Something is different…
I think something came back through the looking glass with me this weekend...I'm thinking of forking away from beatjazz and calling this "Neuro" or something more or less cheesy.
most definitely listen to this with headphones. the spatial separation moves around inside your head.
It’s lucky that digital doesn’t rust…
testing…testing, one, two, three…is this on?
just restarting my blogging habit after what seems like most of the year, spent inside my own head, trying to figure something out…and I did. I figured “it” out. what I figured out comes across as “wtf?!” and obvious, at the same time. I want to jump into it directly, but I decided to try that out on close friends first. these are people who have to hear me ramble about every tiny detail of this ever growing innerspace, almost daily. almost without fail, I got more “wtf?!” than “ah, well I saw that coming”. so I decided to unroll this thing properly over multiple blog posts, starting with contributor perk updates! yaaaaay!!! rest assured that in the next week and a half, I have, what I feel, is an interesting announcement. until then, I will catch you up on (counts on fingers…) 3 MONTHS (!!) of goings on and movements toward a new level of abstraction. holla…
A hundred wrongs make a dozen rights: Iterative design and 3d printed circuits of the v2 hand units
Before-over a year ago- it was much easier to blog progress and process simultaneously. it was mostly technical at that time and i was reading out of books and forums mostly. i just wanted stuff to work and i could express that pretty well, with the odd/random swim into esoteric concerns here and there. but as i have noted in the previous few posts, it seems to be more of an all encompassing thing where technical, artistic and weird shit, all hang out and come up with surreal shit to hit me with , just to see what i do. i allow myself to go off on tangents at times just to investigate the space it inhabits and as such, it can get strange. sometimes for a few days and sometimes for weeks and during this time, i am playing with contradictory information just to see what comes out of the conflict between them. it is intellectually stimulating but when turned into words-spoken or written-it devolves to bullshit so i wait until these idea conflict algorithms play themselves out.
When they do finally converge and mutate, the results are bits of the intense parts of the conflict, but with all the weird shit washed off, or at least recombinated by the process of abstraction into numbers and form. one such conflict has been a design puzzle that has occupied most of the last 3 months; designing a biomechanical interface for interacting with a gestural sonic construct. of course i already have that, but another concept has been setting up shop in my head;
that perfection is a moving target and highly subjective.
a year ago, the exo-voice hand units were, to me, perfect. they fulfilled their function as well as i could conceive of at that time; finger placement, palm positioning, joytoggle functioning, and accelerometer positioning were as perfect as i could imagine at that time. but, of course, there is no static "perfect". perfect is a moving target; a significant point on a process trajectory. as such, last years "perfect" is this years thing to fix.
last year, i uploaded the exo-voice/beatjazz system as an open source project and wondered why i wasn't seeing more of them in the wild. being honest with myself i knew that it was because it was because it is a pain in the ass to print. it takes forever to print everything and requires loads of screws, bolts, tubes, felt and hot glue. the cardboard version that preceded it was much easier to assemble but its internal wire-nest irked a design "voice" that i only just realized was there. 3d printing is definitely the defacto hardware expression vector for the foreseeable future. so if this part of the expression, on equal footing with playing music (which was the primary expression previously, with every other vector relegated to hobby or support ) then it was necessary to look at how hardware was being expressed as a shareable, playable construct.
theoretically, at the time, if i designed it right, it could be assembled right off the printer, but it took a half dozen trips in wrong directions to find a right one. starting at the "wrong" place has many advantages if you can learn to not get attached to these stages.
I knew it needed to be;
- more sturdy-the v1 was prone to glitching over time as the components came loose over time. also, there was the constant fear that dropping it would permanently damage the radio an/or the arduino (which has not yet happened)
- snap together-it need to be assemble-able right away, without tools.
an epiphany came in the form of the 3d printed gun that was making the rounds on the interweb this last spring. once i got over my distaste for what it was, i quickly saw why it was important; because it was designed to not be able to be stopped or controlled; print, assemble, nail, bullet, fire. that was the key! design something that comes out of the printer, working! I experimented from this perspective, producing many "wrong" prototypes. mostly just creating a simple piece that i could hold in my hand then measure with calipers to get a feel for where things could be placed within the design, but many of those "things" were never meant to be used in the working models. they were simply there to explore the idea-space. physical meditative artifacts in a sense.
in early august, after the 3rd wrong iteration along the line of what i had been experimenting with for the previous 2-3 months, i started over from scratch. all of the "wrong" vectors had kind of converged to create a sort of ghost image of something that could work. this was a true version 2, only related to the previous version by basic function alone. all other aspects were completely re-designed but encompassed 2 years of investigation into this field.
