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Original author: 
Peter Kirn

vladislavdelay

Perhaps part of what you need for laptop music to evolve into an appreciated live performance art medium is simply time.

Finnish artist Sasu Ripatti is a good candidate for mastery of the form. Honing his production and performance skills since the late 90s, he’s become a maestro of digital music. Moments in his music stretch out into shadowy industrial landscapes, as if painting the mysterious worlds that lie between the beats. Others crank the machinery of the dance floor back into mystical frenzy.

Now, I believe the best way to experience a live performance is in the same room as the artist – whether they’re armed with a laptop or a mandolin. But the next best thing is proper documentation, and surely as scholars of music practice, we should sometimes review the tape. In this nearly one-hour HD capture, you can see him tease out a recent live show, armed with mixer and Faderfox controller. This is waveforms and mix as instrument, stuttering journeys through architectural realms of sound. There’s not any noticeable virtuoso performance to look at, necessarily, but in some sense I think you get an impression of him feeling his way through the music, and travel along that walk with him.

Watch, and see what you come away with:

VLADISLAV DELAY from URSSS on Vimeo.

Details.

URSSS.com has done a series of these live performances — too many to mention. Enter only at the risk of getting nothing else done for a bit. I love their brilliant moniker: “mistake television.” Hey, that’s why it makes sense to record live shows.

There’s more news from the artist’s hideaway in the north, too.

He’s in the studio now, with releases promised this summer. (Yes, if you visit his site, you know this, too, but it’s good news worth mentioning.)

And specifically, he’s teaming up with another high priest of archaic sound arts, the terrific Mark Fell.

And, nicely enough, there’s a preview. This is what happens when the dance floor glitches. I dearly want to see people dancing to this / want to get to dance to this myself:

I don’t know why they’re bundling a pencil with the limited release, but they are. (Crayon would have been my choice, but then, okay, the sound design here is a great deal more precise. But, still, crayons are cool. Sharpie?)

For something completely different, this is what a “Wedding Mixtape” sounds like from Sasu and AGF:

Great stuff is also happening when he teams Sasu with Moritz von Oswald and Max Loderbauer for the Moritz von Oswald trio:

And I love that you can find a tightly-curated selection of music that directly supports the artist at his Bandcamp store:
http://vladislavdelay.bandcamp.com/

It seems worth spending the money to suspend your iTunes and spending it there, instead, for things that really matter.

We’ll be watching for more.

http://www.vladislavdelay.com/

Image courtesy the artist.

The post Vladislav Delay, In Nearly an Hour-long Live Performance, Demonstrates Laptops Have Soul [Video, Tracks] appeared first on Create Digital Music.

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Lucas Gutierrez (AR), Silo Sessions.

Lucas Gutierrez (AR), Silo Sessions.

Electronic music, once the exclusive domain of secluded art laboratories, has now made the connection to clubs inseparable. The rhythms of dance music draw a line from popular to research; the software and gear marketed for dance musicians cross-pollinating with more experimental tools, as music styles, textures, and timbres mix, as well. But now, finding a way out of that club context and its restrictions may be as vital as the emergence from the lab years ago.

Making connections between Argentina and Germany, across an international collective of audiovisual artists, FxLD’s latest project invades a disused grain silo in Berlin. Literally in the shadow of Kreuzberg’s famed techno haven Watergate, the base of the silo is a narrow, concrete cave, broad-shouldered beams criss-crossing the space.

We get to listen to the fruits of the Silo Series performances, realized live and retaining their rough edges and improvised forms. And you can see some of the flickers, too, via filmmaker (and now CDM collaborator) Kevin Klein.

Danish artist Vectral, aka Søren Lyngsø, paints cinematic portraits in sound, rhythms throbbing underneath digital textures, all interwoven into a narrative of grooves and shadowy noises. Argentinian Lucas Gutierrez is an industrial designer and visual artist, but his music is a kind of dance of tribal glitches.

SILO SESSIONS from Mindpirates e.V. on Vimeo.

We have full-length music mixes here:

silo6

silo5

silo7

Resembling nothing if not Plato’s famous allegory, audiovisual shows in the silo echo on those cold post-industrial surfaces and dance on the walls. Listening to the results, you’ll hear traces of dance grooves as they’re fragmented into glitchy textures, the computers sounding a little bit as though they’re about to scream under the strain. (Having been floating around academia for about twenty years now, I remember how frequent complaints used to be about “beat-driven” music. For a time, academics were as afraid of recognizable rhythm as they were of tonality in the post-war era. I think more enlightened openness has prevailed – a good thing, too, as I wouldn’t want to have to drop Beethoven for his four-on-the-floor time signatures.)

I’m honored to get to play as part of this series tomorrow, Friday, using software I’ve built in Pd and Processing. (I hope to share those patches, once they’re cleaned up.) But I’m equally pleased to share the work that’s come before, as I’m thoroughly enjoying listening to it. And while we can’t entirely replicate the experience, I loved the feeling of being close with other listeners, in a space that wasn’t a concert but wasn’t a club, either – shoulder to shoulder with music lovers, sounds and light slightly different from each vantage point.

