With the proliferation of modules, the phrase “Eurorack bubble” has been floating around for a while. But now it appears to be translating into falling prices.
The basic problem is this: more demand means more interest, which translates into more manufacturers, and more production. So far, so good. Then, more distributors pick up the goods – not just boutique operators like Schneider, but also bigger chains.
Where’s the problem? With too many modules out there in the marketplace, and more big retailers, it’s easier for the big retailers to start to squeeze manufacturers on price. Plus, the more modules out in the world, the greater the supply of used modules.
Andreas Schneider has chosen to weigh in on the issue personally. You can read his statement in German:
There’s actually a lot there – though the banner revelation is seeing the cost of new modules suddenly plummet by 30%:
You asked for it: Due to the increased demand for Eurorack modules in Europe, even the large retailers for musical instruments are now filling the last corners of their warehouses and buying complete production runs from manufacturers and everything else they can get. Some manufacturers might be happy about this, but the flooding of the market already leads to a significant drop in prices here and there, some modules are already available with a 30% discount on the original calculated price and yet were still quite hot the other day!
As SchneidersLaden we have decided to go along with this development and of course offer corresponding products for the same price to our customers, although most of them have already bought them when the goods were still fresh and crisp! We’re almost a little sorry about that, but hopefully the hits are already produced and the music career is up and running? Nevertheless, sorry – but the decision for this way lies with the manufacturer and was not our recommendation!
By the way… we don’t advertise with moneyback-warranty… we’ve always practiced it. But please: get advice first, then buy – like in the good old days. Because it’s better to talk to your specialist retailer – we know what we are selling. And by the way: We do free shipping throughout Europe and there are Thursdays on that we are in the shop until nine o’clock in the evening …and real CHAOS serves creativity.
That had to be said – end of commercial break.
Okay, so some different messages. To manufacturers, with whom Schneider seems to place a lot of the blame, the message is to avoid glutting the market by selling so many units that then they lose their price margin. (That seems good advice.) There’s also a “dance with the one that brung you” attitude here, but that’s probably fair, as well.
To buyers, work with specialists, and please research what you buy so you don’t shoulder retailers and manufacturers with lots of returns. That seems good advice, too.
(Hope I’ve paraphrased that fairly.)
It does seem there’s a looming problem beyond just what’s here, though. For the community to continue to expand, it will have to find more new markets. It does seem some saturation point is inevitable, and that could mean a shakeout of some manufacturers – though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The used market should also be a worry, though on the other hand, some people do always seem to buy new.
I’d echo what the two posts here say, which is the synth maker world will likely be healthy if manufacturers and consumers do some research and support one another.
Before anyone predicts the sky is falling, I’ve had a number of conversations with modular makers. Those with some experience seem to be doing just fine, even if some have expressed concern about the larger market and smaller and newer makers. That is, those with some marketing experience and unique products still see growth – but that growth may not translate to greener manufacturers who are trying to cram into what is becoming a crowded field.
Maybe it’s time for the idea of a “commons” to get a new boost. Whatever the reason, BBC’s 16,000 sound effects are available to download – but with strings attached.
The BBC Sound Effects site offering has gotten plenty of online sharing. This is a sound effects library culled from the archives of the BBC and its Radiophonic Workshop, a selection of sounds dug up from broadcast sound work. There’s both synthetic sound design and field recording work – sometimes not really identified as such. I know this, because I used what I believe is the edition of this that was once released on a big series of CDs.
If you just want to listen to some interesting sounds, you can stream or download WAV files of sounds ranging from “‘Pystyll Rhadn’ falls, North Wales, with birdsong” to lorries, and, this being England, lots of exotic sounds from the far reaches of the former British Empire and a bunch of business to do with ships. (There’s a reason English is dotted with obscure boat-related idioms like saying someone is “two sheets to the wind” when they’re drunk.)
And it’s good fun. Right now the sound of a parrot is trending:
The catch is, you’re probably thinking of downloading those files and making a Deep House track with the parrot. But you can’t – not legally. If you want, you can wade through the murky terms, which seem to be written for schoolchildren in terms of language level, but oddly evasive about what it is you’re actually allowed to do:
I can save you the trouble, though. There’s no explicit allowance for derivative works, which rules out even “non-commercial” sampling. That is, your parrot track is out, even if you plan to give it away. Non-commercial use itself suggests you need to have a site that not only has no ads (like this one does), but may even explicitly have some educational purpose. “Personal” use implies you can sample the sounds, so long as no one else hears your remix, which rather defeats the point. So you almost certainly can’t sample the parrot and even upload the result to SoundCloud.
The easy way to look at this is, you can build an educational app around these sounds or listen to them on your own, but you can’t really use them the way you’d tend to use sound samples.
1936 Raleigh Sports Bike
Euston Railway Station
St. Paul’s Cathedral
1986 Silver Sprite Rolls Royce
Audience Reactions at the Royal Albert Hall
County Cricket Match
Markets in Morocco, Algeria, Niger, Zaire, Ethiopia, Kenya…
I’m sure the CDs themselves also had a lot of license restrictions attached, though owning a physical object might make you feel as though you had purchased rights for use.
British taxpayer license fees fund this sort of work, just as taxpayer money funds media in many countries of the world. That raises the question of what a government funded archive should be, and how it should be made available.
I’m not arguing the BBC have made the wrong choice. But it’s clear that there are two divergent views on public archives and content in the public sphere. One looks like this: the government retains copyright, and you can’t really use them beyond “research” purposes. The other is more permissive. For instance, the US space program actually does allow commercial use of a lot of its materials, provided an endorsement is implied. So even while releasing content into the public domain, the US government is able to avoid implications of endorsement or people posing as their space agency, which the BBC agreement above does, while allowing people to get creative with their materials.
