cafe voyeur promotion photo

Audio tracks

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4.7Mb – ages like years


Cafe Voyeur was an installation originally created by City Frequencies at Kent St Cafe for the 2004 Melbourne Fringe Festival. City Frequencies recently performed a live remix of Cafe Voyeur at Loop for the Electundra Festival and are now working on producing the surround-sound Cafe Voyeur DVD.

Meeting for coffee in a highly fashionable Fitzroy cafe? Catching up for some chit-chat, gossip and sparkling conversation? What were they talking about at the next table? Overhear people's innermost thoughts and fragments of past gossip. Featuring the voices of Fitzroy cafe society caught in the act, the Cafe Voyeur uses recorded conversations taken from real caffeine-fuelled life.

In July 2004, Fitzroy cafe-goers came to Kent Street Cafe, 201 Smith Street, and contributed their wit and wisdom to Cafe Voyeur. Speaking in front of microphones hidden in vases, their witty repartee, idle gossip and intellectual discussions were taken to the City Frequencies studio and turned into a sound installation featuring the voices of Fitzroy cafe society in action.

Cafe Voyeur examines the cafe as a centre for social interaction in the modern city, using spoken language recorded in the cafe as its source material, exploring its sonic qualities and content through juxtaposition and manipulation.


Presentation- The brief for this installation was to play the audio back in the same location as where the recordings took place and at a level similar to the level of live conversation; this was to make voyeurs of the audience and the sound levels and design were such that some words would stand out (or punch through). Some people listening said they would have preferred a more neutral environment and a better indication of when the installation actually started. All of which proved to us that the brief was answered!

Technical- The 6.1 surround rig proved capable of presenting audio into a venue of that size but was maxing the volume on opening night. The quality and clarity at such a level was lessened. The smallness of the speakers was a benefit in that they were easily hidden within the venue at key locations. The audio was driven with seven uncompressed 48 kHz 16 bit wav files playing live through Cubase mapped to individual speakers, the LFE channel was not bass managed and had its own purposely written track of audio. Limited level checks were made for each speaker pair with several segments being too loud for the venue in comparison to what had played before and were changed as the performance progressed. More research into the 5.1, and upwards, sound format is required.

Artistic- The scope of this project was to record the conversations that occur within a given cafe, limited to the time made available to be on-site for recording and the presence and usability of two wireless recording rigs. This recorded audio would then be listened to and sounds, words and/or phrases of interest would be copied into a library of sounds to be used in the production. The definition of interest in this case is that which sounds interesting and that which is interesting in what is actually spoken. What sounds interesting could be deriven from a persons accent, inflection or the timbre of the voice. Interest in the spoken words was derived from the actual words used, ie the commonality or uniqueness, the grammatical usage and the context. A "Samples Transcript" was compiled based on these criteria showing a list of the words spoken and their frequency of use.

This project was borne of an interest in what people actually spoke about when they were in a cafe, no pre-conceptions apart from using our own conversations in cafes as an example. A broad range of conversation topics and styles was recorded within the two weeks we were at Kent Street, personalities were observed and stereo-types (from our perspective) were made - an obvious (cliche) example is that women tended to talk about relationships and men tended to talk about anything but. That the people that were recorded tended to be white, middle class and 18 to 30 year olds should also be noted.


Arrangement of compositions
The City Frequencies team relocated to the Tower Room at the CUB Malthouse Theatre, Southbank to run the 6.1 system for the first time within a room with dimensions that closely matched those of Kent Street Cafe. Three days and nights were spent on the arrangements and separation of audio to specific speakers. Twenty compositions were selected as suitable for the installation. The fish tank makes its first appearance.

Final arrangement of compostions locked in
Relocated to the main hall of the Angliss Neighbourhood House, Footscray for the final arrangement to be decided upon. The structure of the installation as a whole was the main concern here with important elements such as emotion, narrative and tempo being of prime importance. 140 tracks of audio prepared for mixdown. The fish tank gets larger.

Mixing to 6.1
Finally back in the City Frequencies studio, the monster task of mixing takes place. 140 tracks mixed down to 70. These 70 tracks mixed down to 14 and then to the installation ready 7 tracks of audio for 6.1 surround playback. Minor adjustments were made to the levels of several of the speaker pairs but on the whole the mixdown was flawless. Total render time was about 3 hours.

