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The John Coltrane Theory (pre-element#1)

the following is a thought excercise i have been using for teh last couple of years. please note; this is not "the" truth nor is it even "a" truth. it is a myth i have used to investigate an idea concerning the nature of sound, music and control.

My name is Onyx Ashanti. I gave myself that name 3 days after the Rodney King riots in Atlanta Georgia in 1992. I have been a musician my whole life, beginning with flute then on to saxophone, then wind midi controller and eventually on to to self designed constucts; the beatjazz controller, which eventually evolved into a prosthesis called an exo-voice.  all of these systems had one thing in common; they were all fingered using woodwind fingering systems, ie, even though they were different instruments, i have mostly been using saxophone fingerings to play all of them. because of this, i tended to gravitate toward listening to saxophone players alot.

growing up in mississippi in the 70's and 80's there wasnt much jazz.  most of my cultural conceptualization came from either church, radio or tv.  at this time, satellite and cable were bringing new channels to us country folk like BET and MTV and others.  those channels tended toward a wider pop sensibility than local channels in northern mississippi so i became immersed in the then new phenomenon of hip hop and the constantly mutating RnB form. 

back then, most pop groups had a sax player and most pop songs had a solo section for a saxophone solo.  it was a great time to be a kid playing sax, especially a kid who lived waaaaaay out in the countryside (or as we called it, “the boonies”) where said kid could just go out into the field behind the house and play such profoundly important music artificacts as "Word up", "Glamorous life", and of course, "Maneater". even somehow convincing the marching band i was in in high school to play some of these songs  during football games...ahhh...good times...

the point is that at no point did names like john coltrane, miles davis or charlie parker ever come up.  ever.  not even when i graduated from high school and went to Grambling State University in Louisiana.  or rather, they and their music DID come up but the pop-program i had running in my head was strong enough that when we were tasked with playing these gems from the "realbook"(a book of jazz standards that all gigging jazz musicians carry around with them, physically and mentally), i could sight read it and play the notes but I didnt know why i should care. i just thought it was one of those things you do in school, like tests and essays.  some sort of overly complicated history lesson.

by the time i left university and moved to atlanta, all i wanted to play was RnB and hip hop, but luckily Atlanta had a great jazz scene that spanned from the contemporary jazz that i loved, ala, gerald albright, kirk whalum david sandborn et al, all the way over to the "standard" stuff, as i called it, of coltrane, miles, there was a very useful oscillation between the pop sensibilities and the standards, leaning toward pop. 

thankfully at that time i met a man by the name of yusef sharif. a bebopper extraordinaire. it was from watching him that i decided to become a street busker. he was the man who gave me lessons for a couple of years and took me to jam sessions where "real" jazz was played. i watched as he would proceed to intimidate an entire room of jazz musicians with nothing but the fire that would erupt from his horn. a fire of true jazz. of mathematics and algorithmic sound. it was thru him and his playing and his words that i was finally hipped to what jazz is and was and should be.  and more importantly to who these legends were and what they represent.  the pop-program was beginning to mutate but it wasnt time yet because other sounds had begun to draw my attentions, namely jungle, house, 90's timbaland and puffy (mary j, jodeci, etc).  this was the emergence of the dominance of the DJ and beat culture into mainstream pop culture and the submergence of instrumental music as it had been in the previous era(thanks kenny g).

so lets fast forward scan the years from the late 90s until around 2010; playing on the street helped develop an improvisational concept that allowed for more intricate playing of the wind controller in the club scene that was life at that time.eventually i began to feel the edges of my abilities so i began to dig deeper in to learning more about improvisation as well as programming my synthesizers and along the way the internet became useful as a place of investigation.  all of a sudden (for me) i could just type in miles davis and hear everything he ever did.

as i was reaching the limitations of my previous improvisational ideas i rediscovered, first charlie parker and bebop. i could just type his name and listen to everything! it was like being a world class record collector! i had everything and in chronological order! by this time, around 2009, i was beginning to become bored with the beat scenes i had been part of, for now going on 20 something years, so this re-emergent jazz expression was so fresh and new to me. streams of flowing thought encoded as rhythtm, harmony, syncopation, metaphor, humor, emotion, intensity, anguish...fuck...i could hear it, but i still didnt know what "it" was. i had spent so many years doing "else", that i was coming to this archive of genius, new. the difference was that i had been investigating the inside of my own head for 20 years as an improviser, so i could begin to understand the reasons for certain choices they were making and at what point in the pieces. the true freeing moment came when i stopped trying to convert what I was hearing, into words. when that happened, BOOOOM!!! all of a sudden i was hearing heirogyphics! my mind was just blown!  how the fuck could this be freely available?!  this wasnt music!  this was the fucking point!!  whoaaaa!!!

so needless to say, i was hooked. i was hearing the internal dialogue of a genius and i could hear everything they recorded right in my little flat in berlin all day all night. so let me interject here...i am a patternist (this term will mean more soon); i discern patterns easily and i can incorporate those patterns into my expressions.  i was drunk on charlie parker patterns for about 6-8 months of 12 hours a day immersion until one day the thought hit me...

"hmmmm...whats this coltrane thing about?"

...before i go on, let me note that this is coming from a, then, 40 year old (beat)jazz musician so whether that is an embarassment or not, is up to you but, needless to say, i became a disciple of coltrane on that day, at that moment, literally crying while listening and saying over and over to myself and anyone around me, "I GET IT!! I FINALLY GET IT!!" his math washed over me and i was reborn again! he took the conversation that parker had begun in my head  and expanded on it....debating some points while cosigning on others then building his own thesis.  i say conversation because he began with a bop sensibility then evolved toward  greater and greater complexfication. 

oh my the complexification...from fire to butter to chocolate to chaos to architecture...portals to other dimensions. history reprogrammed...futures diagrammed and felt like i was in my own fortress of solitude and i was kal-el and coltrane was jor-el and these recordings were those crystals that stored all the knowledge of krypton...yeah, like that!

by the time i began my coltrane listening era, i had a wonderful place to live in kreuzberg in berlin with endless amounts of time to "study", so i made a point of beginning with the earliest recordings first and meditated on them repeatedly until i had them memorized, then would move on to the next and the next, chronologically and methodically all the way up to a recording that was made at a performance he did 2 weeks before he died in 1967, then i would just playlist them in order.  eventually i asked another of those funny questions...

"so...whats the deal with this sun ra dude?" 

and so we arent going to go there in this essay but you already know , so lets move on to the theory

the john coltrane theory

cut to the recent past, winter 2015. by this time, having moved from berlin to detroit to expand my project within the exponential "now", my listening-to-coltrane-all-the-time era had ended and i had become interested in scores of other jazz musicians to the same depth of investigatory interest; eric dolphy, ornette coleman, archi shepp, cecil taylor, and of course sun ra, as well as others, but many others do not have the depth of recordings, so they were short studies.

one night I was having an interesting debate with a friend about systems of mind control and how pop music is part of such a system (briefly, overly simplistic music begats overly simplistic thought forms). coltranes name pops up in the debate. i was arguing, in a nutshell, that he was stretching the bounds of music and my friend was arguing that he was well within the range of what constituted music, which offended my sensitivities since i had been diefying coltrane for a while at this point (note, at the time of this writing, i am 45 so this whole reconfiguration of mind is less than 5 years old), so i was becoming argumentative but he was making a couple of solid jabs that stung enough to make me think carefully about my reasonings. for the next couple of days i let my mind ponder and investigate our dialogue.

during this time i began studying micro tonal systems, which means music that isnt tuned to 12 chromatic notes like western music.  and simultaneously i was investigating non 4/4 timing.  within this span i had become bored of the predictability of 4/4.  its monotonizing effect on the brain and the mind.  I was asking question about why is "music" music?  what is this thing we call music and why is not something else "music"?  electronic sound aids this investigation very very much. and this was going thru my head while i was pondering the coltrane conversation when an idea hit me;

what if along the way to looking for transcendence, coltrane discovered that he was trapped in a psychic matrix made of sound? what if all that we perceive as his genius was actually him trying to escape this construct?

