Medway Tabla

November 18th, 2013 by Sam Randhawa

I wanted to use Tabla to test and explore the acoustic properties of our locations due to the variety of sounds that they are capable of producing. Tabla is the most commonly used percussion instrument in North Indian Classical music. It can produce relatively well sustained sounds (at least for a percussive instrument) as well as much shorter sounds with virtually no sustain other than the acoustic effects of the room or space it inhabits.

The following notes are just some of the sounds produced by Tabla and used as the essential learning method but also as the spoken language of Tabla.

RIGHT HAND DRUM (often referred to as the female drum).

NA or TA a sound rather like a soft cowbell but with greater sustain. (It is the most commonly used sound but is actually a harmonic of the natural pitch of the drum.
TU another sound similar to a cow bell but lower pitched and fuller.
TI a bright click similar perhaps to castanets with virtually no sustain produced by the drum itself.

LEFT HANDED DRUM (often referred to as the male drum).

GEY the bass sound of tabla with a variety of pitches created by applying pressure from the heel of the hand.
KAT a closed sound rather like a heavy clap.

Note; when both drums are played simultaneously the combined sounds have a new vocabulary. However it is not necessary to go into these just now as it may hinder rather than clarify any recognition of sounds in the recordings.

When playing Tabla it is generally believed that all the sounds should be played at a similar volume or velocity. What is interesting and particularly relevant in this investigation is that it becomes very apparent to the Tabla player that different sounds produce different volumes in varying acoustic environments.

Our environments were as follows;
We were surrounded by tall pine trees spaced roughly 5 m apart from each other and continuing for at least 80 m in any direction. A large diaphragm condenser microphone was placed roughly 2 m from the Tabla. In a studio condition we would usually be miking at around 20 cm from the instrument. However here our main objective was of course to capture the acoustic environment.
The acoustic properties of the woods were pleasing. Although the sound was not altered too greatly there was a gentle well-balanced reverb similar to a subtle artificial reverb used by music producers in studio recordings. Of particular note was the effect on the Tabla’s brightest sound ‘TI’. The sound appeared to be coming from an area some 30 or 40 m away and perhaps from a greater height. The recordings show this by way of considerably more (wet) reverb on the brighter sound than the relative dryness of the other sounds.This one sound also had the effect of greater volume than the other sounds which were relatively well balanced and unaffected by the space. WHY IS THIS?
Perhaps another point to mention would be that the space was quite beautiful and as such must have affected the perception of the music to the listener/viewer. There was a comment made, ‘this is the environment in which Tabla was designed to be played’.

The room was roughly 5 m x 3 m with a low arched ceiling. All surfaces of the room were bare and it was unfurnished. A large diaphragm condenser microphone was placed roughly 2 m from the Tabla.
The acoustic properties of the room were surprisingly unpleasing according to my ears. The reverb created by the bare walls was very notable and not problematic in itself (similar to a gated reverb roughly 0.3 seconds long) but the room seemed to minimise the high and low frequencies and squeeze the sounds into the mid range. Roughly frequencies below 150Hz and above 2000Hz were constricted. The beauty of tabla of course lies in its variety of pitched and un pitched sounds which live in a band width of between 40Hz and 7000Hz but the room managed to reduce this width considerably. It could be said that the sound was ‘unmusical’.

The room was roughly 25 m x 15 m with a ceiling about 6 m high. There was a double door sized opening to another room considerably larger than the one we were in. The room was undergoing major refurbishment works. The surfaces were largely bare plaster work with areas of laths and straw exposed. A large diaphragm condenser microphone was placed roughly 2 m from the Tabla.

The acoustic properties of the room were very pleasing. The sounds were well balanced with natural reverbs (roughly 2 to 3 seconds long) adding warmth to the whole variety of notes produced by tabla. The bass end was thickened and enriched most notably from the sound ‘Kat’. In the woods the same hand movement on the same drum with the same velocity was very bright and you could say was interpreted by our ears at around 3000Hz. In the chapel it was heard in the mid frequencies at around 750Hz, but in this hall it sounded at around 100Hz. This is a huge difference and fascinating to witness. As the creator of the sounds the balance, warmth and long but un obstructive reverb was very friendly and exactly as I would like to listen to, or perform tabla in an acoustic environment.

