Saturday, June 30, 2007

New Face of São Paulo

billboard null and voidSão Paulo was, until January, a city of 11 million people and 13 thousand outdoor billboards. Now, after a law banning such advertising went into effect, it's a city of 11 million (happier) people and zero billboards. The International Herald Tribune carried an article that quotes some truly vapid ad exec objections. But what would we expect them to say?

Tony de Marco has documented the naked buildings and skeletal frames in an excellent Flickr photo set... one that has put him on the cover of Creative Review.

I am amazed that a law like this could get passed against the usual capitalist objections centred around the freedom of rich corporations to dominate the landscape in which we live. Yet there was only one nay vote out of 46. Bravo São Paulo!
Friday, June 29, 2007

Reaktor Benefits And Improvements

As a sound artist I've been working predominantly in Reaktor for a couple of years, ever since I found a copy dead cheap in Dublin. Reaktor is a sophisticated toolkit for the construction of software instruments. If you have a good background in electronics and audio engineering you can build your own synthesis, sampling and sound processing tools from scratch. But Reaktor also gives you access to hundreds of ready-made instruments which you can combine in different ways. So it's not necessary to be a complete geek to use Reaktor... it just helps!

The advantage of this package over more academically-oriented tools like Csound is that you do not need to be a computer programmer. I am, in fact, a programmer. But I don't think that the programmer mindset is the best way to approach music.

Reaktor provides an accessible toolkit that layers functionality in a well thought out manner. Macros combine to form instruments which can be joined together in ensembles at the highest level. Each have a full graphical interface that designers can skin with custom graphics if they wish.

Another distinguishing feature is that Reaktor is very much performance-ready. Snapshots of settings can be saved and recalled as banks, much like saving preset sounds on a synthesizer, except here the presets can cover multiple instruments arranged in an ensemble. Every knob and fader can be MIDI controlled in a couple of moments. Instruments can be restricted in the MIDI notes they accept, so that different ranges of notes can be set up to control different instruments simultaneously.

Of course all 16 MIDI channels are available, and instruments can send and receive MIDI via any available device... or with each other.

The sixty instruments that come with the product cover a wide range of synthesis -- FM, subtractive, additive, granular -- as well as effects, drum machines, sequencers, samplers and free-form noise-making gear. If these aren't enough, a user library of 2500 more instruments is available for downloading.

This makes Reaktor a good learning tool for those wanting to know more about audio processing. I find it more satisfying to start with an existing instrument and dissect it, rather than trying to build a working tool from the ground up, as you generally would in a code-oriented product.

There's also support for Open Sound Control, which I hope to get into in the future.

Reaktor can be processor intensive, but this depends entirely on how you build your instruments, and which macros you choose to use and combine. I like how one can quickly reduce the sampling rate to play more complex ensembles. It's not always necessary to run at 44.1KHz to get a decent sound.

Multiple copies of Reaktor can run at the same time, either as plugins or in standalone mode. I have used this facility live to ensure a continuous stream of sound as I load new ensembles and change snapshots.

All this said, there is still scope for improvements in Reaktor. Some seem long overdue. Here are my suggestions.

Wanted: Object-like Macros

The major disadvantage of building in Reaktor can be illustrated as follows. Say you've made your own strange hybrid oscillator as a self-contained macro. Now, you want two more of them for a particular instrument. It's simple to copy and paste your StrangeHybridOsc box and wire the three up. But then if you make a change to one box, you have to make the same change to all three. Reaktor has no way to create "shadow" copies of the first that will automatically be updated.

In theory there should be nothing complicated about implementing this feature. Each copy is simply a new instance of an existing object. The visual representation could be a box shaded slightly differently from the original, with the text [copy] or similar appended to the name. A new Paste As Shadow context menu option would make the workflow easy.

Wanted: Improved Construction Interface

Currently when building instruments one inserts low-level components through the context menu. This requires right-clicking and then navigating the menu up to three levels deep. It would be far superior to have a component panel that could be open at all times, allowing one to navigate components via a tree, or search them by name or tag. A simple drag'n'drop would place the component on the work surface. Other programming environments have just such an implementation.

While I'm on the subject, the current Multiple Document Interface is looking pretty long in the tooth. What we need is a tabbed panel look that would allow you to quickly shift between views, while still seeing more than one at a time if desired.

And, the ability to replace an existing component with another, preserving all inputs and outputs. The current requirement to delete and rewire each time is tedious.

Furthermore, smart input/output functionality that will reduce all of the duplicating of ports inside and outside a macro.

Likewise, a way to re-order existing ports.

All of these workflow improvements would dramatically increase productivity.