to understand why the version 2 design is better than previous versions, it helps t understand why it exists. I used to play a Yamaha WX5 wind midi controller. this is a synthesizer controller that is played like a sax or flute rather than like a piano keyboard. Yamaha still sells them but hasn't investigated the design or concept since the late 90's. there were predecessors as well; the WX7 and the WX11. i played the wx7 and owned a total of 4 of these controllers over the course of 16 years. the wx5 was much better than either of the previous models. it was more sturdy, and allowed for the selection of midi program changes and control changes using key combinations. there was a thumb wheel for the right thumb that let you control one thing when rocked upward and another parameter when rocking downward (which I used for stepping up or down thru the layers of loops I created when performing live). on the upper part of the "horn" two keys were also freely assignable and it is these two that i used to control looper record and overdub in the early days of experimenting with live looping. in addition, i felt it necessary to replace the stock indicator leds with bright blue versions. i didn't understand synesthesia much beyond lsd at that time (erm, from I've read...) but i noticed even at this stage that the light became an important part of the expression.
when i began the project in winter 2011, i had no context for what i needed, wanted or could achieve, so i tried to emulate the functionality i had with the wx5 based system. the first mockup was paper mache with cheap switches for keys and a big gaming joystick on the bottom, painted gold it seemed cool because it was never meant to be played, but i could already tell that the components-battery, arduino, xbee, wires and lights, were not going to fit in it so when i created the first working prototype, i added enough size to shove everything inside it. i never even played that one outside of my flat. i played it exactly twice- once for the YouTube video documenting the project. almost as soon as i played the first notes on it, it was obvious how it was "wrong";
- thumb placement was painful
- accelerometer placement wasn't useful, but merely functional in the simplest terms
- the handbrace broke almost instantly (paper mache)
- the inside was a nest of random wires
it instantly created the design conditions for the next prototype that i would use for almost a year
the cardboard version
I call it a version rather than a prototype because it did actually get published in MAKE magazine as a project so it deserves a v0.5
this joint was so easy to come AFTER the first prototype. on paper, a long-ish triangle placed the fingers in an ergonomically perfect position. the forefinger was right above the thumb, creating a "pinch" space with the accelerometer in between. the inside was still a nest of wires, but the reinforced shell was solid and the 3-way harness held the hand pressed firmly against the palm points, originally made of foam and bottle caps, to keep the keypad position stable underneath the fingers. the second benefit of this version was that it was cardboard-easily modified and if modified too much, easily and cheaply replaceable, which allowed me to experiment with emulating the wx5 keys that i had been using for loop control. after a bit of experimentation, i decided on using joysticks on the keypad side and the thumb side. this consolidated the functions into a smaller space. then it just seemed natural to replicate it on the right hand controller, even though there were no functions to assign to them. it was just that the symmetry made sense. and this was where the leds also deviated from wx5 emulation by using rgb leds to convey much more info, but nothing at this stage alluded to any synesthetic synchronicity. even without it, it was still "perfect" for what it was…until it wasn't...
3d printing changed EVERYTHING. the design process became another computer based expression vector. i didn't know much at the time and had many, many, "wrong" ideas to explore here. first being the attempt to create something that was a shell that i would put components into. this displayed its wrongness before the print even finished. it took too long to print, wasted too much plastic and was distractingly ugly, so i thought i would make an internal frame to mount things in and build around it but once the frame was built, i liked it by itself and kept it that way. but from this, the idea of designing purely from a function aesthetic came. it was always there but it wasn't obvious and i didn't have any reference other than the reprap itself whose pure function based aesthetic is still a source of inspiration.
the version one carried over everything from the cardboard version, but with the precision of 3d modeling, so every component had a precise place to be. the palm points became adjustable, it had integrated led holders and the wires became part of the design by having them sprouting off a tiny circuit board attached to the arduino. it was perfect. i played it for the first time at a black history event in neukölln right after finishing assembling it in the dressing room 5 minutes earlier and it was breathtakingly intimate at the time. it felt like tools for doing something "else" else. eventually the upper joystick got placed into the frame, underneath forefinger and once the first gestural system software started working, the rear facing leds became secondary parameter feedback(edit mode), freeing me from having to look at the computer at all. yaaaay!!!
so, as i stated earlier, last years perfect is this years issue to solve. the circuit board on the v1 started "acting up" regularly to the point i didn't trust that i could get thru a show with it not fucking up and erasing my loops. the hard palm points were beginning to make my hands hurt and the flat key layout was starting to make me feel as if i were finger drumming on a table. in addition, this was always going to be an open source project. i wanted people to build it themselves but i knew from experience that it was a pain in the ass to print and assemble. it took alot of screws and bolts and hot glue and other tediousness, just to assemble it, let alone play it, and that is not even mentioning the headset, which i will cover next week ;-) so knew it need to be be completely redesigned.
the basic needs and desires of the previous year were still there but they were not sufficient for the coming exploratory stage of the project. simply being ergonomic and colorful are the norm since v1. v2 had to represent growth from many perspectives. being an artistic endeavor in most respects, meant that it not only needed to be more playable but had to display an evolving form that moves toward a sense of perfection and efficiency. the form itself needed to tell a bit of story on its own, whether being played or not. a story that hints of lineage, of having ancestry. of being “from” somewhere.
