The producers of Electronic Voyager, an upcoming documentary about Bob Moog, shared this video interview with synth pioneer Herb Deutsch. In the video, Deutsch tells the story of how building a theremin kit led to him meeting Moog and to … Continue reading →
This episode of SciShow takes a look at the physics of the theremin. For more info on theremin physics, check out these resources: Another video on the physics of the theremin The physics of the theremin at UCSB From Physical Law … Continue reading →
This video, via Great Big Story, is a short profile of Pamelia Stickney, thereminist. Stickney (formerly Pamelia Kurstin) has been active as a thereminist for over 15 years, and has performed with David Byrne, Yoko Ono, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, and others.
You have to love German. In English, I can string together whole paragraphs that try and fail to capture the potential of electronic sound. In German, we get to call an event Technosphärenklänge – a word whose utterance is a timbral adventure in itself. And in an event with that name promising to be a landmark for the electronic music sphere, CTM Festival is bringing together pioneering machines and pioneering humans. It’s a convergence of the worlds of mathematics and music that has never happened in this combination on one stage before – and we’ll take you there.
For one, there’s John Chowning. Chowning’s name will always appear first in sentences involving “the inventor of FM (frequency modulation) synthesis.” But while the impact of that can’t be overstated, he’s also a pioneer in finding mathematical beauty in composition and in equally significant contributions to sound spatialization. Moreover, like his late colleague Max Mathews, John’s teaching reaches beyond even his own discoveries – so much about electronic music achievement can be connected to his students and his students’ students.
So it’s fitting that Holly Herndon will do an interview with John, as she has studied with him.
FM synthesis you know, but in celebration of John’s work, let’s share still more. There’s his gorgeous milestone 1977 composition Stria, which holds up today as computer music, and is built in mystical mathematic beauty around the Golden Mean.
Here, via AES, he talks about his role in the origins of FM.
Here’s John in action in some wonderful historical moments:
Chowning at Stanford’s CCRMA – the program he founded – with Thierry Lancino and Chris Chafe. Photo credit: CCRMA.
John Chowning (standing, plaid shirt) at CCRMA with Pierre Boulez (at computer), Max Mathews (glasses, far right) and others. Photo credit: José Mercado.
Pairing John with Holly is already a meeting of minds that should be fun to witness, but we also get a world-premiere musical collaboration that unites Chowning’s musical imagination with Mark Fell.
Mark Fell. Photo courtesy the artist / CTM Festival.
If Chowning represents the mathematics of music in digital form, a creation of none other than Leon Theremin makes it physical-mechanical. The Rhythmicon could be seen as the prototypical drum machine. The 1932 invention, in a 60s-built rendition made by Theremin himself, will debut in Berlin via Moscow-based researcher Andrey Smirnov.
Andrey Smirnov gives a lecture at the Red Bull Music Academy Synth Lab in Moscow in 2013. Photo: Denis Klero/Red Bull Content Pool.
Marcus Schmickler will join CDM’s Peter Kirn in conversation. Photo by Marc Comes, courtesy CTM Festival.
We hope to share content from the whole program. I’ll also be talking personally to German composer Marcus Schmickler. His numbers tickle the brain directly. Building on the work of Jean-Claude Risset, his Fortuna Ribbons project plays with sonic perception. If the Shepard Tone is the sonic barber pole of sound, sine waves superimposed in a fashion that seems to make them constantly ascend or descend, the Shepard–Risset glissando is an M.C. Escher staircase – continuous sonic aural illusion.
The best way to appreciate Schmickler’s work may be simply to watch how people respond when they hear it (keep watching, as the reactions start to get more interesting):
You can also try putting on this record at your next party:
Let us know if you’ve got a question you’d like me to ask him, especially if you’re a Schmickler fan.
Stay tuned to CDM for more with the artists and the results of the talks.
