Highway Bridge

OCEANIC

Investigate how to use white noise and alt energy for the public to mask the sound of the highway.

THE PROBLEM

How do I get New Yorkers running by the East River for exercise to slow down and notice a 1.3 acre park near a noisy highway? 

Through a grant from Target and Solar One, I created an interactive, pedal-powered, sound installation for the public that when activated would mask the sound of the FDR highway noise and highlight Stuyvesant Cove Park, a small but resilient 1.3 acre park maintained by Solar One on the East Side of Manhattan. 

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HIGH LEVEL TIMELINE

5 weeks

TEAM MEMBERS

Myself as Lead Researcher and Product Designer, grant by Target via Solar One

KEY GOAL

Create a pedal-powered installation durable enough for the wild public of NYC

HOW TO SLOW DOWN NYCers to NOTICE a 1.3 ACRE WILDLIFE PRESERVE?

 

OCEANIC - I received a grant through Target for the New York Society for Acoustic Ecology to construct an alternative powered Sound Garden for CitySol Festival 2007 at Solar One in Manhattan. Along with curating the NYSAE, I created an installation called Oceanic, a pedal-powered sound installation that used the white noise sound of the highway above through a drain-pipe to allow the user to calmly observe the adjacent 1.3 acre park while facing the East River (leading to the Atlantic Ocean).

 

The contact miked drain pipe fed the distorted sounds of the raised FDR highway above to an amp that I built that was powered by the found exercise bicycle.

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BREAKING DOWN THE PROCESS 

1. Through field studies and observational research,

I noticed that along Solar One and Stuyvesant Cove Park there was both a bike and running pathway. New Yorkers were running or biking by very quickly as they were busy getting their exercise in the morning or after work. They were hard to stop for interviews! They were bypassing the wildlife preserve at a fast pace as this area was "noisy" and "unwelcoming". What if they could feel calm and comfortable near the wildlife preserve and also still get their exercise?

2. Through observational research and acoustic ecology soundwalking methods, I happened to just stick my head in the highway drainpipe to listen, and it sounded like calming white noise coming from the NYC traffic above. I then tried listening with a contact mic, and it sounded like the ocean sometimes or space. It was relaxing when it was paired with looking out at the East River. It just wasn't quite loud enough to mask the noise of the highway above. 

3. I also happened to have read the newest Make magazine that had a schematic to build a $5 Cracker Box Amp that could amplify the sound of the drainpipe so that became the main circuit for the contact mic and speaker to function.

4. Hm, an exercise bike would allow people to get their exercise but also be stationary to notice the 1.3 acre wildlife preserve. Could an exercise bike power the amp to be loud enough to block the highway sound and fit the timeframe and budget?

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Cracker Box Amp

Make magazine featured an article on how to turn anything resonant into an amp for $5. 

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Schematic

I used the Cracker Box Amp schematic in Make Vol 09 as my main circuit for the contact mic to speaker. As someone would be sitting on the bicycle facing the speaker it didn't need to be boombox level loud, but LOUD. 

I looked into how bicycles powered blenders at a local smoothie startup

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I then consulted my friend Rolf Levenbach on how to modify the amp circuit to convert AC to DC to the exercise bicycle to then charge a 9V battery pack to run the amp when the bike was activated

Rolf Levenbach is an ex-teacher (ITP at NYU) and ex-computer tech support person (Bell Labs, Rutgers University, and the American Museum of Natural History)

It was weeks of trial and error with time ticking away and no bicycle yet...

Image by Vishnu Mohanan
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...An exercise bike showed up at MFTA just in time! Blue, just like the speaker I was building!

...After a lot of wireless soldering in public before walking to my day-job at an energy efficiency start-up, the project worked for the launch!
Pre-iphone for me so please excuse grainy-ness.  

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I just wanted to tell you Thank you for this project. My husband is a veteran, and we've been stopping here every morning along our walk, and I haven't seen him so happy in so long. Can they make it be permanent? 

– Anonymous New Yorker who let me take her husband's picture

TITLE OF THE CALLOUT BLOCK

LESSONS LEARNED

Collaboration is key. Communication is everything. If you can't afford an art studio in NYC, all of NYC is your studio.

Besides learning more about alt energy, inverters, and circuit-building, I really learned about the value of teamwork. My stakeholders and my team believed in my idea to engineer a creative and fun solution to the traffic noise, and they gave their time, expertise, and funding to make it happen. This included a guard who Solar One hired to patrol the area at night as it was filled with curated alt energy sculptures for 10 days including my Oceanic installation. Oceanic had a cover on it each night to protect the circuits and wires from rain. The guard was an expert in alt energy by the end!

 

Yes, this was only up for 10 days for an Alt Energy Arts and Music Festival. Curiosity drives me constantly to research to learn how to solve problems with the resources at hand and a certain budget. Efficiency can still mean fun though!     

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