"In order to determine how people might use Sonic City in everyday life, we have conducted a short-term user study with a variety of people using the prototype in their own familiar environments. Focusing on considerations of musical performance, embodied interaction as well as engagement and control, this study helped us to understand how people approach Sonic City and interact musically with the city, revealing emerging urban behaviours and music creation processes integrated into everyday life.
Process: the study took place during winter of 2003-04. It consisted of observing how a set of participants used the prototype in their own everyday environment during a limited period of time, and in collecting their feedback about it.
The study participants had various backgrounds, activities, ages, music tastes, and perceptions of the city of Göteborg.
In order to gain insight into their everyday environments, the type of path they would take, and their perception of them, we started by giving them cultural probes (individual self-contained small packages handed-out to users in order to gather information about their everyday life) prior to the testings. This also helped determining where the test sessions would be conducted, as they had to take place in the users' everyday environments. Participant were each given a cultural probe for a few days, with instructions to only open it and proceed when taking a path they would have taken anyway. The probes contained the assignment of documenting a single everyday path with a digital still camera, taking pictures of obstacles, resources and what would catch their attention. Then, they would write down answers to both clear and ambiguous questions about their path, draw their own map of it, put stickers where the pictures had been taken, and locate themselves on a larger city map (see user pages - links below user pictures in results' part).
Eventually, we let each participant use the prototype in the documented area. The users were told how the system worked but not where to walk or how to behave. Each user was video-filmed in action and the music produced recorded on a MiniDisc. This enabled a close study of paths and behaviours during use. Each session was completed with in-depth interviews about the experience.
We then synchronised the videos with corresponding sounds for analysis purposes. This allowed us to get a deeper understanding of the details of interactions by linking interactions with musical results, and repeating playbacks. The videos were first watched together with each user in order to collect their own comments and analysis of the sessions, and followed by complementary interviews. By synchronising these comments with the videos, we could compare the users' feedback with an objective analysis of their behaviours, while avoiding misunderstandings about their intentions.
Results: the study showed that mobility could indeed become a musical interaction between a user and her urban environment, enhancing her perception of and engagement with these everyday settings.
The study also opened the question of how to improvise and adapt one's musical interaction when confronted to a lack of control due to unpredictable and uncontrollable factors encountered in urban environments. The city was perceived to be more in control of this interaction than the user. However, she was able to actively influence how the music was created through different tactics and through situated interventions, all of them related to how the system was designed, what it highlighted and thus how it encouraged her to act.
In terms of interaction, the users were engaged on the level of the global path and of local interactions. Both levels were managed in an ad hoc, rather improvised way. Paths were most often planned in advance by the users but were sometimes randomly or intentionally modified during the course of a session in order to look for more interesting contexts and test how they would sound (e.g. a noisy construction site for [A.S.], a dark corner next to an electricity chamber for [D.R.]). Participants looked around themselves to seek local interactions opportunities, which they also found by accident (e.g. metallic objects). Some had favourite inputs, such as human voices for [M.K.] or noisy traffic for [F.M.].
On a local level, the users actively directed sensors with their body. In order to produce input, they often got closer to fixed artefacts at hand such as metal or walls. They also turned their body and thus the sensors towards or against diffused sources of input in order to amplify respectively shadow them, thus modulating the city's input. [D.R.] turned his back on traffic to reduce the impact of the sound level for example. Paths could thus be considered as a score articulated by ad hoc local bodily interactions."
(Future Applications Lab)
6). Gaye, Lalya, Mazé, Ramia, Holmquist, Lars Erik (2003). Sonic City: The Urban Environment as a Musical Interface. In Proceedings of the 2003 International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME-03). Montreal, Canada: 109-115 [http://www.ears.dmu.ac.uk/spip.php?page=artBiblio&id_article=1973].
Sonic City is a collaboration between Future Applications Lab (Viktoria Institute) and PLAY Studio (Interactive Institute), in Göteborg, Sweden. Project members include: Lalya Gaye (FAL) - engineering, electroacoustics, Ramia Mazé (PLAY) - interaction design, architecture, Margot Jacobs (PLAY) - product & interaction design, Daniel Skoglund (ex-8Tunnel2) - sound-art. Lalya's supervisor at Future Applications Lab: Lars Erik Holmquist. Participating Master's students (IT-University Göteborg): Magnus Johansson (HCI / interaction design) + Sara Lerén (cognitive science). This project is funded by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (SSF) through the Mobile Services project, by the European Union IST program through the Smart-Its project, and by VINNOVA through the IT+Textiles project.