maybe this is old-hat for some but this was new to me.  so i decided to "go in" and explore this idea.


over the last few years of evolving the exo-voice, i kept discovering walls. so many of them that it made me begin to question what they were. for instance, the exo-voice is interacted with using saxophone fingerings.  I use these because i played sax and wind midi controller for so many year and decided that it would be easiest to just use that muscle memory but because its electronic, i gave it 9 octaves of range which is better than the 7 octaves afforded by the wind controller and the approximately 5 octaves you can get out of a saxophone. and i played ALOT so i began to notice that even with 9 octaves of range, i could feel that there were things i could not play because of the coarseness of octaves split into 12 notes each.  the exo-voice can change the pitch of 4 simultaneous notes using hand positions, but i still interface with this "quad-note" using 12 equal steps per octave.

to get over this limitation musicians use segementation concepts such as "key", which restricts the notes one can play together. using different "keys" is the difference between sounding "bluesy" and sounding like a military march.  much can be done but i could feel the limitation in all the things i couldn play and had no concept of why i would want to...i knew there was something in between these 12 notes and i've been working to escape out of this coarse construct for a while.

by the same token, another listen to coltranes discography revealed such a desire.  listening to his earliest stuff first, what you hear is almost perfect mathematical form.


  like sonic geometry;everything is where it should be. by the time he dropped giant steps, he was buoyant and joyful in his expression of this mathematical form.  he was a man who had it all figured out and wanted you to know it. beautiful and symmetrical. then came my favorite things!

he ran a broadway show tune thru his algorithm and transformed it so completely that no one can barely remember the orginal. all hail jazz!

hmmm...but then you listen, album after album and something emerges. where there was once certitude, there is now, not, more like an itch....a meta question.



he started to ask, in his music, why...why do i play these mathematical intervals in this perfectly aesthetically acceptable way? what is tempo? why is this right and that isnt? i could go on but the point is that questions werent with words...they were with his sound and that of the musicians he surrounded himself with. he was known to gravitate toward the outliers and freaks of the jazz world. the questions were always in the music.

so, lets cut away one more time.

almost all western music is based on the pythagorean tuning. without going into a deep music theory lesson, the intervals (notes) in this system are based on mathematical ratios. for instance, a double of any interval is its octave or 2 to 1 so, say, if the frequency is 100hz and you double it, it is becomes 200hz. thats an octave. and its logarithmic meaning that rather than 100, 200, 300, 400, it is 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, etc. so you get the note intervals within the octaves as ratios as well. the entire 12 tone scale is based on these ratios but there is an issue...

perfect mathematical intervals do not result in octaves

octaves are perfect but perfect intervals dont create them. perfect mathematical interval ratios actually go past the octave point by a small amount, called a pythagorean comma, so to "remedy" this, western music uses a thing called "equal temperment" which means that all the intervals are squeezed a bit so that the 12 tones always come around to an octave every 12 tones.  otherwise, the intervals would actually "spiral" outward logarithmically, like a whirlpool.  as is, its less spirally and more cyclical, like a slinky.  this allows western instruments to be standardized so that they can be tuned together and orchestras can result, as well as pianos, guitars, and horns such as tubas, trumpets, flutes and saxophones.

in addition, base two frequency tunings have a strange relationship to many frequencies in nature. base2 means multiples of 2, ie, 1,2,4,8,16,32,64 etc...the schuman resonance, which is known as the resonance of the planet, is around 7.8-7.9hz, very close to 8hz.  frequencies such as 128hz, 256hz and the famous 432hz are all multiples of base2 frequencies and are known to sound and feel more calming and resonant.  ive been playing with these tones for the last couple of years and although not earth shatteringly different (probably owing to my sound designs) they do tend toward being less abrasive than sounds that i was making pre january 2015.

one interesting conspiracy concerning the power of tuning was that the rockefeller foundation had been pushing for the international standard of tuning to be shifted from 432hz to 440hz apparently because it made people work harder. some say it was the nazis  whatever…but in the summer of 1939 “whoever it was” succeeded in getting the international standard organization to make the shift...3 months before world war 2...just sayin...(this aspect is less important than artificially constrained octave based systems, but this isnt a scientific paper, it’s a myth I made up as a thought exercise, so…)

who or whatever it was, all instruments from that point forward would be tuned to a concert a that was at the frequency of 440hz.  this tuning could be variable in instruments like pianos, which could be tuned string by string, but an instrument like a saxophone would have both systems "hard-coded" into the instrument-the 12 tone equal temperment interval relationship as well as 440hz tuning. this tuning standard still stands to this day as does 12 tone equal temperment, although both are less permanent with the emergence of programmable electronic sounds...

so back to coltrane...

in the early 60's coltrane was an international star. My favorite things was a massive crossover hit and he was playing all over the world and was able to interact with many varied artists and musicians. around this time he began to be fascinated with indian music and indian artists such as ravi shankar.  around this time, i believe the questions were becoming more overt. with a more bold spiritual conceptualization came a bolder more intense investigation of how to transcend these worldly constraints, two of which were the saxophone with its built in constraning mechanisms, of 12 tone  fingerings and tuning as well as the time signatures he could now see were holding him back.

he began to commune with his horn up to 18 hours a day.  45 minute solos at concerts (and longer).  a complete change of band. his music became a mutation engine. tempo and key were shed like a discarded crysallis. his soul clawed at the walls of this jazz/horn/12tone cage multidimensionally. he went into hyperspace to find the answers. it was there, i believe, that he discovered the matrix of interwoven control mechanisms.  that the saxophone, western musical form and jazz itself were conspiring to keep him grounded. it was then that he set off on his grand research project to investigate this cage and and free himself from it.

first he sourrounded himself with musicians who could build a new kind of free of the limitations he could now see very clearly.  together they would rewrite the code in realtime. as the portal threw off the energetic particles of new possibilities, he turned his attention to his horn-his ship...his cage...his weapon...his laboratory...his voice...he re-comprehended what it was. each key, each sound that escaped from each vibration was a bit in a quantum space. he would stack the intervals so fast that they sounded as if they were played simultaneously. he was programming his own perception of himself thru this interface. there were no longer 12 equal tones. there was only cymatic computation projected into a portal of sonically encoded intent.  if you listen closely to when he squeals a note, this is no random sqeak for effect. this is a new form of emergent high pitched meta-note birthed from intention, experience and physics. its not one sound. there are overtones and harmonics that come from placing the lip, the tongue, the breath and the throat cavity into a precisely exact position. feedback and control. cybernetic perfection.

listening to this recording which was done shortly before his death, you hear a lifetime of research assembled into a meta-portal. a portal of portals. a wistful prayer. it feels like he knows that he is not long of this earth and wanted to build a construct that was the expression of a life of investigation. this was his unified theory of jazz. it never once has a discernable tempo or key, but there is an order that is undeniable.  i feel that he realized that this was his opus moment. that there was nothing more to do within this construct. anything else would be him crossing tracks he had already made. he completely exausted the possibilites of these constructs and he knew it. the screaming that comes from the horn in this concert is simultaneously the expression of perfect control of an interface of limited dimensional resolution and the voice of Self inhabiting his body and experience to speak new dimensions thru them as fully as could be done with his construct in that moment. he clawed his way free of the cage and became the angel.



Naima interface revision 1

so, finally got around to revising naima.

