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It starts as just another toy to play around with in a few minutes of distraction in your Web browser – as if the Web were short on distraction. But then, something amazing can happen. Like a musical Turing Test, you start to get a feeling for what’s happening on the other side. Someone’s stream of colored dots starts to jam with your stream of colored dots. You get a little rhythm, a little interplay going. And instead of being a barrier, the fact that you’re looking at simple animations and made-up names and playing a pretty little tune with complete strangers starts to feel oddly special. The absence of normal interpersonal cues makes you focus on communicating with someone, completely anonymously, using music alone.

Dinah Moe’s “Plink” is the latest glimpse of what Web browser music might be, and why it might be different than (and a compliment to) other music creation technology. You can now create private rooms to blow off steam with a faraway friend, or find new players online. It’s all powered with the Web Audio API, the browser-native, JavaScript-based tools championed by Mozilla. That means you’ll need a recent Chrome or Firefox (Chrome only at the moment; this is a Chrome Experiment), and mobile browsers won’t be able to keep up. But still, give it a try – I think you may be pleasantly surprised. (Actually, do it right now, as you’ll probably be doing it with other CDM readers. I expect greater things!)

http://labs.dinahmoe.com/plink/

Thanks to Robin Hunicke, who worked with multiplayer design and play at That Game Company’s Journey on PS3 and now on the browser MMO Glitch. I think her friends were more musical than most, because the place came alive after she linked from Facebook.

The browser is becoming a laboratory, a place to quickly try out ideas for music interaction, and for the code and structure that describe music in a language all their own. As in Plink, it can also benefit from being defined by the network and collaboration.

Dinah Moe’s experiments go in other directions, as well. In Tonecraft, inspired by the 3D construction metaphor of Minecraft, three-dimensional blocks become an alternative sequencer.

http://labs.dinahmoe.com/ToneCraft/

There are many reasons not to use Web tools. The Web Audio API still isn’t universal, and native options (like Google’s Native Client) have their own compatibility issues, stability concerns, and – because of security – they don’t do all the things a desktop application will. Desktop music tools are still more numerous, more powerful, and easier to use, so if you’re a reader out there finishing a thesis project, you might look elsewhere. (Actually, you’re probably in trouble, anyway, by any nation’s academic calendar, given it’s the First of May, but I digress.)

But think instead of this as another canvas, and the essential building blocks of interface design, code, and networking as shared across browsers and desktop apps. Somehow, in the light of the Internet, its new connectedness, and its new, more lightweight, more portable code and design options, software is changing. That transformation could happen everywhere.

If you need something to help you meditate on that and wait for a revelation to occur to you, I highly recommend watching a soothing stream of dots and some pleasing music as you jam with your mouse.

Of course, in the end, like a digital mirror, it might inspire you to go out to the park with a couple of glockenspiels and jam the old-fashioned way. But maybe that’s another reason to make software.

(Here’s a video, in case you’re not near a browser that supports the app!)

More, plus reflections on adaptive music:
http://labs.dinahmoe.com/

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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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FRACT is a curious combination of music studio and puzzle game, merging elements of games like Myst with the sorts of synths and pattern editors you’d expect somewhere like Ableton Live. You have to make sounds and melodies to solve puzzles; by the end of the game, say the creators, you’re even producing original music. The work of a small student team out of Montreal, FRACT looks like it has all the makings of an underground indie hit – at least for music nerds.

As the creators describe it:

FRACT is a first person adventure game for Windows & Mac much in the vein of the Myst titles, but with an electro twist. Gameplay boils down to three core activities: Explore, Rebuild, Create. The player is let loose into an abstract world built on sound and structures inspired by electronic music. It’s left to the player to explore the environment to find clues to resurrect and revive the long-forgotten machinery of this musical world, in order to unlock its inner workings. Drawing inspiration from Myst, Rez and Tron, the game is also influenced by graphic design, data visualization, electronic music and analog culture.