More of Lucas – LUCAS GUTIERREZ . Ascendente LiveAct – PANORAMICA 2012 (Buenos Aires, Argentina – actually, 2013′s installment is next weekend if you’re in that neighborhood!)

If you are in Berlin, come say hi. More on the series, and the ideas behind it:

SILO SESSIONS

Mindpirates open the doors of their silo, in collaboration with FxLD, to make way for experimentation with a series of concerts exploring the relationship between audio and visual concepts. This event takes its name from the location where the event will be executed, an old grain silo in the heart of Kreuzberg. The unique space is characterized by its geometric architecture ideal to create an introspective atmosphere.
Seeking to promote a state of connection that goes beyond the limits of reason, guest artists will work image and sound simultaneously using non-conventional structures to compose and execute in real time.

MINDPIRATES
Mindpirates is an artist group that works on aspects and issues of contemporary culture, sociology and ecology. The group has the approach to work independently and interdisciplinary. They combine challenging aesthetics, substantial examination and experiment with new forms of distribution, exposition and cooperation.

Mindpirates e.V. is a member based network. The e.V. is building and developing a community that supports ideas and projects with the Mindpirates.

Mindpirates Vereinsheim is organized by the Mindpirates e.V. based in Berlin. The space follows the tradition of an artist run center and is used by its members as a platform for mutual exchange and public presentation.

The Mindpirates Projektraum is an independent art space and a curatorial platform for the collaborative production and presentation of artistic projects, exhibitions and critical research work. It is a meeting place for the exchange of thoughts and impulses through which to forge relationships with the guest artists and the public.

http://www.mindpirates.org

FxLD

Is an artistic collective based between Berlin and Buenos Aires. Has the aim of serve as a platform for research, experimentation and promotion of Digital Art and Generative Art and to give them a place in the consolidated circle of art. FxLD believes that they are forms of Fine Arts that can respond to the most deep inquires of the spirit. And defends that the computers and informatic languages expand the barriers of creation to make way to a new aesthetical and conceptual paradigm in art.

http://www.foldcode.com.ar/

VECTRAL (DK) ( Silo Sessions I )

Behind the pseudonym Vectral, Søren Lyngsø, producer/composer/computer-programmer and visual-artist with a master degree in electronic music-composition from the Royal Academy of Music, explores the interplay between electronic compositions and audio-reactive visuals with concerts leading the audience through his sensory labyrinth step by step. His stubborn sounds-capes and crackling sound structures consist of electronically arranged material from everyday life heard through homemade software. The visual part consists of live generated 3D graphics using 3D control points to create dynamic colors and shapes.

http://sorenlyngso.dk
http://vectral.bandcamp.com

LUCAS GUTIERREZ (ARG) ( Silo Sessions II )

Digital Artist and Industrial Designer and native of Belen City in the province of Catamarca, Argentina. He specializes in video-art and real time video session projects pushing limits and blending influences from Motion Graphics and Graphic Design. He strives to achieve simplicity in its work while playing with blurred visuals and blending together the variations of two styles. The design studio coalesces its influences to create a variety of audio/visual projects for creative professionals in the art and media world.

Lucas has exhibited his works in well-known national and international festivals such as: Offf-Post-Digital Creation Culture, Panoramica / Tiempo Visual Panorama Real 2010 & 2012 (Bs As, Argentina), Getset Festival 2012 (Porto, Portugal), Cccartaxo 2010/12 (Portugal), Fuga Jurasica & Sincroba 2009 (Bs As – Argentina), Videofest 2008/9 (Cordoba, Argentina) among others. Lucas Gutierrez became a well-known Visual Artist and participates as resident VJ in a number of shows and events, fusing primarily electronic music with art.
He is currently a member of: fungo_project collective (Lisbo, Portugal) and undertones (Argentina). “A chaotic style that permeates his works with motion graphics. Seeks simplicity while running with the limits of the blurred image”.

http://www.lucasgutierrez.com/

Finally, from Vorspiel (which runs prior to the Transmediale and CTM festivals), here’s a murky jam of artists in the silo space — good stuff, good times (again, including recent CDM collaborators Easton West and Kevin Klein):

Mindpirates & P2P Vorspiel: Plutonic Frequencies from Mindpirates e.V. on Vimeo.

Details of what’s going on there:

On the occasion of CTM Vorspiel, Mindpirates will channel the ancient knowledge of the lost tribes of Pluto through vibrational frequencies. This cosmic learning experience will take place in the secret Silo space located at Mindpirates.
This very special event was part of P2P Vorspiel, a pre-festival weekend preceding the opening of transmediale 2013 BWPWAP – Back When Pluto Was a Planet and CTM.13 – THE GOLDEN AGE through a dissemination of projects including exhibition openings, workshops, talks, performances and parties outside the main venues of either festival.
Participating Artists:
Pauline Doutreluingne
Cy Iurinic
Kevin Klein
Emmanuel Pidré
Owen Roberts
Dylan Warn
Easton West

Camera:
Philipp Wenning
Edit:
Kevin Klein

More images:

silo9

silo8

silo4

silo3

silo2

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For all the sophisticated synthesis and remix tools out there, for a lot of musicians, the best thing sound technology can do is just give them a way to record and play. Looping is a simple technique – it involves recording a snippet of sound, playing it back, and then adding layers. But used masterfully, it can become transformative, producing rhythms and layers and letting solo artists accompany themselves.

