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I'm designing a soundscape piece that will accompany an outdoor theatre performance. Around 40 audience members will wear headphones and follow the actors around a collection of local streets whilst experiencing the soundscape in some sort of rough sync to the performance. The performance will be around 45 minutes long and will visit various points along the route with the audience stopping to see each scene. The idea is that the soundscape runs the entire length, including when the audience walk between scenes. Kind of based on the idea of a sound walk.

My question is about how to implement this. At the moment my solution is for everyone to have an mp3 player with a single track for the whole performance. Then literally have everyone press play at the same time then leave it running with an audience guide leading the group around at the right time.

At the moment this feels kind of crude and was wondering if anyone else had done anything similar in the past like a sound walk, or had an awesome idea to deliver the audio to the audience?

  • Wasn't there somebody on our course who did that around Edinburgh? I can't remember their name... – Blue Owl Studios UK Aug 8 '13 at 23:39
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Hi Phil,

I've done this in a project where everything had to be totally sync for the same length. We have tested a lot of setups and possibilities and ended up building a physical machine. This was a sort of "hole puncher" where all mp3 players fitted in slots. Above the play button was a small 'finger' that could press the button. This worked out great! But it's very important not to use absolute silence in any part of the soundscape. Why? Because every mp3player will handle the processing/decoding of the mp3 file in a different way. This creates possible time jumps of several minutes. You can bypass this by inserting very low frequencies. But test the setup several times!

If you have enough budget I could also bring you in contact with a developer I work with a lot. He's recently created a smart way to use iPod touch (with wifi) and sync them to the millisecond. He's not cheap and very busy, but he'll make it work!

If you're going the "analog" sync machine route, i could maybe arrange a photo of our setup.

Good luck!

Arnoud

  • Hi Arnoud, Love the idea of the machine :) a picture would be great! Budget is fairly modest and will mostly be taken up buying the mp3 players. And thanks for the great tip on the MP3 files, I had no idea that was a potential problem, life saver... – Phil Lee Aug 8 '13 at 8:37
  • I'll see if i can dig up some pictures! Keep you posted! – Arnoud Traa Aug 8 '13 at 13:46
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I think you should look into portable tour guide systems, like you see in museums, tour busses etc. This means that everyone has a receiver and you have 1 base station that you plug into the source.

There are different ones and most are stereo, which I assume is what you will need.

I'm not sure where you are based but contact event and hire companies to see if they have any of these systems, you should be able to hire them for not much money, probably cheaper than 50 MP3 players.

Two manufacturers I know of that make these are JTS and Anchor.

Hope this helps.

  • Thanks for advice SC. Was wondering about sound quality with this type of system. I'm going to be creating a soundscape with quite a large frequency and dynamic range. I'll certainly look into it... – Phil Lee Aug 9 '13 at 8:08
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I would suggest using RF broadcast and give everyone a portable radio with headphones. You could have a crew/cast member following each group of people with the localised transmitter and that way everyone gets the sound at exactly the same time.

I've not implemented this myself but have been on a guided street theatre piece that used this method and it worked great as long as the group of receivers isn't too big.

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