the v1 felt really good to hold but with the v2, I wanted to investigate a feeling of holding “energy” with my hand and manipulating it with my fingers. this meant, in my opinion, that this version should promote a grasp that was more rounded, like holding an apple-sized ball of energy. and if we investigate this metaphor further, eventually one comes to the expectation that energy is probably more “feeling” than form or shape, so in the center of the 3 palm points is a lilypad buzzer to provide vibratory haptic feedback. the beauty of this component is that it can vibrate like a mix between a tiny speaker and the vibrate-function in most phones, so it varies its vibration rate dependent on input. at the center-palm position it occupies, it vibrates my entire hand and can be felt up near my elbow as well as taking advantage of the RN-XV’s high speed bi-directional Wi-Fi. it feels exactly as it should; like parameterized energy in the palm of my hand and under my control. but that is jumping ahead a bit…
the question; what was “perfect” now? this flies in the face of “don’t rock the boat” or “never touch a running system”. stability or lack thereof, had become an expression vector. I came to the realization that its kinda my job to poke this thing with a stick. to explore boundaries that it may not even be fully “necessary” to explore. how do I create a perfect biomechanical sonic gestural interface that is also easy to print, sturdy, snap-together-easy to assemble, and cool?
luckily the version 1 was still very cool and very playable so I could (and have) play it until the new version was stable. first criteria was to shrink it a bit and give the arduino and the Wi-Fi radio a bit more protection, while getting rid of all those little edges and screws that used to catch themselves on my clothes and prevented me from more physically kinetic expression. from the beginning, the accelerometer was always going to be moved back to its position underneath the index finger, but with this iteration, the index finger is angled into a more natural curved angle with relation to the other fingers, which are also angled in the opposite direction. the thumb and the forefinger each have their own array of switches that allow the finger in question to “be” the joystick rather than dealing with the mechanical latency of a physical joystick. the thumb array has a guide groove that helps with mental orientation of the control layout. by providing little grooves and indentations (inspired loosely by braille), the fingers have a location map of function areas.
on the printability tip, I created the first of the v2 “wrongs” with a center pin that went all the way thru and connected everything but I could see how much just simple hand tension would flex the temporary METAL pin in the prototypes so I scraped that idea and went with more of a slot together design that would make ach piece interact with at least two other pieces so each would increase the strength of the associated connection places. THIS IS WHY I HAVENT BEEN BLOGGING! holy hell, you cant imagine how many ways you can do this wrong especially when you don’t know how to do it in the first place. eventually though, I created a key-like mechanism that locked the keypad mount to the back plate. then the battery mount slotted in in a way that secured the keypad mount. then, as a bit of an experiment, I got rid of the perfboard circuit board and designed the circuit into the front panel, as a bit of a jab as the overly mechanistic aesthetic of man-machine interaction representation on popular media. no “shielding” or aggressiveness. I just thought it would be beautiful with the light illuminating to from behind. this piece connects to the keypad and the battery mount as well as the back plate. then the handle slots into keep the battery mount from sliding out and clicks into the other end as well. all together, the design is solid as if it were glued together while being easy to disassemble.
and light expression….oooooh, hexagons. in 3d printing, you have the choice of making solid plastic objects but its usually a waste of plastic to do so, so you can have what is known as a “fill”- a pattern that is printed inside the object that takes up enough space to add structural strength but without having to use so much plastic. these fill patterns are an art in themselves but when combined with transparent plastics, then not only look really really cool, but they refract light amazingly! with the v2, I embedded LED holders into the design. they are part of the form. and the thin layers and hexagon fill conspire to create something that is beautifully functional and expressive. the element lights, the Wi-Fi radio lights and the edit mode lights mesh at times, to create a surreal storm of modulating color which supports the aural narrative and provides precise parameter feedback. and its pretty too.
I don’t want to go too much into the new fractal synthesis system I have been developing for the last forever, but there is much less of the “sea of beats” vibe from a couple of years ago and more of a sonic matrix; the ability to place a sound in a perceptual “slot” and construct with it and around it. each tweak, from or to any point, increases the resolution of the entire idea especially when you recognize it.
I wanted to share this trajectory. in the past I was afraid I was rambling on to much but I figure its easy to unsubscribe if its too much and I feel more honest than simply trying to say cool shit. sometimes its not cool…sometimes its neurotic and wordy and geeky and tiringly involved…and without giving too much away (because I still have to build it), if the contributor mask design (yes, contributors get a mask and not simply a headset….told you it’d be worth it to be patient) is as bad ass as the sketch I just made, I will say, without a doubt, it will be the absolute sickest thing you have ever seen pop out of a 3d printer. no straps, tubes, screw, hot glue…it only even touches your head at five points! but that’s the next post
Bitcoin busking, printing elastic in 3d and how they relate
I thought I was going to have to write 2 separate posts; one about Bitcoin and one about my elastic 3d printed experiments, but luckily I found a convienient way to tie the two together, over the weekend. I will begin with Bitcoin.
