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Author: onyx

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Big things and little Things...

WOW! This week has been relatively eventful.  I am now into the guts of the project.  these days its all programming,programming, programming.  Specifically, I am on an aspect that i find very exciting. 




 As i stated in the last post,i have decided against burning up anymore physical components (oh yeah...i forgot to tell you...that little pressure sensor? fried.  thus is prototyping) so i am using a joystick as a stand in for the pressure sensor that will become the breath sensor, and using the virtual switches in touchOSC in place of their physical counterparts.  this is allowing me to focus on the all important software aspect of the system because i made the decision to make this project more software than hardware,meaning that the controller will not work with out a computer running pure data.  the goal is to provide a basis for future conceptual exploration,without limitation.  the keys and swtiches that make up this controller can become anything i want or need in the future, hence the desire to keep the brains malleable.  




With the joystick and the virtual keys, i am currently designing the small piece of code (called a patch in pure data speak) that will take these two streams of numbers, and convert it to smooth note data. (this patch does not work yet but is a step in that direction) there are pre existing objects in pure data that make this possible, but the results arent what i want for my personal system.  most of my synths in my exisitng performance rig, are capable of receiving high resolution data from a controller and my wx5 does not send this data.  essentially, it will be an order of magnitude higher quality that will be noticible immediately, so this aspect will probably take a few days at least.




I will try and crack this nut as much as is possible tonight,but then i must set it to the side until Monday so i can prepare properly for my first show in France! I play the "Blueday Stereo" party at the Boreal Casino in Lille this Saturday.  I am really looking forward to this gig.  from the music and videos i've seen of the party, it seems that it is exactly my vibe.  




on the topic of exciting developments, 3 have come my way this week that have me on a cloud!  the first is being asked to not only perform at CeBit, one of the largest digital industry tradeshows in the world,but also being asked to be on a discussion panel with representatives from some major music industry companies, like Roland and Ableton.  I will be the voice of the modern artist representing what we want and need from them.  hahaha!  no problem there.  i can talk about this stuff non-stop!  i will let you know more once i know more.


Also, in addition to the incomparable Uli Maier whose contribution to this project has enabled it to grow exponentially, I will be recieving guidance and technical assistance from a wind synthesis guru/ genius by the name of Tomas Henriques.  years before i even knew what pure data was, he had already created the "Meta-EWI" a wind controller on steroids. and when you thought that he couldn't top that, he built the award winning double-slide controller!  this thing is so amazing and blows my mind everytime i watch the video. His unique and deep knowledge and insight will assure that the TRON Beatjazz controller system is a very capable beast of an instrument!




The other great news is that MAKE magazine wants me to write a full D.I.Y.article on not just the TRON Beatjazz controller, but on Beatjazz itself,  as well as a full side panel about my book!  its like all my birthdays at once!  As i stated at the beginning of the year, This year i want to push the concept of beatjazz, open source and new forms of expression and this allows all three in one!   This also means that, because of contractual obligations,  the only people that will have access to my patches and build design notes before the article, are contributors to my campaign that contributed at least $25 for the DVD perk which also includes a PDF of the book.  Everyone else will have to either wait for the MAKE Magazine article, which is tentatively slated to come out in September, or til November. so if you want all the notes on how to build this project once i have completed it, you know what to do.




Don't let all this activity fool you into thinking that i've got resources.  I am currently putting everything i have into either this project...or food.  this is more important than anything i can remember doing.  The TRON Beatjazz Controller system will LIVE, and within the next 60 days, or you'll find my cold, skinny corpse, still grasping a soldering iron in my flat.  




Everything that has been done up to this point has been preliminary work.  the Tron Beatjazz controller campaign is the "funding" portion of the project that kicks off the building and creation aspects which  officially start the day the campaign ends on Monday Feb 21...less than 1 1/2weeks!!  And it has taken on a whole other importance now that i am being asked to show it and talk about it in such big forums as Cebit and MAKE magazine.  




