Thoughts on my trip to Africa and Sonic Fractal Engineering



Last month I went to present at a TEDx conference in Luanda, Angola in Africa. I had been wanting to begin exploring the continent, so this was a cool opportunity.  leading up to the conference, I was in an uncharted space mentally.  lots of things were starting to make sense.  The realization that maybe it is ok to reclassify the term beatjazz to being more of a description of my own personal playing style and to use the term sonic fractals, to describe the sonic concept as it exists now.  before the last campaign, i had just began the process of reorganizing my perception of how sound and music relate and of interesting ways to manipulate that relationship. That re-tuning of perception has consumed every day of the last 2 months but i think it is now starting to pay dividends in efficiency of effort.

The 3d printed gun

For the last couple of months i have been thinking hard about the genius simplicity of the 3d printed gun.  I don't like the idea that a gun could be something that makes having a 3d printer, relevant.  but this design is simple and elegant.  print it...assemble it...put a bullet and a nail in it and fire it.  this spoke to the idea that what this technology represents is greater than copying existing forms.  it is a new form that asks a question and gives an answer simultaneously.

“why?” “Because i can. “

SANY0207This point is significant going forward because it is increasing exponentially.  each idea that gets iterated with the assistance of technology, increases its rate of evolution, in my observations. From this point of view,  the current design of the system as an open source design, is unnecessarily difficult to assemble and, in the case of the hand units, not structurally sound for the electronic components.  in the first printed design, i wanted to expose the circuit board as part of the aesthetic of function.  but this design exposes the circuitry to damage if dropped, although it must be noted that no such damage has happened yet. 

SANY0206the former headset was heavy and gave me “elf ears” as well as unfortunate pressure sensor placement behind my head which meant it took longer to trigger a note with breath pressure.  so I have begun redesigning the system to make it more efficient and 100% printable, not including electronic components.



SANY0024In May, I iterated a headset redesign that moved in that direction.  incorporating the idea of a 100% printed system, this new headset, now called a “Mask”, no longer has the screw/bolt construction of the previous version.  currently the design is held together using elastic bands ( which will soon be replaced using printed elastic I have been experimenting with.) The “goggles” do two things.  they mask the electrodes that they are mounted on and they give the “mask” a “face”.  they are less aggressive than the last ones and serve to complete the design, in my opinion.(I have a whole concept of inhabiting a construct

vlcsnap-2013-06-19-14h53m14s250 the LEDs are internally mounted into clear printed pieces to to refract light better.  Most notably, I redesigned the mouthpiece.  I placed the pressure sensors right next to the mouth.  now the articulation is miles better than any digital instrument I have ever played.  triple tonging is effortless.  I am working on a new version that gets rid of the tubes that attach the pressure sensors to mouthpiece and simply take the breath to the sensor thru a printed air pathway, placed as close to the mouth as if functionally reasonable. this adaptation will be integrated into the campaign contributor perks


the arduino and the battery are now on the top-back of my head in a configuration that takes the weight of the design, off of the ears and re-distributes it to the line between these two points.  stability in increased by incorporating my Mohawk into the design.  my hair acts to line everything up properly.  I use it as a guide for the robotic tDCS arms that clamp onto the front part of my head, creating a very stable 3-way harness.  the arms incorporate 4 servo motors that place the electrodes in optimal positions to stimulate the brain regions I desire right now.  (the electrodes are detachable so I can design new electrodes placement arms as I begin to understand how it works).  this was all I was able to get done before heading to Africa but it was enough to get me thinking about what I wanted to say and how this new interface assert itself into the conversation.

for an interesting comparison, here is the video from a year and a half ago describing the idea



Angola is mostly straight down for 7 hours from Lisbon Portugal, below the equator but in the same time zone (as Lisbon, not berlin).  The days were muuuuuch shorter than here and the sun went across the sky in a different direction which you don't think you would notice, until you do.  We were pinned to the plane window to try to see this completely new (to me) topography.  SANY0041mountains and deserts and all that.  the Sahara was pretty impressive.  2 hours of sand with burnt spots in it.  burnt sand from 32,000 feet, says something.  but it ended abruptly because we were instructed to close the windows to simulate night time (!?)  in the middle of the afternoon!  but i digress because i was going to Africa.

i just assume that most of what i think I know about a place i haven't been , is bullshit, so i was very excited to go to this place and see for myself.   I didn't know whether the "Ashanti" thing was going to be offensive or not either.  i just kind of appropriated something that could be seen as artistic or cultural, or as not cool, but it was nice that the former was the mindset i encountered exclusively.  One of the TEDx guys said to me, upon arrival at the venue they were setting up for the conference, "Welcome back", which set a really nice vibe for the entire visit.

When we arrived at the venue of the conference, the ENAD, they were setting up and Januario Jano, one of the organizers, was having a birthday thing; cake and chilling.  and i was gonna do a sound check and the new headset, which i had only gotten to work 3 days before, started smoking because i used the wrong wire for the batteries and the servos, which was a bit of a dramatic entrance, but luckily, nothing was permanently damaged. 

945460_361926363907558_979677655_nThe conference itself was really interesting, although mostly in Portuguese.  Luckily for me, an Angolan woman visiting from new york, sat with me and translated the entire conference for me!  and most of the talks were of a southern hemisphere perspective.  it was very very interesting to hear stories and ideas generated in this part of the world, for this part of the world based on the "situation on the ground" of people living there. 474379_360926784007516_213492255_oFor instance, to discover that an Angolan child that doesn't sing, is a cause for high concern.  that blew my mind!  and the woman who talked about it,  Sonia Ferreira, was especially inspiring.  she had saved 60 children during the war there a little over a decade ago and took care of them into adulthood. Just one of the many great talks!!