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i am taking my time with learning the coding neccessary to program the esp8266's. i'm using the Arduino IDE so there are more than enough tutorials. its just amatter of learning the function calls and the syntax. i currently have connection in one direction and only 9 bytes of data, so i want to comprehend why, more fully, so im gonna just meditate with it for a while.

in the meantime, i decided to finsh the Naima interface. it was unfinished from running out of material and time in Morocco and since i need a proper playable testbed while im learning to code the new parts of the exo-voice, i figured it was time to finish it.

the hand braces are neccessary so that my fingers "float" above the sensors. the dome is neccessary to refract the light from the rgb led in all directions smoothly. otherwise its just a little annoying point of light.

although it is a sort of hybrid of wind controller and exo-voice, it feels very different from both. the angled side-by-side hand positioning connected to the mouth, feels more singularthan the exo-voice...and a wind midi controller, but pressure initiated function calls, gestural sound sculpting, binaural panning, looping and ganular sampling are all from the exo-voice and i couldnt even dream of such things being built into the wx5 i used to play so this wont be a step backward...more like a step sideways.

oh, and to add to not using saw/boehm fingerings in this interface. ive been working on an 8bit fingering system for over a year and i think its time to implement. im already out in the woods with this thing so i might as well forge on #forwardretreat

i will begin posting the sounds it makes soon.and will post the files to build it next week. unlike the exo-voice, this one wasnt planned or promised so it'll give me practice in releasing the exo-voice more efficiently, when that time comes #verysoon


Naima’s First Flight; why this interface exists and why it’s important (to me)

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(first, an apology to the MIT Media Lab. for not being able to demonstrate my latest Exo-voice construct on account of not having a working knowledge of the wifi modules I chose to use.  with that said, I plan to come back that way with the evolved systems to share why it may not have been such bad thing for the concept to have failed at that exact moment.)

soooo….hey Smile !  its been a while.  in October of last year, I ended my workshop residency at 5200 Chene st (thank you again Ben and Vanessa, for allowing me to inhabit your space all summer) and came back to where I have been living here in Highland Park and began pondering something I had discovered slightly earlier in mid September; that

all the fingers have a direct relation ship with the thumb. 

I never actually asked the question, but the answer came after making a tweak to the hand unit keypad at that time.Picture 506

I angled the pinky key so that it was facing the thumb position, like grabbing a baseball, rather than facing down, like typing on a keyboard. this single tweak changed the whole feel of the system. the fingers seemed to simply “fall” where they were supposed to.  it was a completely new experience!


jumping back to october, newly relocated back at what we will call the “home lab”, I was trying to make sense of this revision.  it uncovered the optimal hand positioning for the hand units, but then I realized that the thumbs position out to the side of the hand was now obviously wrong. Picture 279  a few days were spent investigating changing the thumb positon AGAIN when it became obvious that this hand unit design was not gonna make the cut.

the previous hand units were designed for the previous-perfect hand positoning and for its modularity.  one thing I have learned throughout this process, is that you can not get too attached to a particular form because what is perfect today is tomorrow problem to solve.  as such I went to the note book and began playing with this thumb to finger relationship and came up with this design sketch. Picture 526

around that same time, 3d printed circuits were haunting my dreams.  I had spent most of the summer rebuilding my reprap to extrude dual materials, for the purpose of creating integrated circuits inside all of my future designs.  so with the new design, there was already an inbuilt 3d printed circuit and sensor conceptualization, which are represented in the sketch as those small black lines.  this was the most efficient touch/pressure sensor I could imagine at the time. 

And so it begins

So, at the crib, ive got loads of materials; f-electric conductve, taulman nylon and ninjaflex flexible filaments, a half dozen ESP8266 radios (more on these later) and some atmega 328p IC’s. the goal of the winter period was to evolve this new construct as the basis of the release version of the exo-voice system.  that system would be even more 3d printed, more ergonomic and use less expensive components that were also more powerful than the currently used ones.  designed properly the exo-voice system would convey its gestural trajectories by virtue of the design, be easier to assemble, and cost MUCH less; going from a total of about $350 to about $60; TOTAL!

Picture 524

You can see here how hand position can convey gestural axial position by using the flat side as a sort of meter. in this pic the left hand is all the way to the extreme of the xaxis and the right hand is in the very middle. it is easy to see from the front or the back, as the pilot.



most of october and november was spent experimenting with printing circuits and sensors and testing them with LEDs

By december, I felt I was ready to begin work on the new hand units but felt “distracted” by the existing (working, refined) exo-voice.  it was going to be harder to go where I needed to go with the other system there acting as a net when (not if) I failed, so I made a choice; send it to one of my contributors (who shall remain nameless). this solves two problems simultaneously; 1. its not here influencing my design decisions or giving me an excuse to just use it instead, and 2.being a sort of “soft” start to campaign fullfillment, I can get feedback from one of my contributors on how approachable the concept is currently and use those notes to refine the current system. in addition, I get it back once I have the release system ready to swap out with him later.


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vlcsnap-00044As you can see in these photos (there is much more detailed information in the video),  design concessions had to be made to get it all flowing.  I had been all gung-ho about printed circuits but I found their conductivity to be too low.  for sensors, printed conductive traces are great and revolutionary.  sensors are now a design element. the entire design is now much more maleable thanks to this.  but they are shitty for circuits.  the electricity gets from point A to point B but at a greatly reduced current density.  I decided to save that skirmish for a future date and went with wire.Picture 601

the benefit of forgoing printed circuits first was that I could just run branches of anode and cathode wire to wherever they needed to be.

the Leds are brighter than previous leds I have used so only 2 of them were needed ; one for system feedback and one for edit parameter feedback. their placement is much more fortunate and also help convey axial postioning in addition to the “L”-shaped design.

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note at this point; this stage was reached 2 days before I was to fly to Boston to present and demonstrate the latest aspects of the system at MIT.  everything in these pics worked wonderfully except one thing…

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The ESP8266 wifi tranciever

I do not believe there is anything wrong with the ESP.  just as I have learned dozens of times before,  the lapse is/was in my over, under and inner-standing of the module.  there are so many ways to approach programming it now, including NodeMCU, Arduino IDE, Python, as well as AT commands. there were 2 days at this point to figure it out and made great progress!!  but not enough progress to get it working in time for my demonstration Sad smile 

although I always warn clients that I have no idea what I will be doing on the night of an event, it will usually at least work slightly or catch fire (has happened) or something. but on this night, the system still existed in a future that is still pulling me toward it.  it’s the equivalent of not being able to speak so it was very frustrating but somehow, necessary and very non-coincidental.  my router died earlier that day as well and none of the very helpful staff or students at MIT could get anything out of it either, so something was in the air, I feel.  and that something usually pushes toward more novel abstractions so rather than trying to brute force it to work I meditated on it for the week spent in new york and in philly , before flying to morocco 10 days later.

Naima Rising

while in New york visiting friends, I was haunted by this inability to perform.  when not meeting up with friends, I was studying basic programming (arduino IDE uses a variant of C++ as its language)and kept getting close but finally realized that it was going to be a big gamble as to whether I could get the wifi going properly, then refine the construct before the casablanca event on feb 4th.

so I shifted gears; what if I took some of the spare parts I brought with me, and designed a “something” playable?  the limiting factors were

  • arduino fio
  • an RN-XV radio tranciever
  • some LEDs
  • an accelerometer, taken from one of the new hand units
  • some wire
  • an old air pressure sensor
  • NO touch sensors-after 4 months of experimentation, I knew how to make working printed pressure sensors and switches.


a single arduino has 8 analog inputs and 12 digital pins that can be input, output or pwm (pulse width modulation) which mean they can output a dimmer-like signal. I use these to control LEDs.

the first idea was this-a playable mask

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it would be played by placing my fingers on the sides of my face and blowing into the mouthpiece. I may still try this one day but under the crunch I was feeling, I quickly scrapped this idea but not before I got this from it

Picture 605when laying out the fingering, I realized that rather than using all the analog inputs for finger keys, meaning no analog inputs for breath and accelerometer, I could use 1 analog in for breath, 2 for accelerometer and 4 for the fingers, namely the thumb and index finger on each hand, then use 3 digital switch inputs per hand for the keys.  those 4 analog inputs would respond to finger pressure, allowing them to be use as a key when pressed lightly and as a edit mode function when pressed hard. (imagine holding a tiny sandwich with just the index finger and thumb of both hands…this is the mental construct.)  those 4 would form a 4 bit array by typing 4 bit values in, there would be 15 different finger combinations that could be used to control things. yaaaaay!!!  it ends up being an accidental gestural wind controller!!

the next stage after this was to scrap the mask idea a go for a horn like design.