To that end, i am contemplating one more perk in my list of perks (of which i have been told i have too many already).  I only decided to make the system completely wireless after the beginning of the campaign, so although i am still offering the $250 wired verison based on the concept sketch, i am thinking about offering a wireless version as well.  it will be the three-way wireless design that my personal system is based on, except that the head unit will be only for breath and lip control-no monitoring, headsup display or microphone.  currently i am thinking that 10 of these at $800 is possible from a project/time POV.  what do you think?  would anyone be interested in this?




Spread the word!  There are 13 days left and it would be nice to present the prototype to the world at CeBit on March 1st.  It wont be the full carbon fiber concept, but it will be cool.  Tell people.  share the widgets and the links.  Let's build the most amazing live music performance system ever!
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Prototyping the Fingering system with TouchOSC

Ok, there is no need to fry my already abused Arduino just yet.  after my power surge scare yesterday, i feel that maybe i should refine the software aspect a bit more before plugging random arrays of switches into my usb port via my exposed microprocessor board(?!?!) i don't have to mess with the physical switches just yet.

currently, the project is to get pure data to interpret the various switch on/off signals, as midi, or rather, as musically relevant data.  so far, my system consists of taking each of 8 switches,and assigning it to an 8-bit multiple of itself, i.e. 1=0, 2=2, 3=4, 4=8, 5=16, 6=32, 7=64, 8=128.  when combinations of these numbers are added together, they create a unique sequence of 8-bit numbers between 0-255 which can be associated with a unique midi note number.  the sequence of key presses i have chosen relate directly to what is known as a "Boehm" fingering method.

(information sourced from wikipedia http://www.wikipedia.com/wiki/Boehm_System)
The Boehm System is a system of keywork for the flute, created by inventor and Flautist Theobald Boehm between 1831 and 1847.  he had been inspired, in 1831, by a concert in london given by Charles Nicholson, who had constructed a flute with larger tone holes and these larger tone holes could produce a larger volume of sound.  Boehms design was full vented meaning that all keys were normally open and required a system that would allow a key press to close and/or open a second tone hole,depending on the note and register.  the system was adapted to other woodwinds including saxophones, clarinets and bassoons.  this created a sort of standardization that carried on to electronic "woodwinds" such as the analog Lyricon wind synthesizer of the 70's, the E.W.I. (Electronic Wind Instrument) from akai, and the wx series wind midi controllers from Yamaha, both introduced in the 80's.  I have personally played many of these instruments, acoustic, analog and digital, and find that the fingering system translates very well amongst all of them (i.e. a flutist can adapt to playing sax or clarinet more easily than to, say, a trumpet).  the Boehm fingering system is alive and well and soon will live on in my design.

The boehm system will predominate the midi-instrument control aspect of the TRON Beatjazz Controller system, but that aspect, as important as it is,will be a small part of a larger musical concept.  these same keys will do double duty as a gestural system that interacts with the accelerometers to control various systems such as instrument sound selection, fx control, looping systems, color synthesis,and eventually live performance sound design itself.

Today though, the goal is to get the system to send clean midi data.  then to integrate the pressure sensor to control the duration and volume of that data.  once that has been massaged properly, I can then focus on replacing the virtual TouchOSC generated switches with switches that are interfaced thru the Arduino system, which is the open source microprocessor platform i have chosen for this project because of the amazing amount of information on how to incorporate them into your projects,and the increasing diversity of form factors.

 The TRON beatjazz controller system will make use of 3 Arduino boards all made by a company called Seeeduino. 2 for the hand units which are wireless networking nodes (seeeduino stalker combined with an xbee wireless module each) and the helmet unit will be a tiny flat wearable version (the seeeduino film) that will be essentially "taped" to the inside of the helmet!  all three are based on the same opn platform specs and are programmable in the exact same way.  and luckily, pure data already has an "object" for interfacing with them, creatively called "arduino", so once the data protocols are stable, integrating them with the hardware "should" be a piece of cake! #famouslastwords

If you would like to see the project happen...like, REALLY happen, go over to www.indiegogo.com/tronbeatjazz and check out the some of the unique things on offer in exchange for a contribution that will make this system a reality.  no joke...the goal is to create the most amazing live performance system ever, but it needs you to make it happen.

stay tuned...



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Back in the Matrix

What a week!  Sorry for the dearth of posts, especially in the middle of such an important campaign, but some things cant be avoided or postponed.  such is the case with dealing with immigration and visa issues.  I spent the week preparing paperwork for the Auslanderbehorde (Auslander=foriegner, behorde=office or authority) so that i can stick around Berlin for a bit longer.  its not hard, but it is rather involved.  They do love paperwork here.  luckily, although i don't have everything perfect, its good enough that they want me to visit them again in a few months. yaaaaay! because theres nothing better than filing a dozen forms and sitting all day in a lobby waiting for your number to be called so you can be told to come back again in another 3 months.  but its worth it.  I love it here, so if i have to do the paper dance every few months for a while, so be it.

With all the stuff i've been uploading and downloading, associated with the TRON beatjazz controller campaign, i have caned my bandwidth limit for my wireless internet on my iphone so i've been throttled down to prehistoric speeds.  i imagine that this is the same sort of internet speed that our ancestors had to deal with, poor them.  but, until my wifi is operational again, i have found an unintended benefit from the situation.  As you may know, I use a mind mapping application called "Mindmanager" to basically run my life and keep all these plates spinning and it has a built in browser that i rarely used, until yesterday.  its basically a builtin version of internet explorer 6 or something.  it, also is ancient; no tabs, limited support for javascript, etc, so its basic but pretty fast and no history, so i go straight to a page, get what i need and close the browser, and conveniently my mind map is right there ready to be referenced or altered, in the same window.  i may continue to work like this.  very efficient especially right now.

Now we move towards a playable prototype.  and by playable i don't mean "gig-able".  i mean literally just able to produce note sounds.  this is a first attempt at mounting the keys so i can test whether the the patch i created is making and sending the right note data.  it will be a weekend of refinement because this version isnt safe.  i almost blew up my laptop last night,literally.  i never saw a message before stating that the system is receiving a power surge from the USB port...yikes!!  so i will work on a version that doesn't involve nuking my lappy.

In those moments when i'm not frying my cpu with oddly wired pseudo-controllers, i am adding content to my book "the 21st century musicians guide to busking".  i just started on the chapter, "don't be a dick, but don't be a wuss either" concerning the political landscape of playing music on the street and how to deal with all manner of character development and plot twist that occur  in the ongoing drama that is street music.  if you have contributed to the campaign, and are on facebook, you will find that you have been added to a group for the book, where i upload chapters as soon as i write them and you can check them out and give feedback.  my way of saying thank you for helping me create the most amazing live music  performance system ever!  if you are not on facebook, let me know if you are interested in checking the book out and i will create some way of making it happen.

The other big news for the coming week is my debut performance in France!  I will be in Lille next Saturday feb 12th, for the Blueday Stereo Live party at Boreal.  The line up will be me, DJ Sumic, Timothee Milton and Dagui Rodann.  it looks like i get to dust off some of the soulful stuff and get a little tribal with it as well.  I am REALLY looking forward to this show and getting groovy.. These cats seem to be on the same tip as me so i should be able to "let go".