8970950078_0e2c137014_oSo i decided, "fuck it!", I'm gonna drop the whole thing; fractal logic and self instantiated pattern engineering to program oneself...all of it.  all the weird shit that I have been obsessing over for the last few months and see if it connects.  the talk was 35 minutes, which is the cardinal sin of TED talks. I sat on the stage for half of the talk. I don't know why but it felt like the right thing to do at the time. I did the history thing, took it into the idea thing then played and went into a depolarizing neurons thing that was unexpected, but i was flowing and it didn't turn into bullshit. ( I have the whole thing on video but I need to see if its cool with TED or if they are going to use it.)   the part describing the electrodes kinda caught them off guard and I had to explain that the only reason I wasn’t going to use them was because of the smoke incident the previous day had me afraid id fry something useful Smile with tongue out   I was told later that my sound and movements were very reminiscent of a local style called Koduro.  I was shown and that shit is INSANE!

we spent alot of time discovering Luanda over the following 3 days.  street markets and restaurants and spontaneous dancing on the beach. From the beach there was a massive constellation freight ships and oil tankers.  it felt like everyone in the city was out walking, at the same time.  droves of people.  and police with machine guns.  the vibe was very chilled.  people sitting and talking and laughing.  this was the picture I left Luanda with and I hope to go back and build a fuller image, soon Winking smile



100% printed exo-voice

After a long layover in Lisbon, I got back to Berlin to integrate some of what I absorbed from Angola.  like, for instance, one local guy told me that it is very hard to get stuff shipped there for reasons that I haven't looked into deeply. and the stuff that is there is expensive.  so it made me re-think my idea for workshops there.  If I want to teach building of repraps, for instance, its not going to do much good if no one can order the servo motors necessary to build it, let alone the arduino-based boards. maybe a reprap designed with common car parts is better as a viral idea construct because there are LOADS of cars there. 


IMG_20130605_203358by the same token, and going back to the 3d printed gun revelation, a 3d printed exo-voice that depends on an array of tiny specific non-printed parts –nuts, bolts, screws, tubes, padding, etc.- is not going to propagate well.  the design has to be as “ready to use” as is possible with current technological means.  It’s not an easy instrument to play but it should be dead simple to build.  like, 10 year olds building them fora  music class in 20 minutes (not including print time).


IMG_20130610_010951so the version 2 is designed to be printed and snapped together, with an adjustable hand brace.  the hand units and parts will have the cool hexagon pattern inside the parts to refract the light in a MUCH more interesting manner than simply glowing.  the new headset incorporates the mask concept in that it attaches to the face with minimal bracing on the head, making it lighter, small,and easily repairable.  I will have the first iteration of the design in the coming days, but the Africa trip combined with the 3d printed gun, made me amend “how” and “why” to account for the new insight these two things represent.

Harmonic “shapes”

the software has taken a large expressive leap as well.  for years, I have been trying to play chords.  a sax only plays one note at a time.  a wind controller can “sustain” multiple notes play sequentially but can not play chord changes (2 or more notes,  played simultaneously, to infer a note to note interval relationship) only pre-programmed intervals.harmonic shape chart.fw  but the exo-voice has an accelerometer on each hand that sends readings based on where my hand is in x/y space (basically full tilt left/right [x-axis], and front/back (y-axis]) so I took the chromatic scale, divided it by 4, which make 4 groups of 3 notes (123,456,789,10 11 12), each group gets assigned to either the x or the y accelerometer axis.  so by moving my hands to a particular position in space, any known 12 tone based chord can be created.  I am currently transcribing existing chord progressions to hand position sequences, or gestural harmonic “shapes” (the co-dependent hand positioning).  more soon but you can hear the interval relationships in the video below.

Pseudo-binaural panning using gestures

pseudobinaural.fwmost recently, I decided to make the entire signal path stereo, but something interesting happened as a result.  before, the synths were mono and only the transform channel was stereo, but only in the most basic sense.  both left and right channels were controlled by each hand, but there was no real panning.  stereo positioning was haphazard.  recently though, I updated each loop buffer to stereo then created a gestural panner.  the left hand can position the left side anywhere between left and right as well as control its volume.  same for the right hand.  the surprise was that now the sound can be positioned pseudo-binaurally!!  meaning that instead of a sound sounding like its coming from the left or the right, it can sound like its coming from “over there”, i.e. a point not between your ears. I say “pseudo” becaue I don’t understand the math behind binaural positioning, other than what I have read.  but I have heard many plugins that produce the effect and it is very close.   it is very intuitive.  simply move the hands together in a direction and the sound goes to that point.  yaaaaay!!!!  binaural positioning and harmonic shapes all in the same week!I got a chance to test both at a local club, Loophole, this last weekend.

Coming Soon!

I am aware that I have campaign contributions to fulfill so I am working on these iterations pretty intensely, but I think that the refinements in code, playability and ergonomics will be worth the slightly extended wait (and there is another interesting development but I want to show it rather describe it). By “wait” I mean days to weeks, not months as I plan to go and tour these iterations at festivals and busking, from July till end of summer, so everyone will have their stuff before this next adventure commences.  I will post a more in depth demo if the new harmonic logic once I add its graphical representation to the visualization.  but, again, I have 2 new related aspects of the above changes that describing with words wont do justice, so I will be posting about them very very soon Winking smile l8r.

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