Sunday, January 29, 2006

Visual Complexity

One interesting thing about blogging is that it gives the blogger a chance to create a post that might not necessarily have a terribly exciting point to make - or to try out less wellformed ideas.

Of course, one might argue that this blog doesn't have a point.

All joking aside, I've had a lot of fun reading design blogs recently. These don't provide as much food for discussion for me as music and technology blogs, but some of them are visually stunning and (even more exciting) very few of them deal with design, interface, technology, etc in really new ways.

One of my recent favorites is Visual Complexity. This is what Manuel Lima, creator of the blog, has to say about it: intends to be a unified resource space for anyone interested in the visualization of complex networks. The project's main goal is to leverage a critical understanding of different visualization methods, across a series of disciplines, as diverse as Biology, Social Networks or the World Wide Web.

Here is a sample of the sort of visual representation that is featured on the site:

We are looking at a representation of the genetic interaction network in the bacteria Escherichia Coli.

The reader is just as likely to come across a representation of bacteria as you would be to see a map of a subway, or of social interaction. It is really neat - check it out!

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Via we-make-money-not-art comes word of an truly interesting artistic interface.

This is an installation titled [stop]kontakt, designed primarily for children.

A number of objects are wired together and labeled with a + or -. In order to make these objects physically work, the participants must join together the + and - by forming links between them (thus completing the electrical curcuit and activating the object).

Ultimately, the interface isn't anything more than a series of triggers that force the partipants to work together in order for the installation to work successfully. However, that is the goal of the installation, not any misguided attempt to free the guitar (or electronic music) from some imagined prison. [stop]kontakt is an interactive installation, in every sense of the word.

Plus it seems like a lot of fun for the kids....

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Habitat Hotel

Via Information Aesthetics comes word of an interesting architectural installation called the Habitat Hotel.

Designed by James Clar, the Hotel will feature a LED-latticle that displays color and brightness depending on the amount of sunlight each node receives. The result changes throughout the week, month, and seasons. The lattice is light enough and small enough to be see through, and, most interestingly, each sensor and LED is self-contained, so there is no central computer needed to run the mesh.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The SSS - Six String Sonics

Again, a variation on the theme of interface. Meet the Six String Sonics, from Japan.

The interface here begins life in a fairly interesting manner - the guitar is broken in to 6 separate one string instruments. The concept of breaking apart a traditional instrument in order to create something new isn't terribly new (on a larger scale, ensembles can be seen as attempts to put disparate elements together to create a new instrument - a sort of reverse of the process at work here).

As you might predict, however, the results are astonishingly pedestrian. Be sure to watch the video on the website. They truly believe that they removed traditional limitations and come up with something really new. But then why is the music no different than what a band with 9 members (the lineup has 6 guitarists, two bassists playing one instrument, and a drummer) could easily achieve? If you gave 6 players a traditional guitar, and limited them to one string, you'd get exactly the same result, which is to say that the songs end with 6 aspiring guitar heroes trying to play as loud, fast and high as possible. Watching the video was almost as painful as watching Jon Matis's improvised guitar quartet.

PS - when I spell-checked this post, it suggested "fascist" for "bassist"

Monday, January 23, 2006

Putting our new studio together

A brief history of the physical location of the studio here at the University.

First it was located in/near the former TV studio control room, which offered a fairly typically sized studio space. It was moved a number of years ago from this dungeon to a bigger room, with many workstations. The goal in this case was to better integrate technology and teaching. What was discovered was that, in order to teach technology, the teachers had to understand it and use it in all of their classes.

Guess what?

That didn't happen, so when the computers got to be too old to fix anymore, a decision was made that all of the labs on campus would have Finale installed. That's right - the entire campus has Finale! That allowed us to go back to having 1 or 2 stations (with an additional 6-7 stations in the Art lab for bigger classes). Since we were able to concentrate our efforts on the smaller studio, we were able to purchase a 6.1 speaker system along with MAX/MSP and Jitter, and upgrade all of our software and mics. It isn't the world's greatest studio, but I am happy with it, and hope to greatly increase the quality of work that our students are doing.

We also moved back into the dungeon, a process that I have been working on last week and am still working on (and will probably be continuing to work on for a while). Along with upgrading and cleaning up the studio, I'm also working on a handbook that will be made available to all students in the studio, which will include not only advice on how to run the studio, but also an extensive bibliography, discography and glossary.

Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Not a bad day...

It's days like today that remind me why I do what I do...

Started by teaching a class on the History of Rock, then heard a guest lecture by a visiting Czech scholar, Jan Vicar, who introduced me to some interesting mid-century music by Czech composers (Bohuslav Martinu was perhaps the most interesting of the bunch). After lunch with Jan, grabbed a quick drink at our local watering hole before a piano recital by my friend (and excellent pianist) Ann. Just now, as I sit down to catch up on a few emails, I discover that I've had a piece accepted at a small festival in Kearney, Nebraska.

Gosh, I hate shameless self promotion, but all in all, not a bad day!

Thursday, January 19, 2006


One of my favorite pieces for voice is Pauline Oliveros Sound Patterns from the 60's. In it, Oliveros uses the chorus to recreate classic ElectroAcoustic analog techniques, like ring modulation, noise generators, filtering, etc. It is a really neat piece, only available on vinyl (hint hint record labels).

At any rate, there is now a pop culture version of these same vocal techniques, appearing in this Honda commercial. In some ways this is fairly pedestrian, but it also made me wonder why we don't get commercials like this in the States....

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Another useless instrument...

Well, I'm sorry to say that it seems that I'll be presenting as much trash here as I will be presenting interesting items....

The latest is the Barong Analog.

This instrument has a delibarate trash aesthetic and seeks to take electronic music from synth boxes to a more performative level.

When will these people learn? It is really all about seeing someone on stage making bad music?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Odd Music

Well, cruising in South Florida tonight, top down, blasting some music....

At one point, some Gypsy (Roma) Brass Band music came on my iPod, which elicted an interesting reaction from my father, who proclaimed it "wierd."

Now, I won't do this very often (in other words, my readership is far too small to support an "open thread") but what is the oddest item in your music collection? I'm not talking guilty pleasure - I mean, what is something that doesn't belong????

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Courtesy of We Make Money Not Art, I came across an interesting installation by Anna Wignell, titled "Sorting".

The image is created via a camera image, which is processed in real time through a computer running an algorithm that extracts brightness information from the image, pixel by pixel. The pixels are then reordered from top to bottom by brightness. Clicking on the link above takes you to a description and a very short video that illustrates this process.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a "soundtrack" for this (I couldn't find any further information on this, sorry!).

But this is a very interesting artwork, nonetheless. I am intrigued by the reordering of the visual information - in a sense, this is almost "visual music" in that the participant is able to reinterpret the material of the work, not unlike music. What I mean by that is, the processing is taking an object that we normally perceive in three dimensions (image) and reducing it, very strongly, into two (one could even argue one) dimension. As musicians, we are forced in a similar way to shoehorn information into time-based media. A participant in a visual art exhibition approaches a painting, or a sculpture, all at once. Particularly with painting, the artist has little control over the unfolding in time of the piece. It is possible (and many have tried this) to design the approach to the work, to impose a small amount of "time" into the work, but in the end, the participant dictates their own path through the art.

In music, we have no choice - there is a definite order to our art. Even if we build a non-linear structure, a circular structure, no the end, one sound must follow the other. But this process allows us to instantly do what visual art so often cannot - create time-based art.

What is interesting (to me) about "Sorting" is that it goes the "other" way - instead of imposing a third (or better said, fourth) dimension to visual art, it takes a dimension away, leaving only the building blocks of the image, reordered.

What do you think??

Saturday, January 07, 2006

New Musical Experiences and other fun links

Sorry everyone - the holidays are a busy travel time, and between Upstate New York, Indiana, and now Florida, I've been neglecting the blog a bit. I have a few flights over the next two days (to get to FLA) so I hope to get some more great material for us!

In the meantime, I've been collecting links, and I'll share some with you!

First, an online version of an interesting and thought provoking talk given at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki regarding "New Musical Experiences".

The organ in Cage's organ2 (ASLSP) has reached its SECOND chord! Woo Hoo!

I'm currently writing a paper on Mash-ups for a conference in February. Here is a collection of fun links that I've found (most of these are old)

Pop Eats Itself
Mashing for Beginners

The Top 50 Music Videos of 2005! My fave is Beck's "Hell Yeah" I think.

This ruined many hours of work this week. THANKS A LOT! :(
Web Counter