Now that the legal stuff is out of the way, i will be able to get back to the job of documenting the progress of building the TRON beatjazz controller system.  if you would like to see this project realized, throw a little money at it.  I have a varied array of perks that you may find very cool, including my old jail broken iphone 3g, loaded with notes, videos, pure data patches, and a copy of my book!  there are many others as well.  you can check  them all out here www.indiegogo.com/tronbeatjazz



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The first prototype TRON "afro" helmet

This Last Saturday, Uli and I met at his workshop and within 3 hours, the first Tron beatjazz "Afro" helmet had been birthed from metal, plaster and plastic!  or rather i should say "Prototype" helmet.  this helmet is made of thermoplastic and its purpose is two-fold. to provide a general idea of "a" shape that the final helmet may have but also, more importantly, to provide a means of testing component placement inside the helmet.  This helmet will be completely self contained and wireless so that means it will have the lip and breath sensors permanently mounted,as well as the mic and monitoring system and an accelerometer.

the realization of this first solid step towards the creation of this performance system, is not taken lightly. seeing something that you only dreamed about, taking shape right in front of you is a profound experience.  it gives you the courage to keep taking the chances that are necessary to make anything happen. 

this weeks schedule is extremely varied, but the primary goals are to keep doing as much as is possible with the limited funds that have been raised so far.  much of the more component involved work such as incorporating the accelerometers and the wireless mesh network will proceed once funding is at a level where the components can be purchased.

 until that time there is much to do, such as making a playable first version prototype by the end of the week.  to do that, i will spend most of my time, working on the sensitivity issues with the components i have already.  as well as trying to determine whether certain issues are with my programming, my ancient-ass arduino board, my wiring...or all three! 

the other project projects this week will be to create a head harness for the inside of the helmet and to start working on the next couple of chapters of my book, "a 21st century musicains guide to street busking".  i'm 80 pages in, and counting.  and finally, going to see the wonderful people at the auslanderberhorde (immigration) to do the beaureacratic tango, but that's just what ya gotta do, so its all good.

this week should prove to be very interesting.
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Creating the Mold for the first TRON Beatjazz Helmet

Today,as I was preparing for my show at TRANSIT tommorrow night, I got a call from Uli Maier, the prosthetist that is graciously lending his immense skills and talent to helping me create my TRON beatjazz controller system, informing me that he had a bit of time and wanted to start the process of building the first plaster mold of the TRON "Afro" helmet.  YAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!! needless to say, it didnt take me long to teleport to Uli's workshop.


I would love to say that my contribution consisted of more than just saying, "yeah,a little more here...ooohh...can this be rounder?", but i'd be lying.  Uli is a true expert in his field and that expertise was definitely on display today. 

If you'dlike to see this project keep progressing, consider  making a contribution at www.indiegogo.com/tronbeatjazz




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its all about wireless!

today i must segment my day into gig preparation for my show at TRANSIT on thursday night, 10 pages on the book i'm writing and Tron controller Midi research.  turns out that sending stable midi information from switches is quite an excercise.  that'll make it all the more sweet when it's finished.  but along with that to do list there is one other thing.

if you will remember, i mentioned in my last post that i will be making the system completely wireless.  i feel that this will allow a freedom of movement that the wired concept will not.  the design of this controller system is not based on how to do it the easiest way, but how to do it in a manner that will allow the performer (me) to blow peoples minds.  so for that reason, there will be no cables.  pure wireless networking.

the other day, i just so happened to think about the Kenton Midistream wireless midi system that i  had laying around and decided to open it up. lo and behold, i didnt just have one wireless tranciever...not just two wireless trancievers, but, you guessed it...THREE wireless trancievers(one for each antenna)!! what does this mean? well, now i can at least experiment with the wireless concept a bit before purchasing the trancievers that will i will actually be using in the design, which are called the xbee pro.  the ones i plan to use in the performance (ie not protype-testing version) have a range of around 1.6km which i would wager to be closer to half that amount but its still amazing!

i have found through experience that wireless range in live performance isnt that neat and definable because once you are wireless, you want to move around and sometimes that means goingoutinto the audience which to your wireless system is one big frequncy dampening field.  so it may be 1.6km with nothing in between and maybe 300m (rated) lineof sight, but in reality, if i can get 100-150m i will be in heaven.  that will be more than enough because the latency from that distance would start to degrade my ability to play in sync with myself.

so, today i say goodbye to the midistream system.  it gave me years of great service and allowed me freedom where there was none before.  but at the same time i say hello to my new baby, TRON, and look into her future with great optimism at the things she will be able to do.

If you'd like to help me build the most amazing live music performance system EVER, please goto www.indiegogo.com/tronbeatjazz for more information.  there are only 28 days left to contribute to this campaign!!
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Plaster Casting Day!!

(OMG!! IF you had any idea how much headache i've gone thru for the last 14 hours trying to get this post posted!!! just thought I'd share...)

I haven't slept much in the last two weeks!  the campaign is off to a great start!  but its all fun and games until you start making molds of your body parts!  that was the mission for the day; make plaster casts of my head and hands.

Uli Maier, a professional Prosthetist (person who creates artificial limbs for people), and I, met up at Mauer Park on Sunday morning. we "chilled" out briefly with mutual friends, Rupert's Kitchen Orchestra,before heading back to Uli's to get down to business.

My excitement comes from knowing that Uli knows his stuff. He knows exactly how to make sure that the helmet will fit perfectly WITH all of the electronics that are being created to mount into it, as well as the hand units literally fitting like gloves.  the concept was good before, but with his expertise in making prosthetics, it will be very close to perfect.

The process was two fold.  Create a plaster cast of my head and then create a silicon cast of my hand (we could only do one today as we did not have enough silicon to finish the other), which we later filled with a different type of plaster. the next step will be to make an "onyx head" sized doll head that we will use to create the helmet mold which will then be used to shrink wrap the carbon fiber around, when the time comes.

the process for the hand units will be similar but with a slight difference.  Although the helmet already has a semi-determined amount of space for mounting components, the hand units went through a major concept rethink this week.  I decided that the previous idea of having a chest mounted arduino based central processor was going to be tedious in a performance situation.  to much cabling and harnessing.  This system is being designed to feel effortless.  So I decided that each hand unit and the helmet will be individually wireless.  I found methods for creating a wireless "mesh" network, which means that each part of the system is capable of not only talking to the computer but to each other as well. Once the components have been assembled into a prototype, Uli and i will then create hand units that have enough space for them.  very exciting.

Most of this week will be spent working on the fingering system and getting it up to playable.  The rest will be spent in preparation for my show at TRANSIT (Schlesische Str. 35a, Berlin) this Thursday the 27th at 9pm.  I will be playing live with some new self created techy hotness then I will be using a seperate new self-created DJ control system to keep the party going into the night.  i "may" try to bring some of the TRON controller project with me to the gig and do a little show and tell.  let me know if this is something you'd dig.

Now that the campaign is well underway, please share your thoughts and impressions of this campaign with me.  I really want to know what you think.  If there are some things that i'm not explaining well, please let me know. and if you would really like to see this project go the distance, remember, it needs you.  The parts that have been done so far would not have gotten done without the donations of time, money and energy that the project has received so far and there is still a really long way to go, so if you've ever wanted to support one of my projects, this is definitely the one.  You will be very happy that you did.
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introducing The TRON Beatjazz "Afro" Helmet!

The great multitalented Loganic has just finished doing the proper sketches of the Tron beatjazz controller system helmet and he captured the essence perfectly.


The system houses all the electronics for the the lip and breath sensors, as well as voice and headtracking. all components are mounted inside the carbon fiber shell, which purposely looks like an afro.the weight savings from the carbon fiber will offset the wieght of the internally mounted components.  the small square on the goggles, is a heads up display; a small monitor that looks like a full size computer screen from the percieved distance of about 2 meters.  it will show all of the relevant feedback data that will be necessary to stay abreast of with a system of this complexity.  once on stage, this will become the computer screen, negatinng the need to go anywhere near the computer.