“How do I get started looping?” is a question I hear from a lot of musicians, particularly those who are already expressive with their instruments and voice. There’s a technical answer to that question, involving something like the Loop Station from BOSS. But before you skip ahead to what to buy at your music store, it’s best to have some musical ideas.

And so, our weekend inspiration today comes from K Ishibashi aka Kishi Bashi, the Japanese-American virtuoso looper, who mixes a variety of instruments and spectacular, present voice. National Public Radio, the listener-supported broadcaster from the United States, has an intimate look at his work and shares the video above. It’s worth listening to the full radio piece (streaming worldwide free), as Kishi Bashi picks apart his process and explains what he’s doing.

Part of what I like best about what he’s doing is the rhythmic invention, in the snippets themselves and the layers. And even something as simple as doubling the speed can have a huge impact.

For those new to live looping techniques, it’ll be eye-opening. And even for more advanced loopers, Kishi Bashi’s chops should give you some encouragement to hone your craft.

Kishi Bashi: Unique Performances In Time

It inspires me to look for ways of covering looping and other live performance techniques better here. From Ableton’s built-in facility to homebrewed Pd patches to pedals and plug-ins and the lot, there are many angles one could take technically, even before the all-important musical issues. So if you have some ideas of what you’d like to see, let us know.

BOSS, for their part, has held international looping competitions to judge users of their ubiquitous pedal. But there are other ways to go, as well.

http://kishibashi.com

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Like the modulars themselves, an upcoming documentary on these analog synth beasts has been lurking behind closed doors. But that won’t be the case for long. “I Dream of Wires,” the crowd-funded documentary that probes artists’ fascination with making music by connecting patch cords, will see a public showcase at Montreal’s MUTEK Festival. This and an upcoming film release, atop a big get-together in New York, could make this a proper summer of modular.

In anticipation of their showcase, MUTEK has released two significant excerpts from the film. One talks to Carl Craig, Detroit techno legend, top. Craig describes how this tech has influenced his music, and what inspired him to look at modulars. The other clip – true to MUTEK’s Canadian home base and the origin country of the film itself – looks at Canada’s contribution to electronic music history. Detroit’s place in techno certainly needs no introduction, but it’s about time Canada got its role in synthesis recognized (below), having given the world pioneer Hugh Le Caine and the University of Toronto Electronic Music Lab, among other highlights. This excerpt turns the clock forward to modern-day synth goodness. We’re of course happy to know of a certain digital synth designed in Canada, but here the modular Renaissance gets the spotlight. As the film creators explain:

Recently, Canada has again come to play a significant role with the modern day resurgence of modular synthesizers; it is home to two highly respected manufacturers: Modcan, founded by Toronto’s Bruce Duncan, was the first company to reintroduce modular synthesizers to the post-MIDI marketplace, and Intellijel, founded by Vancouver’s Danjel Van Tijn, is one of the fastest growing and most respected lines of Eurorack synthesizer modules.

The MUTEK showcase will include live modular performances by Sealey/Greenspan/Lanza (Orphx/Junior Boys), Keith Fullerton Whitman (Kranky/Editions Mego), Solvent (Ghostly International/Suction Records), Clark (Warp Records), and Container (Spectrum Spools).

The film itself is a production of director Robert Fantinatto and Jason Amm (aka Ghostly International recording artist Solvent); Solvent is also composing the musical score. This isn’t simply a history of electronic music; instead, it focuses on the modern revival of the instruments. (The history is a subject of a future film, but we’ll let them finish this one first.)

It’s worth saying that modular synths aren’t all pleasure – they bring some pain, too. That’s why it’s worth watching the interviews excerpted in the November promo for the film. In that piece, even as they sing the praises of modular analog’s joys, musicians talk about challenges ranging from live performance setup to tuning. It’s impossible to understand the love for these instruments without grasping some of their idiosyncrasies. In the earlier clip, you see everyone from builder Lori Napoleon to pioneer and custodion of electronic music history Joel Chadabe to composers like the late Richard Lainhart and the legendary Morton Subotnick, as well as builders and the film’s own Solvent.

The filmmakers continue to raise funds from fans. A recent West Coast USA tour, funded by IndieGogo, added interviews with Trent Reznor, John Tejada, cEvin Key, Jack Dangers, Bernie Krause, Richard Devine, Make Noise, Cynthia, The Harvestman, SynthTech/MOTM, Metasonix, Intellijel, and others.

Round 3 funding: http://www.indiegogo.com/IDOW-round3

Keep tabs on the film on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/idreamofwiresdocumentary

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Musical history seems to happen when things collide, when things get mixed up – certainly in the twentieth, and now the twenty-first century. And so it is that one of the most important “Detroit techno” records ever released came out of Amsterdam.

