Cambridge, MA

Invent Music: John Zorn Workshop

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ben, on the Tritare

Ben is too modest to blog this himself, but he was recently asked to weigh in on a neat new acoustic instrument, the Tritare. Built by by mathematicians Samuel Gaudet and Claude Gauthier of the University of Moncton in New Brunswick, the Tritare is a guitar-like instrument with 3-segment string networks that produce non-harmonically related overtimes, producing a richer sound than a traditional stringed instrument.

Vigoda had the following to say: "Given that so much music experimentation these days is done with computers, the tritare may be one of the last new instruments to be invented relying entirely on novel physics without incorporating any computational element."

One of the last, eh? Well, not if our very own Erik Nugent has anything to say about it! (but yes, much of our group's work does involve a computational component) To read the full article, click here.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Easy Button Musical Interface

For the Mandala performance at SIGGRAPH 2006 we needed to create footswitches so that each musician could communicate with the Mandala program. For example, when sheet music needs to be scrolled a musician hits a footswitch button to tell the computer. Other possible uses are voting on song changes, input devices to control DSP effects, etc.

To make them cheaply and simply, we hacked eight Easy Buttons from Staples. The buttons were connected via guitar cables (or cheap custom equivalents) to a hacked apart USB keyboard. The keyboard's circuit board was put into a project box, mapped out, and then soldered to 1/4" jacks. Easy Buttons were plugged into the box which was plugged into a computer using USB. The application on the computer read-in button presses as if they were keys on a keyboard being pressed and processed the input as desired.

An tutorial was created to show how these were made.

- Joe

Friday, August 18, 2006

AudioPint status update

The AudioPint underwent massive development for SIGGRAPH 2006! In the few weeks leading up to the performance, I mounted the motherboard, power supply unit and hard drive in the aluminum briefcase, and cut ventilation holes. On the software side, I tinkered with Ubuntu and ALSA enough to get the 8-channel in/out audio card working. A nice resource for turning an Ubuntu linux computer into a recording tool can be found here. Although the AudioPint is built for live performance much of the studio recording audio related how-to is useful. For a multi-person performance (more on this in a minute), multi-channel in and out is important, since not only does everyone need their own microphone, but the sound guy needs to be able to mix everyone separately sometimes, in case someone is too loud or needs to be turned up to be heard.

At SIGGRAPH, we had 6 performers on stage, each using a PureJoy connected to a single AudioPint (that is, 6 PureJoy's, 1 AudioPint total). So a single VIA motherboard with 512MB of RAM was supporting recording/sampling, looping, effects and scrubbing for 6 performers simultaneously! That was impressive. (thanks to VIA for providing us with motherboards - they rock!) We moved up to an EPIA SP13000 from an SP8000 (the 8000 is a lower-power, fanless motherboard whereas the 13000 is faster and has a CPU fan) after finding that we would max out the 8000's processing capabilities when multiple people started using effects at the same time. Reverb, though nice, is a particularly costly operation since it requires a running convolution, hence the need for the faster board.

What's next? Then plan is to build a set of more powerful AudioPints with wireless, both WiFi for communication with other AudioPints, and wireless input (perhaps Bluetooth) for control and audio. Wireless input will free up a performer on stage to run around and entertain the crowd during a show. The InventMusic crew will continue to perform with the AudioPints, and we'd also like to get them into the hands of some professional musicians, to get more feedback about their design.

Here's a picture of AudioPint under heavy development, and the intense cableage that results!


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bart Hopkin, the Granddaddy of Musical Invention

What a great opportunity to become a contributor to this blog! Ben and Dave are some of the most creative and intelligent people I know and I am so happy every time I get a chance to work with them!

