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  • Magazine Issue 1

How does the floor sound?

An interview with Micha Mäckle

"I wanted to find a way of seeing where a sound being emitted locally by an object is coming from. In other words, the musician playing should light up"

With this device he wanted to demonstrate sound in a new way.

Micha Mäckle about himself, his ideas and implementation of his bachelor thesis.

It's a Saturday morning

in a café close to Eugensplatz in Stuttgart. The usual brunch soundtrack fills the room. Plates are piled with breakfast delicacies, there’s the usual breakfast chat and cutlery clatters. Micha Mäckle walks into the room. He‘s smart but casual and looking more youthful than his 30 years. He doesn’t look like the typical nerdy scholar you might imagine if you read the title of his thesis “The Development of an Acoustic/Interactive Visualisation System”. His eyes scour the room, it‘s his usual haunt. The waitress asks him if he would like his usual coffee. Yes, thanks.

nce Micha Mäckle completed his studies in “Audio Visual Media” at the Stuttgart Technical College of Media in the summer of 2016, he comes to Stuttgart only at weekends. He was born in Boeblingen and after his studies he took up a position at an exhibition stand construction company on the Swabian Alps south of Stuttgart. He chose this industry to combine the experience he gained during his professional training (Industrial Mechanic at MAHLE GmbH) and the skills acquired during his studies. “Exhibition stand construction straddles my past position and the media I have learned at college.” Varied, fascinating and exciting” is how he describes his job. “It’s amazing how complete houses are built, sometimes for only 3 days!”

It quickly becomes apparent that Micha Mäckle is looking for a challenge, instead of taking the easy option, whether it be in his professional or private life. He cycles with his friends on his racing bike from Stuttgart to Lake Garda in Italy, every mountain pass a small victory, on the way to the ultimate goal. Making things, touching, finding creative solutions to unexpected problems, persevering, these are exactly his qualities.

These served him well during his 3 month thesis, for which he had to constantly commute between Berlin and Stuttgart. The reason for his trips to Berlin was the gfai tech GmbH, a subsidiary of the GFal Institute (Society for the Advancement of Applied Informtics Berlin), which had a so-called acoustic camera, a ridiculously expensive array of microphones arran-ged around a variety of carbon constructions. Micha Mäckle’s big plan was to visibly demonstrate sound in a new way with this device.

Gfai tech employees gave the undergraduate an introductory course about the device and then he was left on his own in a meeting room at the Institute. “It was a slow and steady project where I often realised that to move forward I would have to change my plans. For a thesis this was a risky strategy as it could have gone completely wrong.”

Although Micha Mäckle often came up against new problems during his experiments as he had to reprogramme parts of the software in order to generate the desired picture of both musicians, he finally managed to reach a successful and positive conclusion. “There was a system which depicted musicians in a visual way and worked as a prototype.” In a video montage on the video sharing platform Vimeo, the viewers can clearly see that the picture of the musicians changes as the intensity of the music increases.

The instruments he chose were a synthesiser and a clarinet, an improvised duo. For the video Micha made a track out of three 15 minute sets.

The synthesiser was solely the rhythmic base. The clarinet proved interesting for the experiment thanks to the noise emanting from its different holes. “This means one sees a difference within one instrument. With the guitar, for example, there is just one acoustic outlet and it always lit up. With the clarinet there were constant changes, depending on how it was played.”

The system he developed couldn’t be applied everywhere, for example in concert halls, but his theory that musicians could depict themselves on a further level has been proved according to Mäckle. Maybe this level could be applied one day at an acoustic jazz gig, with 2 musicians going head to head with solos and their performance and emotions would become more palpable to the audience.

Future areas where Mäckle’s work could be applied, at least in theory, are in the safety sector, especially for deaf people to make them aware of impending danger. Deaf people could also benefit musically from Mäckle’s findings. “If they are used to a certain picture from the camera, it could be like a musical transformation for deaf people, a translation into something visual.”

Micha Mäckle underlines that the portrayal of more complex instruments such as drums would not have been possible in this way. “Certain reflections in the room would have lit up. Or you would need more computing power.”

Micha Mäckle carried out a detailed assessment of the room available to him to make sure it wouldn’t hinder his experiment. The meeting room was very large and the walls insulated to minimise reflections and make meetings more pleasant acoustically. The researcher therefore positioned the musicians next to the wall to reduce the risk of reflections. Furthermore there was carpet in his temporary “laboratory”, which was ideal as carpet reflects very little noise.

He adds that he is unable to understand why most people choose flooring based solely on their taste and not on the acoustic effect on the room. “There are even people who tile their floors, which is awful. It doesn’t matter what happens on it, the sound is hideous and there’s a constant echo because the floor is the largest surface.”

If Micha Mäckle has his way, the acoustics of all floors should be as quiet as possible. Strength lies in peace and this applies particularly to a good floor.

To the overview of Magazine Issue 1