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Original author: 
noreply@blogger.com (Mitchell Whitelaw)

At CODE2012 I presented a paper on "programmable matter" and the proto-computational work of Ralf Baecker and Martin Howse - part of a long-running project on digital materiality. My sources included interviews with the artists, which I will be publishing here. Ralf Baecker's 2009 The Conversation is a complex physical network, woven from solenoids - electro-mechanical "bits" or binary switches. It was one of the works that started me thinking about this notion of the proto-computational - where artists seem to be stripping digital computing down to its raw materials, only to rebuild it as something weirder. Irrational Computing (2012) - which crafts a "computer" more like a modular synth made from crystals and wires - takes this approach further. Here Baecker begins by responding to this notion of proto-computing.

MW: In your work, especially Irrational Computing, we seem to see some of the primal, material elements of digital computing. But this "proto" computing is also quite unfamiliar - it is chaotic, complex and emergent, we can't control or "program" it, and it is hard to identify familiar elements such as memory vs processor. So it seems that your work is not only deconstructing computing - revealing its components - but also reconstructing it in a strange new form. Would you agree?

RB: It took me a long time to adopt the term "proto-computing". I don't mean proto in a historical or chronological sense; it is more about its state of development. I imagine a device that refers to the raw material dimension of our everyday digital machinery. Something that suddenly appears due to the interaction of matter. What I had in mind was for instance the natural nuclear fission reactor in Oklo, Gabon that was discovered in 1972. A conglomerate of minerals in a rock formation formed the conditions for a functioning nuclear reactor, all by chance. 

Computation is a cultural and not a natural phenomenon; it includes several hundred years of knowledge and cultural technics, these days all compressed into a microscopic form (the CPU). In the 18th century the mechanical tradition of automata and symbolic/mathematical thinking merged into the first calculating and astronomical devices. Also the combinatoric/hermeneutic tradition (e.g. Athanasius Kircher and Ramon Llull) is very influential to me. These automatons/concepts were philosophical and epistemological. They were dialogic devices that let us think further, much against our current utilitarian use of technology. Generative utopia.


Schematic of Irrational Computing courtesy of the artist - click for PDF

MW: Your work stages a fusion of sound, light and material. In Irrational Computing for example we both see and hear the activity of the crystals in the SiC module. Similarly in The Conversation, the solenoids act as both mechanical / symbolic components and sound generators. So there is a strong sense of the unity of the audible and the visual - their shared material origins. (This is unlike conventional audiovisual media for example where the relation between sound and image is highly constructed). It seems that there is a sense of a kind of material continuum or spectrum here, binding electricity, light, sound, and matter together?

RB: My first contact with art or media art came through net art, software art and generative art. I was totally fascinated by it. I started programming generative systems for installations and audiovisual performances. I like a lot of the early screen based computer graphics/animation stuff. The pure reduction to wireframes, simple geometric shapes. I had the feeling that in this case concept and representation almost touch each other. But I got lost working with universial machines (Turing machines). With Rechnender Raum I started to do some kind of subjective reappropriation of the digital. So I started to build my very own non-universal devices. Rechnender Raum could also be read as a kinetic interpretation of a cellular automaton algorithm. Even if the Turing machine is a theoretical machine it feels very plastic to me. It a metaphorical machine that shows the conceptual relation of space and time. Computers are basically transposers between space and time, even without seeing the actual outcome of a simulation. I like to expose the hidden structures. They are more appealing to me than the image on the screen.

MW: There is a theme of complex but insular networks in your work. In The Conversation this is very clear - a network of internal relationships, seeking a dynamic equilibrium. Similarly in Irrational Computing, modules like the phase locked loop have this insular complexity. Can you discuss this a little bit? This tendency reminds me of notions of self-referentiality, for example in the writing of Hofstadter, where recursion and self-reference are both logical paradoxes (as in Godel's theorem) and key attributes of consciousness. Your introverted networks have a strong generative character - where complex dynamics emerge from a tightly constrained set of elements and relationships.

