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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


Sonomorphology and Transdimensional Perception Machines powered by Intent


(Play this while you read, preferably with headphones. this post was created with the intention of being heard simultaneously.)

Since arrivng in Detroit, I have been crawling down into the rabbit hole trying to comprehend things.  this place has a palpable energy.  it is no coincidence that so much crazy shit has happened here throughout time.  My host has given me space to be me and my drastically modified diet of mostly spirulina and rice has cleared fog that i didnt know was there.  i wasnt able to put it into words until today.  i feel like i need to document this moment while it is still fresh in my mind. handunit v2.2-2handunit v2.2

for the last few months, i have been refining the exo-voice prosthesis, in all relevant dimensions; biomechanical design, sonological design and sonomorphological construction(more on these last two in a moment).  ive learned that each properly realized stage of development usually becomes a singularity which then becomes the new base-level-the new normal upon which every other stage is built.

the most recent singularities have been the realization  of a hand unit form that is biomechanically neutral while enabling as much gestural expression as possible. once the hands were free to express themselves fully, a new singularity expressed itself almost immediately.  having fixed the thumb positioning, palm angle and index finger height, a very new cohesion in the sonomorphology has been attained. Picture 282Picture 280

what is music?  when music is not "constructed" properly, you can percieve it, even if your are not trained in creating it. once i finally had a hardware construct that was  working, i turned my attention fully back to sonomorphology (sonic form) and sonologic (the "why" of the sonic form).   the idea of good sound is less aesthetic and more architectural now. so i have been playing with some basic interactions of nature; hot/cold, wet/dry.  these produce the commonl known; earth, air, fire and water. I had been looking for a conceptual underpinning for the sonic idea of the exo-voice system. it should be able to gesturally construct any sound form conceivable, from properly expressed representations of these modalities. earth-air-fire-water-1i


recently, someone i care about informed me that they were going to the hospital for a procedure.  i hate hospitals.  the word itself induces anxiety in me, so to dissipate said anxiety and project a strong constructive energy to that person, i created a “sonomorph” for that person.  what this means is that i projected as much constructive intent as i could, into the sonic fractal.  whether it meant anything or not, is not the point.  the sonomorph was not constructed to entertain.  it was the sonic representation of an intent...a sort of sonic fractal prayer, if you will.  upon listening to it later, i sensed a morphology that was distinct and different from previous forms but i couldnt quite determine what it was…until i made a recent soujourn into hyperspace.

into hyperspace

upon entering the state, i meditated on the sonomorph by lying down and listening to it with headphones, in the dark.  the first listen was strongly visual.  the second listen 30 minutes later had a curious effect;  the visuals were the same but more realized. by the 3rd listen something occured in my perception;

the realization that the sonomorph was creating a repeatable volumetric space within my mindspace. 

the "song" was a place. 

but moreover, inside that place were what could only be described as machines.  not machines like on this plane of perception.  these machines had tentacles and mounting mechanisms that held them in place and each tentacle was multicolored with each color being a sort of circuit pattern, like scales on a snake but varying in geometry and in bright, almost tacky colors.  the reason i knew the sonomorph was creating it was that as soon as the piece ended, everything in the space kind of dissipated into a more randomized field of colors and squigglies, but as soon as the piece was restarted, the structure reasserted itself within the disorder, bringing back the previous structural morphology. some of the form can be seen in this phase scope representation of the piece.(will post a video later today) its not representative of what is seen in hyperspace but it does give some idea of the order present within the piece. (note the toroidal shapes at the beginning of the piece. )

the conclusion i came to was that this newer sonomorph, modulated by focused intent, IS a machine. a machine that resides in mindspace.  i also listened to the piece "duality" that i posted a few days before creating this piece for comparison.

duality was assembled from a dozen or so recordings, done at different times over a two week period rather than a single piece created with intent.  within hyperspace, it was  "broken".  it did not create a space nor did it produce machines in that space.

this blew my mind a bit.

it suggested that it was not merely the style of sound or how it is played but rather "why" it is played. 