Wanted: Instrument and Component Tagging

Once one has a lot of macros, instruments, and ensembles, managing them can be a pain. Directory structures only go so far towards alleviating the problem. I would like the ability to tag each with a list of keywords, so they can be searched by the same.

Wanted: Programmer's API

If Reaktor had a programmer's interface it really could be all things to all people. This would remove the last major advantage CSound has. Please embed Python and allow scripting of macros! Also, give us an external API to allow programmes written in Python, etc. to call Reaktor.

This would be particularly useful for me in my current research, funded by The Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon. I am investigating sensor control of a cybernetic music mechanism. Unfortunately Reaktor may not have the necessary control hooks to facilitate embedding into a larger system.

Wanted: Better Sampling

This is a lesser feature request along the lines of many one sees posted online: "Boy wouldn't this cool new module be fab!" In my case I'd like the sampler to be improved to make it easier to support velocity layering. Currently one must use multiple samplers chained with different velocity curves, only to find out the CPU goes through the roof. The current sampler interface could also be easier to use.

I realise that there are any number of dedicated samplers (some made by Native Instruments) that allow this, but it would be great to have it natively supported in Reaktor.


I suppose as a dedicated Reaktor user I want this software to include the best of Max/MSP and every other programmable audio system. The fact is, I don't see why this shouldn't be, as what is already provided by NI is exemplary. Here's to the future of custom instrument building!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Join escalation 372 Tonight!

escalation372 logo
What happens when you slow a rhythm down to 2 beats per minute? What do you get when you try to sing to oscillator feedback? What does it sound like when BBC Radiophonics meets a dance beat somewhere on the Starlost ark? Find out tonight in Galway.

As previously announced, escalation 372, will be playing with special guest Susannah Clare, 9pm at Stress!!, De Burgo's, 15-17 Augustine St., Galway.

Special visuals have been prepared for the show. Plus it's a chance to buy limited edition CDs, available at a discounted price on the night.

More info on the escalation 746 website and associated MySpace mess.
Saturday, June 16, 2007

Major Second Life Business Opportunity

Second Life logo
As you likely already know, Second Life (SL) is a virtual world in which a player takes on a particular role and can play, do business and otherwise interact with other players through that character. It has become newsworthy as an economy which trades its virtual currency with those in real life (RL). I have a novel business opportunity for a Second Life entrepreneur. As my own corporeal life does not give me enough time to pursue this, I offer it free here for any who wish to profit from it. (This can also make a fortune in other virtual worlds, but I will continue to use SL here as a primary example.)

To recap: Avatars in SL can purchase goods and services, transact land deals, travel by a variety of means including teleportation, and communicate either locally (whisper, talk, shout) or globally (IM). Items can be created in-world or using external software, can be given their own attributes and behaviours, and sold or be left to run autonomously.

Companies are using SL as a virtual meeting room and many educational organisations use virtual locations for training. Prototypes of products are presented first in SL for market research and many artists make their living through SL creations.

There seems to be almost nothing one cannot do in SL, yet I have discovered a lacuna at the center of this world. There is one service not offered to SL avatars, despite it being massively popular in RL.

I speak of the Internet. My business proposal is to offer SL avatars access through Internet cafes, a model that has been shown to work in RL. By charging hourly rates for connections -- and providing related services -- the business owner would enable avatars to reach out from their limited territory in cyberspace to the much larger communities found in newsgroups, chat rooms, social sites and the web at large.

This phenomenon would undoubtedly sweep SL in an process similar to its adoption in RL, except on a massively accelerated time-scale. Soon, no decent avatar would be without Internet access. Larger and larger amounts of avi time would be spent in the meta-virtual world the Internet provides.

With over seven million residents, this business opportunity provides incredible earnings potential.

Once you succeed I ask only for a small cut, say 10% of profit, in acknowledgment of the research I have done in behaviour analysis to enable this proposal. Of course I cannot enforce this payment. But believe me, you'll feel much better having paid your psychic debt.
Friday, June 15, 2007

Rare escalation 372 Live Gig

escalation372 logo
I am pleased to announce that one of my sound art alter egos, escalation 372, will be playing Stress!! in Galway on Wednesday 27 June 2007.

This performance will debut sparkling new compositions utilising computer synthesis (yes, there will be a laptop but no, we will not check your email), found sounds (if you find any good ones, let us know) and oscilloscope tracings snatched from the darkest reaches of the aether.

I am excited to add that vocalist Susannah Clare will be joining escalation 372 for select pieces, in order to create an even larger, scarier noise.

Oh, and there will be a guitar. It might even have strings on it this time. Plus some new visual creations. It's a multimedia extravaganza!

