CCRMA retreat and beyond

Required visual presentation for Washington State Library on CCRMA’s Max Lab

My trip to CCRMA was really good for me. It gave me a chance to focus on learning things I have a strong interest in, but tend not to prioritize. For me, making things always seems harder to justify than making music. But finding a way to frame going that applies to my job was key: get it paid for, get paid to go, and get the space/time to do it. It also gave me the opportunity to step out or aside from what I’ve been focused on with regard to music/technology. And with regard to a large part of my job, leading/developing a lab, it provided me with some very concrete information that will help me create a proposal for a makerspace geared towards electronic prototypes.

Sasha Leitman and Roger Linn co-taught the class with help from artists taking on teaching assistant roles including Jim Murphy, Bridget Johnson and Michael Shiloh. Matt Wright was also there and did a brief talk. If you’re interested, you can gain a lot from Sasha’s materials for the class too, which may or may not still be posted here:

The class was based around building physically interactive technology made to control music or installation via MIDI or OSC. The general methodology was a combination of class time, lab work time and group work/collaboration. In class we learned about the tech, the prototyping processes, construction methods, and heard lectures from the TAs and instructors about their work and experiences. The week was framed around developing a prototype on the Teensy platform that we would then perform with at the end of the week.

I built a very simple controller using a proximity sensor and a few buttons. The concept was simply a theremin type device, but more inspired by the Roland D-Beam which I used to probably over use. The buttons allow simplified control over the CC messages coming from the sensor input.

modBeam prototype: 3 button, proximity sensor, Teensy on scrap

I think the most useful aspects of this 5-day workshop and retreat was just having time set aside to work on this. But I picked up so many things, taking notes to highlight tips and tricks and places to source things, what materials are good for and not good for, what to have in your shop, and how to both prototype things on a breadboard, but also how to transfer your project to a slightly more rugged circuitboard. And one very important thing I learned was do one thing and test it before you move on.

Going forward I think that I’ll begin to integrate more of this DIY tech into my work, specifically micro controllers and sensors. Much of what I’ve done in my time making music with electronics is considering how I want to play the music in live performance or if I want to play the music. On some level I’ve ceded much of the control to the computer, while often managing a somewhat chaotic system in performance. But I still do have a desire to ‘play’ sounds or play an instrument, and where it’s not the most important thing to me, the sound seems far more important, the resulting sound can be very different when played. But beyond the sound, it can also mean something different.

My first idea is to get an Raspberry Pi and Teensy working together. The RPI runs Supercollider, the USB to USB Streamer provides 8 outs over light pipe to an Expert Sleepers ES-3 in my modular synth. The Teensy is jacked into the RPI to handle inputs from various sensors. I imagine proximity sensors and/or infrared sensors for the D-Beam-like air controller trained to recognize gestures, a proximity sensor for audience, motion sensors, light sensors, and playable interfaces like pads for pressure, X/Y, solid buttons and knobs. And I’d like a mic mounted intended to do analysis of dynamics and possibly pitch. All of this is a very compact, modular case or set of cases for easy travel.

At some point I would like to just build my own DC outputs, to work out how I might get them to be more accurate and respond more consistently. I’d also like to integrate audio Ins and Outs, ways to expand capability through networking more RPIs and Teensys and/or computers. So long as the RPI itself is fast enough on the language side of SC, receiving/sending inputs from Teensy, controllers, etc, it could be directing that data to an SC server plugged into a mixer at the back of the room, connected over ethernet. Which means way less cable…

Yes… lots of ideas.

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