within this matrix, the previously mentioned elements (air, earth, water, fire) produce the form; water is easily expressed as the low complexity, gurggling filters ive been using. fire is represented by distortion, clipping, harmony or energetic conceptualization.  fire "radiates" energy in any form.  fire can be applied to "air", which is represented by the more flowing melodic elements which tend to make up the "machines"  those elements that have a function and purpose that emerge out of and distinct from the generalized background of the form. its opposite is "earth" or solid, which finds it most obvious expression as hits and thuds.  in addition, air and earth are “inputs” while hot and cold are modulators! so combinations of these elements  promises some interesting resulting expressions.

what is also interesting is that although the structure dissipates at the end of the sonomorph, like a cloud of smoke, the "perception" of the structure does not. the intent machines continue to be perceptible and functional after leaving hyperspace.

what if it is possible to create “self programmable” sonomorphs that build programmable mind machines within mindspaces,  which could be used to structure our own focus on what we determine our intent to be? music as transdimensional architecture.  like a string of song hooks with syntactic structure. the exo-voice becomes a recursive "intent amplifier".

so back in "this" space

what the exo-voice is here on this plane, the sonomorph is as an exo-technological interface for intent. the exploration and design and evolution of sonic fractals that gravitate toward  “architectural mechanics” hence the shift in terminology from sonic fractal to sonomorph.  all elements on “this” side should create a "multi" dimensional expression that consciously enables “trans”dimensional sonomorphology.

the expression of light, sound and design on this plane of reality, can imply higher dimensional forms that create sonological machines of intent within the mind construct, which then feeds back into design changes of light, sound, and design, meaning…that with each focused design upgrade the resolution of the sonomorph increases, which then influences the next design change, rinse…repeat…

sonomorphology is a bridge between this plane of reality and hyperspace. 




Notes from hyperspace

ahhhh….what a gorgeous month!  I came back to mississippi in need of some trees, and squirrels and long spans of quiet contemplation and it has been that and more.  I am beginning to see and feel the oscillations of my process.  its no longer a surprise when I begin work on one thing but end up finishing something else.  I get it now.  all the talking to myself and the evolving sketches and the dream time design iteration…things feel consolidated.

For some reason, I always feel like apologizing for the dearth of posts I make now.  but trust me…its for the best.  I think about sharing my process in the moment but, especially as the winter creeps up, I now know better.  those that know me personally know that I am not short on words or ideas and can talk endlessly about them (especially in the winter), which was a reason I loved berlin.  it’s a city for such people.  but when I am swimming in idea mutations and variations on themes that have nothing to do with anything I am working on, it gets to be too much even for my more talkative friends.  BUT, it is necessary…I cant stop the process…I wouldn’t even try.  its too amazing.  swirls of ideas, history, cosmic forms, algorithms, all mutating amongst each other as if they are the same.  no limitation on possibility.  universes expanding and collapsing a thousand times a day.  but the problem is that I might need to invent a universe that will spawn a concept that doesn’t exist here then, as Sun Ra would say, “Transmolecularize” it into something that could exist here on this plane, but even that might be transitional so in the end it was just a thought experiment for the sake of creating a new sound or form.  if I shared all or even some of them, it would become a confusion of sketches never meant for expression outside of my own mind-modelling construct.  so now I wait until the process cools a bit and then share a concise overview.

Mississippi Hacking

case in point; upon arriving back in mississippi, I was all ready to investigate 3 things specifically;

  • conductive ABS plastic filament
  • the atmel328 microprocessor, effectively turning the system into arduinos rather than purchasing already made arduinos
  • the ESP8266 wifi tranciever


Picture 133

I ordered and received a roll of conductive ABS a few days before returning to the south.  while at Noisebridge Hackerspace in san francisco, I was “conducting” electrical conductivity tests to determine how best to incorporate this new material.  as a carbon-plastic composite, this material can conduct electricity weakly, but well enough to create simple touch and temperature sensors.  this was my focus.  some of the more unique properties of the material, like not letting it cool in the nozzle because the carbon will settle in the end and clog on next use, blowing up the hotend, did set me back a couple of times, but thus is experimentation.  I began to glean valuable data.  enough data to recognize that I could, with a bit more experimentation, use this material for touch sensors.  this would make the hand units so sexy!  the design is currently restricted by the size and shape of the sensors, switches and other components necessary to get basic functionality.  by printing most if not all of those components, the scope for design zooms off at warp speed!

