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Archive for May 2011

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Focus in New York

i apologize for the dearth of posts for the last week or so.  my mind was consumed with visa issues (sorted) before heading to the US with my strange looking controller (no problems, although the TSA shit will probably start on the way OUT), and preparing for my TED presentation (current status).  I am now in New york, staying with a friend and preparing.  i thought i would have gone out more over the last few days, but jetlag and obsessive focus shot those plans in the face.

interesting point to be at in ones life.  note to everyone under 35; 40 is the SHIT!! i always thought that was just stuff that old people told themselves,but no...its pretty awesome.  the "focus" is the best part.  distractions of my twenties become novel afterthoughts now.  the ability to know "you" is priceless.  but the ability to say "no" is something you cant buy.  to be able to turn things down because you can play out a well earned series of experiences and/or hypotheticals based on experiences, of your own and of others observed, is so much better than other 40 years olds made it seem when i was younger!  of course, excercising and eating right help. and on the topic of eating right...

that aint happening this week.  america is a holy temple of junk food.  i can not resist its siren song and since i return to Berlin next week,i'm not gonna try.  everything from my favorite Little Debbie oatmeal creme pies,to popcorn shrimp at TGIFridays to my (hopefully) celebratory movie outing tommorrow evening to take in THOR with an overpriced selection of movie edibles, i plan to bask in a bit of gastro-nostalgia, then just repent with a few hundred kilometers of cycling when i get back home.

but the best part is the confidence.  As i prepare for my presentation.  i feel like many of my hardware glitches have been suppressed.  I designed a completely new mouthpiece out of a silicon substance, gifted to me by Uli, that can be molded into any shape then cures to a solid rubber like state in 5 minutes or so.  with this material, i created a mouthpiece that is part pacifier, part snorkel and it works amazingly.  this and solving the "sticking looper trigger" issue, give me confidence that i can create something tonight that will present the system and beatjazz to the world, properly.  i'm not particularly excited.more, again, focused on the task at hand.  i'll be excited afterward, if everything goes without a hitch.

I will recap the TRESOR gig when i am back as i must edit video and i dont have said video with me here.  but i will recap the TED thing by thursday.  live long and prosper.
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60mW trancievers!! And why that is very exciting news

Its been a week of exciting news but there is one piece of news that has really gotten me worked up.  60mw xbee trancievers!!!  I know!!  it blows my mind too!


As you know, my controller is a 3 way wireless network comprised of 6 xbee radio trancievers.  each hand unit and the mouth unit has one and each has another one that intercepts the data it sends.  these three form a basestation that connects to 3 USB ports on my laptop. the xbee series 1 has 1mW(milliWatt) of broadcast power which,according to the literature,should give it a range of about 100m. with Pure data i take the signals from these three sources and reconstruct them into one cohesive system.  lovely.

the system works so much better than i anticipated, with one small caveat;  the advertised range is based on data transmision, NOT data speed!  so basically, if you are 100m away, playing a self designed controller, your performance data will arrive...eventually.  i discovered the hard way that i actually have a "playable" range of about 5-7m before the data packets start slowing to the point of unplayability.  oh...AND, now that i have been playing the controller for a bit i have also discovered what happens first, when the batteries start to dwindle; the range reduces to about 12cm before complete shutdown. (battery meters are first on the agenda upon return to berlin)

so i asked my lab partner, Google search, about higher powered trancievers and google never fails me.  i discovered the that the xbee series 1 has a "pro" version that tops out at 60mW!! for a rated range of 1km!  so the next step, as it has been from day one,was to contact anton at www.tinkersoup.de and as usual, he had them in stock.  they are slightly bigger than the previous ones but i uploaded the profile from the previous xbees onto the newer more powerful Pro's and installed them as my basestation.  then replaced the ones in the controller, which have a chip based antenna, with the previously basestation xbees that have wire antennas, although they are still 1mW.  so now my basestation is broadcasting at 60mW per tranciever to 1mW nodes with proper antennas. yaaaay!!!

so does it work?  well, before this, when pracitcing at home, if i went two rooms over to the kitchen (german walls are made of stone,  cast iron and diamonds or something because they are very thick and sound proof), i would hear intermitent notes drop and stuttery-ness.  now? haha! i can stroll out the door and down the hall until i simply cant hear the sounds anymore, only being able to tell its still transmitting by looking at my iphone Heads up display.