The subway was roughly 25 m long, 3 m wide and 2.5 m high. All surfaces were bare with each end of the tunnel fully open. I sat in the centre of the space with a large diaphragm condenser microphone placed roughly 2 m from the Tabla.

The acoustic properties of the space was as every child (big or small) would expect them to be whilst walking with stamping feet and the occasional shout or whistle. The reverb effect on all frequencies was perhaps around 4 seconds or longer but it is difficult to trace its tail due to the sound of traffic. Listening back to the recordings there seems to be a clarity of the high and low frequencies of each strike of the tabla. At the time of playing it felt like the bass end, below roughly 80Hz overpowered all other sounds when I allowed the bass sound ‘Gey’ to resonate openly. The microphone being roughly 2 m way from my ears must be the reason for this. What was most fascinating about the location was the effect on the listener and there positioning in the tunnel. It was noted that walking into the tunnel from one end, past the tabla position and then out through the other end had a very interesting effect. The low frequencies grew and overpowered as the tabla was approached and past but diminished as the distance from the instrument widened. Most interesting is the fact that immediately as the tunnel was exited the low frequencies and the effect of the reverb virtually vanished. Why would this be? I would have imagined that the reverb would have become such a part of the whole sound that it would have exited the subway in the same way that the unaffected and immidiate impact noise of the hand on the drums also travelled.

To listen to the recordings please go to:





Four recordings have been put onto soundcloud for each of the locations. Please note the very first strike of each of the recordings as being ‘Kat’. Played in the same way and with the same velocity it demonstrates best the dynamics of each acoustic space. The differences are vast.
A further recording of the subway “Tabla Cuxton Subway Ambulant” is of great interest as it demonstrates the movement of the listener through the tunnel as mentioned above.

Glimpsing at the outside world with sound

November 14th, 2013 by Michael Proulx

My walk to work is a mix of rural and urban environments. I thought this might be a nice “experiment” and introduction to the way images are turned into sound with The vOICe ( The vOICe takes an image and scans it from left-to-right, turning the pixels into frequencies, perceived as changes in pitch that sweep from the left to the right. I set the scanning speed at two seconds, so the first image is taken and turned into a two second long sound. Then the second and third images are also turned into sound.

Here are two sound recordings, both made of three views (images) using The vOICe to look outside while walking. Each recording is six seconds long (three images, two seconds each). Use headphones!

Listen to each, perhaps a couple of times, and form your own impression of what each sound might represent. Then, read my questions in the first comment below and answer with a following comment. Don’t peek until you first get your own impression!



Thanks for listening (and seeing),


Naad (it is said that OM or AUM is the uttering of Naad. Obviously Ahad but potentially Anahad).

October 25th, 2013 by Sam Randhawa

The word Naad simply means sound. The word Yoga means union or “to yoke.” Union with sound is the goal of Naad Yoga. To understand what that means we have to think about the nature of sound itself.
In yogic terminology there are two kinds of sounds in the Universe, Ahad sounds and Anahad sounds. Ahad sounds are sounds created by something striking something else. If I pluck the “A” string of my guitar, it will vibrate 440 times per second, creating a vibration in the surrounding air that transfers that exact vibratory rate into the surrounding environment. That is an Ahad sound. The wind blowing through the trees, the breath striking the vocal chords and mouth—these are Ahad sounds. Ahad sound vibration must travel through matter, because these sound vibrations are transmitted through the movement of molecular structures.
Anahad literally means the un-struck melody. In yogic cosmology and science it is said that the Universe is made of sound. All matter is vibrating at certain frequencies. Rocks and stones have a very slow and low frequency. Color and light have a high frequency and can travel through the vacuum of space. Beyond all physical phenomena and matter is the primal creative sound vibration that began the creation. In Christianity it is called The Word. Sikhs call it the Naad. It is what scientists call “Cosmic radiation”—the constantly creative sound left over from the Big Bang. Yogis call it Anahad. Whatever one calls it, it is constantly vibrating, creating, and expanding the Universe—infinitely, endlessly.

Matter and Memory (just something that got me thinking…)

October 25th, 2013 by Sam Randhawa

The less visual elements of a space, like negotiation, function and habit layer the experiences and help create the images we hold and apply to other spaces. Therefore the memories and expectations of the room guide our actions.

