanting to begin the class fades in and then fades out slowly as the lecturer speaks: “Okay guys.” The voice track used for the spoken words of the lecturer comes from Crime and Criminology – another La Trobe University lecture recording. Following on from this is a short pause before the lecturer picks back up and welcomes the class to the first lecture of the semester. As the voice track I downloaded from La Trobe’s echo-centre differed from the ‘chattering track’, we used the noise removal effect to soften the background noise as the two did not mesh well when put together. We reduced the noise by 20 dB and left the track with 60 dB sensitivity, a frequency smoothing of 50 hz and a decay time of 0.15 seconds. The voice track, however, continued to be too loud for the atmosphere we wanted to portray – a lecture theatre full of students at the beginning of the semester. Using the leveler, we normalised the maximum amplitude of the ‘voice track’ to -25 dB and removed the DC offset. The result was a soft voice of a lecturer attempting to speak over the talking students.

Layered underneath the voice track was, again, the ‘chattering track’; this time muffled. We normalised the maximum amplitude of the ‘chattering track’ to -30 dB. In effect, we had created an atmosphere where the students were continuing to talk softly underneath the voice of the lecturer.

The screenshot above depicts the soundwaves of the 'chattering track' fading out (the top track) to invite the voice of the lecturer (the middle track) which is layered over the top of the muffled 'chattering track' (the last track).

The screenshot above depicts the soundwaves of the ‘chattering track’ fading out (the top track) to invite the voice of the lecturer (the middle track) which is layered over the top of the muffled ‘chattering track’ (the last track).

In the first week of lectures for the semester, because the lecture theatres are generally filled more than they will be for the remainder of the semester, heard within the atmosphere of the space is the clicks of laptop keyboards and the odd phone ringtone. For this reason we decided to layer underneath the muffled chattering and the lecturer speaking these sounds (pictured below).

The soundwaves of the clicking of computer keys and the generic iPhone ringtone sounding in the lecture atmosphere.

The soundwaves of the clicking of computer keys and the generic iPhone ringtone sounding in the lecture atmosphere.

As the ‘voice track’, muffled ‘chattering track’, the sound of laptop keyboards clicking, and the iPhone ringtone fade out, it becomes apparent to the audience that they have completed the experience of the atmosphere of the lecture theatre in the first week of the semester. A short pause in the soundscape readies the audience for the contrast of the final week of the semester.

The final lectures of the semester generally do not have the large attendance the lectures in the first weeks do. The atmosphere of the lecture theatres becomes quieter. It is easier to hear the lecturer speak. Using the same ‘voice track’, we sourced a section that was the lecturer speaking (the words of which aren’t too important in the overall context of the atmosphere). Using the reverb effect, we increased the room size to 87%, altered the pre-delay to 30 ms, the reverberance to 60%, damping to 50%, tone low to 100% and tone high to 90%, the wet gain to -1 dB and the dry gain to 2 dB, and the stereo width to 100%. I also altered the speed by -4%, which resulted in a loud, low pitched, reverberating ‘voice track’. The effect of which, invites the audience to feel as though they are situated within the almost empty lecture theatre.

Furthermore, as the lecture theatres are emptier in the last week of semester, it becomes easier for the students who attend to hear the yawning and coughing of others.

The screenshot above illustrates the soundwaves of the 'voice track' (the top track), the 'yawing track' (the middle track), and the 'coughing track' (the last track).

The screenshot above illustrates the soundwaves of the ‘voice track’ (the top track), the ‘yawing track’ (the middle track), and the ‘coughing track’ (the last track).

The soundscape of our atmosphere project invites the audience into the environment we have attempted to create. Initially, the audience is immersed into an excitable and full lecture theatre, wherein they can hear the chattering of their peers more so than the information the lecturer is presenting and the interruptions of iPhone ringtones are a reality amoungst the clicking of keyboards. As the atmosphere of the first week of lectures fades out, however, the audience finds themselves shifting into the environment of the last week of lectures. The audience can clearly hear the lecturer and feel the reverberation of the loud and low pitched voice. Furthermore, the audience yawns along with the track and can hear the coughing of other students in the space – the audience can feel the emptiness of the room.

To complete the atmosphere and further immerse yourself into the environment with visual aids, I recommend to you (as my audience) to click play on the soundscape file below and slowly scroll through the images as you feel the atmosphere of the lecture theatre change.

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The images above emphasise our atmosphere when they are viewed in conjunction with the soundscape. 

The first image taken by Lily depicts a lecture theatre in the first week of the semester – the space is largely occupied by students. We, however, opted to use the lense flare filter titled ‘sunkissed’ on Fotor Photo Effects to exaggerate the loud, chaotic and distracting environment. The lense flare filter brightened the photograph. The atmosphere of the lecture theatre in the first image  reflects what is heard by the audience in the soundscape – it immerses the audience into the space by providing them with the visual depiction of what they are hearing. The audience can feel the atmosphere of the numerous students surrounding them in the lecture theatre. They can hear the clicking of computer keyboards and the lecturer calling them to attention. The audience is influenced to feel as though they are another student in the crowd, struggling to hear and eager to learn in the first week of the semester. They are delighted by the prospects of their lecture, but not immersed in it enough to ignore the noises of the other students. The image invites the audience to experience the visual of the atmosphere. Simply viewing the image gives the audience the vivid depiction of the atmosphere that they will retain.

