Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Typical Thesis Meltdown

Today, I was trying to work on my interface in the wood shop with little luck. Nothing in theory was showing up nicely when fabricated, wood was splitting, and my hopes were getting shattered. It took a few weeks of frustration and a few good talks with Tivon and Roxie to realize that I was spending way too much time and effort on designing an interface and not designing an experience worth remembering.

In the end, I have no fabrication experience when it comes to designing instruments in the physical realm, yielding an amount of inexperience that should not be incorporated in a piece that is supposed to highlight the skills I have become proficient in over my undergraduate career.

Collaborating with Roxie, we thought up a few great points in the form of well-directed questions, which I will now answer in a hope to conserve good thought processes from my earlier explorations during thesis, but also to begin to look more holistically at what I want to accomplish with this piece.

- Who inspires me and what have they taught me?

I'm not going to hold back on this question. Not just "experimental artists" but more contemporary and everything in between. At the same time, I could go on forever, so I will just write down my influences as they come to me, but not ramble on too much.

"Wish I was there to see" works:

Christian Marclay - There is no such thing as "bad" sounds. Sound on its own has little weight, its the context of sound, its placement in time and space, and how it is shaped that give it life.

Stelios' "Fantasia on a Single Number" - You don't have to throw away popular reference, rhythm, and use an intricate interface to make an elegant, provocative, experimental piece

"I was there and it was amazing!" pieces:

Nicolas' "Speaker Performing Kiosk (Cube)" - The design of a great space and its vast implications can be inherently an instrument that can create a compelling and dynamic experience.

Juan, Ensu, and Joel's "Entanglement"- It was so fascinating to see a piece where sound had a physical response that was so tactile. I learned that sound should be thought of as something beyond an "effect" of a physical interaction, but rather "entangled" with physical interaction. I loved how my body became a part of the piece, and how personal the experience felt.

"I wasn't born pieces:"

Cage's "4:33" - This piece taught me two things (rather its documentation). First, it taught me that silence is unattainable, and that truly listening to the nuances of life can be rewarding on its own. So many go without respecting the power of this false sense of silence. Second, it taught me how important silence is in the context of composition, how most composers think in terms of what sound is present and not necessarily what sound is missing.

"It isn't 'experimental' enough for Digital Arts but I love it" music:

Amon Tobin's CD "Foley Room", Glitch Mob, - Its been done. Natural sounds, foley sounds, glitch, noise, etc. composed in the form of dance music. But the truth is its executed so damn well. Perhaps its just my opinion (well iTunes shows that many people love it, so maybe it isn't), but its a staple of the creative dance orriented music that I listen to day in, day out. It may not be as intellectually deep as some of the other previous pieces, but its the music I find myself listening to in my car, when I'm working, music I emotionally respond to no matter my "positional" disposition.

- What am I passionate about?

So much... too much. But in the end, its just three things.
1) User experience - If I don't communicate well, my art is useless.
2) "We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us" - Quote of my life. It is why I am so fascinated by remix, by the animation industry, by Systems Art. Its all based on the collective whole, not on the artist (singular).
3) Impromptu Performance - It is my belief that the truly great impromptu performance is not completely left up to chance. I feel it is a common misconception that an impromptu performance is completely unprepared. To me, a great impromptu performance has the years of experience and preparation coming into the piece. The only things left up to the spirit of the moment so-to-speak are the aspects that the musician leaves to "chance." This spirit, what I consider the impromptu spirit, is such a humane notion. In essence, it encompasses the fact of life that we prepare as much as possible for the future, but there is always a bit that is left up to hope.

- What can I strip and what can I keep in my interface?
Everything that is too performance specific. Sure, I want to perform this piece. It is pivotal to the impromptu spirit that I spoke of earlier. But Tivon brought up the good point in that this piece should be able to hold some significance beyond a site-specific performance. It is not about the interface, but rather the experience.

More specifically, I liked the bendable notion of my interface. This aspect has a continuous nature that may deem useful.

- Roxie: "When was the last time I just sat down at your computer and played with sound?"
Okay... somethings seriously wrong. Its been way too long. This leads to the next question...

- Where do I go from here?
I am going to spend a week playing and see what blossoms. I am not going to hold myself to a physical interface (though I will continue to think hard about what the final performance may look like), but really focus on experimenting with what the sound and aural experience will look like.

In the nature of impromptu performance and leaving a certain amount to chance, maybe something can be said for my less researched thoughts on collecting sound from radio and experimenting with what can be done with this spectral information. This is alluring for another reason. When a DJ or radio host compiles audio, it has a certain level of thought of how the audio may play out for multiple reasons. As this information is collected, and as it is put into context with the holistic view of "radio," its information becomes more stochastic in context of the larger whole. This plays into thoughts of what really is random, what is chance, what is providence, what is the impromptu?

In short, I'm going to play around for a week with these thoughts in the back of my mind and present a starting point next week and get peoples reactions. Lets see what becomes of it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Goal for the end of the Quarter

My final goal is to have an updated version of my prototype with 3-4 tines created and a first iteration of the performance created by the end of the quarter. It is ambitious, but I feel it will put me in a good position coming into next quarter.


So I haven't had a chance to test it, and can honestly say its not a very robust prototype, but I have a first iteration of my interface where I can test the basic sensing systems I will be using in my device. The pictures are below.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hard Week

So first off, I want to apologize for not posting before today's class, its been one hell of a week. I came in on Tuesday hoping to start my prototype only to hang out for the entire day not having anyone around to teach me how to use some of the equipment. Thus, I ended up working on my research project for Nicolas instead. I was able to flag Nate down (thanks again Nate!) to cut a few pieces of Aluminum, and picked up all the necessary supplies to construct my prototype with the exception of the pressure sensor, which is taking FOREVER to get here! Thus, I'm in a static state waiting for things to progress.

The one thing I was able to check out was utilizing the function in SuperCollider to collect more low-frequency (below hearing threshold) information from the tines, which is really useful. I am still working with getting the input signal well-conditioned but its coming along nicely. Perhaps with the addition of the pressure sensor, it will be formidable to sense all the amplitude and frequency information coming in from the tines.

Lastly, I found another work online that uses "Rulers" as an instrument. First thought... dammit. Second thought, wow there version is really limitted! No sliding capability, and the dynamics (at least from the recording) seem very muted and not very interesting. The use of an infrared sensor is interesting, but I am definitely thinking that with the use of a contact mic and pressure sensor, more useful information could come of the interface, and I'm not just saying that because of my slight disapointment that this instrument has been "done." Frankly, I'm not suprised by this. My design will also be much more discrete, without the likes of elaborate (and honestly cheesy) drawings on it, and I will be incorporating longer tines that will have longer dampening time and will generate lower frequencies. Lastly I am looking at it as more of a control surface to amplify my ideas of transformation in aural and visual gesture rather than an instrument in the traditional sense.

Check out the "Rulers" here:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Experiment Findings

So, in short, I have been able to find out the following in my experiments.

1) The flex sensors are far too unreliable and not a very accurate way to get good control information from the metal slapping quickly.

2) The contact mic offers a great wealth of information, more so that I initially gave it credit for. As should be expected, the amplitude gives a great idea of how hard the membrane is slapped, and the frequency correlates to how much length is given off the end of the table. The majority of my time thus far has been devoted to cleaning up the signal to be able to extract the frequency information, but it is my belief that with a bit more work and research I will be able to get something more proportional to the physical situation at hand.

3) Radio frequency content evaluation... still to come

Lastly, I have created a 3D model of what the device will look like and will begin a first prototype of a single slap tomorrow in shop.