And that ability to be creative is precisely what’s lacking in the BBC offering. Restricting content to “research” and “noncommercial” uses sounds like a lofty goal, but it often rules out the activities of artists – the very impulses that generated all those BBC sound effects in the first place. The reason is, unless you explicitly allow derivative and (often) even commercial use, it’s too easy for those creative uses to technical qualify as a violation.
It seems like this idea of commons could use a fresh boost, around the world. (The British taxpayer-funded sounds should have been an easy one; it gets much harder as you go to other parts of the world.)
The US government’s notions of public access content date back to the 1960s. But there are signs governments can begin fresh, digital-friendly initiatives. For one example, look to the European Space Agency, who last year managed an open access programs across a variety of different governments and private contractors (no small task):
By the way, speaking of Creative Commons: the feature image for this story comes from Paul Hudson, taken at Rough Trade East (of a tape machine from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop collection), under the attribution-only CC-BY license. It was released on Flickr, from a time when this sort of license metadata was deemed important.
It’s a wonderful thing to find kindred spirits. It doesn’t matter if they look like you, if you share a gender or an age, or if they come from down the street or around the globe.
And that’s the experience a lot of people have had when coming in contact with Bastl Instruments and the underground music and instrument enclave of Brno, Czech. Bastl are known for their cute compact desktop synth hardware and quirky modular line. And small builders are themselves tight-knit, but there’s more to it than just what Bastl Instruments as a maker provides. There’s a sense that this is a platform, a collective – a family. And that family can broaden and encompass all kinds of other makers and artists.
The prolific YouTuber Cuckoo took a trip in February to Brno in the Czech Republic to go behind-the-scenes with Bastl. It’s an expansive video, sprawling in the same way that Bastl itself does. There’s founder Václav Peloušek, artist HRTL, builder Pete Edwards, and many more:
I think it’s worth considering how much younger – and how much, you know, more Czech – this gang are, relative to what had bee norms in the synth creation business. Bastl are then a link, between a new generation and the old, between Czech Republic and the rest of the world, and in doing their own research into Czechoslovakia’s own music technology legacy, one that had previously been hidden behind the Iron Curtain and Cold War bias.
synthPop makes a sneak appearance: Pay particular attention to the appearance by Pete, because sneaked in at around the 34-minute mark is a revelation of his new synth prototype, dubbed synthPop. That’s the first real glimpse we’ve gotten of that new creation; I’m suspecting we’ll get the full picture when the crew visit Berlin’s Superbooth synth gathering later this month.
The Thyme effects processor also makes a cameo in advance of its public Superbooth appearance.
Cuckoo also played a live set, at the cozy, hip venue in town, Kabinet Muz. Less you think this is all about showing off a lot of gear, just one Elektron Octatrack makes up the whole rig – but the jam is great:
Looking beyond the picture of the boxes they make, Bastl are branching out into starting a record label, dubbed Nona. (For an example of builders doing music releases on the side, see also: Koma Elektronik’s AMOK Tapes.)
Vaclev has told CDM a bit about the releases to check out on their label, Nona Rec.
From the mission statement:
Nona records is a label founded by the people from Bastl with a main focus on releasing music of people from Bastl and beyond. It is about establishing communication between the crew and musicians worldwide with the goal of making awesome music! The main interest is to bring all sorts of open minded electronic music/experiments to open minded people.
Vaclev elaborates on what they’re doing and why – the project is a little like an electronic music startup rendition of Google’s 20% time. It’s about achieving some creative life / work balance. Vaclev tells CDM:
What we actually do is that we pay people from Bastl for making releases on Nona – so they can take time off and they can make music. It is a way of providing security for the people to focus more on the music they want to make. The people already built their instruments, they started to perform on the Bastl Jam [live event] series, and now, the last missing piece is making releases. It’s a funny attempt to build the music scene from ground up.
Once we have the releases we want to promote the people to play abroad.
That is the plan, sort of. It really comes from the Bastl Jam series when we really saw that performing monthly gives the people so much push that the music got super interesting lately.
There are two new releases, too. Family Matter is a compilation of Bastl’s own crew and friends.
The boys and girls featured include three people from Bastl (Outin, Tom DJambo, and Paseka ) and more friends and musicians from around the world, including Myako, “a great DJ and producer from Paris,” and hiT͟Hərˈto͞o, Czech-born and Berlin-based producer (and as it happens, friend and collaborator of mine).
Also new is a collaborative album by two Sardinian musicians, Stefano Marconi and Emanual Balia, “who explore the abstract side of techno,” Vaclev explains. “They’re active in the field of experimental music and they recorded their first album 607f/s during their artistic residency at Bastl for the Nona label.”
There’s also Czech up-and-comer Kadaver:
Check out, as well, the EP of Hanz Tisch, who Vaclev describes as a “local bedroom producer who is exploring the childish universe through the style inspired by Aphex Twin.”
Superbooth is the banner event from legendary Berlin synth shop Schneidersladen, but the Bastl kids have their own event series going, too. Noise Kitchen Synth Fest will return to their hometown Brno, Czech, but will Europe tour, as well, reaching Berlin, Prague, and Vienna.
Quick — think about the planet you live on. What does Earth look like from above?
Probably, some very clear imagery just popped into your head – iconic Apollo-era photography, or perhaps the more contemporary view of the planet from the orbit of the International Space Station. But our generations – ours, our parents’ and grandparents’ generations – are unique in human history. We’ve been given these images by the radical breakthrough of our species leaving Earth, via our own human spaceflight and myriad machine exploration missions.
Earth as seen from Apollo 17 – an image that has become widely known partly because the NASA-produced photo is in the public domain. (And partly because it’s an amazing image that humans had never seen before.)
