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Archive for March 2011


And then, there was light...

Finally got around to installing the rgb LEDs.  I decided to install some smaller 5mm ones I had laying around rather than the big monster LEDs I plan to install later.  These are simply there to allow me to start programming color sequences.  The bigger ones need a bigger battery and that is a battle for another day/week. Today I just wanted something pretty and simple to play around with right now.

I installed two for each hand; one forward facing and one that I can see at all times.  Why should the audience have all the fun!  The mouth interface has a couple that are set to respond to lip and breath pressure.  I cribbed that setup from the wx5.  Especially the lip, which shows me whether i am in tune or not.  Those two are kinda slow in reaction time currently, so there is an optimization session already in the making.

I haven’t assigned them to anything yet.  They are simply "on", which for me, right now, is enough because they look so cool.  But eventually, their functionality will be inseparable from the playability of the instrument.  With all of these sensors and parameters and sounds, there needs to be a cohesive way of making sense of it all that doesn't require looking at the laptop.  TouchOSC may be useful in that regard but color association, IMO, will be even more useful.

Funny...having lights on your hands makes you want to move your hands.  You can’t help it.  the effect is like having glowsticks with music coming out, which, as you can imagine, makes you want to make them move more, which makes more music come out and on and on.  Addictive.

And NOW baby is fully playable!  Fixed a few key assignments and changed the breath threshold settings so now even at low velocities, there is a bit more of a "punch" to the notes, and FAST! Finally got the timing to be quicker than the wx5. The trick was to use an object in PD called [threshold] which I made hold back all but one "bang".  Since the data is so abundant and forceful, my articulations are benefiting from what was, a week ago, a problem of too much data throughput.   The lip pressure is similar although my mouthpiece design needs a couple more generations of refinement to take advantage of it fully. Now that "pressure" gives the system a sound of its own.

now comes a diversification of time that includes, getting a gym membership ( gotta be fit for the debut party), language classes (FINALLY) at a school literally around the corner from where I live, finishing the book, and of course more coding and loads of sound design.  For the last duty, I just got a welcome gift from the maker of my primary synth host in the form of a new upgrade.  FL studio 10.  As upgrades go, this one is pretty conservative and concentrates on mostly refining an already great product, but the thing that peaked my interest is the addition of a plugin called Patcher which allows me to save my synth/effects/control settings, as one singular "instrument"!  Very big deal for me, as I create many dozens of synth/effect/control patches and being able to recall them easily is a holy grail for me and for Beatjazz.  I have experimented with many hosts for this very function and finally it seems that FL studio has added it!  This is right on time and I look forward to rinsing it this weekend.


Initial insights and next stages of Beatjazz controller development

Well, it’s been a couple of days since getting musical playability out of the controller.  I've discovered a few things.  First, this is NOT a wx5, the Yamaha wind midi controller I have played for the last 13 years.  It is definitely something else. Free hand positioning definitely changes the interaction with the instrument. Something a bit like drumming and dancing.  once I was able to get musical phrasing out of the instrument, the movements came, as if they had just been there waiting for the right instrument.  A number of strange gestures popped out in the last couple of days.  I thought I would naturally gravitate toward a more "glow-sticking" aesthetic, but I find that my hands want to emphasize the context of the element being played, more than elaborate flourish.  I am very interested to see where this leads. 

Thus, for all the bugs and glitches yet to be squashed, I will gig exclusively with the new instrument, until there is a significant reason not to.  The only way to get rid of the remaining bugs is to take it out and depend on it.  That’s how I made the transition from sax to wind controller all those years ago.   From hardware to software synth as well.  I am optimistic.  Many upgrades have been made in just the last week, since its birth a week and half ago;

·         both breath and lip pressure are working within usable limitations although there is much to do in this arena
·         Created an octave mechanism that takes account of the new design concept.
·         Moved controls around for better usage of limited finger motility.
·         Added bottle caps in the palm area to position the keys more strategically.