If this were a new artist, the long string of endorsements from a who’s who of electronic music in the video here might seem like publicity fluff. But because Dutch artist Steve Jerome Rachmad, aka Sterac, has had such a deep influence on electronic music since his 1995 debut release, instead you can listen to a network of people in the dance music community, and how those influences form nodes in a neural net of musical creativity. Those networks cross national borders and backgrounds, speaking this musical genre as a common language. As the centerpiece of this docu-short, Rachmad himself is humble and quiet, a Zen-like presence on a sofa in the midst of bubbling techno celebrities, as he talks about how he clawed his way to getting anything released at all, on his first Atari 1040ST computer.

The best part of the video, though, is hearing Sterac’s musical process, often just playing directly from his head through a series of overdubs. I’m sure Rachmad was thrilled to power up his Atari ST for the first time; nowadays, a lot of us find a way to return to the immediacy of directly-recorded one-take overdubs. (It’s not so hard, of course. Just step away from your fancy editor.)

I’ve just listened to the re-release “Secret Life of Machines,” due out in June. It’s a fantastic, fresh-sounding release – unassuming and direct in the way Rachmad himself is in the interview. The dirty reality is, some 90s electronic music – even some that is considered a landmark today – really does sound dated today. These cuts simply don’t. There is this sense, as Richie Hawtin puts it in the video, of music that’s “melodic, funky, like Holland … but [is] rhythmic and beautiful like Detroit.”

I am, not very secretly, an optimist. I wonder what musical collisions may happen next – whether it’s club music or dance music or not, in electronic music as a medium. To me, the most fertile moments in music bloom when these kinds of connections and influences can form.

“Secret Life Of Machines” will arrive in phases, remastered and remixed, starting in June 2012, on CD and digital.

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Could a piece of software make you think differently about sound? Could it reflect ideas, the culture of listening?

The developers of the SUFI series of plug-ins seem to think so. In place of screencasts showing which knob to turn which way, they head with a video crew to Morocco. The “instruction” might be about the value of reflection or call to prayer, about living as much as how to use a tool. You can see the first two examples: a meditation on the idea of daily interruptions in the soundscape coming from God, and a collection of electronic drones set to a beautifully-shot backdrop. The interfaces are rendered in graphics and (for the vast majority of us) a foreign language, and instead of reverting to the conventions of plug-in design, they assimilate ideas from another culture about tonality and function.

The plug-ins will be released for Max for Live on the 8th of May, and VST plug-ins later on. (Some version of the Max for Live plug-ins are available now – links at bottom.) The collection includes:

  • DEVOTION, lowering your volume five times a day at the time of call to prayer
  • A drone machine (in the second video, sounding quite nice)
  • Four soft synths tuned to Arabic maqam scales. (They describe these as “North African maqams,” but I believe the tuning should be consistent with the use of maqam elsewhere around the Mediterranean and Arabic world.
  • One drum machine amidst the synths, Palmas, with a hand-clapping UI (see screenshot).

You have a week to practice learning to read neo-Tifinaght Amazigh script.

Updated: There are in fact no references in the videos here to Sufism, but the creators respond to questions about why they selected this name on their FAQ. As with the videos above, collaborations and friendship inspired their thinking. They write:

The title is an homage to several Moroccan Sufi musicians we’ve worked with over the years who influenced our thinking about musicianship & sound itself, as well as a way of foregrounding the complex but largely unremarked relationship between faith and technology. We’re fascinated with how software and digital environments encode cultural values and beliefs by conditioning choices and framing possibilities. For example, If Apple is a secular religion, selling contemporary magic, then should that change the way we feel about – and engage with – its operating system? The spirit of Sufi aphorisms, we hope, is manifest in these plug-ins. At a literal level, many of the roll-over infotexts come from Sufi verse.

Apart from being an interesting “cross-cultural” exercise, though, these plug-ins can serve as a reminder of two things. First, design choices are constrained only by your imagination. Aside from any perceived cultural values, you can really make software do, theoretically, anything – and make any sound. Convention can be a useful tool, but it can also become a prison. Second, the creators consider VST compatibility as a way to reach users in the Middle East and Africa. Whether this particular effort is successful or not, those are massive and growing audiences. (To anyone reading there, by the way, hello from way up at this end of the Northern Hemisphere!) Of course, these plug-ins will be just as foreign to nearly all of that audience as it is to, say, producers in Melbourne or London, but as we watch the videos from Morocco, it’s worth considering just how small our Internet-connected planet is – and how wonderfully-vast the spaces between us, and the possibility contained there, remains.

Software can serve for a medium for collaboration, as in this case, which ties together a variety of backgrounds from traditional producer to Amazigh musician. The Amazigh people, tying together modern Arabic culture and language with Phoenician roots (much like my own Lebanese ancestry), represent a rich practice of music. Just as the remote, historical world of J.S. Bach might direct a modern software plug-in, these can, too – and in living fashion.

The work is led by Jace Clayton (DJ Rupture), with programmer Bill Bowen, designer Rosten Woo, Amazigh musician Hassan Wargui , and videographers Maggie Schmitt and Juan Alcón Durán. The creators report that “a physical Sufi Plug Ins Forever Box is expected for late 2012, and Clayton is currently preparing an installation version of the Sufi Plug Ins.”

Mark your calendar for next Tuesday, or join the mailing list at the site. More information:

http://www.beyond-digital.org/sufiplugins/

Thanks, Jesse Engel!