RB: Sure, I'm fascinated by this kind of emergent processes, and how they appear on different scales. But I find it always difficult to use the attribute consciousness. I think these kind of chaotic attractors have a beauty on their own. Regardless how closed these systems look, they are always influenced by its environment. The perfect example for me is the flame of a candle. A very dynamic complex process communicating with its environment, that generates the dynamics.

MW: You describe The Conversation as "pataphysical", and mention the "mystic" and "magic" aspects of Irrational Computing. Can you say some more about this a aspect of your work? Is there a sort of romantic or poetic idea here, about what is beyond the rational, or is this about a more systematic alternative to how we understand the world?

RB: Yes, it refers to an other kind of thinking. A thinking that is anti "cause and reaction". A thinking of hidden relations, connections and uncertainty. I like Claude Lévi-Strauss' term "The Savage Mind".

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Original author: 
Soulskill

concealment sends this quote from the NY Times: "Today’s chips are made on large wafers that hold hundreds of fingernail-sized dies, each with the same electronic circuit. The wafers are cut into individual dies and packaged separately, only to be reassembled on printed circuit boards, which may each hold dozens or hundreds of chips. PARC researchers have a very different model in mind. ... they have designed a laser-printer-like machine that will precisely place tens or even hundreds of thousands of chiplets, each no larger than a grain of sand, on a surface in exactly the right location and in the right orientation. The chiplets can be both microprocessors and computer memory as well as the other circuits needed to create complete computers. They can also be analog devices known as microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, that perform tasks like sensing heat, pressure or motion. The new manufacturing system the PARC researchers envision could be used to build custom computers one at a time, or as part of a 3-D printing system that makes smart objects with computing woven right into them."

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Original author: 
Jim Rossignol


Stood by the Oculus stand at GDC, I heard someone say “the thing about all this VR stuff is that it hasn’t moved on a great deal from the ’90s.” Can that be true? For a moment I assumed this gentleman in the crowd might know something I didn’t, but it turns out that there’s a good deal that VR and head/body-tracking can do in 2013 that it couldn’t do in the 1990s. For a taste of that, you’ll want to read this and watch the video below, which places the user in a Doom 3 level with a Portal gun, and shows off all manner of body tracking and movement cleverness.

Go look!
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Let’s enhance!

So, it seems a bit like Elektron might be working on a 4-voice analog synth. That is, especially since that’s what’s in the image found on the teaser site.

Wonder what we can learn from the other corners of the image.

I think the most interesting question here is whether Elektron does something clever with the sequencing portion – that is, obviously, another analog 4-voice synth isn’t news, but if it fits the Monomachine mold, it might be.

Thank you to Jakob Penca for tipping us off via Twitter, and to the Elektron Users forum. Sorry, I’m late to this party, as – speaking of choosing between hardware and (Ableton) software, we were deep in the Live 9 launch information in mid-October. Been a surprisingly big month for tech. Synthtopia notes CV I/O are visible in the earlier images, too, so in fact control voltage connectivity is a sure thing, continuing CV’s remarkable comeback.

Uh… but CDM is the first, I believe, to post the Enhance! video. Dear Elektron: want to go on a Lapland ski holiday together so we don’t have to meet at NAMM? (Boring!) We can invite Teenage Engineering and Sonic Charge.

Update: Sources tell DE:BUG that the image is correct, and that the product should arrive later this year. (Don’t know if that will be an announcement or actually shipping.) Article in German.

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Can’t get enough Live 9 information? In cased you missed it, here’s a nearly hour-long presentation. It’s notable for Ableton founder and CEO Gerhard Behles talking about what matters in an instrument, then “discovering” that Push fits in a backpack, for Dennis DeSantis doing a beautiful job of showing what really musical workflow looks like, and Jesse Terry brave enough to do a live set on hardware that’s only just been finished. I say this partly because I have to do presentations, too, and – it’s not easy. I think they do a good job of sharing their ideas honestly and clearly; it’s up to you to judge whether those ideas fit your music and whether you invest in their creation.