For the last couple of years, I have watched with great interest, the rise and fall and rise and fall and...(you get the picture) of a new form of currency called Bitcoin. Legend has it that a mysterious developer/s named Satoshi Nakamoto invented an unbreakable, (by current computing means), un-gameable, global digital currency, untied to any government, nation state or bank, which would herald a new era of financial independence throughout all of humanity and not one ewok had to be harmed to do it. so, of course, I was intrigued and wanted to know more. I watched to see what was happening in the space. and long story short, although there seemed to be a whole lotta hacking going on, no one was “cracking” bitcoin, ie, hackers were exploiting backdoors in the systems built “around” bitcoin and mistakes made by users and online exchanges (where bitcoins are exchanged for cash), but no one had cracked bitcoins encryption. this was very interesting.
Bitcoin has been all over the news lately. with banks completely shitting the bed and whole countries going bankrupt, many people have been investigating the new currency for the reasons noted above. I personally have had an interest in it because I HATE dumb shit that banks do in regards to MY money, like 30 days to clear a payment…IN THE 21ST CENTURY!! or creeping, ridiculous fees when doing mundane stuff. or simple things like how my bank, who shall remain nameless, removed a coin counting machine-the only reason I opened an account with them in the first place-because…wait for it…too many people were using it. yes…too many people found their service useful, so they stopped. it boggles the mind.
so saturday morning, I woke up with bitcoin on my mind. I wanted to start experimenting with the currency. luckily, not only does berlin have the alleged largest bitcoin local economy in the world, but said economy is located in kruezberg, my neighborhood! yaaaay!! I figured I would go to the hub of all things bitcoin in berlin, a bar called Room 77, so I posted on facebook to see if anyone wanted to tag along. while researching the array of bitcoin businesses in the area, I discovered that berlins first bitcoin exchange event was happening that afternoon! YAAAAAY!!!
Aaron Koenig, stated at the beginning of the Berlin Bitcoin Exchange event, held at Platoon Kunsthalle, that he had been inspired by similar events held in new york and decided to do one here in Berlin. there were about 50 people, including myself, all excited about the paradigm shift this currency presented. for my part, I, wearing my “buyer” sticker on my shirt, acquired 1 bitcoin from a local seller who, along with the bitcoin, also provided a wealth of information of all aspects of the currency; political, social, personal and humanity scale. everyone, buyers and sellers, were extremely passionate and optimistic about what it could all mean.
the exchange itself was surpringly shcoking in its frictionlessness. I paid for the coin, opened my tablet, on which I had already installed a bitcoin wallet (a piece of software that holds the bitcoins) and before I could check to see how this type of transaction would work, “ching, ching!” I am told I have one bitcoin! completely frictionless! no email, no click-thru, no sign up or questionaire. just peer to peer transfer of wealth. this is mind blowing!! it doesn’t even matter at this point if bitcoin fails later. the paradigm is so seductive that it will be evolved into something that builds on this simple elegance (remember how napster “failed”? but the idea lived, mutated and evolved into entire ecosystems).
afterward the transaction, I began to think about busking for bitcoins. its frictionless. no hats or other pyhsical containers. no making change. just a qr code. the tip is on the interweb, safe and secure, as long as you follow proper precautions like encrypting your wallet and backing up your “keys”. (buskers know the feeling of having a great day after making lots of cash and being a bit paranoid on the way home that someone might try and rob you). so I decided to do a little experiment and “busk for bitcoins” there at the exchange.
Anyone who knows me knows at least 2 things;
1. I can talk quite a bit
Graciously, Platoon and the BXB Guys allowed me, unrehearsed, to busk for bitcoins. I placed my tablet on a nearby table, displaying the QR code, then proceeded to hack my way thru a torrent of glitches and false starts. but it was enough to get a feel for the concept. I ended up making about .3BTC (a little over $35!), which I reinvested back into the bitcoin economy immediately, by way of buying a round of drinks and a burger later at Room 77, but I must take this moment to shift topics a bit…
3d printing with elastic
After said experimental performance, I looked at the pictures like the one above and was completely taken aback by the disharmony of aesthetics. so much effort to refine the exo-voice appearance to convey function as an aesthetic, only to have it stomped on by my own lazy fashion sense. Berlin is a relaxed place and I am relaxed in it but plaid shirts and cyborg prosthetics don’t work together at all.