All of this has gotten me thinking about what "this" actually is. The Beatjazz controller is an abstraction wind controller-born performance habits, hardcoded into a physical form.  It’s very interesting, anthropologically.  For instance, when playing the wx5, I have my looper controlled by a key right next to my left index finger.  I only ever had to twitch my finger sideways a bit to trigger my looper.  Once I built the v2 prototype, I thought I’d be clever and replace that control with a thumb joystick...nope.  Didn’t work.  The thumb is already overworked.  So I placed the joystick near where the control is on the other instrument...nope.  I had to lift my finger to actuate it. So I create a special joy-knob specifically for that task...voila! It works perfectly.  And this is just one of the habits being hardcoded into this device.

The second interesting aspect of the development is how functions became super important only after the device was built; things I couldn't foresee.  For instance, with my hand strapped, in three positions, to the device.  There is limited finger motility (the ability to spontaneously and actively) so, say with the thumb controls, I hade to design a more "fanning" layout for the octaves rather than the more linear layout of the wx5.  As well, I feel that there is a "rummaging" of sort, of one’s library of unconscious body gestures.  Little movements and twitches that I can now measure with the sensors, and make musically relevant.

Along those lines, I created a "Beatjazz" mouthpiece last night.  In a perfect example of what I stated above, the result was different than the intention.  I needed a way of consolidate the breath tube and the force sensing resistor (FSR) that I am currently using as a lip pressure sensor.  The issue was that I needed a way for it to stay securely in my mouth while giving me a precise level of control over parameters like pitch and breath pressure.  Wind players call it an armature.  Before this, the one I made before was held in place by my lips, which made it hard to control pitch.  I needed something to "bite". The biting action on a mouthpiece, allows one to control mouth piece and lip positioning. 

So I sketched out a design that was angled and had a bite region.  I decided on guitar picks as the mounting elements because they are cheap, strong and "relatively" the size and shape of a woodwind mouthpiece.  I designed in a lip ridge at the top that would keep the mouthpiece from blowing out of my mouth by locking it behind my top lip.  And the whole thing is held together by my new favorite substance...HOT GLUE!  This stuff is great!!  I bought the glue gun at the beginning of the campaign but had no real reason to use it, until now.  I’ve read that its non-toxic (I hope) and it glues anything to ANYTHING!  And it makes a very strong flexible sub-structure for mouthpiece. And luckily has not "taste" which would suck.   This thing won’t be falling apart anytime soon.  And as a precautionary measure, I put a thin layer around the leading edge of the FSR, which is glued to a bike tire patch affixed to bottom of the mouthpiece, to keep any spit from ruining the sensor. 

so now with spring and warmer weather upon us, I will be out a little bit everyday, somewhere, testing and adding new features and fixing bugs in the only environment that really counts; performance!  Interspersed between these sessions will be the beginning of the phase II of the project; LIGHTS.  I’ll be adding the small LED's today, so I can dev my color synth and I will add the bigger lights later. This controller without the color synth is only half an instrument.  The variable color lights provide a parallel narrative and create a color/sound relationship that is very important to the concept I envision.  Can’t wait to show it to you.  Till then...


Design revision for the Controller

hot on the heels of the mk I prototype, i just finshed v2.  the first version was great in that it made the device real, but it was flawed in many fundamental ways.  the positioning of the thumb controls made it very hard to play.and because of the way it sat on my hand, i couldn't get to certain functions easilybecause my hand felt the need to "grip" when the hand should just be floating free.  that coupled with the fact that it was very bulky, like having chinese noodle boxes strapped to your hands.  so i knew this would have to be addressed as well.
i decided on a wedge design.  although i know it looks a bit like a cheesecake togo container:-)  having a narrow triangle allows my thumbs to be underneath my fingers in a manner most relative to playing sax.  a three point harness assures a snug fit to my hands with no looseness.  there is plenty of room for all the (trimmed) cables and batteries and whatnot.  and the very thick cardboard i bought, is very strong and stiff as well as cheap and easy to use. after cutting it to the proper folding shape, i used a razor blade to score all the cut lines so folding was super easy and the result is very professional feeling.  so much so that when i release this project into the wild as open source, this will be the design that gets included as the defacto design, for those that don't use carbon fiber;-)  i made a little triangle box for the mouth unit too. and finally got a decent tube. right now it hangs around my neck with upcoming versions being headmounted.