Have you ever tried to place the room you are in in another building, country or context? If so, does the space still look the same? Imagine for a moment that the place you are reading this in, is elsewhere. Override the memory of getting to this space, the presumed knowledge and legacy you think you have knowledge of, override it and see what it does to the image of the space. Release the space from its historic trace. Do away with the image you project upon it and see beyond the layers of associations and suggestive connections.

We place ourselves at the point of view of a mind unaware of the disputes between philosophers. Such a mind would naturally believe that matter exists just as it is perceived; and, since it is perceived as an image, the mind would make of it, in itself, an image.

Henri Bergson
Matter and Memory
New York , Zone books. 1991

A Walk In The Woods

October 22nd, 2013 by admin

We had an interesting time with Sam last Thursday and visited several locations including a pine woodland, a derelict Georgian mansion and a subway. The pine wood presented a classic case of perception over reality, as we were perceiving an interesting audio and visual experience the reality was we were being eaten to death by nasty biting little insects. It was interesting to hear the tabla out in the open, its rhythmic repetition reminiscent of the vOICe and its scanning interpretation of the environment. The pine wood presented some interesting rhythmic audio from the vOICe but it was impossible to maintain a constant rhythm without a tripod as the vOICe changes its interpretation with even the very smallest movement of the camera. While in the wood I also took the opportunity to try the vOICe with some feedback loops. This was not very successful as the scanning of the program is a bit slow and the images a bit blocky to produce any really interesting results.

I’m still finding it hard to relate to vOICe having only properly used it the once, it is a bit like being beaten around the senses with a baseball bat the first time you use it. It is fascinating and I would love to be able to use it properly but it is hard work and a long learning process. In relation to the question “How do we perceive our environment through sound & how can we interpret that for an audience?” this is also something of an unusual ask as a lighting designer. The usual task is to transform a space with light, the space generally having fairly rigid criteria in relation to the transformation. Interpreting sound with light is something that has gone on for hundreds of years firstly through firework displays and latterly with the development of rock ‘n’ roll and the pop concert, but again this takes on a fairly rigid production structure. Perceptions of the environment are also represented with light in theatrical productions but again this takes on a fairly rigid production structure. The direct interpretation of sound by light was developed in the late sixties with the creation of the electronic sound to light unit, much beloved by the mobile DJs of the seventies, three different coloured lights in a box would flash dependent on the relative levels of bass, mid and treble frequencies in a sound source. In its simplicity the sound to light unit is very similar to the vOICe with its specific algorithm for the representation of what it sees through its camera, but although a elaborate sound to light unit can give us a lot of information about the sounds in our environment, like the vOICe, unless we are trained to understand what that information is telling us it is very little use in helping us understand our surounding.

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Translating the unseen into the ‘seen’ through sound.. visual experience mediated through sounds – using The vOICe

September 10th, 2013 by transspace_jane

Amplifying one sense over another through temporary sensory deprivation (e.g. self-imposed silence) or using exercises to focus attention on one particular sense (e.g. 360º listening) are tools I often use to develop my individual and participatory work. For this project we are using a digital tool (The vOICe) that has opened up a more complex set of questions for me, in terms of exploring the mechanisms of sensory perception than previous exercises – or at least how I perceive my immediate environment on both an everyday level & in relation to my creative methodology – as well as how others with or without sight might perceive theirs. I will attempt to share & discuss these over several blogs.

I’ve recently had individual conversations with each of the project team and am really looking forward to everyone meeting here online, broadening the blogging to include thoughts, ideas and documentation of experiments, as well as meeting in physical space in the future.

Michael (Proulx) and I recently had a long conversation about perception and using vOICe to explore the mechanisms of vision, amongst other things. Sian (Thomas) and I talked about how we discriminate aurally and what we tune in to or allow ourselves to hear in our soundscapes, dissonance and how we perceive the external influences of culture/language/landscape. We also touched on the shape of sounds in relation to dance. Sam (Randhawa) and I talked about how a dancer can move to describe space whereas as a tabla player with a specific percussive language (Bol) his movement is limited and focused on hand and drum resounding together, he has been thinking about using this language for ‘playing music effectively to represent a space’ and combining this analogue tradition with digital interfaces like a chaos pad to transform sound.