For the last few weeks, I have been experimenting with a 3d printable rubber elastic material from 3dprintsystems. I have had it for a while, but only recently realized that I could use it with my huxley reprap by calibrating the print speed and temperature (very slow and very hot). now I can print things that are very strong and very flexible. think shoe soles or bike tires. I have been working the material into the design of the systems that will be sent to contributors of my last campaign when it occurred to me to investigate creation of a lattice of shapes that could be used to cover my body and provide a surface to attach things to. This “exo-skin” trajectory is providing a wealth of info on creating small interlocking strtures capable of acting as a skin which I can modify and parameterize over time. the idea is still new but after my BXB performance, I realized that function must be first, but, if the lack of aesthetic consideration distracts from said function, then it must be corrected. over the coming weeks, the exo-skin will replace my curent performance wear and will have a space in my bag for those time when I need to inhabit the construct. I mean, batman, without the batsuit is just an asshole who needs therapy, innit?
Back to the story…
after we left Platoon we went to Room 77, the deacto hub of the Bitcoin economy in berlin. it is situated in area affectionately known as the “Bitcoinkiez” (pronounced bitcoin KEETS) many of the buisnesses in this area on and around Graefestrasse, take bitcoin.
(note, I got to chat extensively with all the guys in this video)
This place was where I had intended to go, all day. its very local-vibey (another way of saying berlin-y which iam really tired of saying); couches, big burgers, chilled vibe, etc. I and a couple of people for the exchange met up there, drank, ate and discussed all things future and monetary. you really should try it! it was so overwhelmingly cathartic to discuss the future and economics without a hint of doom and gloom. this was new to me because I have always been…hmmm…not so much “poor” as “having just enough to not die or make too many people mad at me at once”. using cash for everything, as I did in my early adulthood, compresses your scope of possiblity. banks always seem to find a way of pissing in your morning coffee. suddenly we were discussing things like possibilty and opportunity without a parallel discussion on how much of our souls we would have to sell off to entities with big pocketbooks.
later we had a round of shots with the owner, Joerg Platzer, who exudes a charisma and personality that explains how and why this area is so invested in bitcoin. he definitely puts his bitcoins where is mouth is, from his activism locally in hosting bitcoin meetups in his establishment to projects like Bitcointablet.org which aims to provide decentralized communication and currency technology for schóols in developing countries. chatting with him gave us an insight into the the vibe going on in the bitcoin space; pushing economic models in the direction of redistribution of wealth. I’m not saying that I am a bitcoin zealot yet, but I find the whole concept interesting enough to at least pay attention to what is happening in the space and to begin inhabiting it a bit.
I have added permanent bitcoin addresses to all of my blog posts and I will be integrating it into future crowdfunding models (online and the trusty offline [busking] version). I think it will integrate well with some of the sonic presentation concepts I’m playing with. the future is getting more and more interesting by the day.
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. “
This 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.
the 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.
In 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
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. mountains 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.
The 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. For 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!!
So 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 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
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.
by 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).
so 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.
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. 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
most 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.
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 l8r.
Exploring the rabbit hole; The Better Question or Why so long since the last post(part1).
First, let me say that I apologize for not posting for such a long time. I actually like this form of expression. I can formulate a statement that either is completely separate from the other expression vectors or glues them all together into something vaguely singular. this post will be an attempt to validate, with the requisite overly wordy descriptions that I feel comfortable projecting, exactly why I have not blogged in so long. I will attempt to sum up the totality of the last 2 months in 5 posts. any less and it will be like reading a small book.
The Crowdfunding campaign
another apology goes here. I didn’t invest my complete self or mind into the campaign as I should have, but more on that in a sec. I felt that there were two big issues with the campaign;
- 1.It was just way too much too soon. I gambled with putting a full process trajectory out in the public sphere to see what would happen and besides the video not saying much, although being the best looking video I have had, this should have been at least 10 separate campaigns, one after another, rather than one big conceptual behemoth.
2.It stopped being about “me” and became about “you”. this one I should have known better. I HATE projects that assume that I am going to do things the way the creator wants because they have this picture of an “end user” in mind. it tipped dangerously close to a market focus more than an idea focus. I wont make that mistake again. This is my system for expressing myself, which I will “share” as fully as possible, meaning that first and foremost,
-if I can express myself ever more fully with it, then I am happy
-I will teach myself what I feel will contribute to my vision
-I will share what I teach myself
-if no one else plays it, I can at least be happy that I can play it based on my own criteria.
the campaign was more of an expression of the process that has been going on in my head for the last few months. in future campaigns, I will be sure to segregate the concepts into their own modules. and once I ferry all my current contributors to happy land (I've still got a surprise for you Leo), I am investigating creating a page that will simply be a place to contribute to individual modules and receive perks, without the need or expense of a campaign site like kickstarter or indiegogo. let me know what you think about this idea.
The Better Question
The better question isn't a “question” in that way, but a mode of inquiry. Basically, I am programming myself, openly and tangibly. finding existing patterns, gauging their usefulness and either updating them or deleting them by keeping them in the front of my perception and referencing the new pattern until the old one is no longer referenced. To do this, I have a basic, updating set of rules so my program doesn’t become an influence vector for detrimental processes.
