What should a painting sound like? We interviewed Torin and Andrew from One Thousand Birds to find out their perspective.

OTB Studio in Manhattan-SoundSnap
Our mix room in the Manhattan studio

Can you give us some background about OTB?

One Thousand Birds is a commercial sound design company based in NYC. We offer complete sound services for film, tv, commercial work, and web video. At our Brooklyn studio, we also host a monthly concert series called OTB Live.

How did you get involved with sound art?

For fun, really. We started building interactive sound art for the audience at OTB Live, and to have a creative outlet outside of the work we do for commercials. This summer we started to pursue the interactive side of things more seriously, as OTB Interactive.

Tell us about some sound installation projects you’ve worked on

What we’ve been focused on more recently are our sound murals. These are pieces of art that are painted with a conductive paint mixture, which allows us to turn segments of the mural into touch sensors that trigger sound samples. People are always surprised that they’re allowed to touch the art!

We worked on the sound design for an interactive light installation called Prana, by B-REEL, which was a 12-foot sphere of LED’s that responded to your breath. We created the ambient sound bed and the interactive sounds for the piece.

Prana at the Friedman Gallery NYC-SoundSnap
Prana at the Friedman Gallery NYC

One of our first ever projects was a laser harp. We made it in a small screen printing frame because we wanted it to be portable. It was programmed so that if you broke the lasers with your fingers it would trigger sounds from Max MSP. We just made one that’s 7 ft. tall for our three-year anniversary party. The large scale of it made the experience much more immersive and collaborative. With a smoke machine, you could see all the lasers clearly and it was fun to jam out on.

Laser Harp in action-SoundSnap
Laser Harp in action

How do you approach creating sounds for interactive projects?

It really depends on the project. One of the most important factors is the interface. The way someone interacts with the art has to inform the way it sounds.

The layout of the sounds is also important. This comes into play a lot with the sound murals — we have to decide where to place sounds in the artwork. At first, we laid things out like a traditional keyboard, but we realized that it was more playable (and fun) when we got creative and strayed from regular scales and keyboard layouts.

Interactive mural Design and painting by Kat Lam-SoundSnap
Interactive mural // Design and painting by Kat Lam

We approached the Prana project the same way that we do when designing sounds for a product or function. We created sounds for when a participant entered the sphere to signify the ‘start of turn’ and then sounds for the ‘end of turn.’ These ‘signifiers’ had to be intuitive but still live in the same world as the ambient bed. To achieve this, we layered sound effects with tonal ambient sounds made with Omnisphere and also did a lot of pitch shifting to create the sense of beginning and end.

The ambient bed included states for when the lights were idle and when the participant was interacting with the sphere. When idle it was simply a few layers of tonal ambience, but when interacting, there were ‘breathing’ sounds, created by layering pitch shifted winds with granular sounds from Omnisphere.

The team at B-Reel did an incredible job building the visual environment. The whole piece was a meditative experience, even when you weren’t inside of it.

What kind of issues do you have to work around?

In an installation setting where you have people interacting with sounds directly, you have to make sure that the sounds don’t get repetitive. Overly processed or complex layered sounds can get annoying quickly. You have to consider the space as well as the physical interaction between participant and installation.

Painting Troubleshooting-SoundSnap
Painting // Troubleshooting

It’s all about experimenting with what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes we’ll create a set of sounds that we think sound great, and then realize they don’t feel right in context.

What’s something fun about sound designing interactive art?

The best experience is when you see what people come up with when interacting with the project. The way the sounds work in the context of the artwork always creates patterns that we can’t predict until we hand it over to people.

Interactive plant research-SoundSnap
Interactive plant research

The physical aspect of our interactive sound art definitely affects the way the final project sounds. For our first ever laser harp, we accidentally coded a small delay that limited how fast you could play sounds. Instead of messing up the experience, it actually acted like a quantizer and let people play crazy beats that were still in time.

If you’re interested in attending the next OTB Live, head here to get on the mailing list.

If you’re looking to get started designing sound, start with a sonic palette of over 250,000+ sound effects. Head to Soundsnap.com to browse our professional, royalty-free sfx library.