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Some time in the 1480s (experts tend to agree with 1483/84, at which point he was approximately 32-years-old) Leonardo da Vinci applied for a job at the court of Ludovico Sforza — then de facto ruler of Milan but not officially its Duke for another few years. Da Vinci did so by way of the following application letter; essentially a fascinating list of his abilities which, in an effort to appeal to Sforza's needs at the time, is dominated by his undeniably impressive military engineering skills. His artistic genius isn't really hinted at until the end.

Da Vinci's efforts paid off, and he was eventually employed. A decade later, it was Sforza who commissioned him to paint The Last Supper.

(Source: Leonardo on Painting: An Anthology of Writings by Leonardo da Vinci with a Selection of Documents Relating to His Career; Image: Leonardo da Vinci, a self-portrait, via.)

My Most Illustrious Lord,

Having now sufficiently seen and considered the achievements of all those who count themselves masters and artificers of instruments of war, and having noted that the invention and performance of the said instruments is in no way different from that in common usage, I shall endeavour, while intending no discredit to anyone else, to make myself understood to Your Excellency for the purpose of unfolding to you my secrets, and thereafter offering them at your complete disposal, and when the time is right bringing into effective operation all those things which are in part briefly listed below:

1. I have plans for very light, strong and easily portable bridges with which to pursue and, on some occasions, flee the enemy, and others, sturdy and indestructible either by fire or in battle, easy and convenient to lift and place in position. Also means of burning and destroying those of the enemy.

2. I know how, in the course of the siege of a terrain, to remove water from the moats and how to make an infinite number of bridges, mantlets and scaling ladders and other instruments necessary to such an enterprise.

3. Also, if one cannot, when besieging a terrain, proceed by bombardment either because of the height of the glacis or the strength of its situation and location, I have methods for destroying every fortress or other stranglehold unless it has been founded upon a rock or so forth.

4. I have also types of cannon, most convenient and easily portable, with which to hurl small stones almost like a hail-storm; and the smoke from the cannon will instil a great fear in the enemy on account of the grave damage and confusion.

5. Also, I have means of arriving at a designated spot through mines and secret winding passages constructed completely without noise, even if it should be necessary to pass underneath moats or any river.

6. Also, I will make covered vehicles, safe and unassailable, which will penetrate the enemy and their artillery, and there is no host of armed men so great that they would not break through it. And behind these the infantry will be able to follow, quite uninjured and unimpeded.

7. Also, should the need arise, I will make cannon, mortar and light ordnance of very beautiful and functional design that are quite out of the ordinary.

8. Where the use of cannon is impracticable, I will assemble catapults, mangonels, trebuckets and other instruments of wonderful efficiency not in general use. In short, as the variety of circumstances dictate, I will make an infinite number of items for attack and defence.

9. And should a sea battle be occasioned, I have examples of many instruments which are highly suitable either in attack or defence, and craft which will resist the fire of all the heaviest cannon and powder and smoke.

10. In time of peace I believe I can give as complete satisfaction as any other in the field of architecture, and the construction of both public and private buildings, and in conducting water from one place to another.

Also I can execute sculpture in marble, bronze and clay. Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible as well as any other, whosoever he may be.

Moreover, work could be undertaken on the bronze horse which will be to the immortal glory and eternal honour of the auspicious memory of His Lordship your father, and of the illustrious house of Sforza.

And if any of the above-mentioned things seem impossible or impracticable to anyone, I am most readily disposed to demonstrate them in your park or in whatsoever place shall please Your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.

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Compare the complex model of what a computer can use to control sound and musical pattern in real-time to the visualization. You see knobs, you see faders that resemble mixers, you see grids, you see – bizarrely – representations of old piano rolls. The accumulated ephemera of old hardware, while useful, can be quickly overwhelmed by a complex musical creation, or visually can fail to show the musical ideas that form a larger piece. You can employ notation, derived originally from instructions for plainsong chant and scrawled for individual musicians – and quickly discover how inadequate it is for the language of sound shaping in the computer.

Or, you can enter a wild, three-dimensional world of exploded geometries, navigated with hand gestures.

Welcome to the sci fi-made-real universe of Portland-based Christian Bannister’s subcycle. Combining sophisticated, beautiful visualizations, elegant mode shifts that move from timbre to musical pattern, and two-dimensional and three-dimensional interactions, it’s a complete visualization and interface for live re-composition. A hand gesture can step from one musical section to another, or copy a pattern. Some familiar idioms are here: the grid of notes, a la piano roll, and the light-up array of buttons of the monome. But other ideas are exploded into spatial geometry, so that you can fly through a sound or make a sweeping rectangle or circle represent a filter.

Ingredients, coupling free and open source software with familiar, musician-friendly tools:

Another terrific video, which gets into generating a pattern:

Now, I could say more, but perhaps it’s best to watch the videos. Normally, when you see a demo video with 10 or 11 minutes on the timeline, you might tune out. Here, I predict you’ll be too busy trying to get your jaw off the floor to skip ahead in the timeline.

At the same time, to me this kind of visualization of music opens a very, very wide door to new audiovisual exploration. Christian’s eye-popping work is the result of countless decisions – which visualization to use, which sound to use, which interaction to devise, which combination of interfaces, of instruments – and, most importantly, what kind of music. Any one of those decisions represents a branch that could lead elsewhere. If I’m right – and I dearly hope I am – we’re seeing the first future echoes of a vast, expanding audiovisual universe yet unseen.

Subcycle: Multitouch Sound Crunching with Gestures, 3D Waveforms

And lots more info on the blog for the project:


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