so it was that I calibrated my reprap a bit more, just to ensure that the size tolerances were precise.  printing sensors into the design would be a multistep process until I adapt my reprap for multimaterial printing.  I would have to print the nylon part then the sensor/circuit parts seperately.  I had my sketches and my coffee and a time horizon of 3 solid uninterrupted weeks and on the first post calibration test print…the reprap stopped printing and nothing I did would get it to start back up………………………………….its like someone mushing a booger into a slice of pizza you have been standing in line and salivating for for hours except there was no one to punch in the face.  so after the usual “why do I do this to myself?/Whats wrong with my life?” episode, I ordered a new different board, but more on that in a bit.

so at this point I have a week…a WHOLE fucking week  to kill but lucky me, there is never a dull moment with this system so I reached for the electronic components I had just ordered and received;  the atmega328 microprocessor and the esp8266 wifi tranciever.  the arduino uno is based on the atmega328 and for those that don’t know, the arduino is not only a product in itself but an open source project as well.  the majority of the work inside the arduino is done with the atmega chip.  add a couple resistors and a 8 or 16mhz crystal for timing and you can build in full arduino functionality for about $5.  from there you can customize it for the exact functionaity you want and save money as well as design space since the chip is about the size of a 6 year olds pinky finger.

vlcsnap-00012I was able to get basic code onto it to do the well known blinky light test. but ran into issues getting standard firmata onto it.  this is the basis of my systems IO. so I shifted gears to the ESP8266, since I really wanted to be printing right now, and  didn’t have the desire to fiddle with error messages. vlcsnap-00013 the ESP8266 is the superstar of 2014 maker-dom.  32bit processor, upgradable firmware, 20db broadcast strength (my current trancievers are 12db max) and did I mention  FIVE DOLLARS EACH!!  by contrast, my rn-xv’s are $35 each.  there are demos online of people getting 4km range out of these things!  and…AND each one can act as an accesspoint!!  what this means is that I will be getting rid of the wireless router as soon as I get this thing to do my bidding.  the entire network can then be worn on body and cost less than one of the trancivers I use today, with increased reception!  my experiments got me up to the point where the exo-voice connected with one of them as an access point.  I flashed the firmware and studied the datasheets but was distracted by the arrival of my new reprap brains arrival in the mail.


my reprap was acquired from the guy who invented the category-adriam bowyers-Emaker.  the board I received with the printer kit back in late 2011 was arduino variant designed specifically for 3d printing called the “melzi ardentissmo” vlcsnap-00011 it was designed to be be an all in one, easy to replicate 3d printer board.  just wire in your motors and hotend and print.  and it has been a pretty nice board, but with one major flaw; it’s a single board, or what I like to call, a single point of failure.  if one thing dies, the board could be toast.  I say “could be” because numerous things have died over time.  the bed, the hotend, the extruder.  luckily I could reroute around blown circuits to other, unused pins, but with everything on a single specialized board, it meant that eventually youd have to buy another whole board, which I had already done a year earlier and they are not the cheapest option.

vlcsnap-00014so with this failure I decided to move over to what seems to be the closest thing to a standard platform that repraps have- the RAMPS board.  this is a shield that plugs onto an arduino mega.  I like this board a lot so far.  it is very modular and each part is very inexpensive.  chinese made arduino megas are around $15-20 and the RAMPS shield, with small replaceable motor shields, cost $17.  I paid $34 total for everything compared to $90 for the melzi.  luckily the same firmware I used for the melzi, Marlin, I could use on this board, so I loaded the firmware and did surprisingly minimal calibration.  probably because I did all the firmware calibration before the previous board blew up, but I digress because I’m back in the game.

 vlcsnap-00015this board allows me new features and freedoms as well. there is an extra empty slot for another extruder, which I will need to integrate printed circuitry into the my next designs (yaaaaay!!).  I can use my heated bed again as well.  the power to it had fried a long time ago and I havent really needed it but  its nice to know I can use the headed bed if I really need it.  and finally, I can power it with anything from 12v to 35v.  I decided to continue using my existing 19v power brick but if neccessary, I could use almost any desktop computer power supply.  this flexibility is greatly appreciated.  and just to be sure, I added a new hotend heater cartridge and thermistor and have a backup just in case because I don’t want to deal with anymore unintended downtime for the forseeable future.

the “cicada” mask

Picture 160while in memphis Eric swartz and I came upon a cicada, a large rare strange looking insect that only emerge from whereever the hell they come from, every 7 years and then , only for 7days before they die.  most of their life is spent in a sort of, as eric put it, “telepathic dream state” and to be honest, 7 years is a hell of a long time to be in any state so we figured that theirs is a multidimensional existence.  telepathic dream state for most of their lives, then blasting onto this plane in an explosion of flying, buzzing reproductive brilliance then onto the next plane 7 days later…..

