The McGill University Digital Orchestra is putting on their first performance on March 5th at 7:30 p.m. in Montreal’s Pollack Hall. The lovely and talented Xenia Pestova will be playing the Rulers, an instrument I invented. The piece she will be playing, which I haven’t heard yet, was composed by D. Andrew Stewart and is the first music to be written for the instrument. There will be a live webcast of the show. To watch it, launch the QuickTime application (free download) a few minutes before the start of the show, select “Open URL in New Player” from the File menu, and enter: rtsp://184.108.40.206/pollackhall.sdp
A company called Guitammer has just released a product called the ButtKicker Gamer at CES. Vibrating gaming chairs are nothing new, but this is a $150 peripheral that can be attached to your existing computer chair, which seems a lot more convenient and portable. What I found really interesting was that on its website the company also offers a version called the “ButtKicker Concert” (lol), specifically designed for musical performance. Their website boasts that the device has excellent “musical accuracy”, complete with testimony from a drummer who said that he is able to feel the timing of his ghost notes.
The ButtKicker seems to be an instrument-independent vibrotactile feedback augmentation device for musical performance self-monitoring. And that’s kinda cool!
Gibson has announced a guitar with a built-in self-tuning mechanism. Some have suggested that there is a problem with allowing people to skip learning how to tune a guitar before they play it, because tuning helps develop the ear. I think this is a valid concern, and readers of my papers would know I don’t think lowering the entry fee for musical instrumental interaction is, in itself, a “good thing.” At the same time, there are plenty of advantages offered by a self-tuning guitar that have nothing at all to do with ear training, such as avoiding the need to bring a capo to gigs, or to bring more than one guitar to a show for quickly playing two consecutive songs than require drastically different guitar tunings. (Besides, there are plenty of other excellent ways to train your ear.) Quick but accurate tuning changes will also surely be exploited in composition; tuning changes can be done in the middle of a piece, and the musical capabilities and quirkiness of the auto-tuner could even be used for some as-yet-unknown artistic end.
What I find especially interesting is how the words “world’s first robot guitar” are tossed around in this press release. First of all, it seems as if the word “robot” is being used vaguely to refer to the presence of a servo system. If this guitar is robotic, then so is my laptop for its ability to read and eject optical media. I think we’re going to see more of this, similar to the way “net” was overused in the nineties. We are entering a robo-sheik era where any product that can possibly justify doing so will be incorporating the word “robot” into its name.
As for the “world’s first” claim, someone should tell Gibson about TransPerformance, the company that has already been selling automatic tuner retrofits since 2005, as well as the dozens of other music technology projects that are based on guitar interaction and involve motors. It’s old, but anyone who hasn’t yet seen the League of Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR) video of the LEMUR Guitar Bot should check it out:
It’s easier for me to accept calling the LEMUR Guitar Bot a “robot” than the Gibson self-tuner. What do you think?
Last week the Rulers v1.0 were unveiled to composer D. Andrew Stewart who will be writing Rulers music, and musician Xenia Pestova who will be performing the instrument next spring. The meeting went very well—the artists found the interface visually and tactually inspiring, which would have been obvious by the way they played with it even if they had not told me so. I took some video of the encounter, posted below. Note that this was the very first time that the interface was hooked up to sound software, so the mapping and physical modeling synth were thrown together to get something working. In other words, the sound in the video doesn’t represent how the system will behave in the end. However I think it’s still pretty clear that the interface is highly responsive to instrumental gestures. I’ll be posting more as software, musical exercises, and eventually pieces are written for it.
Update: I’m having issues with the video… apparently Sony’s MPG isn’t being recognized by any video playback application I’ve tried yet except for the Finder preview. YouTube and Motionbox both don’t recognize them either. I hope I will solve the problem soon.