As seen on maxforlive.com (thanks, David):

Devotion: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1140/devotion
Drone: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1139/drone
Palmas: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1138/palmas
Hijaz: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1137/hijaz
Bayati: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1136/bayati
Saba: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1134/saba
Khomasi: http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device/1133/khomasi

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Through the eyes of satellites, roving Google trucks, aerial imagery, and more, we have plenty of eyes on our planet. But what does it sound like here on Earth?

In a Web application and accompanying art installation, the world turns as it echoes sounds recorded around the world on Creative Commons-licensed site Freesound.org. It’s stunning to hear our world’s acoustic diversity – in some strange way, even more than seeing it, in that sounds can instantly give you a sense of place and time. You can load a version on your browser or on the iPad; then, from the world’s cities, listen as sounds mix automatically from one locale to another in an ambient sound score.

Browser Version (animates a bit slow for me, but works)
iPad World Sound Mix app [free | iTunes]
(via Hermann Helmholtz – great tip!)

The basic notion is something we see repeated regularly, even with this visualization; this is a fantasy those of us who work in sound routinely entertain. But it’s doubly worth mentioning, in that it’s an excuse to mention the lovely Japanese label/artist/laboratory 43d.

43d engages sound through a variety of tools. In the 43d laboratory, the spinning Earth interface finds its way into an installation (video below), iPad app, and browser app, as workshops send participants into the field to listen to their environment and gather more sounds. Such exercises have an added bonus for us electronic musicians, of course, as collected sounds can easily become the raw materials of music in any genre through the wonderful alchemy of our machines.

http://labs.43d.jp/

The installation and sound mix project:

“World Sound Mix for BankART LIFE3″ is a sound visual installation, generating new soundscape around the world. This work continues mixing the sounds at selected two points somewhere in the world from the database of huge quantities of environment sounds and generating new soundscape.

For this exhibition, we set up a magic box that resonates mixed soundscape in Sapporo and somewhere in the world. During the exhibition, a globe in the box keeps turning and resonating sounds in real time.

About sounds data:
World Sound Mix is based on a sound database from Freesound project, its sounds have been recorded and gathered by sound hunters around the world. The use of sound data is under the CreativeCommons Sampling+ 1.0 License. By the username and “freesound sound ID” shown on the globe, listener can refer to original content.

http://www.43d.jp/wsm2011/

Freesound.org, a terrific source of sounds:

http://www.freesound.org/

But what I especially like about all of this is that the environmental sounds don’t have to exist in a vacuum. 43d is also an ambient music label, the work of artist Junichi Oguro:

A sound artist who widens the realm of music. Born in Sapporo in 1974.
He started to compose music since his childhood, and received a grand prize at a national contest. In 2006 he visited Berlin for making music in various fields from commercial music for TV spots to sound space design in various areas of Europe. He also showcases sound art pieces in the realm of the contemporary art. He manages an ambient label “43d” which was established for creating leading edge sounds.

The just-released “Unfield” is breathtaking, turning effortlessly from rough-shod digital glitches to icy-sweet ballads and intimate, gorgeous vocals by Malloy Nagasawa. It combines custom software and control with more conventional recording techniques:

http://www.43d.jp/releases/

Have a listen:

Hope to hear more from this whole project.
43d.jpg

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What you’re watching in the video above doesn’t involve cameras or motion sensors. It’s the kind of brain-to-machine, body-to-interaction interface most of us associate with science fiction. And while the technology has made the occasional appearance in unusual, niche commercial applications, it’s poised now to blow wide open for music – open as in free and open source.

Erasing the boundary between contracting a muscle in the bio-physical realm and producing electronic sound in the virtual realm is what Xth Sense is all about. Capturing biological data is all the rage these days, seen primarily in commercial form in products for fitness, but a growing trend in how we might make our computers accessories for our bodies as well as our minds. (Or is that the other way around?) This goes one step further: the biological becomes the interface.

Artist and teacher Marco Donnarumma took first prize with this project in the prestigious Guthman Musical Instrument Competition at Georgia Tech in the US. Born in Italy and based in Edinburgh, Scotland, Marco explains to us how the project works and why he took it up. It should whet your appetite as we await an open release for other musicians and tinkerers to try next month. (By the way, if you’re in the New York City area, Marco will be traveling to the US – a perfect chance to collaborate, meet, or set up a performance or workshop; shout if you’re interested.)

Hypo Chrysos live at Trendelenburg AV Festival, Gijon, Spain, December 2011.

CDM: Tell us a bit about yourself. You’re working across disciplines, so how do you describe what you do?

Marco: People would call me a media and sound artist. I would say what I love is performing, but at the same time, I’m really curious about things. So, most of the time I end up coding my software, developing devices and now even designing wearable tech. Since some years now I work only with free and open source tools and this is naturally reflected in what I do and how I do it. (Or at least I hope so!)

I just got back from Atlanta, US, where the Xth Sense (XS) was awarded the first prize in the Margaret Guthman New Musical Instrument, as what they named the “world’s most innovative new musical instrument.” [See announcement from Georgia Tech.]