Earth imagery may well have even saved our species. The Atomic Age gave us the nuclear arsenal capable of wiping out life on Earth, but it also gave the public and world leaders a tangible picture of just how fragile that planet could be. The “Blue Marble” image from Apollo coincided with some of the deepest tensions in nuclear escalation, and planetary science, advanced by this same imagery, was able to go into specifics about the dangers of nuclear winter (as it now continues to warn us of the threats of climate change). And Earth is just the beginning, as we’ve looked deep into the cosmos and clearly into our planetary neighbors.
Part of what has made these particular images imprint in your mind, though, is because they were freely shared. One of the more positive legacies of the space race is the fact that the United States of America has produced a lot of civilian space-related content that, under US law, is released into the public domain, from sounds to images to films to various ephemera. Now, the legal basis for how this comes about in the USA, plus the complex set of exceptions (some NASA-specific, some related to particular limitations on the scope of where and how that public domain status applies, some related to acquisition of content from NASA contractors) could be the topic of a whole extended story. Suffice to say, NASA’s public domain doesn’t cover everything, but it’s still a lot of content. (NASA summarizes its general guidelines for media. See also: Federal Acquisition Regulation, the US government’s own explanation of the works it produces, or this third-party explanation of US government public domain for background.)
And free access to this content has been a big part of what has helped this imagery find its way deep into public consciousness, from research to advertising to artwork. The cultural impact is not to be overlooked: even sci fi television has inspired future astronauts. And space media is unique of all the cultural artefacts produced by humans, because it gives us a window into what would be to nearly all of us inaccessible. Only a handful of people can gain access to spaceflight facilities, let alone go into orbit and peer out the cupola of the ISS. And satellites and rovers can boldly go where no one will go, ever. So because we don’t have the power to produce this media ourselves, we rely on that access. And, oh yeah, your tax money paid for it, too – so it’s nice to get a return on investment.
Having access to American content was a good first step. Now it’s Europe’s turn.
And the European Space Agency’s media should be uniquely interesting to the sorts of people who read this site. ESA has led some of the most compelling scientific missions in recent years, both in terms of observing our own planet and exploring the solar system and further universe. ESA is also far more engaged in artistic collaboration than any of its other partners (even NASA), and does so inside the framework of a network of European institutions similarly dedicated to finding connections between arts and science.
In one sense, ESA faces extra challenges beyond its counterparts. The agency’s venture into open licensing is newer than NASA’s, and has to explicitly license content since nothing is generally public domain by default. It also involves a greater number of partners, because ESA is by definition a joint project of a number of European nations (on top of the usual private partners).
But we’re at an historic moment, as years of groundwork at ESA have now led to a public, wide-reaching release of content into the commons.
And this includes all the necessary ingredients to making this a success: a public commitment on a philosophical level, a bunch of content, a clear permissive licensing scheme, and well-organized access so anyone can get at all the good stuff.
The result is a new landmark, freshly employing a more contemporary approach to Creative Commons and a focus on new and bleeding-edge materials – because, really, it’s time to leave the Apollo era behind and see our cosmos through new eyes (and ears).
The necessity of ESA explicitly licensing the material under a Creative Commons license also makes usage far less murky than with NASA content. (Even NASA communications has sometimes appeared befuddled by this, incorrectly adding license restrictions like “non-commercial” to materials that technically have no such limitation, beyond the requisite that the US government legally cannot appear to endorse a product. Cough.)
Europe’s efforts place content under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 IGO (intergovernmental/international) license. The ShareAlike restriction is really useful; unlike public domain content, it ensures derivative content will be equally permissive. But note at the same time there’s no non-commercial restriction – which is good, because there’s no bright line test for what constitutes a “commercial” application (and all of us need to eat!).
ESA joins other intergovernmental organizations like the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the World Intellectual Property Organisation and the World Health Organisation. This also benefits the likes of Wikipedia and its Wikimedia Commons.
Okay, now having gone into the history and rules – what’s there?
Germany – in a new image released today. Credit: ESA/Belspo – produced by VITO, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.
Loads. There’s every kind of content imaginable. You can find photos and videos and work them into VJ sets. There are data sets you could try sonifying, or 3D print into sculptures. And yes, there are sounds – some contributed by yours truly, as part of an initiative I hope to continue to build upon.
We have so much in the form of imagery and video that a lot of people may not appreciate just how powerful data and sound could be. Sounds are a fundamental part of how scientists and engineers do their job on Earth, how they diagnose technology in space, and how they process information and data from space. Indeed, a lot of what we can process on our human scale from the cosmos comes in the form of waves and vibrations, either directly sonic or in forms that can be easily translated to sonic timescales.
Beyond that, I think data will be a rich new area to mine for artists and researchers – and a medium in which artists and researchers can potentially collaborate. And the ESA announcement in this regard couldn’t have come at a more important time. The incoming United States administration has threatened to scrap Earth observation missions, and gone far enough toward suggesting climate change-related datasets would be scrubbed that scientists were scrambling to make backups and public clones. At best, while this data is public domain, it could threaten NASA and climate agency work by the US government to keep that data easy to find for a non-technical public. So having a renewed public effort to share data on the European side, and make it easy for the public to find and understand, is obviously relevant.
Now, maybe your experimental ambient album made from climate change data isn’t going to save the world. But anyone learning how to find and read data, and sharing what they’ve learned, is contributing to a better-informed public that can converse more easily with scientific specialists. And whatever your political inclinations, I think you’ll agree that’s a good thing. We live in a rapidly changing world and economy driven by reams of data. And that means that the public needs to find ways to get smarter about how to handle that data, not just specialists. When you make a piece of music, you’re also learning about data processing, about coding, and about handling scale and perception. That’s knowledge (and code, and sonifications, and more) that we can share with scientists and share with students.