Converting analog voltages to computer data has been a central part of my life for four years now. Back in the dark ages, I used the Atomic Pro, a $1500 plastic white box. In 2005, my colleague Mark Marshall developed the AVR-HID. I have built upwards of five of them, and they work really well. But a few months back I tried using Arduino, and it quickly stole my heart: eight channels of 10-bit A/D on a PCB the size of a twoonie. More importantly, it comes with a free lightweight application for programming the microcontroller, which I prefer to using the Terminal. I moved the Rulers to the Arduino platform and will use it again for my Breakflute.
This post is a bit off topic, but I have worked on both public radio broadcasts and webcasts, so I have some interest in the absurd royalty hike for internet radio stations that seems like it will be ruthlessly effective in smothering them out of business.
Under the new rules, the retroactive royalties owed by almost all of today’s independent webcasters will be greater than their total revenue. Wait a second,
How can the value that music brings to webcasters exceed webcasters’ revenue? Of course, the value of music can’t be made so low as to ensure every webcaster makes a profit; but isn’t it equally ridiculous to raise that value to ensure that no webcaster can survive?
Could the Copyright Royalty Board have been unaware that its decision would have lethal financial consequences for most webcasters? Or could it be their intention was to shut down the large majority of today’s channels, to leave the entire market to enormous media companies chasing high-profile advertising? Either way, the effect a purely mass-market approach will have on webcast playlists will likely be similar to the effect it has had on the quality of traditional radio.
The internet offers many strong advantages over traditional radio: it lacks expensive and paralyzing FCC regulations, while affording a lower barrier to entry, infinite bandwidth, and a more precisely targeted audience. The fact that internet radio stations can survive with little administration and technical infrastructure means stations can be numerous, small, targeted, and innovative. In contrast, a payola-ridden and highly politicized scene on the airwaves has led to less diversity in programming than ever before. In my opinion, there is very little good music on traditional radio — something that anyone with a modicum of taste can hear absolutely clearly.
I do not know if webcasting helps or hurts the status quo of the recording industry, and I don’t care. I don’t have a stake in it anymore. However I do believe that webcasting brings higher quality music into my life. People seem to like internet radio, so the labels should find a way to profit from the quality that internet radio uniquely offers rather than change the product in a way that will reduce its appeal. Otherwise they are missing a lucritive business opportunity, and commit the unforgivable sin of stamping out a vital part of many people’s musical enrichment. Just another example of foolish behavior on the part of the recording industry I suppose.
For more, check out this roundup.
My Powerplant Family partner Lucy May just told me she is going to be choreographing a piece to be played on a Hang drum, a pitched metal instrument from Berne, Switzerland invented in 2000. Apparently these things are all the rage in the Netherlands right now. Here’s a video of a Hang player jamming… not in a laboratory or high tech concert hall, but at a picnic. Who ever heard of music being played at a picnic?! Impossible.
Last night I heard an excellent show by my roomate’s jazz band, Jazz Warriors. It was mostly acoustic, but he used a loop pedal, delay pedal, turntable/scratch mixer, and vocal mic alongside his regular jazz kit. The turntable and vocal mic added a little hiphop flavor, but the loop pedal really changed the performance possibilities—he was able to play different and more rhythms than would normally be possible, and also self-harmonize while singing. But at the same time the functions he was using on the pedal were extremely basic: in-point set, out-point set, on/off, sample trigger, etc.
In terms of vibrotactility, the performance space was excellent because the floor was entirely wooden and hollow. Almost all the instruments in the band could be felt as well as heard. Unfortunately the tabla and keyboard were only audible, but the rest of the instruments could be felt. The upright bass (amplified), saxophone, and individual components of the drum kit seemed to be differentiable. I felt the upright bass and lower sax frequencies in the chair I was sitting in and throughout my whole body as a mostly-constant background presence. Additionally, the snare drum felt like a distinct punch in my chest and hands. But the most distinct vibrotactile sensations came from the toms, which, in different combinations, would light up separate regions of the soles of my feet. For instance, one would be felt in my heel, another in the area just behind my toes, another in the instep. To put it dryly, tom fills were mapped to spatiotemporal patterns of vibrotactile sensation in my feet. It was really fun.