But if you are in Berlin this month, you can come visit us in person. Marcus Schmickler joins Carsten Goertz, Mark Fell and John Chowning perform, Andrey Smirnov performs, and gamut inc (whom we joined at CTM Festival in February) are back. Then Holly and I take on the talks the following day.
The Technosphärenklänge (Sounds of the Technosphere) concert series aims to explore current practices in sound and music as an element and expression of the technosphere – the quasi autonomous entity that is the sum of operational and technical processes and infrastructures around the globe, and whose conflicted interaction with natural planetary processes characterises the Earth’s current geological time, dubbed the Anthropocene. Developed in close collaboration between HKW and CTM Festival, the series is scheduled to take place at irregular intervals until 2018.
The Thérésyn is a new theremin + synthesizer hybrid, that’s designed to combine the best features of the theremin with powerful synthesis options. The Theresyn is created by a group of talented instrument designers: Nori Ubukata (left) – thereminist and Theresyn concept designer … Continue reading →
We recently featured the Lawrence, Kansas Public Library, which has a recording studio you can check out and is getting a large-format monster synth. Another library that is innovating by letting you check out creative tools is the Ann Arbor … Continue reading →
Technology’s record in the last century was often replacing music making with music consumption. But in this century, that might turn around. Google seems to hope so. Today, the company posted a set of free sound toys on its site, all running in your browser. They’re fun diversions for now – but thanks to open code and powerful new browser features, they could become more.
You’ve possibly come across the first experiment, available as a Google Doodle on the search engine’s homepage. In that, Clara Rockmore teaches you a simple melody on a simulated Theremin.
But there are more – and education is the apparent goal. Google says they’re assembling the so-called “Chrome Music Lab” in honor of “Music In Our Schools month.” The idea is to let you explore how music works.
Perhaps more interesting than that, though, is how these experiments are delivered. By running in the browser, it’s possible to make lessons available instantly, anywhere – and to let you interact with them at your own pace.
“Chrome” is of course featured, but I found myself running experiments in Safari, too, without incident.
The funny thing is, we’re now catching up to an idea that was already in proof of concept form some twenty years earlier. For example, Morton Subotnick may be known to most these days as a pioneer of composition and modular synthesis – and he is that – but in 1995, he did something very like these experiments. “Morton Subotnick’s Making Music” for Voyager included a series of interactive toys intended to allow kids to play with advanced music concepts quickly. Back then, the delivery mechanism was multimedia CD-ROM, requiring Mac and PC machines with particular specs to realize the content.
Apps, of course, did this (particularly on iOS) – and sure enough, there’s a Subotnick painting app for iPad from a few years ago. But the ability of the browser to catch up means the chance for the screen used for everything else to become musical.
Now, while kids might use the Chrome Music Lab to learn about music, coders might use it to learn about code. Each example is free and open source, so you can learn from it and modify it.
And the “lab” includes software built on key, open technologies. Sound is delivered via the Web Audio API. WebGL and PIXI.JS make powerful graphics and animation easier. There are also tools (Tone.js and a microphone API) that make adding sound functionality less of a chore.
Just click the question mark icon on any experiment, and you’ll find information on the developer and a link to code on GitHub.
I find it actually a bit curious that Google says these are collaborations between coders and musicians – of course, these days, there’s often no distinction. But I can imagine collaborations between coder-musicians, music educators, and more expanding around this. The browser could be a place where we mess with music and learn literacy in music, expression, code, and math.
And if you aren’t optimistic about that, well… uh… share this and likely just listen to all the coworkers / family members / coffee shop goers who are making strange Theremin sounds and dragged away from things like American Presidential politics. I rest my case.
Today is Clara Rockmore’s birthday. Via wikipedia:
“Born as Clara Reisenberg in Vilnius, Vilna Governorate (now Lithuania), Rockmore was a child prodigy on the violin and entered the Saint Petersburg Conservatory at the age of five. She remains to this day the youngest student ever to be admitted to the institution. She