Pervasive Media Studio resident, Steve Symons, a sound artist, maker and performer, member of the award-winning Owl Project shared with us his series of innovative sonic augmented reality projects titled 'aura' as well as talking about his plans for ‘mutual instruments’.

Five Things I Learned:

1. Steve has been making interactive and generative sound work since 1997 when he took a MA in Creative Technology. Steve has created a series of sonic augmented reality projects under the name aura and a series of mini wooden instruments called iLogs as a member of Owl Project, a collective of three artists (Simon Blackmore, Tony Hall and Steve) interested in fusing sound art with wooden sculpture based in Manchester. 

2. His first project aura1 uses 3D sound system to create the illusion that the sound is all around you; imagine walking through an array of speakers suspended in mid-air. These ‘sound sculptures’ react in relation to where you are in real world space. Steve found that people were keen to get back and share their experiences of the piece with others. It was those stories and interactions that became more interesting to Steve than the process of making the soundscapes.

3. Steve’s second project aura2, implemented a system that is worn in a rucksack that allows the user to permanently change the aural world by walking around. The system utilises a GPS drawing system allowing users to hear other people’s walks while going on their own journey. At the time users had to walk around using a huge backpack system that is now about as powerful as a Raspberry Pi! The experience starts off noisy and chaotic due to the backpacks needing to be collected from the same space, but then the soundscape simmers down as the participant explores unvisited territories. One user took playful advantage of this system and made walls of noise by walking around and around in circles! 

4. Steve joined Owl Project and together they developed a series of small wooden instruments called iLogs as a response to our relationship with consuming technology. These instruments are made with the difficult parts of a branch that most wood workers would discard. These iLogs aren’t for sale, however you can become a ilog member and make your very own DIY electronic wooden instrument.  

5. Steve is currently working on ideas for mutual instruments, developed as part of the Nature, Technology and Well-being strand of Tangible Memories (a project that brings together scientists, technologists and artists to improve well-being). The mutual instrument concept was created in response to conversations that happened in teenage cancer ward around feelings of isolation and the need to feel connected to someone else, though not necessarily through words. The mutual instruments allowed two participants to connect by playing music exclusively to each other, a bit like a musical conversation. 

Steve is continuing his work on his Mutual Instruments. If you’d like to find out more visit his website

Owl Project are continuing to make instruments and are developing ways of people playing them collectively.