NOW, i can play the thing!  before, i could make sound, but now i can play it.  i have discovered some inefficiencies in my midi implementation.  weird glitchy stuff with my drums that will be easily rectified with a simple solution that i'm unaware of.  probably related to the issue of gross amounts of sensor data since turning off the code that slows the data down.  now i have high speed data,but its too fast.  so that will be the mission for the near term. 

the system is in decent enough form to interject it sparringly into my busking repetoire. i'll just keep using it side by side with the wx5 (for reference) until it is refined enough to replace it.  we shall see...


Introducing the "ONYX" Beatjazz Controller Prototype Mk I

well, kids, here it is, FINALLY. Introducing the "ONYX" beatjazz controller MkI prototype. I'm not going to lie. i was a bit emotional when i put together the second hand unit. i just couldn't believe "it" was in my hands, finally, after all these years of dreaming about it, it was in my hands and that felt surreal.

the name change was obvious once i was actually holding it. TRON was a big part of the inspiration, but now, in reality, the system is more than just an "inspired by" concept. it's its own reality and i wanted a real name that reflected that. and besides, i don't want disney to start sending letters in the mail, so its best to just start using the new name now.

so, as you can see, there are two hand units and a mouth unit.  the hand units here are made out of paper mache.  i really dig this stuff for prototyping.  its cheap and strong and very easy to adapt after the fact.  the main part of the design is the hand strap.  it houses the accelerometer and keeps my hand is constant contact with the units.  in this way i can play the keys in a horn like manner instead of having to "grip" or hold the units.  the "final" version (there willnever be a final version but the version that i will use from mid-april forward) will be much more ergonomic. 

the "keys" are force sensing resistors (FSR).  these are touch sensitive pressure sensors that allow a great degree of touch sensitivity.  so far, i have assigned them as keys and for program changes if you push the them forcefully and there is still a great range of sensitivity to play with.  each unit as a 3 axis accelerometer which is, after my time with touchOSC, a necessity to how i creat music now.  they have a different feel to those in the iphone.  they loiter around the middle of their range until a burst of motion in one of thre directions, pushes them to the extremes of their range.  i can see how theis will be helpful over time.  i plan to use the left hand y-axis as an octave changer until i make the next design revision because the positioning on the paper mache model is uncomfortable.  this is the benefit of creating ones own controller out of sensors; the artist can quickly and easily adapt the system to their needs.

the underlying system that handles all of this is pure data.  pure data has,included with it, a piece of code that interfaces directly with the arduino microprocessor,called, creatively, [arduino]  this interacts with a sort of arduino OS called firmata which lets pure data see all whats plugged into the arduino.  i have been secretly terrified for weeks that this tiny little processor, which only runs at 8mhz would choke on all the analog sensor data i was sending thru it.  and even if it didnt, i didnt know whether pduino (the system which encompasses the arduino object and firmata) would be able to deal with it as fast as i am capable of playing.  but soon after assembling the system and testing it, i bypassed a couple of safety routines and it not only MUCH faster than my wx5, but with a 15% drop in cpu than with the safetys enabled!  that along with each unit having its own base station radio, has resulted in a seriously powerful system that doesnt put too much load on any one thing.