 Picture 606

same fingering concept, using the same components. the accelerometer would be in the end and I could turn the horn left to right or up and down to use it. in addition, the octaves would  be controlled by the accelerometer, adding to the new simplicity. but as I printed the parts for this design, I realized that it was going to use A LOT of material and a lot of wire and was going to be bigger than my previous wind controller, which was instantly not interesting.  I didn’t escape from wind controller-dom just so I could build a shittier one later.




so by now I’m in Philly staying with a friend  who goes by the name grouchofractal and meditating on this issue.  efficient use of material. efficient ergonomics. 4 bit array. hmmmm….then something blinked into view just before heading to the airport .Picture 607

O-KAAAAY now this was getting interesting. much less materials, short wire routes, efficient lay outPicture 608

from the player position, the 4bit array would feel like this.(remember the tiny sandwich reference above?)




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the circuit became much simpler and cleaner, with the accelerometer down at the tip, the pressure sensor embedded in the upper part of the mouthpiece with its own embedded LED and of course the new sensors.

it is really great to realize that all the design iteration practice of the last few years can be called to service so easily and quickly.


I arrived in Casablanca and while going thru the exit scanners before exiting the airport, gave a little presentation to the customs officers who were more curious than worried about the bag full of gadgetry I was coming into their country with.

the driver and I had a wonderful conversation consisting of mouth noises, single words and hand gestures on my way into the city, which was very interesting and WARM.  I was driven to meet up with Michy Mano, the man who arranged for me to come and play for the opening of a place he was opening, Mano Club.  we hung out for a while and had a really interesting conversation about many things and he played me some of his music and music he likes and during this exchange I felt a strong resolve wash over me and announced to him that I was going to build the system I planned to play at his venue opening, while I was there in Casablanca. this was the sketch I made while we were chatting

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he kinda looked at me to see if I was kidding and when I didn’t laugh, he expressed that “well, at least you have your other instrument, just in case…” to which I replied, “um, not really…I don’t have anything that works right now…”  it is a moment like this that having a camera around would have been perfect. he went a bit blank for a few seconds- I don’t think he could figure out if I was crazy or joking because we were just meeting for the first time-but I think he chose to believe I wasn’t crazy for the moment.

as soon as I arrived at the beautiful penthouse they set up for me to stay in, I set my lab up and got straight to work

video here

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the idea translated extremely well!!  the only really design fart was not putting support underneath the keys. other than that, it worked exactly how I envisioned and went from sketch to working system in about a week.

it is not without quirks.  I taped conductive fabric to my fingers to make the keys and they are extremely sensitive so I was not able to use them properly at the event. instead, I made it a completely gestural instrument with minimal looping abilities.  the pd patches for my exo-voice were easily adapted to this system.  it is played by simply blowing and tilting the head either side to side or up and down.

the most profound aspect of this new system are that it is a full gestural breath controlled wireless interface on a single arduino!

it uses printed sensors and printed switches and can literally be played by anyone that can move their head!  .not to mention that it is much more easily printed than any of my previous designs. and because the sensors are printed, in this current state it would cost about $80 to make.  when I have the esp8266 working and use ebay bought arduino pro mini’s, this system can be built for about $17!!

this is the seed constructive been trying to design for years but was asking the wrong questions (a seed construct is simplest expression of the idea) and because there is one accelerometer tied to head movement and breath there is the completely surreal feeling of being the snake charmer and the snake simultaneously. it feels like blowing into a tiny stargate. one blows, and just after blowing is an LED, which feels like you are blowing into the LED directly, then there is the 4bit stage of interfacing and then next is the note interval sequencing (either 8bit fingerings or sax fingerings) with an associated other RGB LED  it is a surprisingly hypnotic instrument to play and will serve as the basis of the workshop build for the upcoming sonic fractal matrix workshops in the spring!

Her name is Naima.

I was referencing a very famous coltrane song when I thought it up, but then was told that Naima is a moroccan name, which reconfirmed that the events of the previous weeks had meant to culminate in the birth of this form because I had not been thinking along these lines at all, and it took a crashed performance to serve as the catalyst.


Demo and presentation at M.I.T. on friday



Sonic Fractal Matrix-Mystery school:What, why, how, where and when

In ancient Egypt, all of the knowledge of the ancient world was taught and learned at the Mystery schools. the "mystery" was the wholistic integration of the measurable and the immeasurable into a cohesive framework. science, art, philosophy,music, math, religion, were all part of a well structured construction of mind.

I chose the term "mystery school" very specifically for these references. it is not the goal of this project to create another makerspace or become a fulltime teacher in the currently accepted definition of the word, but to share a very interesting revelation about the nature of the "now" we find ourselves embedded in. we have inherited the exponential now. this NOW is a fast evolving, global organism. this NOW has a technological nervous system through which flows oceans of ideas and memes which can choose to remain intangible or can corporealize into forms that simply didnt exist 10 years ago. this NOW encompasses a historical database that itself is a lifeform which is currently cutting its own umbilical connection to time and seeking to correct itself for its own valditiy and longevity.

no one is in control.

the change we are experiencing is so fast and so resonant that even the most powerful entities within the human species can only watch or swim but no one is going to build a damn which can hold it back or control it. welcome to "the" future.

of course there is no such thing as "the" future. the future doesnt exist in that way. futures are models created by quantum minds. predictions intermingling with action and intent. the ability to create futures is our birthright. collections of resonant futures are what create "the" future. this capability gets misused. groupings of people give away their birthright and begin to believe that "the" future is some monolithic moment that we are all collectively barreling toward, because the movies or the news told them so and this is a problem. we need as many futures as possible so we can "surf" them and construct the vibrant sustainable scenarios neccessary for the unfoldment of the next (st)age.

over the last 4 years, the combination of readily available internet access, open source information sharing, software and hardware, and 3d printing has allowed me to do and create things i had no concept of when i began the project to create "the most amazing live music performance system ever!", as was the title of my first crowdfunding campaign. with the tools i have access to and/or have created, i can investigate any topic i want and then design and create models based on what i studied. this allows for a new kind of dense multidimensional model learning and expression. if i, for instance, get into robotics, i have the tools to design, print, program any kind of robot i want. or, say, the exo-footware. spend time studying biomechanics online, make some sketches, print some test pieces then print out wearable footware (although that process took about 2 years total).

there is almost nothing i can not do with this cheap/free-ish toolchain. open source tools are evolving so fast that there is something new to interact with almost everyday. and when that new thing pops up, it can be interacted with using the tools and techniques used to build the exo-voice system. the exo-voice is a node in a network of individuals using compatible versions of the Beatjazz system. this network is called a Sonic Fractal Matrix. the exo-voice itself is a tool for programming ones self using sound patterns called sonomorphs. a sonomorph is similar to music but less for entertainment and more for self-neuromodulation. why? because spoken language isnt granular enough to form the thought patterns neccessay to interact with the next age. language will have to evolve to be relevant. programming environments express this. games and VR express this. spoken language could be seen as the nursery rhyme precursors of the languages that are emerging right now. (i believe spoken language will sound more like rap music/poetry in the next age, but that is another blog post). psycho-cymatic, sono-synaptic reconfiguration will allow the mind to form patterns neccessary to interact with and mold the next age.

so as you can perceive from the above paragraphs, there is a chunky stew of theory, science, art, marinating in an esoteric broth. the idea of the mystery school is to create to possibilty space that births the sonic fractal matrix. the things that must be grasped are:

  • the ability to vision: lucid dreaming and day dreaming as design modalities.
  • basic sketching and mindmapping
  • basic CAD design
  • basic electronics
  • programming with pure data
  • 3d printing
  • basic music theory
  • performance (sonomorph theory and gestural dynamics)

from these basics, combined with community interaction, comes a holographic idea womb. the ability to program, first in ones mind(dreaming, mindmapping sketching), then the form (CAD), the functions (electronics), the protocols (pure data), then the interaction (performance), creates an interdependent multidimensional ideaform that mutates and evolves "as" you do until it eventually evolves you itself. there are many other vectors to be explored such as robotics and brain machine interfacing but for now, the above listed items form the basic toolchain.

currently i have enough components to build 2 more reprap 3d printers. i will buy more as i attract more funds. one one set will be a perpetual build up/tear down reprap, specifically for learning. the other will be built and kept assembled to make parts for more printers.