In fact, I think that one reason it’s great musicians ad artists are getting into this is precisely because this is out of our usual comfort zone. (I’m sure my high school physics teacher will attest to that.) To shamelessly paraphase President Kennedy, we can do it not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.
It’s worth reading that whole story, because ultimately the conclusions go beyond Trump. The hackers wind up helping to assemble centralized, independent, easily navigable datasets that weren’t available in any form before – and recognize the importance of independent scientific information, free of any government involvement.
And regarding the effort to convince the Trump administration that funding Earth observation is significant (some of these projects impacting European efforts, too): Eyes in the sky: Cutting NASA Earth observations would be a costly mistake [The Conversation – article here is written by climate change scientist who advises some of these projects, and talks about how bleeding edge science can ultimately transfer to more general use]
These kinds of discussions, while acute at the moment in the USA, are ultimately global. They’ll be part of policy debates all over the world, and from specialists to newcomers, we’re all learning how to better understand and share data.
I think adding cultural voices to this discussion is significant. And wherever you are on the political spectrum, I think we all have a basic human need to change perspective and get out of the microcosm of political debate. Imagining space exploration, our Earth, and our universe is a rich common realm for that imagination.
I hope we’ll get the chance to examine more what’s available. I can’t think of a better way I’d want to see my Euros and VAT spent.
I tried to locate a single multimedia portal for NASA and, well, there isn’t one. That’s why this site above from ESA is going to be a huge boon. But your best bet is now actually the main NASA site (and then larger projects tend to have their own media archives):
What if scores could be touched and felt instead of only read? We’ve just come from a deep, far-ranging discussion with artist Enrique Tomás, a researcher at the Interface Culture Lab in Linz. It’s part of Enrique’s residency with CTM Festival and ENCAC – European network for contemporary av creation, who also support some of our work. And it’s presented as part of another of our MusicMakers hacklabs at CTM Festival. It’s worth sharing some thoughts already.
One of his more compelling illustrations of this was his PhD project, tangible scores:
Credits: Enrique Tomás – PhD at Interface Culture Lab – Kunstuniversität Linz
Supervised by Prof. Martin Kaltenbrunner
A “Tangible Score” is a tactile interface for musical expression that incorporates a score in its physical shape, surface structure or spatial configuration.
Using sound as a continuous input signal, both synthesis and control are available simultaneously through direct manipulation on the engraved patterns of the physical score.
Every interface is conceived from a different graphical score that still represents a musical idea but it has been also specially designed for providing a diverse palette of acoustic signals when touched. But more important, the tactile scores define and propose specific gestural behaviors due to the different affordances and constraints of the object in front.
Sound is generated through a polyphonic concatenative synthesis driven by a real-time analysis and classification of input signal spectra. Each of the scores is loaded with a specific sound corpus that defines its sonic identity.
Thus, “Tangible Score” provides a implicit visual and haptic feedback in addition to its sonic core functionality, making it intuitive and learnable but as well suitable as an interface for musical improvisation and sonic exploration.
But some stand-out issues from me were his thoughts on rethinking representation in musical interfaces, and returning to the body as the integral part of expression and thought itself. (That included examples from the likes of choreographer William Forsythe – bringing us full circle to some other CDM connections, as Forsythe’s work has been deeply involved in investigations of dance and technology and embodiment work in that field. Oh – plus we all have bodies. So there’s that.)
It also says a lot about the fundamentals of performance interactions – whether you’re just practicing your finger drumming on pads or building an entirely new interface. It says that part of what we’re doing is exploring our thoughts and emotions through our body – and that challenge requires new collaborations, new experimentation, and very often modifying or constructing new interfaces and techniques. That cuts to the heart of why we’re here in Berlin for another hacklab.
If you have projects you’d like us to see, or questions you’re pondering, do share. And thanks to our hosts at CTM Festival and Native Instruments as we venture into unexplored territory yet again. (Come visit us if you’re in town.)
Finally, some of Enrique’s music — which lately has been turning radios into instruments:
In this album, Enrique Tomás appropiates of SDR devices (Software Defined Radios) and makes them use as electronic music instruments. Through the active exploration of the radio spectrum (1MHz – 3GHz) at various european locations, Tomás builds artificial soundscapes with extreme ranges of frequencies and amplitudes.
Originally composed for a multichannel setup, here we offer you the stereo version.
Original recordings take in Linz, Madrid and Cambridge (UK).
Mixed and mastered in Linz at Berisha´s Studios.
First Performed: Salzamt Linz (pre-release) and STWST Linz (release)
Recording released in October 2016.
All rights reserved – Enrique Tomás
released October 18, 2016
I can see that look in your eyes. That thirst. “Please, Peter, regale us with esoteric information about contemporary accordion playing technique.” Absolutely. Let’s do this.
You see, for all the extremist ideologies social media and the Internet are amplifying, well, at least experimental accordion practitioners are finding each other, too. And maybe it’s worth listening to them. The keyboard is dominant now in electronic music, after all. And they make keyboard-based music sound different. For instance, there’s this beautiful work by Martin Lohse and Bjarke Mogensen, “Passing 1,” set to Hubble imagery:
And one 2013 gathering pulled artists and academics together to map the future of the instrument, in practical terms. They put out a full publication you can read:
Moving beyond stale means of framing questions about musical interface or technological invention, we’ve got a serious case of the feels.
For this year’s installment of the MusicMakers Hacklab we host with CTM Festival in Berlin, we look to the role of emotion in music and performance. And that means we’re calling on not just coders or engineers, not just musicians, and performers, but psychologists and neuroscientists and more, too.
The MusicMakers Hacklab I was lucky enough to found has now been running with multiple hosts and multiple countries, bringing together artists and makers of all stripes to experiment with new performances. The format is this: get everyone together in a room, and insist on people devising new ideas and working collaboratively. Then, over the course of a week, turn those ideas into performances and put those performances in front of an audience.