 i am still a freaked by that. based on the trials and tribualtions of the last couple of weeks, i was all ready for another week or two of hacking, to get it to be fast and stable enough for live performance.  in fact everything has accelerated since that point.  i was able to refine the midi system to allow breath sensitivity in a few hours and today i smoothed out the note system so now smooth and forceful playing styles are possible and i dont even have the right "breath"(pressure) sensor yet!  the one i have requires to much breath to get it to go thru its full range.  if i get everything nice in the next day or so, i plan to canibalize the wx5 for its superior pressure sensor.

the mouth unit so far is a tube inside an old LED bike light.  underneath, i am using another fsr as a lip pressure sensor, which i am REALLY stoked about.  previously iwas going to use a mechanical system than was going to be a pain in the ass to build.  this is simple and very sensitive.  although now i must water proof the fsr to keep from spitting it to death.

in general, at this point, the system works but is really rudimentary.  waaaaay too much wire, finger positioning is not optimal, which is distracting and i am finding the concept of playing sax fingerings with complete hand freedom to be more disorienting than i had anticipated.needless to say, i will be busking ALOT from this week forward, to get more acquainted with this new sytle.  but right now, i just hold my hands in sax position.

tonight and tommorrow i will add more octaves and fingerings and get the functionality to at least that of the wx5.  from there i will start working on the feedback system which consists of a lilypad buzzer and the thinkM MaxM LED lights.  both of thes should be easily accomplished in a day. i will also attack the rats nest of wires that fill the units now.  i'll be refining the guts so that i have indictor lights and the on/off swith is on the outside.  from there its is play-code, play-code, play-code til...well, til from now on because this is the new reality; an infinitely variable controller! 

I will be doing a couple of "alpha" sessions starting this week, so if you dont already, follow me on twitter or facebook and i will be posting the venue details for each session.  there will be MANY in anticipation of the debut party in May,so feel free to come check it all out. 


Masochism?!...Theres an app for that! (tales from the beatjazz controller project)

Duuude!!  What the fuck!!  Screw "WTF", no really...What the fuck!?!  This last two weeks has been a hellish necessity.  "hellish" because of my profound ignorance about the subject matter I have undertaken and "necessity" because, in the end, I ended up right where I should be at this point, and more or less on schedule, if not a bit ahead of schedule. But FUCK!  I had to work for it!! 

Back in January, I met up with my friend Uli and was talking about my upcoming campaign to which he said, “hey, let’s do it in carbon fiber..." to which I pissed myself, cried and collapsed into the floor, simultaneously.  Before this point, my project was going to be PVC pipe and lots of wire.  So this suggested a rethink of my design, which prompted the idea of going all wireless.  So cool...don't know how or what but cool. After much research (Google is my partner in this venture in every way.  If it were a person, we'd be married...or having an affair...) I found components that allowed me to do what I wanted seemingly easily.  

I knew I wanted to use the arduino platform because of the wealth of open source tutorials and documentation that would help me do this project.  I settled on a wireless version called a "Fio" which stands for "Funnel I/O”. It has wireless capabilities derived from a tiny, inexpensive and very powerful radio transmitter called an "Xbee".  These are the size of a really big thumbnail and have built in networking capabilities.  The Fio has a "shoe" for one built onto it.  The concept being to create a personal area wireless network consisting of left and right hand units, each capable of sending their respective "sax" fingerings, and a mouth unit that would interpret breath and lip pressure.  these wireless "nodes" would send their data back to a "base station" xbee receiver that would serve the data into my favorite dream maker, pure data., where it would be assembled to look like one instrument and sent on to my synthesizers.  Simple...