I am looking for self-confident self starters to learn the entire concept.but note; i dont care about your non sonic fractal matrix obligations. i only care about the strong propagation of this idea. i want people who want to know this and want to use what they learn to evolve themselves. once they learn all the stages, they can do with it what they want. and as they learn they must also teach. in this way the school becomes fractal and the idea can proliferate frictionlessly. i goal is 1-3 months commitment to know the basics of this model.


pyscho-cymatic, sono-synaptic, reconfiguration.

pyscho-cymatic is a word that resonated with me once i read it recently in @thomas stanley excellent book "the execution of sun ra", a fly on the wall recounting of sun ra's methodologies and mental constructions. "cymatics" are the study of how sound has the ability to propagate complex geometric form in matter, but most visibly on the surface of water. "psycho"-cymatics, in my perception, is that same phenomena, but also propagated through perception, which, i posit, allows it to be interpreted as a kind of thought-form, which leads to...

Sono-synaptic. i just made this one up. if sound can propagate through our mostly water based body to produce cymatic (geometric) patterns, which influence thoughts, then it would stand to reason that those thoughts would generate synaptic connections...memories. memories that are the transduction of ordered sonic patterns into synaptic expression without conversion into spoken language.

recent neurological research ive been obsessed with has confirmed that the brain is vastly more complex than is neccessary to enable spoken language. so much so that spoken languages could be thought of as sort of simplified music. so if you consider how much of our perception of reality is built on this simplified music, then use ordered sound to interact with this perception matrix to construct thoughts and memories created geometrically through cymatic propagation, a full reconfiguration of mind, brain and reality is inevitable.

in other words, ordered evolving sonic patterns acting on the brain should/would/may cause the brain to form memories with no verbal component by directly inducing synaptic morphosis, thereby reconfiguring said brain and the reality it projects.

i just needed to see that in written form. i feel like i at least have a vague idea where this might be headed now. see ya tomorrow at the Maker Faire Detroit​ (2pm), and Sigi Fest presented by AFROTOPIA​ at 4pm for a workshop/talk and 9pm for a more psycho-cymatic conversation 😉


2 months of wearing exo-footware; notes and observations

Picture 390I felt that now was a good time for an update on the exo-footware. in the midst tweaking software and hardware for the exo-voice, a few out of town gigs and a glorious detroit summer-all of which will recieve their own posts-Ive been wearing the "exo-feet" daily. i havent worn a shoe since late april. i promised myself that id never buy shoes again and i plan to keep that promise.  i figured that this is a good time to report on how theory matches up to experience.

The Exo-foot-summary

Picture 424As a summary, I have been working on a shoe-replacement footware design for a couple of years, parallel to my other projects, meaning mostly drawings and lucid dreaming. i wanted to investigate a footware system that was biomechanically compliant while also allowing for basic foot protection on one end and foot expression on the other.  the exo-foot is the result, or rather is the beta iteration of an evolving expression trajectory.  rather than designing with soft materials, i designed it to be mechanical over flexible and to allow for full foot motion as i understood it to be when i created it.  the exo-foot is fully 3d printed with industrial grade nylon and the flexible parts are made of a rubber-like material called ninja-flex.

Picture 434from the first moment i put them on both feet (i wore the prototype on the left foot for a few weeks before i created the right foot) i recognized that i wanted to walk around on my tiptoes more. i knew this would happen.  they were kind of designed for this modality.  but i found myself naturally inhabiting this style of walking increasingly after week one.  it seemed strange at first until i realized that, being an avid cyclist, i cycled with them from the first day i started wearing them which wasnt easy as the forefoot is only connected to the rear of the foot by way of a hinge. Picture 431 this made my normally sure footed cycle technique, wobbly, even slipping off the pedal a couple of times.  after a week of cycling and not wanting to "eat it" (it= the road), my ankles and forefoot got used to this new modality and cycling technique normalized but along with that normalization came more forefoot and calf strength and the desire to stand on my forefoot as a regular thing.  its weird...i will just be standing in a line at the grocery or walking in the grass and notice that ive been walking on my forefoot exclusively for a significant amount of time without fatigue. strange and interesting...


the side effect of this has been greater balance during performances.  realized a few weeks ago that i play different stuff on my tiptoes than i do flatfooted, whether i am wearing the exo footware or barefoot.  in the last week or so i am finding it easier to stand on one forefoot with the other off the ground, for whatever expressive reason.  this is really interesting from a performative point of view because it alludes to an emergent new kinesthetic vector that i've not investigated before.  although this is a topic of a separate blog post, my past few recent performance outtings have mutated significantly. as the fractal engine of the exo-voice becomes more and more refined-ie, creating the sound i am about to play from a simple starting point with many parallel directions i can take that overlap efficiently to create any sound concept i want, quickly and performatively-the more intimate the body expression becomes. there is a feeling of constructing a hyperdimensional form within the stereo field, that is tangible, intoxicatingly so. the concept of music as i knew it not long ago, has been shed, or rather molted, and in its place is something more archaic, pure and primal.

and the body modulates within the field of influence of this form. gone is the "stand and play" modality and in its place is bodily contortion and submission to a powerful psycho-cymatic construct that requires nothing less than a body that wants to step into and through the intangible and to become the form itself, while helping to birth and perpetuate said form and the increased strength of the part of the body that touches the ground, has influenced this capability. that, and the increase in foot width that comes from being unbound from shoes for 2 months.


Picture 433my feet have become wider and my toes spread more than i can remember them ever having been.  but all is not as simple as it seems.  with all of this change in foot morphology, there is also an increase in aches in the foot.  every morning, recently, the first few steps are painful. my feet must stretch for a few minutes before i can begin my normal routine.  my left foot more than my right, because, i believe, i wore the left foot longer than my right.  its not excruciating or sharp...its more like they still arent used to the range of motion they are having to come to terms with. 

Picture 439there is also pain on the sides of the forefoot where the rotation joint is.  this area has been particularly "conversational" within the realm of biomechanical feedback. the design is surprisingly good at not falling apart.

 Picture 432there is a solid hinged piece and a flexible rubber like piece that both act to "pull in" those edges, while the foot itself pushes outward. it is a self tensioning system that is very good at not bending too far in either direction. but this strength of design is a pain because it doesnt "give" as much as i would like.  this design squeezes the foot too much in that area and is responsible for significant foot ache. i have experimented with widening the rubber tensioner, which has helped a bit, but it really needs to be tweaked significantly to widen that area by about 4-7mm.  that would also accomodate the widening of my feet, which these were not designed to accomodate. in addition, the flatness of the design is a mistake.  the pinkytoe side of the foot should be slightly lower (2-4mm) than the bigtoe/arch side. it is very hard to roll from the heel to the forefoot because the design makes my feet want to make this motion down the middle of the foot, placing too much weight onto the arch area.  this is an easy fix but also a crucial one.