it has to be "magic".  pure, close up magic that people can see, not from a stage, but from 6 inches away.  a new interaction.  I felt it a couple of weeks ago at ARENA.  my intention was to "perform" but the result was some "thing" else. i cant really describe it.  you're not only creating a sonic universe, but you're swimming around in it as well.  there was no sepration between partying and performing.  it was a completely new and foriegn metaphor that i really want to investigate fully starting with my (gotta find a new name for this type of show) at Tresor.  whereas simply having "some" wireless was "cool" before, now its crucial and needs to be be powerful and bullet proof,hence my excitement about the new trancievers.

This makes me feel much better about tommorrows show at TRESOR as i want to to feel free enough to go whereever the the music takes me, creatively and physically. i'm pretty sure that i will be able to play,accurately from any point in the +4bar, where I will be performing my first full club set with the new system.  I'm scheduled to go on at 5am so the crowd will be pretty "in the zone" by the time i start;-).  but the "wtf?!" looks will still be  priceless. after my set me and TomTom will pump it up a bit more before i devolve into a stuppor/zone myself ( hey, i gotta party too ya know!).

  ok, back to practicing.  see you tommorrow night. l8r.
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I've been invited to Present beatjazz for TED!

http://blog.ted.com/
It seems that there is no end to how surreal 2011 has become.  First, crowdfunding a project that I was maybe 50-60% sure I could even complete partially, only to have it turn out much better than I imagined. then to actually become comfortable with using ideas that were purely hypothetical not so long ago, so that now, the idea of a music form that blends dance, jazz improv, sound design and light into one sci-fi inspired "thing"- that I wake up and practice daily- blows my mind completely, already!!  But nothing prepared me for being invited as one of the first ever TED presenters chosen from the public!  From hand drawn sketch and a 3 year old Arduino board with 4 blown pins, to TED presentation in 5 months! I'm gonna self combust!

Ok...some of you are probably asking, " what's (or who...) is TED?  TED is a totally badass conference where really smart people give presentations on really great ideas (check out http://www.ted.com/talks/pattie_maes_demos_the_sixth_sense.html as an intro to a truly mind blowing one).  TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and is a conference, started in 1984, to bring together the brightest minds in these fields.  Al gore, Bill and Melinda Gates, Bobby McFerrin, Thomas Dolby and many amazing scientists, inventors, innovators, designers and artists  who aren’t famous in that celebrity way, but rather as innovators in their fields.  

 In 2006, they decided to post the video recordings of the presentations online for anyone to see and it became a phenomenon, spawning a global network of TED events and initiatives making the main conference, which has a currated attendance of approximately 1500 people, an even more valuable entity.

A few weeks ago I saw an online posting for their first ever open auditions by way of a 1 minute video, where you would tell them why they should chose you for their 2012 conference, themed "Full Spectrum".  That was cool.  but that same weekend I met a young filmmaker by the name of Tom Plummer (http://www.start2think.de/ ) who just happened to be in Berlin on business and caught one of my "Alpha" busking sessions at Tacheles Arthouse and he filmed me with his iphone initially and his nicer camera the following day.  These recordings formed the basis of the video I submitted to TED for their consideration.  Woooo hooooooooo!!!! For amazing coincidences!!!  

It has been torture to not be able to announce any of this, but now I can.  And I can begin the working on creating a presentation that will present Beatjazz, the controller, the music and the sharing concept in one, intense, 6 minute spectacle that I will be presenting to a group of 150 "TEDsters" on May 24th in NYC!  If you'd like to help me get to New York, my PayPal address is onyxashanti@gmail.com. But, as with the controller project, if I have to, I'll sell a kidney and swim there!  I ain’t missing this!

I’m going to put together a "TED Warm-up" here in Berlin so I can test my presentation out on an audience sometime next week.  Let me know if you are interested in attending.

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"Beta" Test notes and TRON "Party Pass" Fullfillment

On Saturday night, I finally got to test the Beatjazz control system on a club crowd at ARENA in Berlin, for the Birthday party of DJ TomTom; I consider the night club to be its natural environment.  Everything up to this point has been conceived with this in mind and it was wonderful!