The hub of the game is a virtual studio, collecting patterns and timbres. It’s right now in prototype phase, but it already looks visually stunning, an alien, digital world in which more-conventional step-sequencer views seem to emerge from futuristic landscapes. And you can spot Pd in the background (the free and open source patching tool, Pure Data), so libpd seems a must. That enables synths with sounds like phase modulation and classic virtual analog sounds, all modulating and generating sounds in-game.

The developers have also published plenty of sound samples so you can experience the musical side of this. Via SoundCloud:

While never released, one place some similar ideas has shown up is a prototype game inspired by Deadmau5. As in this title, two-dimensional editing screens and synth parameters are mapped to a first-person, three-dimensional environment. However, FRACT appears to take this concept much further, expanding upon the world, building more instruments, and actually turning those interactions into gameplay elements. The video of the Deadmau5 project – apparently done in-house for fun and not endorsed by the mouse-headed artist:

That title was the work of a game house called Floaty Hybrid; music blog Synthtopia got the scoop on this in August:
http://www.floathybrid.com
Mau5Bot Sequencer Lets You Make Music In A 3D World [Synthtopia]

We’ll be watching this one develop, certainly; good luck to the team!
http://fractgame.com/

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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.

Previously:
Subcycle: Multitouch Sound Crunching with Gestures, 3D Waveforms

And lots more info on the blog for the project:
http://www.subcycle.org/

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Pictured: Loopseque, in final form (top) and sketched on paper (bottom). Images courtesy the developers; visit them on Flickr.

Saturday afternoon in Toronto, I’m giving a talk to the North by Northeast festival on music software and tablets. I’ll explain a bit about what tablets are about, and some of the software that’s out there on the landscape (principally, of course, on the iPad). But I hope to emphasize a deeper issue: how you design software for the tablet, and what’s unique about this convergence of form factor and touch interface. I mean this generically for a reason: on CDM, we covered some of these ideas before even the announcement of the iPhone, and I was an early (and skeptical, I might add) reviewer of the JazzMutant Lemur.

Even looking beyond that, I hope to talk a bit about how representing music graphically has been an essential part of human practice, not only beyond the iPad, but beyond even the current notational system as derived from the Western church. Talk about early tablets: the first known music notation appeared in ancient stone Greek and Byzantine tablets. (On weight and thinness, I don’t think they compete with the iPad.)

That sounds lofty, especially for a potentially-hungover crowd of musicians and designers on a Saturday, so here’s the executive summary: you don’t have to make a bunch of fake knobs.

I’m really mostly curious to start a conversation about design; ideally, I’ll get some designers showing up here in Toronto, but it’s time to make that conversation happen on the Web, too.

With that in mind, I’m curious:

What software designs – iPad or otherwise – have you seen that have most inspired you, in terms of the way the interface was designed?

Fair game: sound toys, music notation (really), art pieces, games, control surfaces … whatever you like.

I’ll post notes from my presentation by early next week, because I’ll probably be assembling it at the last minute it’s already totally done and perfect and rehearsed and I just wouldn’t want to spoil it.

Pictured: Loopseque; previously on CDM

Also, because I’m a huge fanboy of circles in general (as readers of this site know), I love this image and blog post from Loopseque. They didn’t exactly invent the idea of visualizing loops as circles, but let’s join this revolution.
Another step in the evolution of music interface [Loopseque Blog]

Honestly, if tablets are nothing other than an excuse to ask these questions again, all the better – and there’s no reason not to then apply what you’ve learned to computers, embedded hardware, analog hardware, paper notation – anything.

If anyone would like to start a circles versus rectangles fanboy platform war, troll away! I’ll start:

stupd circle &*(&$s you losers got not edges. serious muzos have right angles. go play with your dumba** frisbee shaped toys that dont have even no sides on them and see if you can even figure out PI LOLZ pie like something youd eat its not even a rational number whatevss
real pros use polygons

whaaaa??? ow did someone just hurt on their foursided pointy pointy pointy edge? shoulda used a circle, youd be happier :P :P r4d1us 4 l1f3

Seriously, definitely let me know what new interfaces you’ve found inspiring lately, and I’ll be sure to credit you in my talk!

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