- -focus on self guided evolutionary growth
- -do not monetize the “core” expression.
- -learn how every aspect of my construct works ( computer, ram, wire, capacitors, servos, etc.) and reverse engineer it for the sake of the first rule.
- -share the idea in a way that allows continued growth
- -each expression vector should be able to be plugged into any other vector and influence it in interesting ways.
- *entertain myself.*
this part of an evolving logic system that governs everything now. its not about “music”. its about expression. music is “an” expression now and not “the” expression. My current expression vectors are;
- motion-sometimes dance-like but mostly parameterized to influence a particular sonic syntax
- CAD (Computer aided Design) and 3d printing
tDCS (Transcrannial Direct Current stimulation-stimulating my brain while expressing through the system, effectively playing myself in a feedback loop)
each vector feeds the other, i.e.., if I change a bit of code, I may need to change the design of the, say, hand units, to accommodate the new function. this cross pollination of idea vectors has had the unintended side effect of what I will call “idea fever”-an obsessive investigation of the mutation possibilities, exacerbated by the ability for immediate results. if I can design it on paper, I can probably 3d print it and have it working within 2-3 days, max. now I rarely leave home because each vector is like a child that needs constant attention. I am designing a protocol for getting out of the crib (yes, I need a protocol) “expressing” . I wont go so far as to say “performance” because some aspects cant be performed in a classic sense, but they can be expressed. I cant explain more than that because I don’t know what it means yet, hence the protocol: a function or set of functions that will lightly govern all of these vectors in a way that is fun and sustainable.
one such protocol is my “ghost protocol”. Jan freheit and Max Krueger have been graciously helping me create a a new form of data presentation/performance using webservers. I will describe it more when it works, but it has been an all encompassing aspect of the idea fever that has kept me from blogging the last couple of months.
the idea fever is more intense than in the past because each expression vector increases resolution, the more I use it, and when I tire of one as a focus, I can instantly shift to another without feeling like I am being lazy, and so far there are 8 with at least 5 more on the horizon. the more things that emerge from the “other” place in ones head, and into the “see/hear/touch/feel(different from touch, I am discovering) space”the more the idea mutates and this process is astoundingly interesting. Having ingested various psychedelic substances over the years, this “new normal” state has all the best characteristics of a great psychedelic experience, without the initial compound to get the ball rolling.
The search for answers is uninteresting because it implies a finality of inquiry. the greater quest is now for the better question. for instance, while in an idea fever, I tend not to eat much (slows me down too much). so the “answer” is to eat, obviously. the better question is why eat? can I create a means of sustaining or even improving my health and cognitive functions which is based on ingesting/eating something I design, using my above expression vectors? or would this trajectory require me to create another vector just for this purpose? the point now is to investigate the question! I will eat food until then, of course, because I will check this question against my rule set above. get it?! questions produce results that may be answers or just questions that needed the first question as a starting point. the exo-voice was an answer/question that the beatjazz controller inquiry produced. the original question did not result in an exo-voice, only the function of a wind midi controller split into 3 parts.
so this is the rabbit hole I've been in for the last couple of months. maybe its more information than you need but I felt i t was necessary, to convey that there is an evolving process happening. and in the name of sharing, I present it here for you. this week I am working on contributor perks (thankfully I don’t have to invent anything to fulfill them this time), and updating all my online stuff which no longer represent the new normal…the new reality of perception. and updating you on my travels with pics and video of all the shows/presentations and trips. after which I will post the build instructions for the v1, since I haven't actually done that yet. but at least you will have an idea of why my descriptions of these events is so trippy. Holla…
No, I haven’t lost my mind…I’m designing a new one!
So here it is. My next project phase. A Sonic Fractal Matrix. TA DAAAAA!!!! A network of wirelessly connected nodes-some of which are robotic-to enable any number of beatjazz system enabled (musician/dancer/performer/scientist)’s to synchronize and become a…thing. a shimmering sonic pattern. yaaaaaay!! I’ve completely lost my mind! But along the way, I’ve picked up a new one…
I have been alluding to this shift in mind state over the last few months but there are no words for how much of a shift all of this has represented to me as a person and as an artist. WE LIVE IN THE FUTURE! its like a fantasy, like the dude that created Pinocchio (no time to Google it, I’m flowing…). It is possible to go from idea –in your head- to “thing” on your desk or body! In one to three steps! I can not iterate that enough (no pun intended) …you think something…then you make it exactly how you see it in your head! #mindblown
I honestly thought I was freaking out a couple of months ago. The possibilities were too numerous. I got heavily into studying Fractals. I reduced the number of “possibilities” down to a set of “probabilities” and it was still too much. The saving concept, which I have mentioned numerous times, is the “function aesthetic”. meaning that “function” executed properly, has its own aesthetic. So by focusing on function, an aesthetic emerges and it tells its own, very honest, story. That story, abstract though it may be, calms me and directs my attention toward an ever clearer field of probabilities.