This year talks and performances we hope will tackle this issue of emotion in some new ways, the embodiment of feeling and mind in the work. It comes hot on the heels of working in Mexico City with arts collective Interspecifics and MUTEK Festival in collaboration with CTM. (Leslie García has been instrumental in collaborating and bringing the event to Mexico.)
The open call to come to Berlin is available for submissions through late Wednesday. If you can make it at the beginning of February, you can soak up all CTM Festival has to offer and make something new.
Now that our sense of self is intertwined with technology, what can we say about our relationship with those objects beyond the rational? The phrase “expression” is commonly associated with musical technology, but what is being expressed, and how? In the 2017 Hacklab, participants will explore the irrational and non-rational, the sense of mind as more than simply computer, delving into the deeper frontiers of our own human wetware.
Building on 2016’s venture into the rituals of music technology, we will encourage social and interpersonal dynamics of our musical creations. We invite new ideas about how musical performance and interaction evoke feelings, and how they might realize emotional needs.
I’m really eager to share how we bring music psychology and cognition into the discussion, too, so stay tuned.
And I think that’s part of the point. Skills with code and wires are great, but they’re just part of the picture. Everything you can bring in performance technique, in making stuff, in ideas – this is all part of the technology of music, too. We have to keep pushing beyond our own comfortable skills, keep drawing connections between media, if we want to move forward.
Berlin native Byrke Lou joins us and brings her own background in performance and inter-disciplinary community, which makes me still more excited.
As in other industries, the UK referendum to leave Europe has sent shockwaves through the music community. My friends at Das Filter, a superb German-language online magazine about music and culture, wanted to respond. And so they invited a number of us to talk last week.
I’ve found myself awkwardly running my mouth about UK politics, which, quite frankly, is not something I am in any way qualified to do, in the way that I would be able to talk about things on the American side. So, British friends – accept my advance apologies, please, and I’m keen to hear your opinion.
What we are qualified to discuss, though, are two things: one, emotions (which was a clever way to open this discussion), and two, specific issues around immigration, migrant labor, and music.
I don’t want to suggest hegemony on this issue. I imagine there are CDM readers who voted Leave – and I do appreciate that there’s mistrust of the EU and the way it’s run, including some criticism which indeed ought to be aired. I would also caution that the Brexit is fundamentally difficult to discuss because the leave referendum is by design unclear on substance. Leave backers have been fragmented or have sent conflicting messages on what they’re asking for. The issues that matter most to us in the music community – like labor movement inside Europe – are very much undecided, even once the UK may trigger its departure from the EU agreement via article 50.
But some of these issues are supremely relevant to CDM – as we discuss here, the entire electronic music community is interwoven with Europe and its institutions. And it’s even directly relevant to CDM itself – I am personally a (business) immigrant to Germany and live in the European Union, the location in Berlin is made meaningful by a lot of elements of European integration, and we sell hardware products (MeeBlip) in the European market.
The whole audio is here if you’re so inclined. But in this panel and other discussions, some particular themes have come out.
There’s cause for deep concerned about racism, misunderstanding, and fear. This is the most important point. Whatever the merits or demerits of UK membership in the EU, there’s reason to be concerned about the rise of racial fears in Europe – not only the alarming rise of right wing extremism, but also the mainstreaming of racial prejudice. And this is something the music community ought to take personally. I would be nowhere personally without my friends and collaborators from Poland, from Romania, from the Middle East, and the list goes on. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to hear stories of racial bigotry or see some in the UK press and political campaigns target or caricature these groups. Ultimately, this isn’t a “Leave” issue or even a European one – confronting fear and hate, understanding where its origins lie and how to combat it, is a task for all of us.
Immigration, freedom of movement, and labor mobility are essential to music and music tech. Part of what makes Europe a dynamic place to live is the ability for those with European passports to live and work anywhere in the EU. It’s not clear whether or not the Brexit will exact a cost in this area, but in the meantime, it has created some real uncertainty – many Leave campaigners specifically criticized migrant labor from Europe, and those rights are back on the negotiating table.
There’s been a good deal of discussion in the music press about DJs traveling around and so on. But it’s also worth noting that there is a specific value working in music technology. This time last summer, I was on a panel with chief executives from both SoundCloud and Native Instruments as they praised the rich ability to recruit staff here in Berlin. NI had an official statement in support of the Remain vote speaking to this issue, but more than that, I also saw personal testimonies from various individuals, unofficially, talking about this. I’ve also had discussions with UK-based makers.
The talent pool from around Europe is part of the reason that exists in Berlin – and even for those of us who don’t have European passports, it has made it more appealing for us to live and work in Europe.And if you think of technology, specifically, I believe it’s even more important to assemble diverse teams. See the previous point. We all know that diversity and immigration are an investment in the economy. We’re not talking some sort of fevered neo-liberal banking dream – we’re talking about building actual jobs and making real things.
European integration has real benefits for small business – including music manufacturers. Europe is home to brands like Propellerhead, Ableton, Focusrite/Novation, Steinberg… the list goes on. It’s also a place where you can build new, small manufacturers, and rely on a European supply chain. So much has focused on the single currency, and while I know essentially nothing about macroeconomics or how currencies really operate, I do appreciate the criticism there. But I can say that it is meaningful for small gear makers that they can hire from around Europe without worrying about visas, move supplies without working about import tariffs, and rely (to some degree) on integrated regulations. (I say to some degree because I think a lot of us would like more European integration, not less. Entrepreneurs including SoundCloud’s Eric Wahlforss have recently advocated more standardized business regulations – that would have actually made it easier for CDM to incorporate and operate here, bu
This has also helped Europe drive forward recycling takeback programs and remove toxins and lead from electronics components – those are complex regulatory issues, but it means that those of us making music gear can have hopefully a slightly lighter impact on the planet.