Bonus: isomorphic pitch layouts.

The setting is the private event you may have heard about. Last week in Berlin, a number of artists, partners, and press were gathered along with Ableton employees to witness a private event launching Live 9. I became briefly concerned that I was going to find out I was already dead, or having some strange dream, given the number of people I knew who were there. (Crap – really, we didn’t manage to get off the island? Did the plane crash on the way to LAX for NAMM ever happen? I’m so confused.) People came all the way from New Zealand. I came all the way from Kreuzberg.

It’s also worth noting that Robert Henke is not in this video. While, even viewed from the outside, Robert clearly continues to influence what Ableton does, the best place to find him is doing extraordinary work in performance and research, internationally. I point this out only because I think some people assume everything in Live springs from Robert’s head. That’s not the case – and it fails to appreciate all the other things springing from Robert’s head. It must be nice to focus on being a user of Live; I’m sure given what I’ve heard about gen that he’ll do some incredible work there.

Anyway, now the content of this presentation is available to all of you. Let us know if you see anything you missed. And enjoy the dog and pony show. (Darn, now I want to see a show with dogs and ponies.)

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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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If you’re dreaming of creating your own controller from scratch, there are certain basic elements you’ll need – and a strong case for reusing, not reinventing, the wheel. There are a range of products out there that cater to you DIYers; Livid’s Builder line is certainly one of the most comprehensive. It’s a line of hardware accessories that help you piece together MIDI controllers with all the requisite knobs and buttons and sensors you might like, and its brain just got an upgrade.

The soul of any controller is the electronics and microcontroller that read all of those inputs and let them talk to a computer. And it’s that “brain” that Livid recently upgraded, with their Builder Brain v2. Messages from controls go in, messages to devices like lights go out, all via a connection to your computer that’s USB powered, class-compliant MIDI. (That means you won’t need any drivers – not on Mac, not on Windows, and not on Linux. You could even plug this into one of those Raspberry Pi devices, if you’re lucky enough to have one!) They also operate standalone with a 5V power supply.

The Brain v2 is for some seriously large and complex controllers, with support for up to 64 analog inputs, 128 Buttons, and 192 LEDs. (Fortunately, a companion board called the Omni, and connections via ribbon cables, mean that you won’t create complete spaghetti trying to do that.) In fact, it’s so powerful I’d recommend considering something simpler for less-ambitious projects, but if you’re planning a big controller, it’s tough to beat Livid’s offerings.

New in v2:

  • A Bus Board for easier control connections
  • LED support up from 48 to 192, extra circuitry for ultra-brights.
  • Encoders now work with LED encoder ring support, so you can make a big circle of ultra-bright lights to go around your encoder.
  • RGB LED support.
  • 5V standalone power is new.

Add those features to cool extras from the original, like accelerometer and velocity-sensitive surface support and programmable MIDI settings.

CDM asks Livid’ Jay Smith to tell us what this is all about.

CDM: Who is this for?

Jay: That’s kind of a loaded question! It’s really for anyone wanting to create a class-complaint MIDI device of their own. An artist, a maker of commercial products, a musician, a visualist? With Brain version 1 we’ve seen a MIDI controlled electric mandolin, Moldover’s Mojo, and The Choppertone to name a few. We’ve also powered some other pretty sophisticated commercial devices for other companies with it, so it’s not just a DIY solution.

With v2 we’ve really expanded the functionality by adding almost any kind of control you’d want to hook up to it, and made the process of doing that much easier. If you are talking about standard MIDI controller type controls, our Omni board support thousands of configurations with just one circuit board. This isn’t just for building “controllers” in terms of software controllers either. We’ve added external power so you can use it to control analog gear and other MIDI controlled devices.

Apart from those examples, what can you build with Builder and the Brain?