It’s an encouraging achievement and I’m still buzzing, specially because the other 20 finalists all presented great ideas. Overall, it has been an inspiring event, and I warmly recommend musicians and inventors to participate next year. My final performance:

Make sure to use a proper soundsystem [when watching the videos]; most of the sound spectrum lives between 20-60Hz.

Music for Flesh II live at Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, Atlanta, USA, February 2012. Photo courtesy the artist.

You’re clenching your muscles, and something is happening – can you tell us how this XS system works?

Marco: My definition of it goes like “a biophysical framework for musical performance and responsive milieux.” In other words, it is a technology that extends some intrinsic sonic capabilities of the human body through a computer system that senses the physical energy released by muscle tissues.

I started developing it in September 2011 at the SLE, the Sound Lab at the Edinburgh University, and got it ready to go in March 2011. It has evolved a lot in many ways ever since.

The Xth Sense wearable biosensors by Chris Scott.

The XS is composed of custom biophysical sensors and a custom software.

At the onset of a muscle contraction, energy is released in the form of acoustic sound. This is to say, similarly to the chord of a violin, each muscle tissue vibrates at specific frequencies and produces a sound (called Mechanomyographic signal, or MMG). It is not audible to human ear, but it is indeed a soundwave that resonates from the body.

The MMG data is quite different from locative data you can gather with accelerometers and the like; whereas the latter reports the consequence of a movement, the former directly represents the energy impulse that causes that movement. If you add to this a high sampling rate (up to 192.000Hz if your sound card supports it) and very low latency (measured at 2.3ms) you can see why the responsiveness of the XS can be highly expressive.

The XS sensors capture the low-frequency acoustic vibrations produced by a performer’s body and send them to the computer as an audio input. The XS software analyzes the MMG in order to extract the characteristics of the movements, such as dynamics of a single gesture, maximum amplitude of a series of gestures in time, etc.

These are fed to some algorithms that produce the control data (12 discrete and continuous variables for each sensor) to drive the sound processing of the original MMG.

Eventually, the system plays back both the raw muscle sounds (slightly transposed to become better audible, say about 50/60Hz) and the processed muscle sounds.

I like to term this model of performance biophysical music, in contrast with biomusic, which is based on the electrical impulses of muscles and brainwaves.

By differently contracting muscles (which has a different meaning than simply “moving”) one can create and sculpt musical material in real-time. One can design a specific gesture that produces a specific sonic result, what I call a sound-gesture. These can be composed in a score, or improvised, or also improvised on a more or less fixed score.

The XS software has also a sensing sequencing time-line: with a little machine learning (just implemented few days ago) the system understands when you’re still or moving, when you’re being fast or slow, and can use this data to change global parameters, functions or to play with the timing of events. For example, the computer can track your behaviour in time and wait for you to stop whatever you’re doing before switching to a different set of funcions.

The XS sensors are wearable devices, so the computer can be forgotten in a corner of the stage; the performer has complete freedom on stage, and the audience is not exposed to the technology, but rather to the expressivity of the performance. What I like most about the XS is that is a flexible and multi-modal instrument. One can use it to:

  • capture and playback acoustic sounds of the body,
  • control audio and video software on the computer, or
  • capture body sounds and control them through the computer simultaneously.

This opens up an interesting perspective on the applications of the XS to musical performance, dance, theatre and interaction design. The XS can also be used only as a gestural controller, although I never use it exclusively this way. We have thousands of controllers out there.

Besides, I wanted the XS to be accessible, usable, hackable and redistributable. Unfortunately, the commercialized product dealing with biosignals are mostly not cheap and — most importantly — closed to the community. See the Emotiv products (US$299 Neuro Headset, not for developers), or the BioFlex (US$392.73). One could argue that the technology is complex, and that’s why those devices are expensive and closed. This could make sense, but who says we can’t produce new technologies that openly offer similar or new capabilities at a much lower cost?

The formal recognition of the XS as an innovative musical instrument and the growing effort of the community in producing DIY EEG, ECG and Biohacking devices are a clear statement in this sense. I find this movement encouraging and possibly indispensable nowadays, as the information technology industry is increasingly deploying biometric data for adverts and security systems. For the geeky ones there are some examples in a recent paper of mine for the 2012 CHI workshop on Liveness.

For those reasons, the XS hardware design has been implemented in the simplest form I could think of; the parts needed to build an XS sensor cost about £5 altogether and the schematics looks purposely dumb. The sensors can be worn on any parts of the body. I worked with dancers who wore them on the neck and legs, a colleague stuck one to his throat to capture the resonances of his voice, I use them on the arms or to capture the pumping of the blood flow and the heart rate.

The XS software is free, based in Pd, aka Pure Data, and comes with a proper, user-friendly Graphical User Interface (GUI) and its own library, which includes over one hundred objects with help files. It is developed on Linux, and it’s Mac OS X compatible; I’m not developing for Windows, but some people got it working there too. A big thumb up goes to our wonderful Pd Community; if I had not been reading and learning through the Pd mailing list for the past 5 years I would have never been able to code this stuff.

The Xth Sense software Graphical User Interface. Built in Pd.