Originally, I had not planned to play.  I was gonna make an appearance, have a drink and then go home to dub CD's for May Day on Sunday.  But then I got asked the magic question..."did you bring your stuff?"  "Ummm...nope, but I can go get it!"  Right now, any excuse I can create or find, to play this wonderful toy, I take!  And this would be on a decent club sound system as well. 

 I played on a large system a couple of weeks ago for the Tacheles Demonstration (no it’s not closed and it won’t close if we can help it!! see below) but that was more concert stage.  Playing clubs is intimate...close up.  Back in the day, I developed a taste for small clubs from a residency I had at a club called "tongue and groove" in Brixton, South London.  It was SO sexy in that "not forced" way. And I was positioned right on the edge of the dance floor where I could be part of the party.  Since those days, I have had a taste for small, intimate, intense parties.  This fueled my desire for more freedom to express myself fully in said environments, which helped move the controller project towards reality, so, after weeks of practicing in various spaces, I would finally get to "rinse" the system in the type of space it was designed for.

Pre-performance notes.  The still-mounted-to-a-breadboard base station, which has my 3 wireless receivers sketchily mounted to it, was a perpetual source of anxiety.  I just knew someone was going to breathe on it and it was going to fly to pieces because the parts are only slotted onto the board.  But I have been very happy with the reduction of overall equipment.  The whole system is my Beatjazz controller, the sound card and the laptop and it all fits in my bike bag.  I LOVE this, although I know it to be a short-lived phenomenon as soon as I add in the wireless mic and helmet systems.  

So, the set, from my perspective? Interesting.  I "thought" I would do what I usually do, which was to stand in front of the DJ booth and "perform".  Not the case, at all!  Before I realized it, I had eased into the crowd and was dancing with a couple of very attractive women, BUT WAIT...I was still creating and playing as well!  It felt very natural, especially because of two variables; (1.) 4 weeks of 5-8 hours a day practice, and (2.) the wireless system did its job very well.  Actually surprisingly so.  Although I was only about 5 meters away, there were a number of people between me and the base station, yet I sensed no increase in latency, so I didn't have to "think" about where I was or what I was doing, in regards to the wireless system.  The lights served their purpose as well. And although I am still figuring out how to integrate the BlinkM MaxM monster lights, the smaller, high intensity LEDs I am currently using, served their purpose very well and provided the parallel narrative I intended them to, by changing color when I changed sound type.  

All together, there was a naturalness that was unexpected.  Everything worked as it should, which is rarely the case with my sets.  I look forward to investigating more gestural constructs. Maybe there is a capoera and/or kung fu class in my near future.  I would imagine that these movements, with the right gestural designs, would be intoxicating.  

I just started adding new sounds to my database as well.  First new sound this week are some wonderfully cheesy strings.  It was like Flashdance and Fame all rolled up into one synth, this ability for a sound to invoke memories and nostalgia, then to play on that nostalgia.  I’m thinking that I want to bulk up my database with multiple eras of sound concepts from (of course) parliament funkadelic and The Time (gotta work on my Jesse Johnson guitar patch!) to Flying Lotus and Autechre with tinges of mid 90's Photek and Gaslamp killer.  The possibilities are literally boundless!


And a note to my contributors who got the "party Pass" during my Indiegogo campaign.  I want to do the full Debut party with the helmet and everything, but I don't have the helmet and it will probably be another month or so before it is ready so, since my show at TRESOR next week on May 13th is featuring me on the Beatjazz controller, all of you get a free pass to the show AND a free drink AND when I finish the helmet and do the official debut party later in the summer, you still get tickets to that as well!  I cannot say thank you to all of you enough for helping me create my dream, so I’d rather show you.  I will email you with details.  For all other campaign contributors, the TRESOR party marks the end of the trajectory of this story, from drawing and concept, to performance in one of Berlins Legendary electronic music institutions.  after this party, I will start compiling the notes, video, audio and the first draft of the book and begin putting together the DVD's, EP, and book.  I can’t wait to get these out to you, as there is A LOT of stuff in there!

If you have time on Friday, come over the Tacheles and show some support.  I have living in a number of cities that take gentrification too far and as I plan on living here for the foreseeable future, I don't want to see Berlin turned into over-priced hipster-hell.  Tacheles must not die!  Come, dance, check out the artists’ studios and revel in what real art looks and feels like.

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