First issue.  There needed to be a server on the computer to interpret the data from the three fio's.  Now, at this point I should note that I am what we in the southern US call, “hard-headed others would call it "determined" or "tenacious" but it all comes to the same point; i don't like being told what i can’t do.  All my research was telling me that I could not (at my current skill level) create the 3-to-1 wireless network I had envisioned.  I was flustered.  I had bought all these components only to find out that it was harder than expected to parse all the data coming into the computer.  I also discovered that 10-20 channels of high speed, high resolution analog sensor data was going to choke the shit out of that little base station at the speeds I needed it to operate at (1-6ms latency). oh, yeah, and all that data was going to be pure serial data and not the wonderfully refined "firmata/pduino" system I thought I’d be using (firmata is an OS for the arduino that speaks to  pduino on the computer, and pduino only accepts one comport input at a time).  What to do....what to do....what to do?!?!

I discovered an ingenious system called Sense stage.  I decided not to use the system in the end.  It’s not bad. It’s in a sort of beta stage and the developer was extremely nice in helping me get it running.  It was cleverly designed, although a bit academic for my needs.   It made use of the fio’s and created a multipoint wireless network specifically for the performing arts.  All automatically assigned serial codes and clever routing.  It is available for windows, osx and Linux but the windows version could not interact with the server at this time (soon to come).  And I don’t have a mac, so I decided to give the Linux version a try (side note on Linux; really?   No...Really?  I always thought of myself as a geek but no...I am a tourist.  Real geeks go for Linux and I am not worthy.  The most inexplicably obtuse system I have ever experienced on a computer.  it’s as if someone said, "Hey let's use a system so fucking confusing that no one but real geeks will ever go near it!"  The technological equivalent of placing the bodies of your vanquished enemies on stakes around your castle.  That being said, I learned a lot about how computers REALLY work and plan to investigate it at a slower pace than what is available to me now.)

so I trudged thru the hellish installs, then had to find and compile drivers for a wireless card so I could download all the other shit I needed, THEN, downloaded an apache server, all the quarks and .tarz and what-the-fucks- FROM A COMMANDLINE (which means to type in the commands that make certain functions work), and THEN bugged the shit out of the developer for 4 days STRAIGHT.  He even updated his website based on my questions and feedback.  Got it all installed and...IT WORKED!! There were all three nodes.  Everything was configurable on the computer.  It was lovely, but s-l-o-w.  The computer, donated by a friend last year, did the job, but wasn't really up to the task of serving multiple streams of real-time server data.  Coupled with the finding that the developer had hardcoded a latency of 50ms into the system for stability, which is more than fine for dance or lighting.  For reference, I usually have 2-5ms latency when I play.  When it gets to 7ms, it starts to get...hmmm...let’s call it "chewy".  At <10ms, it’s just tedious. 50ms is like playing an instrument from across an auditorium.  Not the droid I’m looking for... I’m back to square one.  I’ve killed off a week with that excursion, but I gleaned some valuable info along the way.  After discussing the issue with another developer, I decided to try just using the xbee's by themselves, 3-to-1 (one radio, no Fio, for each hand and the mouth unit).  Each radio has 10 pins of input/output so I could “get by” with just that.  So I went and got some boards to connect the radios by themselves but they are much lower level type of programming than the arduino's.  You’re talking to the machine at this point, which involved serial command, reading packet data and understanding hexadecimal numbers (which I have a better understanding of now).  Coupled with having to create a battery charging system, AND still have to deal with parsing converged serial data on the computer, before I can do ANYTHING. I had to simplify. 

I figured I can over simplify now and refine everything later.  So I decided the easiest means would be radio to radio. Rather than 3-to-1, it would be 3, 1-to-1 networks. One set for the left hand, transmitter and base station, one set for the right and a set of xbee's for the mouth unit.  Okaaaayyyyy!  This was looking more promising.  Now I had three independent streams of parsing necessary.  Now I just needed to get them all into pure data.  I only have 4 radios so I made two into base stations and two into remote nodes (I’ll get the final two radios later this week).  I opened pure data, opened a comport for one, and *pop* it opens as expected, I open a comport for the other one that is plugged in and surprise surprise, it opens as well!  I didn't know that it would accept two comport inputs simultaneously! Big revelation!

hmmm...if it opens the comports maybe it'll open the pduino objects as well and lo and behold it did! Yaaaaay!!! but the radio to radio system was just as tedious as the 3-to-1 system, so it occurred to me, that since I can open multiple comports I could just use the arduino's I already have, in a 1-to-1 configuration and give each node its own port, hence my insane joy.  It not only works, but works extremely well; no data bottleneck because each arduino has its own comport and base station.  Although if I had known what I was doing, i could have come to this conclusion weeks ago.  Thus is life.