Doors at 9pm. Entry is a mere fiver. Cash bar. Plus other acts.

Stress!! is an electronic/experimental/electric/acoustic music night held weekly at De Burgo's, 15-17 Augustine St., Galway.

escalation 372 is an association engaged in sonic attacks, art appropriation and terminal documents. Performances are designed to detach segments from the audio spectrum in order to expose their form and the medium itself for examination. Starting in radiophonics, escalation 372 has explored performance art, music, soundtracks, phonography, electro-acoustics and other disciplines.

More info on escalation 372, including free downloads and a cool blue wasp, can be found at the escalation 746 website and associated MySpace mess. The website also has a map showing the gig location and a random point in Galway Harbour.

escalation 372 would like to thank Tony Higgins, Native Instruments and the Ennis Bypass for making this event possible.
Friday, June 08, 2007

Sweet Potato Noodle Soup

I am quite adventurous when it comes to food, and like nothing better than walking the aisles of a Chinese grocer looking for something different. Sometimes this is spurred on more by my delight in the sheer lunacy of some of the foodstuffs than it is by the enjoyment of the foods themselves.

I have also been a huge fan of packaged noodle soups since my university days when, out of desperation, time constraints and poverty, I used to buy them by the box. Well, I've just come across a remarkably strange noodle pack I thought I would share with you.

The soup package pictured above is something extraordinary. The image is, at best, foreboding. A figure faces away from us, wrapped in a cloak, billows of steam issuing from some unseen volcanic vent. Barely visible is the edge of a bowl, lifted towards what we can only assume is a shrouded face. From this one must decipher as best one can what might be inside.

Opening the wrapper reveals a hockey-puck sized disc of dried noodles accompanied by not one, but three packages of flavouring. The first is the usual powdered flavour pack, containing MSG plus whatever else the manufacturer deems worthy to turn water into broth. This is augmented by a second containing a thick paste. Finally there is a transparent package of dried white peas, soybeans, or something similar.

As this stewed in boiling water I was reminded of the film I'd just watched, the flawed but nonetheless intriguing The Brothers Grimm. With this in mind I named the spicy and thoroughly peculiar flavour "Terry Gilliam".

I may as well, since the only English on the package was the less than helpful label "Baijia". The ingredients are incomprehensible, though a sticker helpfully translates them into Dutch. However, a web address was provided, so I could do additional research.

Or at least I tried. The site hides itself, flashing a home page and then saying "This site is in building..." before going almost blank. However, a link leads to a temporary site, or the new one, I'm not sure.

From this I discovered that the flavour I had purchased was Spicy Fei-Chang Flavor. Spicy it was too, but no further info on the flavours was forthcoming, though they are based on Szechuan cuisine.

There is a description of the company's manufacturing facility, which starts its process with the "rude sweet potato" and ends up with instant sweet potato noodle soup. If you keep reading you will be assaulted by the phrase "sweet potato noodle" every second or two.

It seems the firm is popular, exporting all over the globe. They are accomplished too:
We take the lead in adopting the technique of "Freezing and Aging", changed the "hundred year's problem" of sweet potato noodle industry.

Indeed, I have no doubt that these noodles can last one hundred years, especially the Pickled Cabbage Fish Flavor. In the current political climate they may have trouble with Islamic Hot and Spicy Flavor -- perhaps this is why they label only in Cantonese?

My favourite name has to be the Single Noble Dark Chicken and Delicacy from Mountain Flavor, which I hope to try if I can.

But what did I think of the noodles in hand? I must say that sweet potato based noodles are not likely to be a favourite if you are used to those made of rice or egg. They have a totally different consistency, sticking together in a more glutinous manner while at the same time being more toothsome.

I enjoyed the heavy spiced flavour but would have a difficult time recommending it to others who might prefer a lighter broth they can augment themselves. Certainly this is a singular noodle experience and not one to be missed by those bored of your standard ramen or udon fare.

Please let me in on some of your favourites in the comments!
Friday, June 01, 2007

Mamuska Night In 5, 4, 3, 2...

Yes, tonight at Daghdha Space, Limerick it's another free evening of free spirits engaged in free discourse about some very, very expensive ideas indeed. That's right, it's all-singing all-dancing Mamuska Night and I'll be there from eight p.m. "spinning" some "tunes" for your "enjoyment".

You might expect to hear some music from the new Bjork album, United Bible Studies plus their affiliates, Kraftwerk, His Name Is Alive, The Meters, Dalek I Love You and, of course, lots of other joys you'll not hear anywhere else. And even some music specially created on the night, from escalation 275.

Good friends, cash bar, unusual sounds... it's Mamuska. Coming up in 3, 2, 1...