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Archive for April 2011


9,900 hours to go!

What an amazing week!  Thanks for all the wonderful feedback about the system.  I’m really excited that it’s been so well received. 

According to Malcolm Gladwell's book, "The Outliers" he presented the concept that with the investment of approximately 10,000 hours of focus, one becomes an expert, and he gave many very strong examples. Being a busker, I agree.  There are just many things that I do now that I can only do because I obsessively find places to play, while creating income for myself with my "pay-what-you-want" CD.  Playing is more important right now, than trying to maximize income.  Playing ALOT is the only way that this system will become second nature.

On that tip, I have been going around to a few places here in Berlin, un-booked, just to rinse new sounds and new gestural constructs (my term for the combination of hand/body position and playing that results in a particular sound).  The other night at RufReaktor (Landsberger Alle 54), I set up my small system in one of the unoccupied dark, graffiti covered corridors, a few floors below the venue. I had a couple of cats checking out what I was doing when another guy comes up the stairs, sees us, and comes over.  he stands there for a sec trying to make out what I’m doing and looks at the guy closest to him and asks, "Is this for real?!" in the straightest, most honest voice I’ve ever heard! No assumptions.  Just a simple question.  I was honored.  I stopped right then and built a new sonic-construct, slowly, for his benefit.

That was one of 4 Q&A's last week, including Sabia Khans "an Artist Talk" at Tacheles, and a few un-planned post-performance sessions.  I may try to find a way to either incorporate such sessions into my performance concept OR, refine my presentation so as to negate the need to have such a session.

On THAT tip, this week I install the big babies in the controllers.  My BlinkM MaxM rgb LED arrays!  The lights I use right now are rated at around 8,000mcd (millicandela and no, I don't know what that means either)...the BlinkM's?! 435,000mcd!! Don’t come to the show without your shades and I ain’t joking!!  Why?  Because I don't want "indicator" lights, I want shockingly bright, swirling balls of energy! I'm a bit of a hippie and I have ingested, at life affirming quantities, a fair amount of LSD and Mushrooms over the years.  One aspect that I always enjoyed the most was the synesthetic aspects of music and psychedelics.  One can "see" the music, and I really wanted to share that with people without the expense or anxiety of giving everyone acid.  my theory is that the dark environments, coupled with the color synth I am designing, and brightness, should approximate synesthesia, or "seeing sound as color"  that's the theory at least, come to RufReaktor this weekend (April 30th) and let me know if my theory was correct.

I am using these lithium polymer bad boys to power the system. They are designed for remote controlled helicopters.  They are freakishly powerful. So much so that I am going to have to acquire an external charger for them, as the ones built into the arduino's, can’t deal with them.  but I’m gonna have to do much running around to find transistors that will do what I need them to do and my temporarily dissipating German language skills aren’t helping. 

The massive changes in the last couple of weeks have brought to light another issue.  I have no relevant pictures!  All my promo stuff is me with my wx5.  I hope to rectify that this week as I start compiling content for the TRON controller campaign DVD.  There will be loads of mind maps, videos, pics, the book AND the only release of the open source patches and schematics (before MAKE mag prints it in Sept)...everything!  There will only EVER be 15 of this DVD made and it is for the contributors without whom I would not have been able to complete this project.

I must do a new "pay what you want" CD this week, as well.  I learned a lot about "what" this disc actually is-less "CD with data" than "digital goodie bag".  I will load up the new disc with some of my TouchOSC patches, samples...all kinds of stuff.  I hope to have it ready by Friday.

And I am nearing the 2/3's mark on the completion of the book.  Just started on “theory and concept”. This is the section I am most passionate about.  If you are interested in checking out some of what I have written so far, msg me and I will add you to the private Facebook group I have for it.

And finally, this week I will add an "inhale" mode to the controller.  The pressure sensor I use has a "blow" port and a "suck" port (which, for obvious reasons shall be referred to as "exhale" and "inhale") and I realized that I could use the inhale port to literally double my controller functions!  Exhale (blow) to play and inhale to create new parameter and effects settings for when I exhale again.  It’ll be the bizzaro alternative universe, because I can just copy my existing system and set it to control stuff besides notes.  For instance, when I inhale and play a c#, that can be “turn on distortion” then I blow, and I have distortion assigned to my effects position, or a combination of effects.  Very excited to get started on this!  Hope to have it functional by the weekend.

So there is the previous week and the upcoming week, in a nutshell.  Cheers for the support, but the best is yet to come.  Holla...


THIS is BeatJazz!

NOTE: This is the "the one". If you have ever or never shared one of my videos with someone, I feel like this one should be that one.  I say that because additional attention can help me finish building the system in the manner it desires to be manifested.

Last Sunday should have been like any other Sunday-busk-at-tacheles-and-test-shit session, but it may mark the first point where Beatjazz and its instrument because "real" in a sonic sense.  
Apparently, there was a massive orange moon this last weekend.  Coupled with the warm weather, vibes were good but something was a bit more "electric" in the air.  I decided to wear my Beatjazz t-shirt, which I usually only wear at shows.  And I had spent the week, programming the new parameters, like chord-ability, sound selection grid and gestural effects and practicing them all at home so on this Sunday-a usually quiet day at Tacheles- I could just work thru sound-constructs.

The previous night, I had presented the system for the first time on a large sound system and it was very well received although I was slightly frustrated by the lack of usable range from my wireless system, but any wireless is better than no wireless, so I hovered around my "base station" and did my set. I won’t describe the response.  I will save that for the part two video.

On the Sunday though, I was ready to drop a few new sounds and work on chord structuring.  Rather than describe music, I’ll describe the feeling. I underestimated the effect that parameterizing ones gestures would have on my performance psyche.  Now that most of the big bugs are worked out a bit and I’ve had a week or so the practice it in this form, it stops feeling like an instrument.  I mean, the controllers are strapped to my hands...I don't "hold" them.  They are just there and my fingers just move.  And when I breathe, sounds come out.  That’s the feeling.  There is no feeling of playing...only breathing.

Simultaneously, the idea of "beats" is quickly disintegrating into a cloud of rhythm concepts.  I feel and hear an emerging "syntax" that I had not fully expected.  It sounds a lot like language even though it is supposed to be keeping the time of the loop.  This is going to be a very interesting area as this idea merges with designing sounds for this syntax.  

Now, rhythm insinuates movement, which comes involuntarily, which makes you want to play rhythms to emphasize that movement, so there is an evolutionary recursion thing happening that is surreal to be at the center of.  Concurrently, the ability to flick a switch and play chords, monophonically, on any instrument, is surprising in that the chord syntax is more "angular" than I had imagined.  Playing each note of a chord, at rhythmic intervals creates really interesting harmonic pulls.  There were a few accidentally dissonant moments that I am really glad I recorded so I can study and recreate them.

All in all, it feels like being directly interfaced with sound.  An appendage that is simply a voice that speaks a language you didn't know that you knew.  I recorded most of the afternoon’s constructs, the best of which will be mastered and be compiled as part of the Beatjazz Controller Campaign EP that I create exclusively for contributors to my last campaign.  I was so lucky that filmmaker Tom Pue happened to be filming my entire set with his iphone4.  The quality of the colors is breathtaking.  The graffiti JUMPS out and I am very grateful that he came by the crib and shared it with me (because Apple are assholes and make it ridiculously hard to share self created video and audio content between phones).  Thank you Tom!

this week is a lot of visa stuff to sort out, but in the midst of this stuff (if you understand German tax stuff, contact me), I plan to add more functions and sounds to the system and next week I start re incorporating my voice into the system with some updated vocal systems I’ve been working on.  


Gestural presets and monophonic chords

And it don't stop!!  This was the reason i was so over the moon yesterday!  small additions but very major over the long term.

  Very happy with the state of the system.  Things are much more stable now.  I have emulated everything I found useful in my wx5 based system so I decided it’s time to start making the improvements that made me want to build my own controller system in the first place.

The first of these improvements is a gestural preset selection system; a means of using a hand flick or key combination to select between a small number of relative sounds in each sound category (drums, bass, keys, leads, etc).  In the past, I have been locked into 1 or 2 velocity switched variations of sounds because either having too many in memory, overloaded my CPU or the preset systems I had access to were not optimized for being used in such a dynamic fashion.  Sometimes I need to jump from upright bass to minimoog bass to drums and back to upright, without having to go thru a convoluted process that is optimized for someone sitting at a computer with a multi-knobbed control surface. 

It is this reason that my sounds have remained so static for so long which was the exact opposite of what I had intended with this style.  so I did a bit of research and found that Pure data handles these types of dynamically access data structures, easily, so created a system using arrays, which are graphical tables, like a spreadsheet, that hold a number and its position.  You can store as many or as few as you like.  For my purposes, I only needed very simple tables with 2-4 variables each.  now I can mute and un mute synths and effects easily and if I decide to change synths or effects in that slot, the mutes don't change, although now I program more in the synth itself than in the host, which helps my system be more agnostic.

The other is much simpler but more important in the long run; monophonic chords.  For the past few years, I have used either chord patches or chord synths to create my chords.  This has irked me for a really long time.  Beatjazz is improvisational and dynamic but this was the one thing that isn’t made up on the spot which has been a touchy point for me.  You can’t be truly free if you keep having to revisit the same chord structures, keys and intervals.  There’s still LOADS of freedom but it’s not real freedom.

last fall, when I finally squeezed pure data in between my wx5 and my synth host , I was finally able to make use of the [sustain] object which stops all note-off messages until you send it a [0] at its right input.  That was very freeing.  Although the limitations of the wx5 kept it as more of a novelty than a tool.  now that I have the Beatjazz controller, there is no spoon and I have created a subroutine that adds sustain to the entire system, instantiated by the joystick I use to control the looper, so now I can have chords for not just keys, but bass, horns, leads...anything on the system, easily turned on and off without having to think about it too much.

This has led to the mass downloading of harp and piano method books to go along with the sax modal and blues scale books.  so it looks like once the primary development of this system is stable, most of my time for the next couple of years, will be spent studying scales and chord structure but I take solace in knowing that John Coltrane owed much of his style to the study of harp method, so at least it won’t be in vain.


Personal Singularities and The Post-Futuristic Conundrum

Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.

After a few well chosen tweaks to the system, the Beatjazz controller has replaced my wx5 permanently!  There is no going back.  in fact, once I create the next two versions-one as backup and one for the TRON Beatjazz controller contributor without whom I would not have gotten this one built, (thank all of you again and again!!), I plan to sell the wx5 and never look back, in the same way that I have never considered ever switching back to saxophone.

Amongst this week’s geek-tweaks, I devised a simple method for getting 5 octave positions from a joystick this week, and that was the little tweak that put the playability... no, GIGGABILITY over the threshold.  Center position is middle C (C3), moving the thumb "west" is C4, and "north" is C5.  Then "east” is C2 and "south" is C1.  So simple and so effective.  I can practice my scales again and play long, multi-octave lines.  In fact, surprisingly, the joysticks are the secret sauce.  They are basically 5 toggle switches in one unit; with "straight down" being the 5th one in addition to the above mentioned positions.  They effectively solved a problem in some aspect of the system where only 1 digital input can be registered at a time.  And it gives my brain something to latch onto when I practice.  So much so that now my entire interface concept is FSR's and joysticks and nothing else.  I am tickled by the efficiency.

I implemented my HUD (Heads Up Display) concept this week as well.  It’s the best looking part of the system.  The sci-fi geek in me was so turned on when I saw the all the parameter objects blinking and flashing.  Shit like this makes being a geek addictive!!  I need a way of keeping track of what is and isn’t happening at any given moment because the controller is just a series of sensors and switches so when something stops working, which it has done with such frequency that I now carry my soldering iron with me, I need to quickly be able to see what it is.  There are indicators for each FSR, breath, lip, each joystick and the accelerometers, all star trekked out in TouchOSC.  Eventually, they will be shown to me thru my goggles but for now, my iphone has moved over to my left forearm.  

I will have to get a bit more info over time, but initial indications are that element color association, works.  I heard the chatter of some of the tourists I played for at Tacheles, and they mentioned the color changes in association with what they "think" I am doing.  They don't fully grasp that it’s a sound shift, but they do start to look out for the colors in association with what they are hearing as opposed to it simply being "flourish"

One observation of note is the increased occurrence of what can only be called the "WTF!?-look".  Don’t get me wrong...I’m used to it.  I’ve been getting it for years, to some degree. But in most instances, people could create and extrapolate some form of relativity simply based on the fact that I was playing something that "looked" like a horn of some sort.  From there, they could grasp that I am "playing" the sounds in a fashion that they would consider as playing.  But now, there are lights and things strapped to my hands and a box around my neck and hands flying everywhere and sound coming and going and they are a bit freaked, by the look on their faces.

I’ve pondered this at length for the last few days.   When something in the now, outstrips your concept of futuristic.  I am currently calling it "post-futuristic".  If you think about it, "futuristic" is actually pretty "now".  Otherwise, it’s magic.  Say, for instance, flying cars.  You have "flying" and you have "cars"...both concepts you can grasp, but what happens if you have, say, quantum non-location where a quantum particle is in two separate places simultaneously. And use that as a travel metaphor. You are "here" and "there" simultaneously?  At that point you think, "Whoa, whoa...I was just vibing on the flying cars! This other thing is too much!" THAT is the look I’ve been getting in the last few days, and I haven’t even implemented the freaky shit yet!  This is even after I open one of the units up and do a brief show and tell, which, ironically, doesn't help one bit.

I think that if maybe, it was Jean Michel Jarre or Daft Punk or someone with lots of money and a big stage, it would be more digestible.  But, I imagine, you're walking around Tacheles on vacation, you weren’t even slightly expecting to see THIS.  And, to be honest, the looks on their faces are pure gold!  I have never been so entertained as an artist.  Just playing and watching people try to make sense of what they are seeing and hearing is better than any movie I have seen in a really long time.  

I do worry at times that I may never get above a certain point in my career trajectory though.  Freaking people out is wildly entertaining, but I don't know how sound of a career path it is yet.  I had thought that by "being" interesting, that people would gravitate to what I am doing, but that doesn't "seem" to be the case, although I have been wrong before. Maybe 5% of all the people I am connected with online, ever even see any of these projects or read these posts.  There is certain...aura around those that have social currency.  For some, it is natural and for others it is paid for.  It doesn't "seem" to be something one ("I") can just create.  it is...scary, for an artist who refuses to be a hobbyist and who refuses to "tone down" their art, and believe’s about to get WAY freakier than this!  The only solution I can think of, so far, is to pull Beatjazz close to me, and focus on it even more fervently.  No compromise. Oh...and to not starve.  (Anyone know a good agent for post-futuristic artists?!  Call me...)

This is my personal "singularity" of sorts. Single-minded focus on Beatjazz, up to this point, was an exercise in utilization of existing music production tools whereas now it is a becoming a process of creating specialized tools. There is so much happening in the creation, conceptualization, and utilization fronts, that I can barely imagine each next stage of development.  Every new development now leads to other more surreal yet achievable developments. and now that the "machine" is digital, meaning that the entirety of  the brain of this system, is computer based rather than dependent on constant hardware upgrades, my ability to predict anything beyond a-couple-of-weeks-from-now event horizon, is a bygone age. I can only focus on the breadcrumb path of tasks in front of me, of which are stuff like new photos, bio, and lots of new video and recordings, as well as finishing the book, creating the controller campaign DVD and EP and building a MkII version of the controller for the one other (soon to be;-) ) beatjazzer in the world besides myself. Love. Uncertainty. Resolve...


Beatjazz controller Heads up display using TouchOSC

not a long post or a long vid.  just a little demo of the touchOSC based Heads up display i whipped together tonight.  over the last week, I have found myself looking at my computer during performance, more than i have in AGES because i am using a new system. I decided to consolidate all that data on one screen so i can get a system overview at a glance.

this shit looks SICK!!! my crap camcorder does not do it justice!  since my controller is just a series of sensors, i can see each sensors output on screen so i can trouble shoot when neccessary, and you better believe, there is much troubleshooting to be done.  the high contrast layout,combined with the LEDs, makes for very much the futuristic vibe i was going for.

I'll write a more detailed post tommorrow.  must sleep now.

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