Electronic virtuoso Thomas Piper’s insistent voice delivers in honest, powerful “Permission to Live”

Thomas Piper’s Permission to Live is a powerful, personal statement. It comes from one of the few people who plays Ableton Push like his main instrument, from an artist who draws from a hundred skills.

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Music tech makers are donating a day – or more – to funds that could make a difference

Black lives matter. Just posting slogans isn’t going to help – and people are dying. What can make a difference? Music tech makers are proposing an actual plan of activities.

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Clara Amfo talks to her BBC Radio 1 audience about mental health and George Floyd’s death

Clara Amfo, a major UK journalist and one of the top DJs at BBC Radio 1, has a message that speaks to the trauma she’s experiencing now and gets to the heart of what appropriation means in music.

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No Love Parades this time: in the midst of crisis, an image of tonedeaf ravers in Berlin

A large swath of Berlin’s club scene kicked off the summer with an illustration of how not to respond to a crisis. The message: if the crisis doesn’t apply to me, I won’t acknowledge its existence.

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Feed yourself with a free cookbook from Korg and the electronic music and synth community

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.

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Synth maker Sequential checks in on how they’re running in the pandemic

Sequential this week ran a video this week showing us how the makers of the Pro 3, Prophets, and more are keeping productive during the pandemic. We wished Dave Smith a happy birthday recently; here’s what everyone else is up to.

The San Francisco, USA-headquartered company is at home as part of California’s shelter-in-place program. But this is a chance to see how an independent synth maker is working – and to see some of the faces of the team.

Tony, Sequential’s engineering, has the best backdrop – with a Minimoog and a Prophet-5 there. Sorry, second best – Jerry is apparently in outer space.

The good news for synth fans is, they’re all running from home from support to design to repairs. And, oh yeah, they do confirm they’re actively continuing progress on something new.

I’d heard that something like that might be in the works, so it’s great to hear it isn’t slowing down.

Meanwhile, if you need to ogle something from the house that Dave built, there’s this:

Hi to everybody in California (and East Coast USA, for Jerry, and everyone else around the world) from Berlin.

Oh and by the way, of course, we saw some faces with the stay-at-home Superbooth videos, but if anybody wants to record some video message or… send us a recipe… feel free to say hi!

One bonus, from 2018 – thanks, YouTube algorithm – Domi Degalle can play a lot better than I can.

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Imagine clubbing, space odyssey-style, with this pandemic-proof suit concept

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 elaborate take 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.

Honestly, this clip is probably more relevant now than when it was made. I’m sure I’m far from the first person to reference it in the context of privacy or personal listening technology.

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. ^_^

In the days of audiences, the crew has also produced futuristic environments for stage shows. Look at all those unprotected people, so close together – wow. ZHU – ‘Dune Tour.’ Stage, lighting, and visual design by Production Club.

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

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Wander an indie game gallery, play in dystopian pixelated worlds, free online

A free browser tool has created pixelated universes from games to zines – and a Pittsburgh gallery is celebrating with a show you can visit from your browser.

Games in the exhibition by Sophie Houlden, Cecile Richard, porpentine charity heartscape, Withering Systems, Pol Clarissou, and Cephalopodunk.

It’s the perfect zen for self isolation – take the WASD keys of your keyboard, and roam through a simulated art gallery and poetic and sometimes tragically beautiful game inventions. LIKELIKE is normally a physical space in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, devoted to game as art – “strictly non-commercial, artist-run … without nostalgia and commodification of play.”

I’ll forgive you a bit of nostalgia. either for early arcade media or, as you enter this virtual gallery with a virtual dog in the backyard, for the days of yore when we could be in the same room with other humans. The virtual opening was on Friday, but maybe some CDMers will meet in this space in the next hours; there’s some chat capability. I’ll leave that window open on my machine.

Join in:

https://likelike.glitch.me/?room=likelike

In any event, you don’t want to miss the titles they’ve curated – or the world of possibilities this free game engine has opened up, generally.

Self isolation. The day is 2.

You can find more of these creations at itch.io – an free, artist-friendly game platform for distributing (and earning money from) independent games:

https://itch.io/games/made-with-bitsy

You also may want to check out Bitsy itself. Built in HTML5 by developer Adam Le Deoux, it’s a 2D game world editor made for interactive fiction and role playing. Since it runs in-browser and since the 2D adventure style supports text, that makes it open both to interacting with other users and to distributing words in non-linear narratives.

https://ledoux.itch.io/bitsy

http://ledoux.io/bitsy/editor.html

You can “remix” this into your own online spaces – way better than Zoom, and you don’t have to figure out where to put the webcam. All the code is open source:

https://github.com/molleindustria/likelike-online

Or edit on Glitch:

https://glitch.com/edit/#!/likelike?path=README.md:1:0

And that makes it one of a number of counterpoints to the kind of platforms we’ve seen lately. These weeks are at first dominated by the kind of tech that has algae-bloomed all over the Internet – venture-backed corporate mega-platforms with little privacy concerns and a lot of vulnerability to hackers and bad actors. (So yeah, we’ve got the harassment and privacy disaster that is Zoom, and the re-emergence of the harassment and privacy disaster we’ve already been living with that is Facebook.)