You see, you don’t go from horn sounds to “transforming”, in one smooth curve, but in a loosely related surges. When I began the first campaign, I just wanted to play without having to hold my hands together on a horn, or what I had begun referring to as a “musical neck brace”. I had no frame of reference for what it is has become just as the next stage is completely murky. I have no imagination construct to envision the stage that I propose. I can only design and construct the idea of the sonic fractal matrix concept. but as with the exo-voice (what I call my beatjazz controller now), I can see very clearly how to make it work. designing the logic and hierarchical systems will be reasonably easy (I like logic systems…go figure…). I will have to learn a lot more about networking over the coming months, but that’s the point; to learn and create and share.
As I begin my 3rd campaign, I think about what the last 2 have taught me. Amanda palmer hit the nail on the head in her alignment of crowdfunding with busking. Maybe that was why it felt so comfortable as a concept to me; I share my expression and if you dig it, help me keep sharing it, by contributing. But to go one step further I would say that crowdfunding has become “part” of this widening artistic expression, enable by the internet.
Not long ago, performance was a “thing” with rules and stages. promoting was something “else” and life was another thing that was kept separate. But as I started preparing for this campaign, I began to look at the narrative potential of every single element; how the video looks…how to present these two “onyx’s”-the one that creates and the one that performs…what is the natural progression from the 3d printed exo-voice campaign? all of these things became elements of a new (for me) type of performance that is social media, 3d printing, robots, network system design, film, and crowdfunding. a multi-dimensional performance across time and space.
a crowdfunding campaign feels like it should be gripping somehow. like between the time it begins and it ends, there should be something interesting to emerge from the intensity of presenting a new concept, daily, for 30+ days. then to try to shoot past the idea of that stated goal as the project moves into “creation phase”. when I began the first campaign, I envisioned DIY with lots of wire and plumbing pipe and in the second one it was carbon fiber molds and synthesis. and in both instances, neither turned out the way I intended…they came out better but the whole idea evolved in wonderfully unexpected ways. I think this time will be even more interesting because the goals have evolved this time.
in the previous campaigns, I created beatjazz controllers as perks for contributors. they all work, because I played each one of them extensively before delivery. BUT, I underestimated the differences in the computer systems they would be connected to. the controller was created for my needs and optimized for my computer. so for me, its good and getting better but for the ones that make it into the hands of others, the mileage varied wildly based on their existing hardware. so, going into this phase of the project, I wanted to make the exo-voice playable, “out of the box”. it occurred to me that the only way to do this was to ship it with its own computer. my experiments with using the raspberry pi as the computer, have been very encouraging, but I want to incorporate a second computing board just for audio processing. the point being that I want these systems to be playable instantly.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the new “pilot” (cause its like flying thru sound…geddit?!) will be able to play it “out of the box”. first off, it’s a very logical, but unconventional musical input construct. And I have been playing for 30 years still have to practice daily. Practice is the key. Practicing with another person makes it even easier, so I figured that since I’m building the systems, I can make a simple way for 2 or more beatjazz systems to form a network so that there is a master tempo from the first person on the network. then two or more people can play together and build a construct made of sound that just hangs in the air. I call it a pattern. I cribbed the whole pattern/pattern master thing from an Octavia Butler book series called the “patternist series” which is about a race of telepaths that are all connected together into a web called a pattern which is controlled by a Pattern master. In my implementation, the role of pattern master, is that of providing a master tempo to everyone in the pattern and also the ability to transform the audio of every “node” in a manner similar to this (fast forward to 3:46 );
The best part is that once the pattern master transforms the audio then creates the new tempo, the role is passed on to the next node in the network list; everyone one is important. The pattern will have a wide array of different interpretations because there is no “leader” and everyone is leader.
The network is made up of nodes and the nodes I am creating now, are “baby nodes”. primordial nodes (like “boogie”) in a network that will evolve very quickly. My first node is robotic because there is something incredibly exciting about creating a bio-mimetic robot avatar; when I move, it moves. By watching it move, I can refine my own movements. It is me. There are no autonomous functions where it does things on its own. this avatar will be a robot expression vector (it also keeps the wireless router as close to the exo-voice as possible). I find this extremely exciting. Where does this lead? I have no idea. I am the function.
So, think about it…weird new instrument. You buy it and can hack it by design. But then you can also go “sync” with others with the system (actually, it would only need the wireless router and node patches in pd. It could theoretically run on a smart phone). Maybe that would mean beautiful music. Maybe horrible noise. Maybe visuals. My vision is one where any space where one “patternist” creates, is a sonic fractal matrix consisting of one node. and any number of patternists can join them and create an evolving pattern of increasing self organizing complexity.