Picture 151vlcsnap-00016

everyday I go outside and sit in the grass and go places.  I just let my mind journey whereever it chooses, until it gets too hot or the bugs realize that im stationary, at which point I sketch things.  one such thing was a new kind of mask.  in the last couple of years, more and more of my assumptions of what “should” be, are dissolved.  I realize that most of those forms are from my previous programming by way of mass media.  it was the reason for my helmet fixation all those years ago. helmet I felt that a cool head covering…a functional head covering must be a helmet of some sort because…just because.  I never really thought much about it til someone asked online, upon seeing my choice of headgear at the time, “ why are you wearing a helmet? are you planning on getting hit in the head?”  of course said commenter was trolling me but he/she had a point;  why was I repurposing military gear for my expression?  primarily, I think, because I didn’t have a self realized construct that could do the job any better.  “the job”.  what job?  functionally, the helmet I had allowed me to consolidate my various electronic components in a singular appartus-mic, headphones, goggles (because I like goggles), all in one form.


Picture 164on this particular day, sitting in the grass I resketched a concept I had investigated a number of different ways over the last year.  to revisit the form-fitted mohawk “arms” of my previous design but make them more integral to the design beyond just hanging goggles on the end of them.  the mohawk has acted as an anchor in most of my laterday designs. Picture 35 it keeps my designs from shifting around on my head and has an easthetic I love.  but the previous designs always returned to being held to the head by straps on the sides of my head.  the previous mask design broke me of this habit.

 vlcsnap-00017I found the previous mask to be functionally very good but aesthetically hideous.  it was a perpetual battle in my mind between function and aesthetic.  I kept getting pulled in one direction or the other. while in california, i t gave me the chance to investigate my software more but the box-on-my-face thing offended my sense of symmetry and flow.  I  obviously didn’t freak out about it but it was  continual thing I would revisit when I dreamed.

from the dreams come sketches and on this day I imagined a form that left the sides of my face, head and neck open and placed  everything down the middle of my head.  because why not? 

Picture 150Picture 152

what is interesting about the modelling process now is that the CAD work and printing work are the last 10% of the process.  the preceeding 90% consists of eyes closed visioning of, first, the world the design is most natural in, and then the design that expresses that place.  in that world there was no need for militaristic overtones or inelegant function for function sake. in that space, insect inspired design is very natural and mid-face mechanics are the norm.

 Picture 154

as a side note, the two small feet in the very back , sit at a perfect angle directly on the mastoid bone at the back-base of the skull

in that world, the purpose was not for “performance”.  it was for self-o-nautics; investigating the self-“I”-verse.  the pads along the ridge of the head were primarily for electrical stimulation.  function expresses itself in the dimension of aesthetic as well as computer interfacing.  we, this mask and I,  went on many many adventures in many worlds, where I got to see how the design would respond to differing situations;Picture 146 I could see and feel when it would slip or bite or be too bulky-and ever so often I would emerge from this place to add or deduct a line or a curve to the sketch until it became an interconnected collection of pieces that could be realized with my tiny little single material reprap.

I must say, I am ALWAYS amazed when the designs materialize from this process looking and acting the way I designed them in mind-space.  when the sketch first appears on paper, I see it and think, “hmmmm…that is going to be way outside of my capabilities” but it never is.  it just takes FOREVER to imagine properly.  the design work is done with eyes closed, sometimes for months.  one tweak that I am especially happy with is the addition of 3 mm to the tip of the mouthpiece which allows me to bite the mouthpiece to hold it in place while I play.  this steadies the mask and the pitch control simultaneously.


the next phase is to integrate the atmega/esp8266 combo into it and refine that.  once that works there, it will be much easier to integrate into the hand units.  currently I mounted the arduino box from the previous design, into the chin while shortening the mouthpiece to make it flush with the front of the mask. Picture 156

but I wont be changing anything else until after my presentation at the detroit entheogen conference on saturday.  I am doing a presentation of multidimensional expression and hyperdimensional artifacts Open-mouthed smile do I even have to paint a picture of how crazy that presentation is going to be with this mask?  makes me want to cry, im so exicted.  afterwhich, I plan to investigate detroit and explore the birthplace of techno.  I have assembled a few new nomadic tools into my gear bag.  more on that in the next post.