European arts funding is significant to many of our projects. Funding from the European Commission is part of a number of projects I and CDM have been involved in, to say nothing of the many artists we cover. In fact, it’s safe to say that there’s a heck of a lot more European-level funding than there is federal public funding for the artist in the USA. This will necessarily be reshaped by a Brexit – though it could also see more EC funds directed to continental Europe. I’m not sure there’s a lot that can be said about the impact of the Brexit itself, but one side effect is that people are suddenly aware of something some of us have known for a while – the European Union as an institution does support the arts, even apart from the rich level of support enjoyed in countries like Germany.
The Brexit could set back shared regulations on copyright and the Internet. We didn’t get to this in the panel, really, but it’s a whole other topic. European cooperation on issues like copyright and the Internet also hold promise. Brexit or no Brexit, a UK that’s going it’s own way makes progress here difficult. (Progress here was, to be fair, difficult with the EU, too, but watch this space.)
But greetings from Germany anyway. Part of the reason I’m in Berlin is that, EU or no, policies here toward immigrants (including me with a non-European passport) have been in my experience moving in a positive direction. There’s a community that’s increasingly diverse, and German locals in the music scene have embraced international influence and cooperation – including those native to Berlin (or East and West Berlin). Those issues are ultimately global ones. But I’m grateful both to the community here and the government (for all the flaws of each) for providing such a terrific environment to work on those global issues. Of course, I know some people are saying that very backdrop – or cities like London – are a bubble, out of touch with growing anti-international sentiment around the world.
And I think far wider reaching than the Brexit itself, we need to find a way to talk about how issues like international cooperation, international law, and immigration impact people’s lives. In music, we already have a “nation” of globally-minded people – I see it everywhere I go. Now the question is whether we can act as effective ambassadors.
What will the next wave of invention in music technology look like? Will it follow a narrow course of iteration – a new interface, a new synthesis technique? Or will the next leaps come from networks of ideas, from what happens when different disciplines and cultures collide, when music technology turns to the broader matters of how music is made and how it impacts people?
I rather believe in the latter. And that could be why Berlin is the place where so often people gather to work out the next big thing. There’s no single music research center, no formal lab (private or academic) that stands out. But this is the stage on which wall come down and people collaborate.
And that could make the end of May in Berlin very important indeed. Because in a year full of big music tech events here, the end of May might be the broadest in scope – and the most collaborative. It’s the tenth edition of Music Tech Fest, which has in a short time already been from London to Slovenia to New Zealand to America and then some. But this one has the most multi-layered program yet.
A week of laboratories and cooperative investigations leads to an extended weekend that has so much going on, that it’s a little hard to describe. Conversations go like this. “Hey, have you heard about MTF?” “What?” “Well, it’s a huge … um … music … thing. Like a … music and tech … sort of festival something.”
If you missed the Superbooth, this returns to the beautiful DDR-era Funkhaus, whose sprawling studios and halls provide an ample village full of nerd havens. And it’s really at its heart three things:
It’s a lab. Laboratories and hackathons and trackathons and jams mean a chance to make new stuff, technological and musical both.
It’s a conference and fair. Talks and meet-ups and showcases cover everything from startups and manufacturers to deep research and ideas.
It’s a festival. Artists rare and famed are premiering new music and producing new experiments that culminate in a series of performances that stretch late into the night (hence the “lates” track).
This video gives you a taste of what emerges – in all its blinky, shiny glory.
And all of this produces a scene in which Berlin can be hub to what’s happening Europe-wide (and globally) as far as supporting a technological ecosystem driven by music. Given that music has had a roll in helping computers sing for the first time and understanding how to make computer interaction function, that’s a very big deal.
Some underlying threads:
Transhumanism. Music can help people to expand who they are as humans – especially powerful for people who are differently abled. Our own event includes an amputee pop star who has extended herself beyond being an amputee. We also look at extensions of the body through senses and wearable technology.
Self-sustainability. DIY is everywhere, from junkyard-assembled instruments to giving kids the tools they need to make their own instruments – all with a “gunk” or geek punk aesthetic. Beyond just interesting one-off projects, that extends to systematic efforts to make open blocks on which other research can build, including the #MusicBricks program which binds together European research and innovation.
Social transformation. There’s also strong support for examining how music is interwoven with society – and new ideas about how music is spread, particularly with an extended lab investigating the use of the Blockchain to give musicians more power over how their music is shared. (Imogen Heap, who has championed that idea, will be on hand to introduce this.)
Some artists you can expect to meet:
Emika, with exclusive premiere of Symphony No. 1 and a discussion of her process
Matt Black, co-founder of NinjaTune and Coldcut, with his new “ICH BIN”
Graham Massey of 808 State (yes, that one!)
Grace Savage (beatboxing champion, whom ELLE dubbed one of the 100 most inspiring women in the world)
Martin Molin, the guy who made that musical marble machine you’ve probably seen
Mercury prize nominee ESKA
TOA Mata Band, who built a band out of LEGO…
…and the list goes on from there.
ESKA photo by Jaroslav Moravec.
Emika, who is not only performing but inviting us into her studio process.
Graham Dunning; photo by Julien Kerduff.
Groups like DRAKE music will focus on disability and music tech… but there’s also Blam, a musical Minecraft mod. (You can see why this is hard to sum up.)
You can join a marathon production session, here in the world’s largest music recording facility (thanks, Communism!) – but you can also go to a networking session with leading industry investors and innovators. (Thanks, Capitalism?)
And the programming tracks:
#MTFLabs are collaboration-driven laboratories producing new inventions on-site. You can witness the results of a performance lab (which I’m leading along with Jasmine Isdrake), a group of people tackling the blockchain and sharing, a vocal lab, and an audience hacking mobile track run by IRCAM.