So there it is.  The system works.  I won’t know how well until I assemble the units and attempt to play it, so today I go get the circuit board stuff so I can start getting it all ready to mount into playable units.  It should be in a playable "alpha-alpha" stage by Thursday and then starts the next phase which is refinement of the software systems and creation of the looping system.  I will try to post more often for the remainder of the project.  I felt the need to encapsulate the last period for completion sake.  Future posts will be much more bite-sized than this one. I’ll report back soon.


this will be a "web" "log" after todays last "proper" post

i must apologize.  there is a whole crazy mental drama going on with this project that i feel the need to share.  not right now though.  right now i'm going to sleep.  then i'm going to get up and write one of my constructed,flowing joints.  THEN, i'm going to just vomit thoughts and feelings and notes onto this blog until the end of the project.  nite nite...

Progress is exausting!

nope, no OVER EXCITED exaltations of how wonderful everything is.  no pretty shots of electronic componentry (ok...just one).  no ruminations on the future of live music performance.  nope...there is only code, and flow charts and mind maps on serial communication, AT commands, actionscript, proccessing, and java classes.  lest we not leave out learning that most computers come with a calculator that can convert decimal numbers to Hex and learning to read and use system exclusive and OSC.  now, i would be lying if i said that i'm not into this stuff.  I am.  i find this stuff to be amazingly interesting and must pinch myself daily to my great fortune to have been born at this point in history to be able to do it, but WOW, FUCKING WOW! The Rabbit hole has no bottom!

there are worlds within worlds of this shit on the internet!  you cant believe!  forums where people chat about the intricacies of this stuff the way you or i might chat about...well, theres not really any comparison.  its deep, DEEP.  the further i go in, the more i ask questions that make my brain almost shutdown, i find that my question is that of a virgin "noob" (new-bie; some one who is new to the game) and doesnt even warrant a response until i bug the shit out of everyone until some one throws me a tid-bit of info that to them is some throw away shit yet to me, is the most valuable bit of text known to man!  I have a healthy ego and i like me, but i am truly humbled.  all i can say is wow!  i am not worthy and i must go forward much more apprentice-like.

thats not to say that things arent happening. And i fully expected, and honestly, looked forward to these issues.  i recieved the larger FSR's (force sensing resistors) this week.  these are the sensors i will be using as "keys" on my instrument.  i chose them because i will be a ble to program variable levels of functionality into one key which, creatively, excites me.  and with these sensors, i now have 99% of what i need to create the controller, the one hold out being the breath sensor, i am waiting to show up in the mail.

I must apologize at the dearth of updates this week.  i am working on the underlying concept of the instrument; a 3 way wireless network. left hand, right hand and mouth unit.  This will be the definitive aspect of the system so i want to focus on doing it properly.  without going to deep into it, i've got to use some code that was gracisously shared with me by an American developer named Robert Guyser, to determine how to parse data from the 3 nodes in my "network" then create a pure data patch (program) that will look for the same packet structure and split the data stream up into pieces that pure data can understand.  so, i might miss a few days of facebook updates.  i hope thats ok.

so if you are wondering where i am for the next week, now you know.  the next "GREATEST POST IN THE WORLD, LOL!!LMAO, YAAAAY!!" post will come when i get the network functioning.  which should be in about a week. have a great weekend!

EDIT: found a system that may create a perfect basis for my programming BUT it doesnt like windows, so, its beginning to look alot like Linux...and the plot thickens...

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