Hacking at the summer cottage

A typical mökki (~summer cottage) moment of a hacker.

Act 2: The Spirit of a Real Life Avatar is the second part of a living media project The New Degrees of Freedom by Jenna Sutela with collaborators. The essential part of this performance are ten larynx players that are used in transforming audience members to copies/avatars of the main protagonist (Jenna Sutela). Audience can then witness a dialogue (conceptually more like a monologue) between her and the avatars. The trailer/documentation shot at the art biennial Antagon in August 2013 will hopefully give you some idea.

My task for this project was to design a mobile sound system that would consist of several independent audio players and would allow the dialog to be reproduced in sync with the live speech of protagonist. Basically a bit of hacking, some sound design and a few hours of audio engineering. I’m giving here a brief peek of the final system, but as there is a bit of magic involved I’m not able to reveal all the secrets here. However, below, you will get a glance of the core of the larynx player electronics. Larynx player enclosures are custom 3D prints (semi) accurately modeled after human voice box by Emmy Maruta. We worked closely together to ensure that electronics could be fit and installed to the final print.

Mutilated X-mini MINI II capsule speaker with VS1000 OGG player.

Mutilated X-mini MINI II capsule speaker with VS1000 audio player.

The electronics for this project needed to be cheap, small and mobile. Requirement of mobility means that there has to be battery or accu of some sort involved. When the budget for the electronics is fairly small, usually the best route is to find a product that does something pretty similar you want to be done and hack it. After checking through several products I bumped into product called X-mini MINI II capsule speaker. It is basically a cheap mobile speaker that was able to give just enough volume to match level of loud speech. As it had an inbuilt accu, it had already all the electronics required for loading it. When gutted (and parts of the circuit board amputated in order to minimize the footprint) and equiped with a stamp sized VS1000 Audio module (more info on this at my previous post) it was still possible to fit it into a fairly small enclosure. After the speaker electronics board was reverse-engineered, it was quite straight forward to connect line outs of VS1000 audio player to the inputs of the player and take the 3.8V power — just enough for the player — from the accu. Power switch had to be moved to another location on the board for better accessibility. Of course I needed to make a bunch, which went quite nicely even with minimal amount of tools I had with me at the summer cottage where the final build took place.

Hard work demands sturdy tools.

An old school soldering stand I found under the barn.

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