#MTFStage combines performance, show-and-tell, and hands-on workshop, on all manner of themes from androids to wearable tech and fashion and body extension to junkyard machines and Emika’s own crowd-funded symphony.
#MTFAmplifier connects industry, investors, startups, and more.
#MTFSoundpit is a science fair – slash – convention floor of tech inventions like startups and interactive dance floors and so on.
#MTFSpace fills the rest of the halls with immersive experiments and a data-driven cassette store and interactive installations.
#MTFLates are mobbed performance evenings in the halls of MTF. I kind of think we aren’t sleeping. (The artist lineup above is a tiny, tiny taste – there’s more.)
The hackathons and trackathons for kids and adults are already full up, but you can check out the results, and there’s an open jam plus loads of opportunities to learn and interact.
Finally, following the long weekend, there are Europe-wide conferences on research (neuroscientists to composers) and on Internet-of-Things innovation (from startups to Siemens). That helps cement Berlin’s role as the European musical capital, yet again.
And of course, I hope to share specifically what we’re working on. We’re entering the absorption chamber, a massive empty concrete space around the concert halls built as an acoustical experiment, where we’ll create a series of immersive performance experiments involving dance, fashion, light, sound, music, and play.
The world’s spaceflight programs generate astounding piles of images. But sight is just sense through which we can understand and imagine space exploration. And the medium of sound has been comparatively under-used.
That’s starting to change. Recently, both NASA and the European Space Agency announced new archives of sounds were being made public and Creative Commons licensing. The licensing on these sounds means that you can not only listen, but also remix, sample, and share those sounds.
This could be just the beginning. In November, I visited ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, Netherlands as part of a collaboration with them. The continuing mission: learn the significance of sound in the space program, record new sounds, and then demonstrate why these sounds could be powerful in a talk and performance.
Now, from a simulated launch to the sounds of a prototype Mars rover, we can share those sounds for you to download.
Why sounds matter in space exploration
I was suspicious that sound was significant, if I happen to be a bit biased about the role of sound and music. But I was frankly surprised just how important I learned sound could be, through the collaboration with ESA.
I talked about that – and then performed a bit – in my talk/performance/demo wrapping up a day of TEDx programming at ESA.
Making music from sounds at ESA’s research facility. Photo: ESA/TEDxESA.
“There’s no sound in space,” is, of course, the first reaction you’ll hear (even from some scientists and engineers). That’s true to the extent that you need a medium (like air or water) to convey sound waves. But we can look at the role of sound more broadly – just as we do imagery.
In our conversations, we found a number of distinct roles for sound in documenting space. Obviously, any sound recording can serve as documentation (voice recordings, field recordings, and so on). But there are ways that sound is more directly involved in in the space programs, too:
Sound is a technically sensitive part of every launch. This one may seem obvious – rockets are freakin’ loud – but it has a practical implication. Satellites and spacecraft have to withstand powerful sound pressure levels. One of the largest test facilities at ESTEC is exclusively dedicated to testing this.
Discovery News has a great video that explains just how loud rockets can be, and why that matters to engineering:
Sound is part of how engineers do their job on Earth. Microphones can be part of how instruments are calibrated and detect vibrations. This doesn’t always mean an engineer will listen to sounds directly – they may only display it visually, for instance. But in some industries, listening to sound directly may be part of a test or evaluation process.
Listening to sounds generated by the LEAF facility. Photo: Marco Trovatello, ESA.
Sound can be used to evaluate equipment on the ISS – and the ISS is really loud. I had the pleasure in Noordwijk of sitting at dinner next to Frank De Winne, an experienced Belgian pilot and astronaut who now heads the European Astronaut Centre. Frank told me that making recordings is one way the space station can communicate with engineers on the ground. Now, you may have had the experience of a car mechanic saying, “what does it sound like” when trying to solve a problem. (Our American readers may have listened to the “Car Talk” radio show.) This evidently happens quite literally on the ISS. For instance, Frank said that the astronauts made a recording of a malfunctioning treadmill and then uploaded that recording to mission controllers.
The acoustic environment on ISS is also much louder than you might imagine. Commander Chris Hadfield made a recording of the US lab module to illustrate this. (I hope we can get a better recording at some point. I also hear the Russian module is even louder, though I have to verify that.) It’s not really CDM material, per se, but if you’re interested in life on the ISS, I really recommend the amazing talk given at our event by Samantha Cristoforetti – FUTURA mission: 200 days in space | Samantha Cristoforetti | TEDxESA.)
Beyond human hearing
Vibrations and sonifications from space can be heard. Human exploration of space was heard before it was seen, starting with the iconic sound of Sputnik’s radio transmission. Sonification is now going beyond just playback of radio signals, however.
The Philae lander had onboard an experiment involving what is essentially a contact mic. Remember that you can detect acoustic vibrations without requiring a medium like air or water, as vibrations travel through a physical body. That’s what the Cometary Acoustic Surface Sounding Experiment (CASSE) sensors did – even without any air, this is literally the acoustic sound (traveling through the body of the spacecraft) as it makes contact with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko:
Imagery from space relies heavily on the use of false colors, simulation, and other enhancements that allow us to see beyond what our eyes normally would. So it makes sense that other signals would be enhanced, too. When we say the same comet “sings,” we don’t mean literally in terms of sound waves. The oscillation is in the magnetic field. On the other hand, you could think of the comet as a kind of synthesizer. Whereas an analog synthesizer oscillator works with voltage, this one – flying through our cosmos – is producing oscillations in electro-magnetic radiation.
