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Filament Surge

Project Goals

1. Geo-location: Promoting Place

Filament Surge is for location-situated sound environments. It takes its name from the thread of visitation to favorite places, and the life we bring to these places and the gatherings they foster. Each location is marked on a map. Its marker is the point of entry to the sound environment created for that place. Filament uses the player's mobile device for geolocation. The player must be present at the location to enter its Filament sound environment. 


Filament Surge is formed of three locations: Video Game Art Gallery, Experimental Sound Studio, and Cafe TolaVGA Gallery and ESS are two arts organizations that enrich life in Chicago and strengthen the vitality of the creative communities that orbit them. They are co-presenting the exhibit The Ears Have Walls: A Survey of Sound Games - for which Filament Surge was made. Cafe Tola is a favorite restaurant who's California Avenue location lies between the galleries and across the street from WMS Industries (formerly Williams Electronics, Games Inc.). Williams was the game company where the sounds in this piece were created, for a series of pinball games in the 1980s - sometimes called "the golden age of pinball". Cafe Tola offers a public touch point to Williams for Filament Surge.

2. The Sounds: Williams' Pinball Games of the 1980s

Space Shuttle (1984) Sound: M6800 1MHz

Comet (1985) Sound: M6800 1MHz

High Speed (1986) Sound: M6809 2MHz

Pinbot (1986) Sound: M6809 2MHz + Yamaha FM

The sounds in Filament Surge, use game sounds from four mid-1980 Williams pinball games: Space Shuttle, Comet, High Speed, and Pinbot. The sounds for Space Shuttle, Comet, High Speed were made with direct software synthesis microprocessors and 8bit DACs. Their use now in phones with orders of magnitude greater computing power and feature sophistication, for spatial placement in 3D sound environments is a motivation for Filament Surge


The chip sets for these games represent a fairly brief evolution from low-end, single-channel digital sound effects to music-capable multitrack scoring platforms. Space Shuttle and Comet used assembly language programs on 1MhZ M6800 processors to synthesize sound in real-time. Although real-time implementation of standard computer music algorithms was not possible at these processor speeds, Comet used Frequency Modulation and Karplus-Strong string synthesis algorithms as points of departure for instrument and effects sounds. 

Innovations in High Speed included a 2MhZ M6809 sound processor. The higher speed afforded two channels of sound, supporting a single-voice music track and sound effects (or drum track) at the same time. The M6809 also provided a multiply instruction (not present in the M6800) which afforded sample interpolation/decimation supporting melodic resampling. This allowed the High Speed theme music, written by Steve Ritchie, the game's designer, with one note sampled in the studio from his Les Paul. 

Pinbot introduced use of a Yamaha FM Synthesis chip to Williams' games. This offered a rich sound pallet for effects, but more importantly, 8-channels of polyphonic music. This offered a great platform for one of composer Chris Granner's first Williams scores and opened coin-op games to what might be recognized as more standard music production. 

This all happened in Chicago. Filament Surge is proud to include this work in this Chicago exhibit, The Ears Have Walls: A Survey of Sound Games.

3. Unity Game Platform for Sound Art?

  • Spatial Scene Design

  • Spatial Sound Model

  • Animation and Physical Models

  • Multiplatform Deployment

  • Large 3rd-party Asset Market

  • Integration with Other Systems

  • Mature and Stable Code

Unity Scene View of Filament Surge VGA Gallery Scene

Unity Audio Source Inspector

Filament uses the Unity Game Engine to create geo-referenced scenes and to explore its  3D sound models and use of spatial animation to create immersive listening experiences. The figures above show an example scene layout (left) and audio parameter settings for one of the sounds in the scene.

This was our first use of Unity. It was a revelation - we highlight some of the benefits of using Unity for sound design in the bullets above. We're looking forward to making several immersive sound pieces and performance instruments with Unity.


Scenes from Filament Surge

Navigating Chicago
Experimental Sound Studio (ESS)
Video Game Art (VGA) Gallery
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