Well, Bitsy sure isn’t that – it’s weird, quirky, free, indie, HTML5-dressed-up graphics that throw back to early Atari pixel art. But in that cosy little neighborhood, you find wonderful things. And it’s just as ready-made for quick interaction and construction.

Anyway, I say – THE MACHINE IS GOOD! TRUST IN THE MACHINE!

(A ton of additional games are available from Sophie Houldon, too.)

LIKELIKE ONLINE PRESENTS: AN ITSY BITSY CRISIS

LIKELIKE for its part is the creation of Paolo Pedercini, Tenley Schmida, and Heather Kelley – Heather I even got to collaborate with at one point on the GAMMA experimental game project she was part of. This whole scene is a rabbit hole of great thinkers.

Cover image: World of Bitsy by Mark Wonnacott.

Hat tip – Adi Robertson at The Verge.

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Uganda’s Afrorack goes from modular synths to a DIY disinfectant; more efforts worldwide

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:

World Health Organization on disinfecting [WHO PDF]
COVID-19 – Disinfecting with Bleach [Michigan State University]
National Center for Biotechnology Information on bleach specifically [they’re part of the National Institutes of Health, a US government branch]
Environmental Protection Agency document on the topic

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.

You can support the project here:

https://gogetfunding.com/diy-sanitizer/

And find Brian here:

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:

UNCA students help make protective gear for health care workers [WLOS news]

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.)

Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19 [CDC]

You’ll also find active open source groups for equipment. The main hub is currently on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/opensourcecovid19medicalsupplies/

With a preferred 3D-printed face shield plan living at:

https://www.prusaprinters.org/prints/25857-prusa-protective-face-shield-rc3

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.

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Watch Elsa Garmire’s pioneering laser show from 1972 – futuristic and expressive even now

Forget that cheesy Pink Floyd stuff from the planetarium. Scientist Elsa Garmire used optic chops to make lasers into a real instrument – and her work holds up today.

Sound and light artist and researcher Derek Holzer spotted this one; don’t miss his vector work and other synesthetic studies. It’s not a new article, but this story from Sloan Science & Film, Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York is worth visiting now.

Death of the Red Planet, 1973.

What’s telling is, it took an optical scientist and physicist to push the medium aesthetically. So even though Dr. Garmire was at a center that brought together engineers and artists – the legendary Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) – it was really her deep knowledge of how the technology worked that drove her to make something aesthetic, even when others were not.

As she told Science & Film:

There was a standard way of putting X-Y mirrors on the laser and getting what us scientist’s call Lissajous figures, which are sort of ovals. You can get lots of ovals of different sizes, moving in different directions, and you can run them with music and get a kind of wild pattern that to me has no aesthetic value at all,

That aesthetic virtuosity is just as impressive now – maybe more so, having seen what we’ve seen – as it must have been in the 70s. Working with filmmaker Ivan Dryer and Dale Pelton, her exquisite light performances were captured on film and presented in public, and as a result helped launch the whole laser industry. Going back to this early work is like watching Clara Rockmore on a Theremin, though – a deep level of virtuosity in a new medium that has been tough to match since. (Just, in this case, Dr. Garmire was essentially Clara and Lev Termen, all in one – player and engineer.)

Go to their article and scroll down to take in LASERIMAGE, and do check the whole article; it’s fascinating:

Creatures of Light: LASERIUM

Their gallery on science and cinema is worth a long, long look, especially for those of us who love that intersection – more like this, please:

https://vimeo.com/scienceandfilm

Here is Dr. Garmire at a lecture at the museum last year:

And she brought lasers, too:

On May 31, 2019, the Museum of the Moving Image’s Science on Screen series (movingimage.us/scienceonscreen), presented six short films by experimental film and light show pioneers. The screening was followed by a live laser demonstration by physicist Elsa Garmire, and a discussion between Garmire, Joshua White, and AJ Epstein moderated by Executive Editor and Associate Curator of Science and Film Sonia Epstein. More: movingimage.us/scienceonscreen

Let’s linkhole a little further, though, because the 1973 film she worked on Death of the Red Planet was also a major moment in immersive sound, featuring what composer Barry Schrader claims was the “first quadraphonic electronic music soundtrack composed for a motion picture.” (Given my forays into Soviet audiovisual experimentation, I’m not sure everyone is comparing their notes between east and west on the “first” business, but – it at least counts as pioneering, even if “first” is always a risky word to use. Ditto the “first” laser show referenced in the article above.)

That score was made on the Buchla 200 system, so have at this juicy link here:

https://barryschrader.com/death-of-the-red-planet

Best of all, there is a full scan of the write-up of this film from American Cinematographer at the time. Yeah, cinematographer this!

https://econtact.ca/11_4/pelton_red_planet.html

As artists like Robert Henke and emerging artists around the world rediscover lasers, it seems now is the perfect time to connect their modern computer-controlled experiments with the history of the field. Watch this space.

And I’ll be eagerly anticipating the upcoming documentary on the topic the Sloan folks promise in the article.

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