THIS is the performance now; “creating” this sonic fractal matrix is as much part of the expression as playing it. The idea is exciting to me, because I know that I can build it, even though I have never built it before. 24/7 goosebumps! And since I am creating it for my purposes, even if no one gets into the idea, “I” can still play it! This campaign is structured so that I can fulfill some aspect of the concept no matter how well the campaign does. it will be another 1/2 generation before this takes hold, so it’s a long-haul iterative project. In other words, it’s gonna happen no matter what.
So, come with me on this ride. I promise that I am not even slightly exaggerating when I say that if you let me, I will blow your mind. Let’s see where this goes…
How a Sonic Fractal Matrix works
Soooo… here is the logic and the methodology for how beatjazz evolves into a networked sonic construction system.
A person can generate expression in many ways; talking, writing, jumping, walking, surfing, singing, etc.
The original beatjazz “controller” was created to provide a buffer where expression could be channeled through it to become something more.
The beatjazz controller idea became the origin point for what is now called the “Exo-Voice”. A refinement of the beatjazz controller into a fully integrated “sonic prosthesis”, complete with its own software.
For the sake of continuity we shall present it like this:
There are prosthetic attachments for each hand, one for the head, dealing with breath pressure (in and out), monitoring, lip pressure and head position, and one for each foot.
The matrix is composed of 8 elements relating to the 8 “keys” used to input performance data (i.e.., playing). each element is a different sound, called an element. In addition to a sound component, each element also has
- A looping buffer that records played sound from that element and loops it according to the system tempo.
- An edit mode that allows for sound design while in the midst of playing. this methodology is called Gestural Trajectory Synthesis.
- The ability to add fix, mute, change volume and pan the sound.
The 8th element is called the “transform” element. it twists all the other elements into a singular trippy vortex-y sound with no limitations in tempo or pitch. When making a loop within this element, all other elements sync to this new tempo. it sounds like this:
All together, this system is capable of sound concepts I am only just beginning to explore.
Along the way I accidently discovered an interesting solution to a few of problems; parameter feedback, laptop interaction and wireless latency.
A couple of months ago I fixed most of my latency issues by switching over to Wi-Fi from xbee wireless. the increase in bi-directional data speed allowed me to use the LEDs for more than just element color indication. They were fast enough for parameter feedback! so I took the most important data –mute mode, record mode, panning and volume- and used the leds to provide that information and it worked beautifully. So much so that I no longer needed to interact with the “laptop” computer at all. but I found that being “near” the wireless router helped to keep the latency (the time it takes for the computer to make something happen after you push a button) down. And the laptop takes me out of the ”altered state” that wearing this system drops me into.
Around this time, I built a small robot and discovered that robots are amazing for parameter feedback. it was much more engaging and intimate than projections because it was a physical, moving “thing”. I began using it for parameter feedback and it became my first robot avatar.
It eventually occurred to me that giving the node legs would solve a number of issues like having to set up computers at a show and having everything on a table or in a booth somewhere rather than having an avatar right next to you, linked wirelessly. also, I have finally began working on a foot interface to compliment the hand interface and will use the robot legs to provide sensor information from them. So I designed a small simple system that is a wireless router, and a couple of inexpensive computer boards that will handle synthesis and everything else in a form factor that feels something like “intimate”. This is Node:0
Node:0-Level:0 is a small wirelessly controlled hexapod robot that houses everything necessary to convey expression and provides parameter feedback concerning the system. the node:0-Level:1 is a larger robot that uses the level:0 avatar as its brain. this larger bot has a full speaker system as well as various digital projection and video recording capabilities.
sonic fractal matrix-level:1 is a network of nodes.
As soon as 2 or more pilots-called patternists when networked- join the same network, a hierarchy is established. The first patternist is node:0-Pattern master. The second node is node:1, then node:2, etc.
The pattern master establishes the tempo that everyone is synced to. all patternists are fully audible, all the time. when the pattern master switches to their transform element, they can transform every transform element of every node on the network as much or as little or for as long as they want, but when they set the new loop length after their transform “solo” they become node:1 and node 1 becomes node:0 and thus, patternmaster. Then the process repeats and cycles thru every node in the network.
I envision 3 rooms. one for beginners to build things for the first time, a second room for intermediate pilots to “sync” or “mesh” with each other and trade ideas and even parts and techniques. the main room is where there are at least 1 or more patternists that can guide the pattern more fully. These would be considered “pro’s”, each of whom is capable of expressing full patterns when solo. The goal is to create a type of social construct where there is no leader, no band, no dj; just a network of people who create the sound-space improvisationally. a space where one can learn about it, how to do it, and to actually do it, all in the same space at the same time. and where the collective will is expressed because every person becomes patternmaster eventually and if the network is too large for each patternist to become pattern master, it can be broken up into smaller patterns.
The most exciting part about this project is that I can or already have done everything I described above so at this point I just want to see it happen. the exhilaration of hearing a room full of loosely related grooves being twisted together into a vortex of sound, boggles my mind. lets do this thing!!!