The next problem is simply one of frequency – a 40-50 millihertz signal would be inaudible if sonified directly. So, instead, you need something in the range of human hearing. (It’d still be sound, just not sound you can hear.) German composer Manuel Senfft did that with this sound:
But generally speaking, we are in a world where we’re beginning to think of data and signals as something to hear as well as see. That prompted the team announcing the discovery of gravitational waves to use sound rather than just a picture. I’ve talked about the importance of that, but here you can listen to the voice of LIGO spokesperson and Professor of Physics and Astronomy Dr. Gabriela González announce it directly. (She also emphasizes that this is the real signal, just adjusted for our hearing and time scale – just like those false colors used on some space images):
ESA’s horns are each tuned to simulate the low-frequency sound pressures of an actual launch. Photo: CDM.
The sounds of ESTEC
This week, with the collaboration of ESA, I’m excited to share a small sampling of additional sounds collected and recorded here on Earth. You can read about it in ESA’s blog:
The project grew out of a collaboration with the TEDxESA team from the European Space Agency. That’s Priel Manes and Angelika Daniels (from ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office), Marco Trovatello (ESA Communications), and Guenther Mulder. Marco also wrote up the above, and has been helpful in talking about Creative Commons licensing and access to ESA materials.
I hope it’s just the beginning. Just as important as recording these sounds themselves was the chance to communicate with the people working at ESA – with astronauts, with engineers, with people working in communications and administration – about how sound mattered and how this process might work in the future.
Inside the enormous nitrogen horns that power the LEAF, bringing its sound upwards of 156 dB. Photo credit: ESA – A. Le Floc’h.
At the LEAF facility (Large European Acoustic Facility), we got to tour Europe’s largest sound facility. Imagine a giant room, several stories high, with walls of concrete reinforced with steel. Then imagine a really insane organ/calliope powered by compressed nitrogen, capable of generating 158.5 dB sound. (Standing inside with this while it was operating would actually kill you.)
Listen carefully, and you can hear the high frequency whistles early, as well as the full blast later on. Now imagine this is many, many hundreds of times louder.
Schematics in the LEAF control room show flow of compressed nitrogen into the chamber. Photo: CDM.
Spacecraft have to survive both this acoustic test (the sound of a launch) and a vibration test (the shaking produced by a launch). In the case of the acoustic test, conventional microphones (albeit ones capable of responding to very high pressure levels) are used to calibrate the test. Vibration sensors on the shakers (think contact mics again) calibrate the shaker test. So in each case, there is an audio signal evaluated by the test equipment. We weren’t certain if anyone had listened to the file before, in fact. But the test equipment was capable of dumping standard wave files, so we’ve shared those.
Working with ESTEC’s Steffen Scharfenberg, an electro-mechanical engineer, we were able to understand how these test suites function and how they make use of sound.
The shaker test uses sine sweeps to test calibration of the equipment as the device is shaken. So sound is used, more or less, at both ends — it’s a source (the sine sweep), and then read again by the test equipment while the spacecraft (or other materials, including rocket propellents) are physically shaken around on the surface. Listening through the equipment, you hear not the shaking of the equipment as you would standing in the room as it operates, but as it vibrates the plate on which the test subject sits. (Again, think contact mics.) That sounds like this:
Europe is preparing for the (robotic) journey to Mars. Photo: CDM.
Working with the teams developing robotic prototypes in the Planetary Robotics Lab led to some different sorts of discoveries. Martin Azkarate and team got to hear their own rover hardware in a new way, as they played with Jonáš Gruska’s Elektrosluch device to listen to electromagnetic radiation emitted by various onboard instruments, including various cameras being tested. A lot of this may be distant from the hardware that actually goes to Mars, but the engineers and I got a real kick out of hearing what was emitting EMF radiation and how it sounded. It’s a bit like the acoustic version of putting on heat-sensing goggles.
Making an electromagnetic recording inside the Planetary Robotics Lab with the aid of the Elektrosluch from LOM. Photo: CDM.
What I appreciated about making acoustic recordings of the rover was that it gave a sense of the delicate pace of its travel. It wouldn’t quite sound like this if we were able to record it on Mars – Mars’ much thinner atmosphere means that the speed of sound is higher. (Think of what happens to your voice when you inhale helium.) But it does at least stimulate the imagination in a way in which a video alone (of the rover going … very … slowly …) might not.
We saw all kinds of things in the Materials & Electrical Components Laboratory that we couldn’t capture in sound, but we did get to record the signature snap of nitrogen valves going off. (In many of these facilities, security rules also dictate that you can’t take photos, so microphones are allowed where cameras aren’t.)
This was itself an interesting cross-disciplinary adventure, as we toured the facility on the invitation of Tommaso Ghidini, who has come from projects like the Airbus A380 to heading the materials lab – and now will be glad to tell you all about 3D printing on the moon.
But all in all, I think these sounds give a sense of some of the many amazing things happening at ESTEC even beyond what a picture could do. And so I hope we do more like this.
Get the audio
You can download all the audio from SoundCloud, via my own account and ESA’s:
And of course a drum kit I made with these is available here on CDM:
What’s next? We hope to investigate other ways sound can help give us a better way of understanding space, technology, and space exploration, with ESA and other programs. And we hope people will respond musically to these sounds.
On ESA’s site, you’ll find lots of music inspired by space, much of it using sounds made available by the program. And ESA is collaborating with artists. I got to meet Elvire Flocken-Vitez, for instance, a young French woman who was in residence at ESTEC producing a vinyl record that sonifies the relationship of planets in the solar system. (Elvire also joined us last month in Belgium for the hacklab we hosted at Artefact Festival.) Other artists are making music both in residency programs and on their own. And other agencies are toying with this concept, too.
I believe these sorts of collaborations expand our culture and our own conception of our world. And, well, they’re a heck of a lot of fun, so there’s that, too. Let us know if you have a response of your own, and where you’d like future sonic efforts to go.
This is the result of just a couple of days spent at ESTEC (and some conversations and planning outside that). Much more can and will happen. Stay tuned.