In a world where digital streaming, social media and now a global pandemic has completely altered the shared experience of enjoying music, dBs graduate Noah Feasey-Kemp is utilising technology to restore that interaction and community with his innovative new project, AudioCube.
"The power that technology has for entertainment and immersion is really not utilised enough by platforms like Spotify. You know, the music's great, but it's just a play or stop interaction. It's very static."
Static is a word that crops up a lot in our chat with Noah and for good reason. Passionate for both sociology and music, interaction has been at the heart of everything Noah has done.
During his time at dBs Music where he studied both FdA Music & Audio Technology and Music Production & Sound Engineering, Noah was heavily involved with our commercial studio dBs Pro. First joining late into a project with Mike and Kate Westbrook, Noah and dBs Pro's Creative Director, Jay Auborn, quickly developed a strong relationship - helped in no small part by Noah's enthusiasm to be involved in any project he could.
"I quickly understood how good an opportunity it is to have while at dBs, so I just committed myself to work with dBs Pro as much as I could while I was there. It gave me a real taste of how the communication process happens and the things you have to consider when working with other people, especially on their art.
"Seeing how Jay does it and how he keeps everyone involved and how he builds a real connection with clients, so it doesn't just feel like they come here, they pay you to do something and that's it. It was really rewarding to see the value of really honing in on what a client wants and getting invested in their art."
Realising the idea
It's been a year since Noah graduated, and in that time he's gone on to form his own business, Ark Audio, where he offers his services in recording, mixing and mastering, as well as an educator. But more recently, he's been working on an exciting new project, one that looks to not only bring interaction back into the fold, but change the way we experience sound as both creators and listeners.
"At the minute I'm calling it a 3D Interactive audio platform/physics-based synth sampler. It's quite hard to fully describe it, but, it's basically a 3D DAW."
It's certainly understandable that Noah has yet to pin down a comprehensive description of AudioCube, because there's nothing quite like it and the inspiration behind it is in part responsible for its broad spectrum of features.
"There's quite a few different ideas that coalesced to become AudioCube. Firstly, I make quite abstract music and I usually use Ableton Live, which is good at creating random stuff, but I feel like most DAWs lack the ability to spatialise stuff properly. Plus, randomising never really feels that random to me either and melodically, it never really sounds that good.
"So I wanted to create software that was a bit better suited to making abstract music, like Musique Concrète. Ableton is really good for that, but there are certain things you can't do that AudioCube can - which comes from using physics and having tangible objects.
"Secondly, I think the platform that we experience music on and as listeners is really static at best. Traditionally, before the Internet and digital technology you would have to be in the same room as an instrument or musician to experience music, at least until recordings came along. Now with recordings, the event of the music being created and the music being consumed are two separate events that are years apart in some situations.
"I think live events are the purest way you can experience music, because you have the interaction between the audience and the performer. With Coronavirus and the reality that gigs aren't going to happen for a long time, the interaction you have now is liking something on an artists social media channels, so I wanted to give musicians and listeners a bit more interaction, or new method of interaction.
"And finally, and this is going to sound kind of weird, but the physics aspect of AudioCube came from me struggling to sleep. When I was lying in bed and my brain wouldn't switch off, I'd imagine loads of musical instruments and the physics of them and how that would sound. You can't throw a thousand drums down a hill, but I really wanted to know what that would sound like."
Changing your mindset
Before our chat, we were able to get hands-on with the early build for AudioCube and it became immediately clear that we were in uncharted territory. Instead of the familiar arrangement view of a DAW, you're presented with a 3D space populated with an array of different sized cubes, musical instruments and objects.
Everything you see has sound attached to it and can be manipulated in a variety of ways; some cubes hold ambiences, whereas others play a looped phrase. The microphone can be moved to alter the space's sound and additional objects can be dropped in at will - Noah's yet to crash AudioCube through spamming object spawns. There are also several parameter controls that you would find in a traditional DAW to tailor the sound.
The fruit of our object spamming labours
Using AudioCube felt different and exciting, yet it was hard to imagine how you would create a song with it, but we'd missed the point entirely.
"You have to think quite differently about it. If people approach it as a tool to write a song they'll really struggle because it's never going to sound the same. Anything you do, it's going to sound different every time. I'm hoping that people will engage with it more like a synthesiser or a sampler, so rather than making a full song you could use it as a sound design tool.
"You could then record AudioCube into your DAW, sample and edit the bits you like and add to your song. Or you can make a whole song out of it, you know, you could sample the kick drums and, you know, sample all the instruments."
A communal sonic library
What's really exciting about AudioCube is the aforementioned interactive element. The early build we experimented with featured sounds and a space created by Noah, but the finished version will be made of user submitted sounds and spaces that everyone can access.
Some examples of the types of spaces you can create within AudioCube; ranging from crazy landscapes, virtual studios and orchestras.
"I hope people use AudioCube as a new way of interacting with music, because a lot of us just listen to music on a phone. You press play and that's the end of the interaction. I think through this, it gives just musicians, producers, and regular listeners a way to engage with music that's more hands-on.
"People listening will be exposed to playing with music a bit more by moving the sounds, which might be the gateway into production and synthesis for them. For producers, it hopefully gives them a new medium to create, and with it a load of new challenges. As a producer myself, that's the most exciting part."
As AudioCube has been developed using Unity, its applications stretch beyond the desktop environment and Noah has already been playing around with the app on his phone.
At the time of writing, a callout for the first wave of sound submissions has been sent out to all dBs Music staff and students. With no idea of how things will develop, we asked Noah what he hoped to see from the submissions.
"I'm really hoping that the dBs submissions set the standard and act as a benchmark for when the public can submit their stuff. Those dBs sounds will be the ones that the public use when they first get hold of the app. I don't know how it will turn out, but hopefully the dBs students and staff's sounds will end up defining the aesthetic of AudioCube,
"I have my own sort of sonic vision of how it sounds, so I'm really interested to see what the dBs community submits. There's a lot of diversity and a lot of serious talent and motivation there."
Watch this space
The future of AudioCube is very much in the hands of everyone else now, but its potential applications are exciting. Thanks to being developed using Unity, Noah has already begun testing AudioCube on his mobile phone and hopes to develop a mobile-geared version into something akin to SoundCloud, where users can share sounds between each other.
Before we finish our chat with Noah, we ask how he envisions the future of AudioCube.
"I'm super driven for this and I really want to see it work out, so I'm not going to stop or give up. We'll just see what happens. The development is going to be really feedback-based, I'm not just making it how I want, I'm really gonna listen to what people say and use that to shape the future of it. So, if you're reading this article please try downloading it. And let me know what you think because everyone's opinions welcome."
If you would like to submit your sounds when the public version of AudioCube is released, just click the link below and fill out the registration form.