The public release of the project will be in April. The source code, schematics, tutorials, will be freely available online, and there will be DIY kits for the lazier ones. I’m already collecting orders for the first batch of DIY kits, so if anybody is interested please, get in touch:
http://marcodonnarumma.com/contact

I do hope to see the system hacked and extended, especially because the sensors were initially built with the support of the folks at the Dorkbot ALBA/Edinburgh Hacklab. I’m also grateful to the community around me, friends, musicians, artists devs and researchers for contributing to the success of the project by giving feedback, inspiring and sharing (you know who you are!).

Thanks, Marco! We’ll be watching!

More on the Work

http://marcodonnarumma.com/works/xth-sense/
http://marcodonnarumma.com/works/music-for-flesh-ii/
http://res.marcodonnarumma.com/blog/

And the Edinburgh hack lab:
http://edinburghhacklab.com/

Biological Interfaces for Music

There isn’t space here to recount the various efforts to do this; Marco’s design to me is notable mainly in its simplicity and – hopefully, as we’ll see next month – accessibility to other users. I’ve seen a number of brain interfaces just in the past year, but perhaps someone with more experience on the topic would like to share; that could be a topic for another post.

Entirely unrelated to music, but here’s the oddest demo video I’ve seen of human-computer interfacing, which I happened to see today. (Well, unrelated to music until you come up with something this crazy. Go! I want to see your band playing with interactive animal ears.)

Scientific American’s blog tackles the question this week (bonus 80s sci-fi movie reference):
Brain-Machine Interfaces in Fact and Fiction

I’ve used up my Lawnmower Man reference quota for the month, so tune in in April.

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As musical old-timers repeatedly sing the sad song of the supposed demise of the full-length album, a funny thing has happened. Lovers of games have taken up a growing passion for game music, and in particular the indie score for indie games. Independent game publishing and independent music composition – from truly unsigned, unknown artists – go hand in hand. Indeed, the download and purchase charts on Bandcamp are often dominated by game scores. Fueled by word-of-mouth, these go viral in enthusiast communities largely ignored by either music or game reportage.

Far from the big-budget blockbuster war game, these scores – like the games for which they’re composed – are quirky and eccentric. They reject the usual expectations of what game music might be, sometimes tending to the cinematic, sometimes to the retro, sometimes unapologetically embracing magical, sentimental, childlike worlds.

And now, defying music’s typical business models as well as its genre expectations, you can get a whole big bundle of games for almost no money. Pay what you want, and get hours of music. Pay more than $10, and get loads more. You just have to do it before the deal ends (five days from this posting), at which point the bundle is gone forever. In a sign of just how much love listeners of these records feel, there’s a competition to get into the top 20, top 10, and top-paying spots, which with days left in the contest is already pushing well into the hundreds of dollars. But for that rate or just the few-dollar rate, these are the true fans. You’ve heard about them in theory in trendy music business blogs and conferences, in theory. But here, someone’s doing something about it, and it’s not a fluke or a one-time novelty: it’s a real formula.

http://www.gamemusicbundle.com/

Game music itself is, of course, a funny thing. Game play itself tends to repetition, meaning you hear this music a lot. So it says something really extraordinary about the affection for these scores that gamers want to hear the music again and again. This gets the musical content well beyond the level of annoying wallpaper into something that, even more than a film score you hear just once or a few times, you want to make part of your life. That endless play gets us back to what inspired ownership in the first place, to buying stacks of records rather than just waiting for them on the radio. And in that sense, perhaps what motivates owning music versus treating it like a utility or water faucet hasn’t changed in the digital age at all. Maybe it’s gotten even stronger.

We’ve already sung the praises of Sword and Sworcery on this site; it’s notably in the bundle. But I want to highlight in particular one other score, the inventive and dream-like Machinarium. Impeccably recorded, boldly original, the work of Prague-based Tomáš Dvořák, Machinarium mirrors the whimsical constructed machines of the games. There’s a careful attention to timbre, and music that moves from film-like moments to song to beautiful washes of ambience, glitch set against warm rushes of landscape. For his part, Dvořák is a clarinetist, and his musical senstitivity never ceases to translate into the score. It’s just good music, even if you never play the game, and easily worth the price of admission for the bundle if you never listened to anything else (though you would truly be missing out). It’s simply one of the best game music scores in recent years.

And another look at Jim Guthrie’s score to Sword & Sworcery:

Game Meets Album: Behind the Music and Design of the iPad Indie Blockbuster Swords & Sworcery[Create Digital Music]

Game Meets Album: Behind the Music and Design of the iPad Indie Blockbuster Swords & Sworcery [Create Digital Motion]

Also in this collection: Aquaria, To the Moon, Jamestown, and a mash-up, plus a whole bunch of bonus games when you spend a bit more that feel heavily influenced by Japanese game music and chip music.

And some of the best gems are in the repeat of the last bundle, which you can (and should) add on for US$5 more:
Minecraft: Volume Alpha, Super Meat Boy: Digital Soundtrack, PPPPPP (soundtrack to VVVVVV), Impostor Nostalgia, Cobalt, Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion, A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda, Return All Robots!, Mighty Milky, Way / Mighty Flip Champs, Tree of Knowledge

I’ve sat at game conferences as composers working for so-called AAA titles lamented the limitations of the game music production pipeline. Quietly, indie game developers have shown that anything is possible, that the quality of a game score is limited only by a composer’s imagination.