The image above is the depiction of the atmosphere before we added the 'sunkiss' lense flare filter.

The image above is the depiction of the atmosphere before we added the ‘sunkissed’ lense flare filter.

The image above (after the addition of the lens flare filter) highlights the atmosphere of the lecture theatre at the beginning of the semester.

The image above (after the addition of the lens flare filter) highlights the atmosphere of the lecture theatre at the beginning of the semester.

The second image, however, is much darker in colour and brightness, depicting the dull, lifeless lecture theatre at the end of the semester. With this image we opted to use Fotor Photo effects again, this time placing a black and white filter (“plymouth”) over the photograph to 40% of its capacity. The result is am image which reflects the atmosphere it is portraying. The theatre is quite empty, and as the soundscape plays over the image, the audience is able to feel the reverberation of the slowed and low tone of the lecturer as she speaks. The audience is able to feel the space around them that is no longer encompassed by a student. They can hear the noises of the space beneath the lecturer’s voice (something they could not experience in the previous environment, when the theatre was filled with students). The audience is immersed into the image as they listen to the soundscape. They can feel the atmosphere around them – the empty seats, the yawning and coughing behind the lecturer’s voice. The audience feels tired like nature of the atmosphere in it’s final weeks of the semester.

The image above is the depiction of the atmosphere before we added the 'plymouth' filter.

The image above is the depiction of the atmosphere before we added the ‘plymouth’ filter.

The image above (after the addition of the filter) highlights the atmosphere of the lecture theatre at the end of the semester.

Furthermore, to reinforce the experience and environment Lily and I were trying to convey, we decided to extend on the simple hand drawn map to illustrate to our audience the contrast of the atmosphere of lecture theatres at the pole ends of the semester. Maps are diagrammatic representations and symbolic depictions of the relationships between the aspects in space – in this case those aspects relate to the time of semester and the attendance at the lecture theatre.

Pictured above is the map depicting the lecture theatre at the beginning of the semester.

Pictured above is the map depicting the lecture theatre at the beginning of the semester.

Pictured above is the map depicting the lecture theatre at the end of the semester.

Pictured above is the map depicting the lecture theatre at the end of the semester.

The two maps (pictured above) were based on the layout of a conference centre. The first map (in red) makes it evident to the audience the atmosphere of the lecture theatre at the beginning of the semester when paired with the aforementioned soundscape and images. The chairs coloured in red depict the students who have attended the lecture – an almost full theatre bar eighteen seats. The arrows represent the hurried shuffling to get to seats from the two entrances to the theatre, whilst the colour red emphasises the passion and excitement the students have in regards to learning in the first lecture of the semester. Contrasting, is the second map (in blue). Eight students have shown up to the lecture at the end of the semester. The dotted lines represent the slowly paced footsteps the students have taken to sit down. The colour blue depicting the content tone of the theatre – these students are here because they want to be. The space the maps are representing reflect the overall atmosphere.

The atmosphere Lily and I have designed and created combines the media elements of image, sound and space to immerse our audience into the experience and emotional sensibility emitted in the environment of a lecture theatre at the beginning and end of a semester. Through the paring of our soundscape with the vivid images and the spatial construction of our atmosphere, we have enabled our audience to enter into the atmosphere itself. The soundscape and the photographs together immerse the audience firstly, into the chaotic and lively lecture hall at the beginning of the semester, wherein students are energised – talking, typing and having their phones sound. The audience becomes one of the students, experiencing the excited chatter before and during the lecture. The hand drawn map concept of the space of the lecture theatre at the beginning of the semester further draws the audience into the atmosphere, influencing them to feel the environment – it is crowded, chaotic, lively and exciting. As the atmosphere of the lecture theatre at the beginning of the semester draws to a fade in the soundscape, however, the audience becomes transmitted into a sheer contrast of the first environment and experience. Now at the end of the semester, the audience begins to feel like one of the lonely students situated in the dull and almost lifeless theatre (as the photograph portrays). The audience begins to feel tired and lifeless themselves as they listen to the low toned voice of the lecturer slowly pace through her notes. The yawn in the soundscape is contagious too. Each and every noise reverberates through the room – the audience can feel the vibrations on their skin. The hand drawn map concept, furthermore, places the audience in the open space of the lecture theatre; it has illustrated why they can feel the vibrations of the lecturer’s voice on their skin. The noise reverberates easily in an almost empty lecture theatre. With each element of the atmosphere experienced, the audience is left to remember the experience of the contrast of the lecture theatre we have depicted at the beginning and ending of a semester.

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One thought on “Atmosphere Project

  1. Pingback: Atmosphere Project | Exploring Media Arts

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