Picture 438the midfoot also needs a redesign.  the heel to midfoot section must be tweaked to rotate at th heel. currently the heel/midfoot bumps into the foot at the hinge when walking. its not a deal breaker but it can be improved.  also the hinge itself, which hinges the forefoot to the rear of the design(y-axis, if you will), needs an x-axis in the middle of it because i have found that the foot has much more flexibility than i accounted for in this design.  easy mod.

ankle/rear foot

Picture 437the rear section is interesting in different ways. the ankle brace is wonderful for short strolls but for all day walking, which i did for a week a couple of weeks ago, without my bike, becomes excruciating. it eats into tht bend area perfect. it'd actually be a pretty perfect torture device that slowly drives the wearer mad. Picture 429 in the rear of the design the v-shaped recess hurt until it calloused that are of the foot. and the achilles brace was a tiny bit too narrow and chewed its way into that area until it developed thicker skin as well.  in fact, weeks 2 and 3 were reserved for rubbing pain, healing and callouses, after which they became more interesting owing to their strength increasing tendencies, now buffered by thicker skin in the affected areas.

real world responses to the design

so, as for the responses to them out in the world, i must say that although i knew they would get a bit of attention i wasnt ready for how quickly people noticed them.  people instantly peep that these arent normal shoes.  they've been called "robot-feet" a number of times and my favorite was a woman who assumed they were "biking sandals", which isnt strictly wrong.  on a recent trip to do a workshop, i left my normal shoes, which i had not worn since beginning to wear these, at home and wore them to the airport and through airport security.  i didnt know how they would act about them but the responses i got ranged from not even noticing, to curiosity ending in "cool shoes!".  a complete non-issue going though airport security 🙂

what is most interesting is the conversations they start. when i explain that they are 3d printed it is as if 3d printing is exonerated from some place of irrelevance in their minds and instantly into the realm of "almost useful", which is kind of the point.  a musical prosthesis is a device for an especially nerdy musician, but 3d printed "shoes" are instantly something relatable.  it allowed a conversation about open source ideals to be less about lofty abstractions and more grounded in the day to day. Picture 427

The future

right now, this iteration is good enough for the time being.  i have too much to do with campaign fulfillment and upcoming teaching commitments ala sonic fractal matrix school 😉 to fuck with this too much right now.  it works and works surprisingly well.  my feet have adjusted to them quite well and they seem to be more durable than i originally believed they would be, but they arent perfect and this is only the first iteration.  i will create the midfoot rotation first and redesign the heel to rotate freely as well, when i do decide to jump back into it.  in addition, i want to iterate the toe area to be more intimately expressive and make the entire design more thin and pliable which will allow me to think more modularly as we descend into winter, when i think i might have to begin to think about shells and modules conducive with inclimate (cold, slippery and wet) weather.  maybe some fingerprint like ridges as well, to aid in scanning the ground better. 

sensors and lights can be added at any time. ergonomics are much more crucial.


the Exo-Foot 3d printed biomechanical “Footware” platform (w/video build diary)

You can not imagine how long ive been wanting to write this post.  I have been contemplating a shoe/foot interface for at least 3 years.

I had ideas about what I wanted it to do.  things like wirelessly send positional and movement data.  but that was then; over 3 years ago-which might as well be another lifetime.  since then I became a sort of an open source designer and along the way, promised myself that I would stop buying things that I could make, even if I couldn’t make whatever at the time that I needed/wanted it.  in this spirit I promised myself that I would never buy another pair of shoes because surely I could design something better than shoes, right?Picture 367

better than shoes?

whats better than shoes?!  how does one even approach that question?  what IS a shoe?  it’s a strange question considering how much of a part of western society they are.  they seem to be “normal”, whatever that means.  they were something I have always had and never questioned what they were or why they were.  are they foot protection?  are they a status symbol? are they a cultural identifier? are they a magic spell meant to bind you within a a certain range of movements?  once I began asking questions about them I started getting strange answers back, in my head.

the foot is a very complex and strong appendage.  I never knew that the heel is a sort of ball-of-bone that protrudes down from the ankle area.

an equivalent concept would be having a golf-ball sized bone in the palm of your hand.  the forefoot and toes are very springy and when barefoot, one tends to eventually end up walking more on the balls of their forefoot than on their heels, scanning the ground for anything that might cause harm, before stepping down with their full weight.  and theres a whole range of pressure points that lead to all the organ in the body (reflexology). 

in a shoe the foot does not act in this manner.  shoes make the feet land on the heel first then roll toward the front of the foot.  ive come to realize that this is not good.  the entire weight of the body was not meant to land in the heel, looking at the way the foot is composed.  it was meant to be sprung between the forefoot and the heel.  so as I started to dream-design foot interfaces, I realized that it could not be a shoe.  I wanted the same freedom for my foot that I have for my hands.  I knew that I wanted something that would allow me to put my weight naturally on my forefoot and not my heel.


Picture 357this was the beginning of a 2  and a half year investigation because most shoes I would research were, well, shoes and I didn’t want a shoe.  I wanted something that allowed for full foot motion range while also being a platform for design iteration.  if I could design a relevant biomechanical form, I could iterate it over time.  and as a shoe, daily useage becomes the best laboratory for what is possible.

so at first the designs focused on being a semi soft shell for my feet. Picture 356Picture 360 the thinking was that it would be the barest possible covering , allowing my foot to act as it wanted, while having a slight tread for grip.  this immediately sucked…hard.  the toecoverings were painful as was the rest of the design.  it basically just hurt everywhere at once, so I put it away for a while and let the process keep marinating in my mind.20140620_00401420140620_001533

after a couple more iterations and some interesting insights from designing the new mask, the concept changed.  with the new exo-voice “cicada” mask, I found that interlocking small pieces of nylon allowed me to design a kind of softness from the relationships between rigid pieces, Picture 226so I designed a biomechanical “exo-foot”; a design of snap together hinged pieces that would be rigid when necessary and completely biomechanically compliant the rest of the time.

Picture 363Picture 364

the design was deceptively simple; a hinged heel that rotates freely, which was hinged to the mid-foot by a hinge underneath the ankle (because you don’t want scratchy nylon touching your ankle, trust me)., which then connected to a mid-foot hinge, which then connected to a mechanical forefoot which moved fluidly with the forefoot.

by this point, ive been designing daily for 3-4 years, so I don’t rush…I let the iteration happen mostly in my head, then once the formula works there, I draw it and once the formula works there, I CAD it, then start printing.  at any given time, ive got a dozen completely unrelated designs of various interests iterating in my mind. I decided to work on this one at this point for two reasons;

1. my shoes are fucked up and I needed something else to put on my feet and

2. the exo-voice iteration, especially since I am working to get a “proper” form out to my long-waiting contributors, burns me out after a certain level of pushing so from time to time its nice to change gears for a few days and come back to it fresh, later.

Picture 346

technically, this is draft v2.5 but the first draft that is actually wearable. this is the visual and narrative storyline of the preceeding ones.

not only is it a shoe replacement, it is now an iterable expression I call “Footware” (trust me…nike et al will crib this word as soon as they see it).  I can evolve what my footware does as easily as any other aspect of my system now and just as multidimensionally (form, sensing, robotics, light, spatial position, etc).  for instance, currently its got a sort of sandal like forefoot area, but now tht it exists, I can iterate each toe, easily over time.  its much easier to adapt something that exists than to invent it in the first place.  I can make bike pedal clips and integrate controllable lights for biking, performance, computation…whatever.  but for right now, I just want to walk around with this one exo-foot for a while an see what breaks, then print the other foot with the upgrades.

