Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Open Boat Orchestra, music created by sailing

OBO (Open Boat Orchestra) Generation 1 playing a file from the Artemis IMOCA 60 during the Sevenstar Round Britain Race July 2010.
The venue on this occasion was Richard's Tinley's work bench at Tinley Marine Electronics in Lymington.
Shot by film-maker Richard Gooderick with sound recorded by Mark Ty-Wharton.

From Lia Ditton website

What if a state-of-the-art race boat could be transformed into a live, digital orchestra?
What sounds would be created from the force of wind and water on its sail and keel, and by even the smallest of adjustments of its skipper?
How would this music change over the course of an oceanic race?
And what if this soundtrack could be heard and mixed live by audiences around the globe?
These questions form the basis for Open Boat Orchestra or
OBO, the latest project from 30 year-old British artist and professional sailor Lia Ditton: using real-time data from a sail boat to create a unique experience in sound.

The idea originated in 2003 while Lia Ditton was watching the America’s Cup live on TV:
‘When the boat tacked, the bow moved through the wind so quickly and with such precision that the jib went flunk. The second sound was grrrhhhr. The main wasn’t being trimmed. It was trimmed: one single action, one sound bite!’ She recalls. Inspired by this and other sounds coming from the boat, the idea has since evolved into a full-blown project: translating one of the world’s most dynamic ocean races into the universal language of music.

Open Boat Orchestra (OBO) will play out on the international stage of the
Transat Jacques Vabre race which begins in November 2011.
The experimental edge to OBO lies in the unpredictability of how the boat will ‘play.’
In this respect, every stage of the race will become as much a work of music as an adventure under sail, subject to the forces of nature.

“We can’t entirely predict what the angle of the wind versus the speed of a boat through the water as it crashes off a wave will sound like; how one variable could audibly relate to a sequence of others. There could be periods of time, for example, especially in a rough North Atlantic where the music is loud and vivacious, while in the relative calm of the South Atlantic the music is wonderfully andante! What excites me as a sailor is that we might be able to optimize a boat’s performance beyond what it is possible to see and feel, by listening into the music as it is being created.”

How it works ?

Neither the sails nor anything else onboard will make an actual sound.
The sounds will instead be created digitally, using data streamed in real-time from the marine electronic instruments (
NMEA0183 output).
However, the data generated by the boat, also does not produce sine waves or audible sound.
The data streams are what control an ensemble of pre-selected instrumental sounds.
The boat moving through the water is thus the

Defining exactly how many data elements are preferred to work with, what kind of function they should perform and then building the mechanics of how the data will control sound, patterns, tempo, key, etc. is the challenge.

The note, pitch and sound range of each source of monitored data will also be assigned, so that when all the different elements of the data stream ‘play’ together, they sound harmonic.
Each ‘instrument’ could be paired with a speed variable – boatspeed, SOG, or windspeed to determine volume, for example.

The music of OBO will be a blend of World influences.
As the boat races non-stop around the world, the sounds assigned to the load cell instruments will change according to a GPS trigger.
Down the Atlantic past Brazil, for example, OBO music will draw in the sounds of instruments native to Brazil; when the boat sails into the longitude of Africa, African instrumental sounds and rhythms will be brought into the orchestra.

What are we expecting to see as OBO completes its voyage?
We anticipate stronger winds and rougher seas to generate more extreme data readings and therefore more dynamic music, while in calmer seas the audio should be calmer and much softer.

Will fine-tuning the boat according to its music, also optimize the boat’s sailing performance?

“What excites me as a sailor, is that we might be able to optimize the boat’s racing performance beyond what it is possible to see and feel, by listening into the music as it is being created. We should be able to hear if there is too much backstay or head-stay tension, for example and so be able to trim the boat accordingly.” Lia Ditton.

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