Anything that has a button, LEDs, potentiometer, encoder, FSRs, accelerometers, sensors, and more. Single LEDs, RGB LEDs, and “groups” of LEDs of 6,12, or 24 can be created and controlled with one MIDI note or CC or locally controlled with an encoder or pot. As a result, inventive, designs with interesting lighting feedback are possible. VU meters driven by CCs, or a clever array of LEDS that make glyphs or patterns can be arranged with your controls to provide novel, custom feedback that would never make it on Guitar Center’s shelves, but mean something special to you. The omni board provides enough physical limitation that you can think about a “chunk” of a controller and isolates parts of your project into digestible parts, and allows you to sensibly expand and modify your control surface with only 1 brain.

Why would you choose this over another platform?

Frankly there is no other platform for controller building that is this packed with features, well documented and supported, and easy to use. Since the release of Brain v1 three years ago we’ve spent a lot of time listening to our user’s requests, thinking about the features we’d like for our own use, and developing them into a platform for others to use. We didn’t spend much time looking at what else was out there, we looked for what wasn’t and tried to fill in those gaps. When it comes to building your own device, whether for creating music, controlling lights, or something else completely, there are really only other “solutions”, not platforms, which is what we intended to create.

Who is this not for?

If you are looking for an all-in-one solution for your dream controller but don’t want to do any of the labor, this is definitely not for you. We’ve really set out to create the most comprehensive platform that has the smallest learning curve. There are some other great solutions out there, but some of them either have a big learning curve or require programming to achieve results. If you have a smaller project and don’t care about MIDI, the ability to edit, expand, and have a long terms solution, there are certainly cheaper solutions out there. We tried to make the process more streamlined, feature packed, and have taken a lot of the guesswork out of it with Brain v2. With the addition of the Bus Board we’ve added things like resistors, transistors, and chips that make the building process much easier.

Quick start video:

Find out more:
http://lividinstruments.com/hardware_builder.php

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As smooth as Kenny

Do you care about anti-aliasing? Do you dream of snuggling up to its sort of crisp edges and mild performance hit? Or are jaggies an acceptable compromise in the name of RAW INCREDIBLE SPEEDY SPEED? It’s one of those things I find it increasingly hard to go without (though not as much as anisotropic filtering, missus) yet it’s always the first thing to go if a game’s not running so well on my ageing PC. Also, so many games don’t include a decent/any option for it in their settings, requiring me to have a fiddle in driver settings with variable results. Both NVIDIA and AMD are trying to change that, with newer anti-aliasing tech and the option to force it on globally in driver settings.
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CowboyRobot writes "Stanford's CPU DB project (cpudb.stanford.edu) is like an open IMDB for microprocessors. Processors have come a long way from the Intel 4004 in 1971, with a clock speed of 740KHz, and CPU DB shows the details of where and when the gains have occured. More importantly, by looking at hundreds of processors over decades, researchers are able to separate the effect of technology scaling from improvements in say, software. The public is encouraged to contribute to the project."


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What is the fastest adopted gadget of the past 50 years? It must have an Apple logo on it right? Nope. The boombox entered our lives quicker than the iPhone, Wii or Walkman. I had several including a massive Conion with an alarm system. Be sure to check out the Ghettoblaster flickr Group: click here. If you’re looking for the best modern take on a portable radio check out the Jambox or TDK Three Speaker Boombox. I always liked the idea of people blasting their music and forcing their loved art onto others. Oh well… back to my white earbuds.

“It’s the boombox. The boombox. This startling revelation was brought to light in a paper in the Journal of Management and Marketing Research. The conclusion is the result of checking the overall level of adoption of a variety of new technologies by the 7th year of their existence. The numbers show that the boombox was number one. For a little context, not only did it beat out the cellphone and the desktop computer but also every other variety of mobile music devices, of which I think we can all agree, the boombox is by far the least efficient and the most annoying.” – geekosystem.com

For more info: geekosystem.com/fastest-adopted-gadget

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