This ends the basic overview and now it gets geeky so stop here if you don’t really care about any of that stuff

the build-printing

the peculiarities of designing for the foot evolved as my interest in it evolved. for something that interfaces with the ground and holds our entire body weight, they are profoundly sensitive.  possibly a result of wearing shoes, or maybe an adaptation for barefoot humans to better scan the ground for sharp things or. more esoterically, they do more thinking on their own than we give them credit for seeing as how they are  the furthest appendage from the brain yet simultaneously the closest body part to the earth. I will return to this question in the future. 

nylon, precisely, taulman bridge nylon, was and is the primary material I use for design work. my first thoughts were to create a semi flexible shell around the feet using printed nylon components.   I find it to have unmatched strength as well as flexibility determined by the thcikness of the piece being printed which allows me to design softness and rigidity into the same component.  in the areas where a more “true” or rubber-like flexibility was required, I used a different material called eco-flex pla (just because I had a roll of it from two years ago that never seems to end and which seem to not be manufactured anymore).  this is a rubber like pla based filament from Form futura.  between these two materials I could go the full spectrum from hard and rigid to soft and pliable.  I plan to upgrade my printer in the coming few weeks to allow these elements to be design together and printed together, but currently I design them to be snapped together manually.

I took into account that the foot interfaces our shifting body weight with the ground, so has lots of very powerful micro adjustments that must be accounted for and each of those micro adjustments is distributed throughout the entire foot, while, I must state again, carrying your entire body weight.  this means that slight roughness that wouldn’t irritate the hand, will wreak havoc on the sensitive skin of the feet.

with nylon, I use a 15mm retraction setting (this pulls the nylon back so that when you move the hotend across the print it doesn’t drag a string of melted nylon across its surface).  nylon drizzles more than abs or pla but at this setting it is perfectly fine..  because I didn’t want delamination over time, I printed the layers at a very hot setting for this material.  although suggested temp is 235-250c, I find that 285c ensures that the layers will stay welded.  this is the same temp I use for the eco-flex PLA, although at a greatly reduced speed since flexible material will easily get caught in the gears if pushed too fast.

I use scotch clear glue stick to hold all prints down to the bed during printing.  I don’t use a heated bed anymore. when the voltage regulator on my heated bed dies a couple of years ago, I started using glue stick and it, in addition to a 3-5mm brim on the prints has sufficed for all materials I throw at it as long as I print the first layer slowly and, in the case of nylon, it must be dry or any moisture will cause the corners of the print to draw up as the water is evaporated. even now that I could power the heated bed with the new RAMPS board I bought last fall, I prefer the simplicity of glue stick.  simply put a layer evenly on the bed and let it dry.  seems to work everytime.

I printed all the nylon pieces first and finalized their individual forms before I started printing the padding pieces.  I designed them to be both male and female. for instance, the heel innersole has a heel-plug that is inserted into the nylon heel shell and extended to the bottom. Picture 342Picture 355 the heel outersole had a hole that this plugged snuggly into while having 3 small plugs that inserted into the bottom of the heel shell and through into 3 holes in the inner sole.  all of the padding pieces have this type of locking mechanism.  the plugs are drafted outward so they are a little wider at the top of the plug than at the base so they fit snug and wedge in even tighter when stepped on.  no glue necessary. currently the top of the foot is held together with a Y shaped connector that will most likely be deprecated as the platform evolves.Picture 354

Biomechanical concerns

there were a number of biomechanical variables that needed to be accounted for.

  • the sensitivity of the skin of the feet
  • the ability to bend the foot properly across its full range of motion
  • Durability
  • modularity
  • upgradability

as I mentioned earlier, the feet are very sensitive and the design had to take this into account even while being printed with interlocking rigid pieces.  I found that the more flexible design was much more painful because it didn’t provide support where it was need and was too tight in other places to make up for this.  so a rigid, modular form made up of interlocking smaller pieces was a better choice.  it bends where I design it to bend and it is rigid unless I specifically design it to be not rigid.this left me play with the idea of a “mechanical shoe”; something made of interlocking mechanisms, which is a vastly easier task for a reprap.  it has the possibility of being evolved mechanically as well but more on that in a bit.

there are actually 3 main sections.

  • the heel and ankle bracing system
  • the mid foot and forefoot mechanics
  • the toes area

Picture 350in this version the toes are static, meaning I didn’t do them yet for the reason cited above. the toe area is very sensitive and any experimentation done in that area must be done carefully, so that is a longer term investigation.  at present, I gave them a zone give them freedom while being wide enough to allow the toes to spread nicely when walking on the balls of my feet, which I expect to begin doing more and more often with these.

Picture 336just behind the toes is the forefoot/midfoot mechanism.there is a brace that rotates when foot goes to balance on the forefoot. this provides complete freedom for walking or dancing on the balls of the feet.  I am currently not comfortable with attempting to run in these although my walking tests have all gone very well.

the heel is the most crucial area as this is where the whole construct locks into place on the feet.  there is an ankle brace that goes across the top of the foot at a 45 degree angle with the bottom of the foot and the Achilles tendon.  the Achilles brace is necessarily soft as it sandwiches the Achilles tendon providing a stop for the foot backing up out of the construct, no matter what position the foot is in.  it also plugs into the ankle junction where the heel, ankle brace and Achilles brace converge into a 3way structure that doesn’t slip backward or forward while allowing full range foot movement by way of a rotating junction where they all interconnect.  Picture 348

this thing  was a pain in the ass to design.  early on I discovered that if you put any non-cloth-like material against the ankle, it will not be enjoyable.  anything, hard or flexible, against the ankle is a no go.  too tight across the top of the ankle area, equally fucked.  things just seemed to saw their way into the skin very easily in that region because it has such a huge range of motion.  what might be ok while simply standing, would be horrific if you attempt to walk or climb a stair, let alone dance.  by designing everything from the heel structure, forward, it gave the whole design a strong foundation. the ankle brace rotates so that the heel doesn’t have to move at all and the Achilles brace cradles the tendon assuring that the ankle brace doesn’t pop off because the design is tools free/snap together

all together, the exo-foot feels like it was designed for foot freedom. when I am barefoot, I like to walk on my tip-toes just because I find it fascinating that it is possible to easily balance so much human on such small areas…and because its fun.  in shoes it is possible but more of a chore because the shoe wants to be flat. in the exo-foot the sensation is strange.  its like being barefoot but its also obvious that you're not barefoot.  there is a little tightness in the forefoot area and the padding can get slippy, although not dangerously so.  speaking of which, the eco-flex black based soles grip like regular shoe soles and didn’t seem to erode too badly on my first walk out of the house. I walked to the store and back after printing. and the walk was extremely favorable.  not great but considering the previous version never made it to the curb, a mile round trip stroll speaks pretty highly of this first draft. Picture 355

what this means

The exo foot is currently a shoe replacement.  and as a shoe replacement it is a construct for investigating what that means. the exo-foot is biomechanically sensitive meaning that its primary function is to support the function of the foot as it is currently expressed.  after that function is to extend the range of functions that the foot is capable of.  the feet are obviously as dexterous as the hands so iterating an interface designed around their “voice” is a whole constellation of questions I don’t even know how to ask yet.

of course initially the first things that come to mind are sensors for input into my exo-voice system.  things like gyroscopes, and pressure sensors.  next might be decidedly non-musical yet still sort of cyborg functions like reflexology points and things like clipless pedal clips and programmable lights for biking at night that either don’t have to be taken off or can be taken off and snapped onto the exo-foot system easily.  but then if its programmable, it can be integrated into the sonic system .  there is no distinction between functions when self iterated. beyond that, I could see the toes becoming more expressive and robotic enhancement is a fuzzy possibility off slightly in the distance.

the exo-foot is a a Footware platform.  these words will create their own meaning over time and will evolve exponentially as the tools to iterate them evolve (2nd extruder and ultra-conductive filament ordered and on its way).  so rather than peer too far into futures, it is most useful to enjoy this plateau and concentrate on make it comfortable so I can recycle these old ass Nikes.