Using a small wireless transmitter, it will transmit data back and forth between the computer. that data will primarily consist of breath, lip and voice data which will all be consolidated into the small boom mic protrusion coming off the right ear.   two small high powered computer fans will ensure that i don't have a heat stroke while wearing it.  and last but not least, headtracking duties will be handled by an integrate ipod touch whose job will be to (a) provide the headsup display to the goggles by way of touchOSC, and provide data as to the position and direction of my head, which opens up all kinds of musically significant opportunities.


The Afro-aesthetic should prove to be visually stunning in practice.  it is meant to draw from a collective cultural concept and project it onto a future-focused construct.  i want it to kinda tell a story that picks up from Parliament Funkadelic and Sun Ra. that of being an "afro"naut, maneuvering through a sonic alternate reality and interacting with the beings there and that one needs this helmet to percieve and communicate with them...or at least thats the idea. 


Sunday we pour molds of my head and hands to start realizing these drawings into something more tangible.  but for now, these drawing provide an accurate idea of where the concept is going.  If you would like to see this project become reality, please go by www.indiegogo.com/tronbeatjazz and check out the project and see if you'd like to part of the quest to create the most amazing live performance music system ever!
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Getting started on the first prototype

Thank you so much to those who have contributed to this project!  It has allowed me to get started right away!   my hope is to have a very basic working prototype within a week.


Today, I went to get some of the initial components. I went to Conrads in Charlottenburg first but then ended up at what is now my favorite DIY electronics shop in berlin. Segor Electronics.  i knew they would have what i consider to be the most characteristic component of the entire project;

the pressure transducer, or what will be the breath sensor.  it's a hideous little component looking like something that should be bigger and under the hood of a car, but ooohh...its so hot!  this little bugger will translate my blowing into data that will be used to play the synthesizers with a level of expression that is not available any other way! but the extra added bonus of this particular one is that it also has a "suck" sensor (insert joke here...) which i could see being useful for mode changes without having to push a button.  i am excited!

i also got a Hall effect sensor.  this miraculous little sensor measures magnetic field intensity so together with a small magnet, you get a very smooth data curve by bringing the magnet closer to the sensor.  this will be the lip sensor that will transmit pitch as a woodwind player would.  there will be much experimentation with sensor type and magnet size but it will work perfectly once its "dialed in"

the rest is just tools, a breadboard for protyping, button switches for "keys" and 2 rgb LEDs which will be the basis of the color synth system that will be the trippy part of the design.  that's one LED to test with and one to inadvertenly blow up,as you do when prototyping stuff.


allof these sensors will be running to my ancient arduino board.  arduino is a wildly popular open source microcontroller platform.  it allows you to easily connect just about anything to your computer and do things with the resultant data.  literally ANYTHING.  for my purposes right now, the arduino will be interprting the data from the sensors, and spitting said data out to pure data, where i have written a program, "patch" in Pure data lingo, that take mybutton presses and turns them into saxophone fingerings. most all woodwind instruments use a system called the "boehm" fingering method.  i have decided to use this system because it is what i know already.  i can always change or adapt it later. in the video i am generating button presses from touch osc to makesure that horn like key combinations are generating the appropriate note.

the goal of the next few days is to get the arduino based system working properly. get breath and lip data functional and map the octaves to the joysticks.  hopefully the campaign keep building so ican afford to buy the accelerometers and the first of the wireless trancievers.  Uli Maier, the talented Prosthetist that will be helping me IMMENSELY with this project, and I will be creating the plaster molds for my hands and head on Sunday, andi plan to film the entire procedure so stay tuned.


Again, thank you to all who have so generously contributed to this project.  it is going to be a wild couple of months!  if you would like to see this project keep moving forward, goto www.indiegogo.com/tronbeatjazz and give what you feel.  if you cant give any money, share this project with people that you feel would like to be a part of what i hope and plan to be the dopest live performance controller ever.  i'm not joking!  this thing is gonna be sick! believe.

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