Open Source: A chat with sound designer and musician Lily J

Open Source: A chat with sound designer and musician Lily J

Master Game Audio with Wwise And Unreal Engine 5 With Eduardo Pesole

Master Game Audio with Wwise And Unreal Engine 5 With Eduardo Pesole

Exploring Spatial Sound: A talk with Electronic Music Producer Halina Rice

Exploring Spatial Sound: A talk with Electronic Music Producer Halina Rice

AI and Artistic Identity: A talk with Digital Interaction Artist Tim Murray-Browne

AI and Artistic Identity: A talk with Digital Interaction Artist Tim Murray-Browne

Exploring Generative Music: A talk and Q&A with Peter Chilvers

Exploring Generative Music: A talk and Q&A with Peter Chilvers

TouchDesigner Meetup – Shaders

TouchDesigner Meetup – Shaders

How an image led to an album

Dom Aversano

The Code / Album by Dom Aversano

Curiosity takes you to new places. I arrived in such a place after contemplating what a highly complex polyrhythm might look like. As an instrumentalist, I am accustomed to placing limits on my thinking based on what is physically possible, but since the digital realm essentially removes most physical constraints, we enter a new world of disembodied possibilities. The following image — created in P5JS — is one such example.

 

Visualisation of 750 polyrhythms

This image depicts 750 polyrhythms juxtaposed one on top of another. The x-axis represents time, and the y-axis is the increasing division of that time. At the very top left of the image, there is a single point. The line beneath has two equidistant points — one at the top left and one at the top centre. The line beneath this has three equidistant points: then four, five, six etc. all the way to 750 divisions. To create this by hand would be painstaking, if not impossible, but coding it is simple.

When I saw the image I was astonished — it contained star-like shapes, mirror symmetry, curved lines at either edge, and a series of interesting patterns across the top. Despite finding the image fascinating, I could not find a use for it, so I shelved it and moved on.

A little while later I decided to share these images on Substack, hoping they might be of interest to someone. To bring the images to life I decided to sonify them, by building a simple custom program in Supercollider. The program quickly morphed into a rabbit hole, as when I tinkered with it I heard new sound worlds awakening. It wasn’t long before I realised I was halfway into creating an album that I had never intended to make.

What captured me about the music was the same as the images: they were humanly impossible. Performing 750 rhythms is completely beyond the capabilities of the human mind, but effortless for a computer. The result was music that was temporally organised, but with no meter or ‘one’ to resolve on. There was a logical flow of patterns, but nothing to tap one’s foot to. Using the harmonic series as a scale allowed vast clusters of tones that the chromatic scale could not accommodate. With this vast number of tones, the distinction between timbre, chords, and notes started to break down.

The idea that computers can unlock forms of artistic expression which lie beyond the capabilities of the human body was described eloquently by the late computer artist Vera Molnar.

Without the aid of a computer, it would not be possible to materialize quite so faithfully an image that previously existed only in the artist’s mind. This may sound paradoxical, but the machine, which is thought to be cold and inhuman, can help to realize what is most subjective, unattainable, and profound in a human being.

Molnar’s proposal that machines can provide access to unattainable realms of artistic expression seemed a strong counter-argument to the romantic notion that machines degrade the subtleties of human expression. Rather than having machines imitate human expression, in Molnar’s interpretation, they could express facets of the human experience that the limits of physicality prevented. The machine rather than deromanticising human expression could be a tool used to express subtle aspects of ourselves.

With this idea in mind, I delved deeper into the visual dimension. One day, it occurred to me that the original polyrhythm image could be visualised circularly. In this case, the rhythms would be represented as rotating divisions in space that could be layered one on top of another. The result was an image distinct from the previous one.

 

Visualisation of 104 polyrhythms

The process for generating this image: Draw one radial line at 0°. Then add two lines equidistant in rotation. Then add three lines equidistant in rotation. Then add four lines, and so on.

The new image looked organic, almost botanical. The big division at the top was matched by half the size at 180° and two more half the size again at 90° and 270°. The dark lines represented points of convergence. The lighter areas are spaces of less density.

I chose the image as the cover for the album since having artwork and music derived from the same algorithm felt satisfying and aesthetically appropriate. Had I not made the initial image I would not have made the music, or at least I would have arrived at it in another way at another time. That this process occurred at all remains a surprise to me, which I treat as a testament to the capacity for curiosity to take us to unknown places.

An interview with Interaction Designer Arthur Carabott Part II

Dom Aversano

The Coca-Cola Beatbox Pavilion from the 2012 London Olympic Games

This is Part II of an interview with interaction designer Arthur Carabott. In Part I Arthur discussed how after studying music technology at Sussex University he found a job working on the Coca-Cola Beatbox Pavilion in the 2012 Olympic Games. What follows is his description of how the work evolved. 

Did you conceive that project in isolation or collaboration?

The idea had already been sold and the architects had won the competition. What was known was there would be something musical because Mark Ronson was going to be making a song. So the idea was to build a giant instrument from a building, which everyone could play by waving their hands over giant pads. They wanted to use sports sounds and turn them into music while having a heartbeat play throughout the building, tying everything together.

Then it came down to me playing with ideas, trying things out, and them liking things or not liking things. We knew that we had five or six athletes and a certain number of interactive points on the building.

So it was like, okay, let’s break it down into sections. We can start with running or with archery or table tennis. That was the broad structure, which helped a lot because we could say we have 40 interactive points, and therefore roughly eight interactions per sport.

Did you feel you were capable of doing this? How would you advise someone in a similar position?

Yeah, I was 25 when this started. While it’s difficult to give career advice, one thing I hold onto is saying yes to things that you’ve never done before but you kind of feel that you could probably do. If someone said we want you to work on a spaceship I’d say that’s probably a bad idea, but this felt like a much bigger version of things that I’d already done.

There were new things I had to learn, especially working at that scale. For instance, making the system run fast enough and building a backup system. I’d never done a backup system. I had just used my laptop in front of my class or for an installation. So I definitely learning things.

If I have any natural talent it’s for being pretty stubborn about solving problems and sticking at it like a dog with a bone. Knowing that I can, if I work hard at this thing, pull it off. That was the feeling.

 

Arthur Carabott rehearing at the Apple shop with Chagall van den Berg

How did you get in contact with Apple?

I was a resident in the Music Hackspace then and rented a desk in Somerset House. Apple approached Music Hackspace about doing a talk for their Today at Apple series.

I already had a concept for a guerrilla art piece, where the idea was to make a piece of software where I could play music in sync across lots of physical devices. The idea was to go around the Apple store and get a bunch of people to load up this page on as many devices as we could, and then play a big choir piece by treating each device as a voice.

Kind of like a flash mob?

Yeah, sort of. It was inspired by an artist who used to be based in New York called Kyle McDonald, who made a piece called People Staring at Computers. His program would detect faces and then take a photo of them and email it to him. He installed this in the New York Apple stores and got them to send him photos. He ended up being investigated by the Secret Service, who came to his house and took away his computers.

However, for my thing, I wanted to bring a musician into it. Chagall was a very natural choice for the Hackspace. For the music I made an app where people could play with the timbre parameters of a synth, but with a quite playful interface which had faces on it.

How did you end up working with the composer Anna Meredith? You built an app with her, right?

Yes, an augmented reality app. It came about through a conversation with my friend, Marek Bereza, who founded Elf Audio and makes the Koala sampler app. We met up for a coffee and talked about the new AR stuff for iPhones. The SDK had just come to the iPhones and it had this spatial audio component. We were just knocking around ideas of what could be done with it.

I got excited about the fact that it could give people a cheap surround sound system by placing virtual objects in their space. Then you have — for free, or for the cost of an app — a surround sound system.

There was this weekly tea and biscuits event at Somerset House where I saw Anna Meredith and said, ‘Hey, you know, I like your music and I’ve got this idea. Could I show it to you and see what you think?’ So I came to her studio and showed her the prototype and we talked it through. It was good timing because she had her album FIBS in the works. She sent me a few songs and we talked back and forth about what might work for this medium. We settled on the piece Moon Moons, which was going to be one of the singles.

It all came together quite quickly. The objects in it are actual ceramic sculptures that her sister Eleanor made for the album. So I had to teach myself how to do photogrammetry and 3D scan them, before that technology was good on phones.

Augmented reality app build for Anna Merediths album FIBS

You moved to LA. What has that been like?

It was the first time I moved to another country without a leaving date. London’s a great city. I could have stayed, and that would have been the default setting, but I felt like I took myself off the default setting.

So, I took a trip to LA to find work and I was trying to pull every connection I could. Finding people I could present work to, knocking on doors, trying to find people to meet. Then I found this company Output and I was like, ‘Oh, they seem like a really good match’. They’re in LA and they have two job openings. They had one software developer job and one product designer job.

I wrote an email and an application to both of these and a cover letter which said: Look, I’m not this job and I’m not that job. I’m somewhere in the middle. Do you want me to be doing your pixel-perfect UI? That’s not me. Do you want me to be writing optimized audio code? That’s not me either. However, here’s a bunch of my work and you can hear all these things that I can do.

I got nothing. Then I asked Jean Baptise from Music Hackspace if he knew any companies. He wrote an email to Output introducing me and I got a meeting.

I showed my work. The interviewer wrote my name on a notebook and underlined it. When I finished the presentation I looked at his notebook and he hadn’t written anything else. I was like, ‘Okay, that’s a very good sign or very bad sign’. But I got the job.

How do you define what you do?

One of the themes of my career is that has been a double-edged sword is it not being specifically one thing. In the recruitment process what they do is say we have a hole in our ship, and we need someone who can plug it. And very rarely are companies in a place where they think, we could take someone on who’s interesting, but we don’t have an explicit problem for them to solve right now, but we think they could benefit what we’re doing.

The good thing is I find myself doing interesting work without fitting neatly into a box that people can understand. My parents have no idea what I do really.

However, I do have a term I like, but it’s very out of fashion, which is interaction designer. What that means is to play around with interaction, almost like behaviour design.

You can’t do it well without having something to play with and test behaviours with. You can try and simulate it in your head, but generally, you’re limited to what you already know. For instance, you can imagine how a button works in your head, but if you imagine what would happen if I were to control this MIDI parameter using magnets, you can’t know what that’s like until you do it.

What are your thoughts on machine learning and AI? How that will affect music technology?

It’s getting good at doing things. I feel like people will still do music and will keep doing music. I go to a chess club and chess had a boom in popularity, especially during the pandemic. In terms of beating the best human player that has been solved for decades now, but people still play because people want to play chess, and they still play professionally. So it hasn’t killed humans wanting to play chess, but it’s definitely changed the game.

There is now a generation who have grown up playing against AIs and it’s changed how they play, and that’s an interesting dynamic. The interesting thing with music is, it has already been devalued. People barely pay anything for recorded music, but people still go to concerts though concert tickets are more expensive than ever people are willing to pay.

I think the thing that people are mostly interested in with music is the connection, the people, the personal aspect of it. Seeing someone play music, seeing someone very good at an instrument or singing is just amazing. It boosts your spirits. You see this in the world of guitar. A new guitarist comes along and does something and everyone goes, ‘Holy shit, why has no one done that before’?

Then you have artists like Squarepusher and Apex Twin who their own patches to cut up their drum breaks. But they’re still using their own aesthetic choice of what they use. I’m not in the camp that if it’s not 100% played by a human on an instrument, then it’s not real music.

The problem with the word creativity is it has the word create in it. So I think a lot of the focus goes on the creation of materials, whereas a lot of creativity is about listening and the framing of what’s good. It’s not just about creating artefacts. The editorial part is an important part of creativity. Part of what someone like Miles Davis did is to hear the future.

You can find out more about Arthur Carabott on his websiteInstagram, and X

Dom Aversano is a British-American composer, percussionist, and writer. You can discover more of his work on his website, Liner Notes, X, and Instagram.

An interview with Interaction Designer Arthur Carabott Part I

Dom Aversano

If ever evidence was needed of the power of DNA it was demonstrated to me just over a decade ago, when I walked into a room in a dingy industrial estate in Hoxton, East London, to attend one of the early Music Hackspace meet-ups, and much to my surprise saw my cousin, Arthur Carabott, twirling on an office chair, listening to a presentation on ultrasonic sound.

The population in London at that point was roughly 8 million, and there were fewer than 20 people in that room — the odds of us both being there were minuscule. Although we both grew up in an extended family that was very musical, we came to the Music Hackspace by entirely distinct routes, at a time when it was little more than a charming and eccentric fringe group.

Having known Arthur since childhood, it’s not surprising to me that he ended up working in a field that combines artistic and technical skills. He always approached technical problems with a rare tenacity and single-mindedness. Several times I saw Arthur receive a Mechano toy for a birthday or Christmas, only to sit quietly for hours on end working on it until it was finally built.

The Music Hackspace played a significant part in both our formations, so I was curious to know about his experience of this. What surprised me was how much I did not know about Arthur’s journey through music.

What follows is a transcript of that conversation — Part II will follow shortly.

What drew you to music?

There was always music playing in the house. In my family, there was the expectation that you’d play an instrument. I did violin lessons at 7, which I didn’t enjoy and then piano aged 10. I remember being 10 or 11 and there was a group, there were a bunch of us that liked Queen. They are an interesting band because they appeal to kids. They’re theatrical, and some of it is quite clown-like. Then I remember songs like Cotton Eye Joe and singers like Natalie Imbruglia, you know, quite corny music — I’ve definitely got a corny streak. But there was this significant moment one summer when I was probably 11 or so, and I discovered this CD with a symbol on it that was all reflective. It was OK Computer, by Radiohead. That summer made a big musical impact. It’s an album I still listen to.

How does music affect you?

I think music, food, and comedy are quite similar in that when it’s good, there’s no denying it. Of course, with all three, you can probably be a bit pretentious and be like, ‘Oh no, I am enjoying this’ when you’re not. But those are three of my favourite things in the world.

I heard a comedian talking about bombing recently. They said if a musician has an off night, and they get on stage, they don’t play well it’s still music. Whereas if a comedian goes up and they bomb, and no one laughs, it’s not comedy.

You became a very accomplished guitarist. Why did you not choose that as a career?

I went to guitar school and there was a point in my teens when my goal was to become the best guitarist in the world. I remember something Squarepusher had on his website once, where he wrote about being a teenager and giving up on the idea of trying to be like his classmate Guthrie Govan, who is now one of the world’s best guitarists. I resonated with that as there’s a point where you’re like, okay, I’m never gonna do that.

Part of my problem was being hypermobile and therefore prone to injuries, which stopped me from practising as much as I wanted to. Yet, there was still this idea that when I went to Sussex University and studied music informatics with Nick Collins I was going to go there, learn Supercollider, and discover the secrets that Squarepusher and Aphex Twin used. Someone told me they don’t even cut up their drum loops, they’ve got algorithms to do it!

I was actually signed up to do the standard music degree but my friend Alex Churchill said to change it to music informatics as it will change your life. That was a real turning point.

In what way?

What clicked was knowing I enjoyed programming and I wasn’t just going to use music software — I was going to make it.

The course was rooted in academia and experimental art practice rather than commercial things like building plugins. We were looking at interactive music systems and generative music from 2006 – 2009, way before this wave of hype had blown up. We doing some straight-up computer science stuff, and early bits of neural networks and genetic algorithms. Back then we were told, that no one’s really found practical uses for this yet.

We studied people like David Cope, who was an early pioneer who spent decades working on AI music. All these things helped me think outside conventional ways when it came to traditional music tech stuff, and the paradigms of plug-ins, DAWs, and so on.

Today at Apple event where over 100 iPhones and iPads were synchronised for a live performance with singer and producer Chagall

What did you do with this training and how did it help you?

I had no idea what I was going to do afterwards. I was offered a position in the first year of the Queen Mary M.A .T. Media, Art and Technology PhD, but I was a bit burnt out on academia and wanted to do the straight music thing.

I volunteered at The Vortex in London as a sound engineer. I had done paid work at university in Brighton but mostly for teenage punk bands. The Vortex being unpaid worked better because it meant that I only did it for gigs I wanted to see. I was already into Acoustic Ladyland, but there I discovered bands like Polar Bear and got to know people like Seb Rochford and Tom Skinner. I admired their music and also got to interact with and get to know them.

How did you come across Music Hackspace and how did it influence you?

I’d heard there was this thing on Hackney Road. I remember going on a bit of a tour because they would do open evenings and I went with a group of people. It felt like the underground. The best music tech minds in London. A bit of a fringe thing, slightly anarchist and non-mainstream. Music Hackspace was for me mostly about connecting to other people and a community.

What led you to more technical, installation-type work?

I remember seeing Thor Magnussen who had been doing his PhD at Sussex while I was in my undergrad and he taught one of our classes. He was talking about doing an installation and I remember thinking, I don’t really know what an installation is. How do I get one?

Then came the opportunity to work on the 2012 Olympics which came through my sister Juno, and her boyfriend at the time Tim Chave who introduced me to the architects Asif Khan and Pernilla Ohrstedt. I met them and showed them a bunch of like fun things that I’d made, like an app which took Lana Del Rey’s single Video Game and let you remix it in real time. You could type in every word contained in the song, hit enter, and she would sing it, remixed, in time with the beat.

They asked me various technical questions but after the meeting, I didn’t hear anything for a while. Then got a call in December 2011 from Asif. He asked, ‘Can you go to Switzerland next week?’ And I’m like, ‘Wait, am I doing this project? Have I got the job?’ He responded, ‘Look, can you go to Switzerland next week?’ So I said ‘Okay, yeah’.

So then it became official. It was six days a week for six months to get it done in time for the Olympics.

 

The Coca-Cola Beatbox Pavilion from the 2012 London Olympic Games

Part II of this interview will follow shortly. 

You can find out more about Arthur Carabott on his website, Instagram, and X

Dom Aversano is a British-American composer, percussionist, and writer. You can discover more of his work at Liner Notes.

Music is Dead? Long live music! A talk with Robert Thomas

Music is Dead? Long live music! A talk with Robert Thomas