what would the word cyborg mean if it were invented today? (part 2 of a series): Computer interfacing


weeeeellll…I’m not gone preach lawng ta-daaay (if you didn’t grow up in a southern black church that is code for “this is going to be epically long)…wow…what a winter.  I am speechless as to the places that the mind can go when un-encumbered.  My gracious host here in Detroit, Phreddie, opened his home and his freindship to me and I am amazingly grateful.

there are a whole range of strange posts that have been marinating for months now.  so strange in fact that I felt the need to let the simmer a bit.  but even with that, I am coming to terms with the prospect that maybe I am becoming unintelligible.  I mean, as the words fall out of my face, they sound very well chosen and well spaced…not too rushed…be sure to pause between thoughts, etc, etc but there is still that look that reflects back at me many times…you know…the look where the pupils dance for a nano-second as if maybe a quick scan of the face or maybe the aura could glean a clue as to what the fuck this guy is talking about…”that” look. Picture 326 yeah, been getting that look A LOT lately.  not all the time but with some increasing regularity.  I guess its just one of those things one has to deal with when they spend more time in their own mind space than in social space.  this winter, ive had whole weeks where I didn’t even step outside, fueled by my diet of rice and spirulina to meditate into the computer screen for 14 or so hours a im gonna unpack all of this slowly over a couple of weeks rather than blop it all out at once because its going to a strange place that deserves a bit of respect on my part.  this post isnt about the TED conference. that will be the next post.


for this post I just wanted to show one of the stages of the exo-voice I have been abstracting over the last few months.  a year ago, just before I left Berlin on my quest to explore this exponential “now” that we are embedded in, I wrote a blog post entitled “what would the word cyborg mean if it were invented today?” I was making the case that it would be a completely different meaning because there are technologies that we were not programmed to imagine, such as open source 3d printers and software.  but that question has swam around my conscious for months now.  not simply the how but the “why” of such a question.  open source implies that we are not only sharing information but that we are CREATING information.  ourselves.  so then a cyborg today would create itself, and most likely with open source tools, but to what end?  I spent a long time imagining the comic book inspired super powers that would fuel such inquiry.  things such as seeing infrared light and super strength and other such juvenile bullshit (no offense) but as I pondered the question, here in detroit, in the middle of the frequent snow…things (I don’t know whether they were snow storms or just snow fall or what, but there was a lot of snow) and realized, not too jarringly, that the question had become part of my meditative process which had become part of my design process. 

design and meditation are two sides of a multi-sided coin.  I must “go in” to find the right form and that form must be instantiable using the materials I have access to now.  then there is functionality.  this is a bit more esoteric.  function is like the parameterization of will.  function is like the hook of a good song-it glues together all the other elements of design.  I realized pretty early that function had its own aesthetic, but function also has its own purpose.  it continually makes me wonder who is creating whom? especially with all the hyperspace visits ive had in the last couple of years.  you begin to realize that we are embedded within something that interacts with us in our dreams.  we float in it but we can not percieve it like we percieve light or matter.  im not ready to give it a verbal name yet but that doesn’t mean that I cant still access it.  or it access “me”, whatever that is.

so, for most of the winter the question, more precisely, of what the exo-voice is and what it will be has been all consuming.  I frequently state that I am moving away from music as an entertainment and toward music as programming language for the investigation of self.  recently this vectored the design out into strange areas and back again and it brought back some very interesting and useful functions that will not only enable better questions going forward but make the system much more useable for my super patient crowdfunding campaign contributors on this, our 2 year anniversary of the campaign that just keeps on going Smile

one such function is that of computer interface.

I realized a couple of years ago, when I “should” have shipped the system, that it wasn’t what it needed to be, evidenced by the non-activity of the other 4-5 persons who already have that version of the system.  those systems were fully working identical copies of my own system…in fact, they were much better because my personal system is in a permanent state of “beta” whereas the ones I shipped were perfectly functional and beautiful.  besides the abstract nature of what it does and how it does it, the “beatjazz controller” as I called it back then, was only just that…a controller.  an interesting one…a pretty one…but merely a strange controller and I believe this is part of the reason no one is playing it.  it was an art project rather than a prosthesis.

to be a prosthesis, a device has to either create new functionality or renew lost functionality.  the previous hardware/software did neither.  the exo-voice began stepping in that direction in september 2014 with the neuro-mask interface.  although this wasn’t the first mask with transcrannial brain stimulation, it was the first one that actually functioned properly  and with high controllability and precision.  this functionality was never meant to be shipped to the contributors though.  it was a digimorphic question about what this system was actually for.  when you begin screwing with your brainwave patterns, you begin to take these questions seriously…that was the point of doing it-to ask the questions that would not be asked otherwise.

from there the hand units were tweaked for hand positioning and finger placement, especially thumb biomechanics, being of the highest importance.  with the thumb in a position close to how it would be when typing on a computer keyboard, a whole new spectrum of computer interfacing possibilities ran up to say “HI!”  because the hand positioning now made the thumb “float” within a circular array of switches, it was easy to percieve its position without having to strain or look at ones hands.  it was now almost foolproof to know where your hands were in the gesture field and be able to sequence functions predictably.  now the interface was less about being a musical interface and had become an extremely accurate computer interface.

why is this important?

a reason I believe for the dearth of interest in gestural interfaces is that they don’t make very good computer interfaces.  once the novelty wears off, they go in a box somewhere.  I myself was, until only just recently, guilty of really only putting the system on just before a gig  or briefly when working out bugs, but rarely for just fun or for a purpose which it was solely useful for.  in those moments, a computer keyboard was just easier.  so how could I expect that anyone else would be any different?  this led to questions such as “what is computing?” or rather, “is computing limited to existing modalities?” and on and on.  I realized that I needed to ask that question WITH the exo-voice, because if you don’t need it, why would you use it?

so I spent a few weeks designing a gestural keyboard mode.  pure data in linux has the ability to talk directly to the core of the operating system.  anything I can do with a computer keyboard, I can do with the exo-voice, in addition, I can do things with the exo-voice that could never be done with a computer keyboard.  currently that list only includes crashing the whole system instantly, but thus is progress.  I can use the system to type into a text or terminal window just like a normal keyboard but I discovered the reason this needed to exist as soon as it worked the first time.

when the contributors get their systems and the open source makers build theirs, they will have an interface that will train them in gestural mechanics without having to know traditional music first.  when windows first came out, they included games such as solitaire, whose main purpose was to expose the user to the, then new, useage of the mouse and the graphical user interface. the gestural keyboard mode (GK) fills a similar role. it uses every function that is necessary to create music, to type words. hand positions and breath pressure must be right to get proper syntax and it will work with any program, not just pure data, while also making music out of what is typed (still working on that part).  some may choose to never use the boehm “sax” mode because they can make music by gesturally typing words.  in addition, now all those who wanted to use it for vjing or other creative functions that would have needed the interface and a keyboard, now only need the interface as strings of key commands can be programmed and used gesturally.

I wanted to use this mode for my ted talk last week but it was, and is, still wildly unstable…but it works!  it is one portion of a completely revamped software system that is more modular, lower cpu (currently running on a 10 year old dual core laptop with 1gb ram) and easier to learn and modify.  the upgraded synthesis is based on a new form ive been working on called sonic pixels which enable a new kind of spatialized sound design that integrates intimately with the brain stimulation system and is based on an 8bit fingering system.  all if this will be in my next blog post because it goes all heavy in to spirals, mental slavery through standardized equal temperment scales and coltranes frustration with the limitations of the saxophone…yeah…trust, the next one is really heavy. holla…


Live Excerpt from “Within Many Realms”-Detroit, MI Feb. 8, 2015


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