Installation prep
The orientation of speakers to be used in the Kent St installation will take advantage of the layout of the cafe - Front Left and Front Right at the entry doors, Centre Left and Centre Right at the top of the internal stairs, Rear Left and Rear Right at the bar end of the room. The LFE, or SubBass will be located at the foot of the stairs alongside the Sound Operator computer. A second computer will plug into the in-house projector and display the Cafe Voyeur wallpaper during the performance and will also be used to project the Visual Thesaurus word maps pre and post performance.


Source material recording session completed
Two FM transmitting battery powered microphones were hidden in cheap vases of plastic flowers on two seperate tables within the Kent St cafe. FM signal broadcast between 87.6 - 89.3MHz and picked up by two digital radio receivers at a range of about 5 metres from source. Some degree of background noise from the cafe, tuning static due to passing people and wandering commercial broadcasts were noticed during the recording sessions.

test-rig photo one and two (70kb jpgs)
actual rig used as per promo photo at top of this page

7 x 2 hour Digital Audio Tapes
2 x 14 hours 2 channel recordings
28 hours total

Selective phrase sampling phase completed
Audio from DATs ported to computer and saved as conversation length .wav files. These then broken down to phrases, words and sounds of interest. Criteria for which was based on recording quality, context, interesting word or phrase use, interesting accent or pronunciation. This is not a computer aided process - this is achieved by listening...

10 conversations
4957 total words
1263 unique words
5 letters average word length

Transcription complete
All phrases and sounds recorded and saved as individual sound files. Samples Transcript of the words spoken captured has been compiled:

word doc download Samples transcript (34kb doc)


Transcription stats completed after compiling a sample library for use in the installation.
Using two language programs (Wurdz and Visual Thesaurus) statistics compiled of word usage as derived from the Samples Transcript document. Stats based on words encountered equal to or greater than 5 times:

(word: frequency)

a: 128 anything: 8
bed: 6 beer: 5 being: 8 bit: 16
car: 9 cat: 6 cold: 7 coming: 6
day: 6
enough: 7 even: 7 everything: 6
fuck: 7
girl: 5 god: 6 going: 28 good: 6 guy: 5
he: 63 hello: 9 her: 6 him: 23 his: 12 home: 8
house: 9
I: 301 it: 167 its: 10
Joe: 8
kind: 9
man: 5 me: 18 moment: 6
night: 5 nothing: 6
organ: 7
people: 7
she: 36
shit: 6 something: 18 stuff: 7
they: 26 thing: 10 thought: 9 time: 13 today: 8 tonight: 5
two: 9
us: 5
way: 8 we: 30 work: 10
yes: 6 you: 169 your: 18

ask: 10
be: 26 been: 12
can: 35 come: 12 could: 7
did: 11 didn't: 5 do: 40 does: 5 doesn't: 6 don't: 39
done: 5
get: 26 getting: 9 got: 24
had: 21 have: 17 haven't: 6 having: 5
is: 49
keep: 5 know: 56
look: 5
make: 7 might: 6
need: 8
put: 6
reckon: 6 remember: 6
say: 10 see: 9
think: 31 told: 6
wanna: 9 want: 13 was: 100 wasn't: 5 went: 8 were: 7
will: 7 would: 14 wouldn't: 5

about: 34 actually: 11 again: 9 all: 23 amazing: 5 any: 5
around: 8 as: 24
big: 9 but: 59 by: 5
fucking: 9
how: 16
just: 60
like: 80
maybe: 11 more: 7
never: 9 new: 7 nice: 13 now: 7
off: 10 on: 43 one: 27
pretty: 5
really: 36
said: 16 so: 55 some: 10
there: 43 though: 7 too: 7
very: 14
when: 16 where: 16 why: 7
yeah: 58

back: 12 better: 6
down: 11
enough: 7(-verb) even: 7(-noun) everything: 6
go: 19(-adv) good: 6(-verb)
in: 64(-verb)
little: 6(-verb)
mean: 5(-adv) much: 6(-verb)
no: 52(-verb)
okay: 6 out: 18 over: 9(-verb)
right: 10 round: 6
still: 9
then: 19(-verb)
up: 22(-noun)
well: 22 whole: 7(-verb)

ahh: 6 ahhhh: 6 an: 13 and: 134 are: 10 at: 31
because: 13 but: 59
cos: 14
for: 24 from: 16
hey: 6
if: 17
my: 35
of: 85 oh: 38 or: 24
that: 89 the: 156 this: 45 to: 123
umm: 23
what: 30 which: 5 with: 35