Last flight of the cicada and the evolution of kinetic polyrhythm

the above episode is actually #8.  i plan to go back and build episode #7 in the next couple of days.  I just wanted to get it out while it was fresh on my mind.  it felt opportune.  I was in memphis for a “thing” (concert/talk/q&a) at Forge Hackerspace, which I will get to in a minute, but after said thing, I and my host, Eric, walked around in an area near the river and came upon this Cicada on the sidewalk and proceeded to carry it and talk to it until if decided it had had enough of us talking to/about it.  it just so happened that I had my camera and my lenses with me on this little excursion and I was able to get this strange (high resolution I might add) footage of this strange creature.  Eric knew so much interesting information about these creatures that I just had to get it on film.

I didn’t realize until later that this encounter meshed perfectly with serendipitous sonic interactions that happened during the “thing”.  for the last few months I was in self-imposed exile in california, busking down by lake merritt in an attempt to find something…a sound…an idea in the form of a function or gesture or…I don’t know what to call it but I knew that I needed to play-program-play-program to find it and then in mid august I found this…

interestingly, before I went out on this day, I had spent a few hours watching ravi shankar videos on youtube.  the over lapping polyrhythms had been very intersting to me.  so when I hit the pitch, this layered, filter-modulated polyrhythmic kinesis seemed to be just hanging out waiting for me, as if it had just been waiting just under the surface for its time to emerge from its previous state, just like the cicada, which stay under ground for 7 years before emerging in vast brilliance.

one effect of this polyrhythmic filter interaction is a pronounced insect like quality to the rhythm…to the sound.  so much so that it makes me wonder in two directions;

  1. are combined insect songs a singular fractal sound propagation system?
  2. should I begin to model in the direction of how insects propagate their song?

I’m mostly just thinking out loud on those tips, but the new interaction makes the SPOR(single point of origin) concept of fractal synthesis, make more sense.  every aspect of sound is easily iterated now so, you know…insect vectors?  why the fuck not?  I imagined insect vectors a few years ago but had no refernce for how they would manifest…until now. 

The “thing”

first off, I walked into see this made out of metal


this is the stage!  the artist, Elisha Gold, a local metal artist, designed it based on pictures of my tattoos!  I always love coming to memphis because it is always this level of energy!  later in the evening we “jammed” together; me on my exo-voice and he on metal grinder!!  the awesomeness never stops! 

before the show, Eric Swartz of eventone media, and i , did a bitcoin transaction onstage to show how easy it could be.  all together, my experiences of late, with hackerspaces, is making me want to really invest some time and energy into investigating possible synergies.  it would almost seem obvious that the first sonic fractal matrices would evolve most naturally from such environments.

for this post I really just wanted to post the video from from the “thing” and give it a bit of context before I begin digging into an unreal amount of footage from the last two months in california and into a new conceptual episode style. 

Last flight of the cicada by Onyx Ashanti on Mixcloud


Time to wrap it up…

ok, in the vein of one of my favorite dave chapelle skits, i think its time to wrap it up...

next week (time and date to be announced) i will be doing a...presentation/lecture/performance/thing at the UC-Berkeley center for new music and audio technology (CNMAT), then on August 1st, will be a proper concert in the same venue, at which time i will wrap this joint up and call this phase of the project "ready to release", meaning that all the contributors will get their perks and soon thereafter, all associated files will be uploaded for free download for anyone interested in investigating this project on their own.

it is with trepidation that i make this announcement, considering how many "mission accomplished" moments ive had i the last year, but as i prepare to leave the bay area, i dont want to keep lingering on this project endlessly. baby is ready to will be...