I thought I would start off my first entry by talking about the granddaddy of the modern experimental acoustic instrument movement, Bart Hopkin. Most notably he published a Zine for 14 years called the “Experimental Musical Instruments quarterly” starting in the mid 80’s. During this time he compiled descriptions of some of the most amazing and beautiful acoustic and electro-acoustic instruments being invented. A wonderful in-depth interview with Bart is located at the website New Music Box where Bart demonstrates some of his instruments and discusses the glory and the frustrations of inventing instruments. His website, windworld, is a great resource for the instrument inventor. It includes articles describing new instruments, some of Bart’s publications and recordings, and a catalog of hard to get things that inventors might be interested in. His links page is one of my favorite places to go when I have several hours to learn about other inventors out there.

--Erik Nugent
p.s. the video to the right is me, playing my 3-note didgeridoo

Monday, August 14, 2006

Thank You Note for SIGGRAPH2006! from Ben Vigoda.

Thank you everyone! These shows where we try to pull together something new are admittedly very very hard work and very taxing. I was absolutely exhausted driving home and fell asleep as soon as I walked in the door of my house last night.

This morning though, reflecting on the performance, I think the music was really wonderful and beautiful. Gorgeous layers in "hey" , rich, intense sounds in the PureJoy game when it settled in. Swing Gitan was such a nice counterpoint to the other sounds, and although I can't recall if we managed to turn on the random mode for Never Grumbling But Sometimes during the performance, when we played it in random order in rehearsal it was so fascinating how well it worked to reconstruct it in this way.

As we went into the show, we were still learning how to handle the transitions and remember the functions of all of the buttonry. The sheer mass of equipment and cabling we had to manage was daunting. For a little while there we were somewhere it was a little more like being in the army corps of engineers than in a band. Of course any unfamiliar instrument or system feels unwieldy at first - just think back to your early days of playing your primary instrument! But remarkably we got beyond all of that in a very short period of time, and we actually had a glimpse of the musical promise in this system. We got beyond buttons to music and it was exciting - it sounded beautiful!

For me, it was such a pleasure to lay down harmony lines one after another within everything else that was going on, and just jamming on sections knowing that all of the high level responsibility for thinking about where the jam was going was taken care of. We managed it of course because you guys are all such tremendous musicians in addition to being in Lauren's words, "the sweetest bunch of guys you could ever want to have tramping through your house at 3 in the morning." Well actually to do her credit, she didn't say anything about tramping, she just said you were all sweet.

I want to say an especially heartful thanks to Joe Rothermich for spending entire Saturdays hacking easy buttons, which I might add, WORKED PERFECTLY! And for videotaping and just overall contributing his great energy. And to Bret Bjurstrom for painting his wonderful and painstaking images and spending at least 5 hours repeating the same copy layer, export, click, select png, in photoshop in order to animate Never Grumbling But Sometimes. The organizing committee for the Art Gallery at SIGGRAPH 2006 did an excellent job! I also know I speak for everyone in saying thanks to Lauren for taking care of us while we were working so hard all week.

You know Dave and I were wondering aloud yesterday morning to each other why we do this. And despite my exhaustion, it was not at all a cynical question, just a reflective one during a quiet moment in the car. I guess the best answer I can come up with for myself is that we are part of a stream of human work that is bigger than us and longer than any one human lifetime. On the way home, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said, "Music is everything that War is not," and I think I sort of slept on that. During the talk yesterday, I honored several people such as Viola Spolin for having contributed new ideas and new methods to the history of music and theater. Viola had a difficult time making money doing what she did actually, but in addition to her games forming the basis for Comedy Improv, and being used daily in almost every theater and film troupe in the Western world, the games she developed gave society tools for collaboration and creativity that go beyond the art world and are also used for example in summer camps and schools, and for training political mediators. To me it is to honor the work of people like her, that we work so hard to make our own small contribution to the human river of sounds and ideas.

So thanks once again to all of you, I am so honored to play with all of you!!!


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mandala Performance Footage

A brief clip, featuring Shawn Hershey on trumpet (right):

Also, check out the Flickr tag for this event: