Life post-apocalypse is mysterious, but somehow comforting – a digitally generated, AI-assisted woven blanket of sounds. There is calm in uncertainty – once you adapt. At least that’s the feeling I get personally, listening to the glitching electro-acoustic ambiance of Microohm, Infinita Incertidumbre. There are yawning caverns, gently shuffling rhythms, persistent electronic rattles and beeps […]
Here’s a different sort of compilation and synth collaboration – KORG Germany in Berlin invited the likes of Joan La Barbara, Suzanne Ciani, Alva Noto, Dave Smith, and a lot of us relative newcomers, too, to make a cookbook. And it’s free to download.
If you can’t be rid of the pandemic, why not transform the clubber? A speculative project has you suiting up like you’re going to encounter Alien or ask to open the pod bay doors – but its futuristic features are all real and doable, right now.
Micrashell, announced this week, is the work of Production Club, a creative studio who specialize in immersive experiences and have worked with everyone from The Chainsmokers and Skrillex to Amazon. Of course, that also means that like the rest of us in the arts, they’ve also got time on their hands to ponder what to do when there’s no audience.
And the results are wild. This suit doesn’t just protect you from the virus. It also integrates a phone, the ability to vape (yeah, really) or sip on a drink, and reimagines how you might communicate and hear sound. Read on, because that includes the ability to mute people in a way that has to be the coolest made-up notion in sound since Get Smart‘s Cone of Silence.
It’s extreme, but like good speculative work, as you dig in, you find creative ideas that could lead somewhere.
Is it a workable solution to the current situation? Well, no, probably not, given that vital protective equipment isn’t available to front-line health workers. But we’re already seeing strangely science fiction scenarios we wouldn’t have imagined before – and the 1918 pandemic victims certainly wouldn’t have envisioned digital tracking or drone surveillance on one hand, or sophisticated protein sequencing to produce faster vaccines on the other. So there are real ideas to be explored here, and there’s no question the global notion of what you would wear has shifted, just as the pandemic a century ago inspired masks. So it’s worth pulling this apart and understanding why – and how – it could be made.
Mike808 (Miguel Risueño), Head of Innovations, tells us more.
CDM: You’ve done of course some major event production. Can you tell us where you come from that led to this work, and this project?
Miguel: Jaja,thanks! My background is originally in music technology and audiovisual engineering. My current resume on events started by designing the stage for my own DJ show 12 years ago. ^_^ From there, it kept escalating; we started Production Club in 2012 and that’s how I worked with Zhu, Skrillex, Zedd, Martin Garrix, Chainsmokers, Notch (Creator of Minecraft), Intel, Amazon, YouTube Gaming and some other cool cats.
How about this project? Obviously, it’s partly imaginative and speculative, which is great but – was there any consultation of people who could tell you a bit about how to make something like this work?
The idea was born in a brainstorming session where we tried to vomit as many ideas as we could on “how to solve this problem” – [that problem] being, the concert and event industry going to s***. Our background comes from “if it doesn’t exist, then go build it”, so that’s what we are doing.
The design – as you well said – is speculative and imaginative in nature, because that’s pretty much the only way we know to come up with big ideas. Production’s Club mentality is always concept comes first, execution after. So far we have always been able to figure out how to successfully build our ideas, but of course, this is an especially ambitious one. I always remember a quote from the last Miyazaki movie [Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises] that said something like “Inspiration unlocks the future. Technology eventually catches up.” And I feel that perfectly synthesizes our mindset.
We consulted some third parties we believed necessary when designing the suit – this was mainly a doctor, a biologist, a sport scientist, a systems architect, and a fashion designer. The concept design team on the suit itself is also pretty badass and already known for some of our best designs (Sadgas, Juan Civera, Fran Zurita and this cat). Finally, we have a Technical Director in-house who’s main responsibility is to figure out how to build what we design (scenic, lighting, production, automation, spatial, etc.) so all those + a bunch of other Production Club badass members helped to get where we are. [Check Sadgas’ site for more conceptual 3D work from this Spanish designer, including wild suits and designs.]
Oh yeah, there’s a sonic element, too? Sub resonators? Is this something like a more elaboratetake on the SubPac (immersive audio system)? Or how does it work?
Yes! There’s a sonic element to this which is one of the most important parts. The SubPac-ish system is cool, but what is most interesting is the audio and music processing. Since the suit can be used in a club with a pre-existing audio system or just on its own we have defined three ways to listen to music.
One way is by using the integrated external mics to feed the internal speakers, kinda like when you go to the bank and talk to the cashier. Another one would be more like a silent disco, where the DJ or FOH [front of house sound] directly streams pure audio to the different Micrashell suits out there.
The final one is kind of a mix of the two — a direct feed from the DJ gets processed using spatial and psychoacoustic rules, so the audio that the user perceives feels more realistic and “club-like” even if the club doesn’t have a PA. At the end of the day, it’s a way of tricking the brain to make everything more real and immersive, as being inside of the suit will isolate you on some level.
I saw some other specific sound features, you’re proposing — machine learning analyses of sounds, or a “software system that allows you to control the audio levels of different sources individually”?
The part of this you can’t see is the fact that you can decide to “not listen” to somebody, based on certain rules that you define. It’s similar to privacy settings on a social network but with audio. So, for example, if you are dancing by yourself and don’t want to be bothered, you could create a rule where only your friends or friends of friends can talk to you. The voice signal is digitally controlled so we can do things like that. Of course there are other [use cases], like having different levels and processing paths for different people or music sources.
Have you constructed any of these elements before, in other contexts? Are you building anything now? (Are you also making cloth masks like so many of us?)
Jajaja, didn’t have the time to make the masks myself, although I do love sewing.
Regarding having built some of these items before… most of the ideas come from stuff that already exists, or that we have built before, or that we are positive that could be built. Creating a suit that could go “straight into production” was one of our main design constraints since day one. Funny enough, we already created a hi-tech suit for Skrillex’s show years ago, although it had nothing to do with this one. ^_^
Had you already thought of partners who might be up for this, or who might be interested in the concept?
Currently, we are working in our own prototype which is based on what we can get done in-house with our 3D printers (Form [from Formlabs] and Prusa), sewing machines, Arduino [hardware prototyping platform], and Unreal Engine [3D/graphics platform].
But this is actually the right step before anything else; otherwise we won’t be able to tell a potential fabricator or partner what’s really needed or where are they f***ing up. >_< Fortunately, a lot of unexpected people and brands have already contacted us, but there’s not much I can say yet besides that.
Lastly, where are you now? How are you spending the lockdown, especially with events off for a while?
We have temporarily closed our design studio in DTLA [downtown Los Angeles] to comply with the social distancing orders. Physical events are cancelled for a while yes but that’s why we are working to bring em back soon! At this very specific moment, I’m blasting Noisia Radio in my home studio, it’s 1 am, and my two cats are fkn around trying to break shit — actually, one is sleeping, as that’s pretty much all he does, I have realized during this quarantine.
And full specs:
PHONE INTEGRATION • Seamless integration and suit control based on smartphone app • Connection provided to charge/recharge phones/devices
VOICE COMMUNICATION • Wireless voice communication system based on physical proximity and orientation • Privacy driven communication system based on user-defined rules for social interaction. Options include: – Everyone can speak to you – Only certain groups of people (i.e. people in your contact list) – Specific people you select • Software system that allows you to control the audio levels of different sources individually (DJ, ambiance, friend_1, friend_2, … friend_n) • Voice subsystem that allows you to modify how your voice is presented/streamed to other users in real time – think like AR filters for audio – for example vocoder, talkbox, octaver, pitch modulation, etc. • Internal (voice) and external (ambiance) microphones
SOUND SYSTEM & AUDIO PROCESSING • Integrated, controllable internal speaker system that allows you to listen to live music in 3 modes: – Directly streamed from the DJ/band (dry) – As an emulation of the room’s sound based on psychoacoustics (wet) – As a passthrough from the room thanks to the suit’s embedded microphon • Contact bass speaker cones integrated in the back area to transmit low frequencies under 150hz by direct contact with the user’s body
BASIC NEEDS & SUIT HANDLING • “Top only” suit design allows the user to wear their normal clothes, use the toilet and engage in intercourse without being exposed to respiratory risks • Hand latch system to facilitate dressing and undressing the suit
FASHION ACCESSORIES & ADD-ONS • Accessible NFC pouch • Strap system allowing expandable garment to fit people of different sizes • Quick attachment features across the pouch and suit allowing for add-ons and fashion customization (i.e. patches, velcro, magnets, hooks)
SUPPLY SYSTEM • Supply system based on partially disposable canisters allows users to vape and/or drink safely from your suit. Drink can be alcoholic, non-alcoholic or a liquid meal replacement • Snap system based on magnets and differentiated plug-in shape makes it easy to plug your canister in the proper slot • Remaining amount of drink and vape monitored through canister embedded RGB light and smartphone app • This system removes the possibility of being roofied as the drink remains enclosed inside of a custom canister and not exposed to external agents once the user starts drinking • This system allows for pre-made drinks so long lines at the bar could be mitigated or fully eliminated • Supply nozzles are controlled from smartphone app and have 4 modes each: clean, fully deployed, fully retracted and scratch mode (doubles as a stick to allow to reach different parts of the face)
LIGHTING User customized monitoring and emotion broadcast lighting system comprised of several groups of screens and addressable RGBWA SMD LEDs to serve as indicators of the user’s mood, needs, warnings, messages, desires and more. For example, a rainbow lighting chase effect across your suit can express joy, while a static red light could express “busy” or a “green” slowly intermittent shimmering light could express “idle” or “resting” state
CAMERA Pan + tilt camera system with RGB LED monitoring has three main functionalities: – “Camera app” function as an added extra POV camera that connects with your phone to take snaps and videos – Proactive computer vision safety recording based on AI analysis of external agents can be set up to record based on the system’s perceived level of threat or just “trigger word” that records remotely based on cloud platform – “Chest eye” system that allows you to see in realtime things that your suit or helmet subsystems might be occluding
Electronic sound is in theory a limitless blank canvas. Iannis Xenakis and his work imagine what image of sound could fill that page – and leaves a legacy that’s still radical today.
Now, we get a view of those multi-faceted possibilities from an array of angles, in a new book from the legendary ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany. The book is available digitally, for free, as downloadable PDF (along with other archival materials). These accompany the print edition, just released today.
If you don’t know the UPIC, it’s hard to overstate the importance of this invention, originally seen in 1977, whose impact touched everyone from Risset to Aphex Twin. Its breakthrough was to let the composer draw with sound – paint with the tablet, and the results are synthesized in pitch and time. We’re actually so used to the concept now that it might even be tough to see this as an invention. But thanks to Xenakis’ larger compositional work and the extensive writing and teaching he did and other instigated, any real odyssey into the world of the UPIC winds up being a saga into digital art and sonic interface, how to make and teach them.
The book is a journey through graphic notation and visual interfaces for music across nations and decades, as well as a comprehensive look at Xenakis’ own work, and its influence and use in education. There’s a star-studded media art editor lineup helming the project – ZKM’s iconic artist/curator/theorist Peter Weibel, pioneering composer/electronic musician Ludger Brümmer and musician and Xenakis scholar Sharon Kanach.
Kanach’s work is already familiar to any Xenakis nuts – not only did she work closely with Xenakis himself, and translated his writing, but co-authored with him the other must-have Xenakis text, Musique de l’Architecture (2008) along with working on editing enough texts to fill … well, a building, actually.
In another decade, all of this might be seen as archaic academic stuff. But now we live in a world where experimental sounds and post-tonal timbres sing and scream into dance music charts and popular music. We see visual interfaces – once confined to Xenakis’ unique machinery – as commonplace as we do a music stand or manuscript paper, if not more so. They’re on computers and free software and iPads and phones, recognizable by people on the streets in every populated continent.
And in the meantime, the aficionados of Xenakis and graphic notation have taken those once-marginal ideas about image, interface, and graphic music and brought them to apps and schoolkids. That poetry is accessible to everyone.
ZKM’s tome begins its story with the origins of the UPIC, the strangely ahead-of-its-time machine Xenakis engineered with a “musical drawing board” that could blur the line between score and interface. You can read the book as a complete background on the history of that instrument and its influences.
But the full context is here, too. And what makes it special is that this is not just a detached theoretical text, but written by people who have gotten their hands on the machines.
Andrey Smirnov, best known for his intensive background and advocacy of early Soviet experiments in graphic music, weaves together a rich yet breezy overview of the interconnections of ideas around the globe in graphic sound. Smirnov’s prose is uniquely readable in part because it easily switches between the mechanical engineering reality of these machines and their more philosophical, even spiritual conception – without missing a beat, either way.
Guy Médigue, who worked on this machinery in the 70s, gives an accessible but comprehensive explanation of everything from acoustics to technology in his essay. It’s a class in a chapter. It’s also worth watching him speak at ZKM, apologizing for his English, yet lucid in everything he says:
There’s also the perspective of composers and teachers – teachers of composers and teachers of kids – for a view of technique and pedagogy. It’s a chance to see this not only as a monolithic composer and machine, but a set of ideas that grew out of it and continue to travel.
And there are deep conversations about institutions, resources, and the challenges of supporting experimental music invention inside the society. Katerina Tsioukra aand Dimitris Kamrotos describe the ups and downs over the history of UPIC and its experiments in the composer’s father-and motherland, Greece. Too often it seems those conversations aren’t translated or that international audiences simply disregard them. Now, with Europe in new crisis, it seems an essential time to examine these fragile links. It’s important reading for anyone working in nonprofits, cultural diplomacy, curation, and the like.
Pointing the way to the future, roughly half the text is devoted to exploring the ideas the UPIC presented, and its relevance to new interfaces and composition and the larger world. Kiyoshi Furukawa investigates utopia, artwork, and architecture. Chikashi Miyama builds as convincing a family tree and conceptual map as I’ve ever seen, compromising the UPIC canvas and other graphic interface and digital art idioms, as well as the various UPIC descendants, like IanniX and UPISketch. (Julian Scordato goes deep into IanniX, for someone wanting to try this hands-on now in software.)
This topic could easily become deeply academic, but writers like Victoria Simon make it visceral – connecting to the composer’s own personal views. Her essay on the tactile begins with this challenge from the composer:
“It is necessary to relearn how to touch sound with one’s fingers. That is the heart of music, its essence!” –Xenakis
This was 1951-53, long before the Dynabook, let alone the iPad… and it just as easily could be viewed as an admonition to get more tactile still.
I can’t wait to read thoroughly. Marcin Pietruszewski’s “digital instrument as an artifact” sums up about half of what I’ve ever tried to work on in the title, so… there’s that.
The site is accompanied by music examples, too – fantastic avant-garde sounds that many readers of this site will love. Oh and – if you happen to be in lockdown with someone who’s getting on your nerves, and that person is not into avant-garde sounds, nothing says “oh, I really should catch up on my exercise routine with some headphones on” like blasting Eua’on’ome. (Hey, I’m just performing a public service here. You’re welcome.)
But it’s a joy to have this arrive now. Nothing can pierce the darkness or fight loneliness quite like sound and ideas. I hope it reaches some new shores.
Brian Bamanya made a name making DIY modular synths, but now he’s applying voltage to another task – making sodium hypochlorite (aka bleach). Science! That joins a growing number of efforts of DIYers turning to fight the pandemic head-on.
Please, do not try anything like this before reading advisories below.
First off, this stuff is what’s known as household bleach or liquid bleach. Despite the fact that it’s sold readily, it is potentially very toxic – don’t let it touch other cleaning substances based on ammonia and acidic cleaners, for instance, or you’ll brew some harmful fumes. In fact, don’t even leave it sunlight. (Here’s a list of don’ts.) Don’t drink it, obviously (okay, not obvious to some), but also don’t let it touch anything that you’re going to consume – don’t get this anywhere near food.
But used with care, bleach is fantastic. You’ll see it in the toolkits of professional cleaners for a reason – it’s good at certain tasks. And it is very effective on surfaces against SARS-CoV-2, that virus known as the coron— yeah, I know, you hear about it every 15 seconds. Let’s get back to bleach and chemistry, because they’re cool.
But the important thing here is – yes, this can produce a WHO-approved surface cleaner. And no, you should not take any advice in chemistry or health from CDM. Honestly, I’m not sure I would claim you should take synth advice from CDM. Here are reliable sources on bleach and SARS-CoV-2:
Brian’s approach leans as much on electronics background as it does chemistry, because you can make it by running electricity through sodium chloride salt solution. Yeah – it’s analog. And that’s how it is manufactured.
What Brian is doing that’s clever is making this on a small scale when industrially-produced material has been subject to price hikes – and reusing plastic bottle trash in the process.
Is this a good idea? I don’t want to comment, as I am neither an expert on infectious disease nor anything like a chemist. So I want to put it out there to hear reaction, as normally given the range of backgrounds on the site, someone has an answer. I’ll update this story and our social channels with whatever we hear.
Bleach is effective in small concentrations; alcohol requires greater purity. But theoretically it should be possible to DIY ethanol alcohol, and off-the-grid types have been doing that before the COVID-19 outbreak. Also, unlike distillation, this will be legal in most places – though be careful not to sell it or make health claims, as that requires a license.
Let me again restate that I am not in any way qualified to talk about this, and you should not listen to me, though you should get in touch if you are qualified, and it is worth reading the experts – if for no other reason than to pass the time.
More efforts from the music makers
It’s also an indication of the changed world we’re in that the synth DIY community in general is in some cases turning to things other than musical instruments.
From Slovakia, Jonáš Gruska of LOM label – an experimental music label and maker of various sound electronics – is one of many people making 3D-printed face masks. (He’s also experimenting with UV hardware, but the face masks I know are being actively advocated by health care professionals around the world for their supplies.)
Groups like NYCResistor, who had been a partner of ours back in NYC, are engaged in similar projects – though the calls are as diverse as places looking for plexiglass boxes for intubation equipment.
Our friend Geert Bevin now of Moog has been making protective gear with UNC Asheville students working at the STEAM Studio:
People are sewing cloth masks, too – originally specifically excluded from guidance, but now part of international recommendations as the contagion and our knowledge of it evolve. Take for instance SewnMasksNYC, and (too many to list here) various efforts undertaken by musicians and media artists in our circle.
Places to find DIY help
I’ll refer to the official US Center for Disease Control instructions here (English + Spanish), just posted as they updated their guidance to begin advocating them. After some mixed messages here, this document is clear and concise and applicable everywhere – uh, once you convert from inches. (Some day, my native country will go metric.)
And here’s some music to accompany this article, by Ana Quiroga as NWRMNTC, who I understand has been sewing masks together with curator/artist Estela Oliva in the UK:
We needed some music, for sure, somewhere in this.
Let us know your feedback and what you may be involved in. I certainly don’t mean to intend that everyone in our community needs to contribute in this way – staying at home or doing your day job may be your best bet, and there’s plenty that matters in music itself these days. But I do hope we can use our networks to stay informed and connected.
It’s just business as usual for the live coding scene and algorave movement. From every corner of the globe, freely-coded performance is happening for four days straight – now.
They come from Brasilia. They come from Detroit. They come from Indonesia and Antwerp, Ukraine and Mumbai, Rome and Miami and Japan. They’re running free software and browsers and DIY electronic and visuals. You can dance to what they’re doing. You can’t dance to what they’re doing. This is an experiment.
This is not a new idea, either – TOPLAP live coding community is using this event to celebrate their sixteenth anniversary. So while everyone else is suddenly discovering the fragile nature of our world and the distances between us, these are tools with a significant head start. And the tools are not a gimmick, either – because they’re free and open source and run on low-end hardware, they’re uniquely global and agile.
They’re part of the fabric that makes electronic music now dynamic – and durable.
So algorave on! And hi to some friends playing, see you online soon!
Happy March equinox everyone – spring to the northern hemisphere, fall to the southern. Sonic festivities on the Eulerroom Equinox stretch through 1:30 Greenwich Mean Time 23 March.
(Wait, make that Stardate 97813.31 – 97824.25.)
Want some tools to try live coding now? Many are approachable even if you’re a non-coder – don’t be afraid to try stuff out and break things! Check out:
Side note: I know a lot of these artists and developers will need support soon, in this health and economic crisis. I know a lot of them needed it long before things have gotten tougher. Let’s keep that conversation going here on CDM, too, and find out what solutions we can create together. Don’t hesitate to be in touch and let me or other members of this community know how you’re doing and what you need.
The original version of our MeeBlip synth project has found a quirky new iteration in St. Petersburg – and it’s making some terrific grooves.
Let’s start with this fantastic, primal alien-discotheque vibe of MeeBlip Quartet, featuring three MeeBlips SE and one MeeBlip triode (“Rare Russian Edition”), via two splitter boxes.
Perfect for setting the mood on your space station, really.
Open-source hardware in music can have a life past its normal conclusion. Our original MeeBlip synthesizer is now coming up on its ten-year anniversary. And because part of what we’ve improved is the ease of manufacturing our newest hardware, we don’t intend to go back to the original and “SE” model. The new stuff is better. But anyone curious about its circuitry and firmware – or digital filter code in Assembly language for the AVR microprocessor – can find all of that on our GitHub:
James Grahame did nearly all of the engineering, but you’ll also find copious credits to other contributions. So you’ll see people like Jarek Ziembicki, who made the open-source AVRsynth that inspired us, or optimizations and new waveforms by Axel Werner, one of our early customers.
This also means people can make new MeeBlips of their own – for people who want those oddball earlier iterations, or in countries where it’s more accessible and affordable sourcing local parts than trying to import a complete synth from overseas.
And that’s what Alexey Evlampiev of St. Petersburg, Russia has been up to. He’s been making cool “Russian edition” versions of the original MeeBlip SE and triode, plus the superb open-source FM synth preenfm2, among other gear fascinations. (Speaking of preenfm2 – that project by Xavier Hosxe has built on musicdsp.org, which is an excellent clearinghouse for algorithms from synths to FX to filters, as well as pioneering work by Mutable Instruments, who has made perhaps the broadest variety of open-source synth hardware contributions.)
Here’s a duo of MeeBlips triode (Russian) and Elektron machinedrum (normal Swedish edition, that):
Also digging the retro-green panel on this anode:
Since the Russian Editions are super-limited, we still suggest our official MeeBlip shop if you want to get your synth on, and the latest MeeBlip geode. (We also make low-cost thru boxes aka MIDI splitters, including the thru5 kit if you want to make one yourself.)
It’s funny hearing our older synths, as the geode has definitely improved in sonic features – and we made it easier to build and ship. It’s in stock now:
But I have loved seeing the crazy custom builds people have made over the years by modding our finished synths, using our free and open-source (GPL-/CreativeCommons-licensed) designs, or working with our kits. It might just give James and me some new ideas for panels and knobs and colors and whatnot – suggestions also welcome.
Open source hardware isn’t the right choice for every project – our current synth uses a proprietary USB interface for reliability, for instance. But it’s nice to have it be part of the music gear ecosystem when it makes sense. It also shows that we can make inexpensive gear and exchange information while giving proper credit – real sharing, rather than simply plagiarism.
And I do hope to meet Alexey for a jam session next time I’m in St. Petersburg. Plus I’ve got to get James Grahame over to Russia and Berlin, as I’m sure he’ll love it.
At age 17, Ray Kurzweil – he of the “singularity” – wrote a pioneering piece of “AI” music software, and showed it off on a TV show with Steve Allen.
In times when immigration and education are under attack in many places in the world, consider the story of young Ray Kurzweil. The child of secular Jews who made it out of Austria before the second World War, he grew up in Queens and attended public schools and got rare access to early computers via a government program. (And yeah, that’s another Queens kid – alongside Bob Moog, who got his public education at Bronx High School of Science.)
And at age 17, Ray had a secret – as shown off on the TV show, hosted by Steve Allen.
Incredibly, Kurzweil took an interest in AI and corresponded with Marvin Minsky even before anyone knew what it was – and saw one of the first perceptrons (early AI hardware, originating the notion of the neural net).
Even before he got access to mainframes, he constructed his own computer – out of bits at Canal Street. And he worked out a model for some early computer-generated music. I’m hugely interested to know more about what the heck this thing is, as it’s hard to tell from the video above, but here’s a description from a 1995 interview for the now-defunct “nerdworld”. (I don’t miss the 90s, but I do sometimes miss the 90s Internet.)
I built some computer-like devices with electrical parts I would buy down on Canal Street in New York. You could buy these telephone relays that were primary electrical devices I could use to implement logical circuits.
NW: So you built a whole computer?
I built this computer-like device when I was twelve for a junior high school science fair. I also started programming in Fortran. So when I was about 14 and 15 I built another computer — my first pattern recognition project. I programmed it to analyze melodies of a particular composer and then compose original melodies in that style using pattern recognition principles. That was my Westinghouse Science Talent Search Project (winners went to Washington and met President Johnson). After that [it went] to the International Science Fair, where it got first prize.
Henry Morgan, who guesses the answer, was evidently a regular on the show – a humorist who started as a radio page, a second cousin of Alan Jay Lerner, a victim of the infamous Communist blacklist. What a country.
But yeah, that prize won a young Ray Kurzweil a fun field trip to DC and a chance to meet President Lyndon Johnson.
There’s a fascinating archive Mr. Kurzweil has compiled with ephemera of that trip:
Accessibility in music can mean expanding expression beyond what is normally physically possible. For one artist, that means jacking a prosthesis as CV – for another, overcoming paralysis to make music with eyes alone.
Bertolt Meyer was already producing and DJing, even with a birth condition that left him without the lower portion of one arm. But he hacked his arm prosthesis to jack control voltage straight into his modular – connecting to synthesis more directly than most before would even imagine.
In the case of Pone, a seminal French hip-hop producer, the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) left the artist without muscle control of his body. Using an eye interface, he has managed to publish a book on the disease.
But he has also turned to music production, connecting open, hackable eye tracking solutions to Ableton Live. The eyes act as a (very slow) mouse – in this case, the screen-and-pointer GUI paradigm of the software is an aid to accessibility. Inspired by Kate Bush, he has made an instrumental album called Kate & Me entirely using his eyes.
And … wow – it’s everything you’d expect from a hip-hop innovator like Pone, astonishing as you think of the effort that went into production. It’s a testament to the power of musical imagination, and the potential of that imagination to connect in any way it can with the outside world.
The album is a free download from the album site:
Check the release party:
The Guardian has an extensive article on his story. There’s some sobering information, too – like the lack of French insurance support for the condition.
There’s not nearly enough attention paid to accessibility in the music tech industry. It’s not some novel edge case – it hits right at the core of what music technology for expression is fundamentally about. (And even accessibility defined in narrow terms is bigger than you think – so for instance 1 in 20 KOMPLETE KONTROL users take advantage of features for the visually impaired.)
I wrote about this in a blog story for Native Instruments, which deals with their products but also a lot about the process for developing these features – it’s relevant to anyone reading here who makes music products. (And even though this deals with vision accessibility, there are lessons relevant to other matters, too.)