The Nomadic diary of Onyx Ashanti-Episode #5 “Boogie up…Boogie down in Oaktown

It hasn’t rained once in the 2 months ive been here.  I hear that there is a drought.  I had forgotten what endless summer is like.  well, hmmm…it s more like endless “spring” mornings, “summer” afternoons, and “autumn” evenings in the Bay area.  this region has a very strange micro climate that is unique but you get used to it.  I used to be…but I find myself consistently surprised by the complete lack of rain since arriving here in may.

there are many things that are unique about this region, for me.  some of which made me come here to live almost 20 years ago…some that made me stay or come back for much of that time, and some that remind me of why I keep leaving.  one of those things here is busking.  when I moved here, the bay area was alive with buskers of all sorts.  as a busker myself, I thought it was paradise.  things like turf wars(not real ones…mostly just slightly irritating ones involving loud sound systems) and cops made me leave on numerous occasions over the last couple of decades but the busking scene here is very relaxed when youre not trying to hit the hot tourist spots.  if you hang out enough, you will be treated to some of the most unique (I seem to use that word a lot when describing this area) buskers in the world…until the politics make them pack it up for somewhere else.  its not all good or all bad…it just “is”.  and it “is” in a region that is sunny everyday currently, so there is not much to complain about.

a pattern has emerged over the years.  I live somewhere else then come back to the bay area to regroup, artistically as a street busker, before taking my re-honed skills back out into the world.  7 years ago almost to the day, I had a choice of going to Berlin in the summer of 2007 or going back to the bay area.  I chose to come back to Oakland because I had an idea for a new kind of live looping improvisation and I wanted to be fluid with it before I went overseas, so I came back here to play on the street and refine beatjazz before I finally moved exactly one year later.

and so it is again…back in the bay area with new ideas that need to be assembled in the peace that is playing on random street corners in a city where my friends treat me as if they just saw me yesterday; comfortable like a glove.  a tiny little rig designed to be compact and unobtrusive as I iterate my process.  a laptop, little speaker and battery, a wireless router and the exo-voice.  that is all.  light, sound and physical motion…..and boogie…


a couple of years ago, I had a dream about playing robots.  rather than the robots making sound themsleves (yet), they conveyed, physically, the data that I was producing when I interface with the exo-voice.  I designed and built one. its job was to respond to accelerometer position with its two servos; side to side motion was x-axis, and attached to it was another servo that would rotated up and down on the y-axis. I named it “boogie”, because even the slightest twitch from the accelerometers would make it “dance”, and thus was the beginning of imbuing this mechtron with descriptions reserved for “life”.  here is boogie v1.0 in all its glory.

As you can see, boogie is very cute but also very low resolution for the purposes of expressing gestural data.  I even built 2; one for the left hand and one for the right.  it got the job done but it was, for all intents and purposes, a baby.  it was a move in a direction but not quite what was needed.

eventually it occurred to me that maybe two, low-res bots were not what was needed.  maybe I needed a singular, higher resolution bot; a singularity of parameter expression; accelerometer data from both hands, a color synth and led light parameter expression.  the first port of call was investigating those 6 axis car building monsters like these…


I took the servos from the two previous boogies and added two more to make a total of 6 servos, and built one based on what I had researched online.  it was cool to look at but it had no real reason to exist.  it didn’t do anything that was crucial or necessary; cardinal sin numero uno-everything must have a function. no superfluous expressions.  so in rethinking the purpose of such a bot, it occurred to me to put the two existing bots together as one bot.  so rather than a 6 axis bot, I would have a 4 axis bot-one servo for each used accelerometer axis.  in hindsight, this was easier to imagine now than it was then. 

the problem was determining how to hinge them together.  the first thing I tried was x-y, like the original bot, with another x-y attached to it.  this was amazingly shitty.  it flopped around all spastically.  there was no grace or way to discern function.  but after a bit of playing around with axial connections, it occurred to me to connect them x to y, like the original, controlled by the right hand accelerometer, to y but with the x connected, technically as “yaw”, like a gyroscope, or rather, it looked like a head that could look side to side.  the two y’s together work beautifully.  it feels very organic.  its movements mimic biological kinematics.  so how does this relate to functions of any sort?