I chose to use The vOICe as a tool and stepping off point for the first part of our enquiry ‘How do we perceive our environment through sound’ because it uses a set unchanging ‘language’ or series of sounds with which to sonify the digital images it processes.¹ It’s tangible. Other members of the team might use other methods.

Putting on the blindfold, headphones and headcam all hooked up to the netbook running the software I felt very ‘other’ and physically disassociated from the material world, luckily Mike was present in the solid world and guiding me; we talked as we went about practicalities as well as the nature of learning new things and perceiving new things.

At first vOICe feels very hectic ² , just too much information, and as someone who is particularly aware of my immediate live soundscape I initially found it hard to adjust my focus to the auditory input from the headphones, my brain unsure which sonic information it should act on. Adjusting to this split aural-visual sensation by realising that using vOICe is a visual experience mediated through sounds not an auditory one.. more of this later I expect. But soon a set of sounds suggested a familiar shape and I settled in to the stereo sensation of scanning left to right within a mental frame. This frame represents the headcam field of vision, onto which my mind started to describe two-dimensional geometric shapes and began to categorise and store the sounds. Little by little constructing whole shapes in my mind’s eye that relate to real objects ³.

With frequent use I tune more deeply into the language, what seemed initially like a quite limited ‘frame of view’ seems to enlarge with ‘training’, it’s a satisfying brain work out – just like speaking another language is. The temptation to guess what I’m ‘seeing’ (or lift the blindfold) fades and I realise I am genuinely perceiving my environment in a sensorily different way that lies between seeing, hearing and mentally visualising. I’m aware of using my hands to draw shapes in the air as my mind perceives them rather than nervously waving them around to avoid bumping into obstacles.

Mike and I will be recording and documenting a vOICe walk to post here soon. I’m looking forward to discovering a new sonic shape to things.

¹These sounds are based on a lot of past experiments (1920s onwards)with sighted people to see what sort of correspondences they had between certain sounds and spatial locations.

²Michael Proulx cited the ‘blooming, buzzing, confusion’ William James described that a newborn might experience before it begins to categorise it’s experiences and therefore perceive – we all need to categorise a new experience at any age before we perceive it ‘the shock of the new’!

³Michael likes to use vOICe for his research particularly because it reveals the mechanisms of vision by causing the user to approach the raw input as new sensory information to be broken down, categorised and stored for future use.

TRANS:SPACE – translating space

July 26th, 2013 by transspace_jane

Thanks to Arts Council South East support, 3 artists, a cognitive scientist & a lighting designer will converse & collaborate, face to face and via this blog, around the question: ” How do we perceive our environment through sound & how can we interpret that for an audience?”

TRANS:SPACE was conceived by Jane Pitt as a project to collaboratively research & explore the use of analogue and digital interfaces to creatively translate & transform our experience of public space initially through sound &  movement eventually  including light & image.

Our creative and scientific research phase aims to investigate perception and to develop a methodology for creating multi-platform multi-sensory site-responsive installations.

The project team are Jane Pitt a multi-disciplinary artist from a visual and live arts background with a particular interest in sound & vocalised soundings of places; Michael J. Proulx, PhD Senior Lecturer [Associate Professor] in Psychology University of Bath & Visiting Senior Lecturer in Multimedia and Vision Electronic Engineering and Computer Science Queen Mary University of London; Sam Randhawa a classically trained Indian Musician who also produces contemporary music;  Mike Snarr a Lighting Designer/project digital support & Sian Thomas a percussive dancer, choreographer and scenographer of small to large scale outdoor performance.

To enhance our investigation an additional digital tool will inform our thoughts and research, The vOICe, a visual to auditory sensory substitution device developed for blind users, enables the user to experience a complex sonified translation of a digital image of their immediate surroundings via a portable set-up of head mounted camera, headphones & PC notebook.  Developed in Holland by Dr Peter Meijer and used by Michael J.Proulx in his research on cross modal sensory perception, like any structured new language it requires training to become  fluent, for longer term users it is second nature to process the structured language of volume (brighter = louder) and pitch (= height).  Find it for yourselves at:

Interestingly the auditory input from the device has been found to activate the visual cortex while in use.  This multi-sensory processing, combined with the concept of translating the unseen into the ‘seen’ through sound, were Jane’s motivation for initiating the project.