More music to hear (and some behind-the-scenes footage), including a really promising Kickstarter-funded iPad music project from regular CDM reader Wiley Wiggins:

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How do you hear? What do you hear?

Coming to agreement about something rooted in perception is by definition a doomed exercise. But that means the best thing to do is not so much to agree as to talk about the music – about what you hear – and not just the labels.

Amidst glib online comments and the micro-fragmentation of genre, it’s hard to get anyone to give you a straight answer about just what’s going on in electronic dance music. That’s ironic – because, at its essence, it’s pretty straightforward. The situation has gotten worse: as “dubstep,” the relatively underground and fairly specific genre, has influenced mainstream artists and big acts, fans and journalists alike have tended to “mislabel” music that doesn’t fit the original meaning.

Enter into this discussion a video from artist Bassnectar, produced from an impromptu interview in a van. The California-based artist is a well-respected musician who does make work that can be safely classified dubstep. And he cuts straight through the distractions and describes, in clear and precise terms, just what’s going on in how he hears the music – not only with dubstep, but with the beat structure of electronic music more generally, at least in the way it tends to be classified. The visualization, added by an unknown YouTuber and produced in Prezi.com, a presentation tool, is a bit like looking into one artist’s mind, as thought processes become visual.

Several readers disagree with the notion of genre here more generally – which I can actually get behind as an artist – but I think what’s nice here is that the modes of hearing that motivate those genre labels are well-described here. You may hear differently, and you may not find the classification useful, but this demystifies where those categories originate.

You don’t need an advanced degree in music theory to understand this. (Believe me: I’ve got one, finishing another, and “you don’t need one” barely begins to cover it.) Nor do you need a lot of background even in dance music. You – and perhaps less-musically-educated friends and family – have undoubtedly heard these rhythms. Seeing them explained and hearing them in clear, simple terms can help you to understand what you’ve already got in your ears. It’s lovely. (Some of it is debatable, yes – “dub” gets a thrown-aside mention there that doesn’t really make any sense – but hearing him beatbox his way through what he hears for me at least gets to the essence of how one producer’s listening habits work.)

Wheat Williams, who sends this in, observes:

Bassnectar must be an extraordinarily organized thinker! His off-the-cuff explanation created a perfectly coherent outline which the video artist rendered from his word-for-word delivery.

Remarkable on several levels.

Like you, I’ve interviewed a lot of musicians in my journalist days, and rarely do you come across anybody who’s so clear and straightforward in his thinking and his ability to describe his music.

For the original interview – and proof this was all off-the-cuff:

More from that site:
http://www.moboogie.com/

Best comment on YouTube:

dubstep is my favorite artist, yay deadmouse!!

(Don’t worry, they are kidding.)

Side note:

I’ll, uh, defend the four-on-the-floor regularity of techno by pointing out that those kinds of regular duple meanings have a long, long history in European and European-influenced music. That, in turn, may explain why European audiences stomach them more easily – not because of the maligned image of the polka band in a German square, but because of a broad and varied tradition of folk and Classical music based on similar on-the-beat regularity. And the mechanical repetitiveness of some techno, too, has roots in the 20th Century love affair with machines, and a worldwide sense of trance states brought about by loops that may even have biological connections. Your brain, after all, reaches certain states of regular oscillation. At the same time, I understand why Bassnectar goes a different definition, one influenced by jazz and hip-hop and soul – and American, English, and other dubstep producers all share a deep generational fascination with those rhythms that crosses all kinds of backgrounds. (PS: I also like polka. Don’t knock it.)

But understanding dance music categorization as lying between the broken and regular beat makes absolute sense. And as in many musical evolutions, the tension between ideas can be enormously artistically inspiring.

Updated: The interesting question is whether that general categorization – which has become common, indeed, in the USA in conversations I hear – is really fair. It may have to do with the self-conception of producers. But while the bass drum is regular in many of these genres, they, too, often rely on polyrhythms and syncopation influenced by genealogical lines of music like jazz. Our friend Primus Luta (@primusluta) wonders via Twitter if this dichotomy is really the best way to understand things. But at least, for the purposes of the argument Bassnectar is making, he does a good job of beatboxing his way through the way in which many people hear these genres, the perception of how they work. In other words, it’s a useful illustration of how Bassnectar hears them. Because it’s music, and intrinsically about perception, it’s that question of how things are perceived rather than some objective, universal fact that matters – and can by definition be heard radically differently by someone else.

What he omits is the mention of certain timbres or samples, for instance (thanks to John Alfred Tyson for raising this on Facebook; I agree). But I think that omission also says something about how people hear or what they find important as they self-indentify with what they’re making.

Now, if someone can just do some infographics illustrating brostep… (there is, at least, a hilarious definition)

Speaking of dubstep, for the record: America did not ruin music. America ruined the global economy. Look it up; get it straight. Then again, the night is young: my New Year’s Resolution for 2012 is definitely to butcher music, or anything else I can get my hands on. U.S.A.!

http://www.bassnectar.net/

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