in my previous post I described quadvector gestural synthesis.  briefly, each accelerometer axis controls a whole synth of its own-4 in total.  the hand units are designed to make the hand want to go naturally to the center of the gestural range-the half way point between the minimum and the maximum axial range.  the hand should be in a sort of “pointer”position as if you are pointing at something.  this takes practice and attentiveness.  its very easy for the hand to drift into more comfortable stationary positions that are slightly “tilted”, so it occurred to me that I could calibrate boogie to point straight up when all accelerometer axi are at gestural center.  this allows me to create synth and parameter controls that are now calibrated. and they all lived happily ever after…but wait…

robotics for all

on a whim last week, after I had finally gotten around to designing some legs for boogie that could deal with its powerful swinging motion, I was showing my friend jay the bot, which he had not seen except online.  I gave him the hand units.  he did what everyone does-put their hands into some strange contortion that has no relation to controllable gestural anything.  but then, I merely turned on boogie, explained briefly what axis controls what servo and told him to make boogie stand straight up.  within 30 second of puppeting the bot with the hand units, he had boogie standing straight up, and his hands were in perfect gestural center.  boogie had, in 30 seconds, done what words could not do in minutes, or hours. 

intrigued, I replicated this experiment with 3-4 other friends and the results were the same-using a robot as a gestural feedback system, yielded singularly positive results.  in addition, after achieving gestural center, they began to puppet boogie in very organic ways.  once they had discovered this calibration concept, the rest was easy for them.  I now have a number of gestural center-robot calibrated sound elements that relate directly to the motion of boogie.  this surprising discovery leads me to think that possibly, everyone who gets into gestural synthesis will benefit from having a parametric gestural feedback robot.  I will know more this week as I bring the light feedback system into the fold.

in other news…

the mask design is being tweaked constantly and now being put on other peoples noggins, which is gleaning much useful data (spoiler alert: I have a very large head), and after putting the hand units on a dozen peoples hands, I have a few “universal” part variations that I will be testing this week (with associated video and blog documentation).  ive got a number of prototype models for this but did most of the design experimentation on, what could be called, a “test prosthesis”.  there is a brief shot of it in episode 5.  it will form the basis of the next episode, but I want to see if anyone notices it Winking smile 

the primary goals with the sound synthesis lately has been to regain a sense of fragility through making the functions more dynamic.  things like making the breath sensitivity pick up the slightest breath and for that slight breath to sound “slight” rather than to sound like it is “triggering” something.  the sound has tended toward functional necessity for about a year now.  if you hear some of my music from a few years ago, there was an ability to investigate a certain emotional vulnerability because of the layers and layers of well programmed software synthesizers (VSTi’s) I used back then. my designs for this system were for it to be much more dynamic than the previous systems and if judged on pure function, it is, but based on the ability to convey wide contrasting emotion, it has been stuck in prototype mode for 2 years, until just recently.

being able to go out and play to no one in particular, any time I feel like, has allowed me to investigate “the now”.  meaning, I go out and “play”, fully, what the system is capable of right now, rather than perpetually “program” toward the future attractor.  now the programming session are more focused because they are informed by a regular playing schedule.  a schedule that isnt determined by who is paying me ( but by what I want to investigate on that day…for as long as I need/want to investigate…or until the battery dies-whichever comes first.

the current evolution in the sound is coming out of the investigation of gestural interaction with the filters and the harmonic relationships, formerly referred to as chords.  I say formerly because once I learned how to produce them gesturally, they ceased to be chords and became more of a harmony array…or put another way, the reason a clarinet and a saxophone sound so different is because of the harmonic relationships created by the material they are made of, and their size.  what was imagined as chords became harmonic series.  this has made me rethink the filter array to create a sort of modulating “cavity” for the sound, like how a saxophone body is the cavity that defines its sound.

here is what this stage sounds like, and even looks like. 

you don’t have to grasp any of what I just wrote to see and hear (with headphones) what it means.  there is a coherence to the sound that kind of surprised me.  especially the filter sweeps, where the most interesting phase patterns happen.  below are a few of the audio files I recorded last week and they also exhibit interesting sonic qualities.  I predict that tiny code changes from now on, will produce predictable unpredictability.  the system is finally reaching a certain functional stability that will make it easier to distribute as something that is learnable and playable.  all the pieces are in place.  now is just a matter of making what I understand, understandable for those that choose to investigate beatjazz in the (near) future.


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