Habits of Man – fifteen years later

Recently I pulled out my old solo digital audio work Habits of Man for a recital here on campus. It’s the first time that I’ve listened to it critically in several years (even though I posted it on YouTube four years ago):

There are a couple of small nagging sloppy parts to the piece that frustrate me and I think the middle section before the final climax is something that I would do slightly differently, but there’s more about it that I’m still happy with than unhappy, and that feels pretty good.  The more important thing is that fifteen years later it still feels like me – given the same source material that I had back then (which was probably over two hours worth of material), my approach to the composition might be more polished, but the general structure and idea behind the work would still be the same.

It serves as a good reminder that contemporary electronic art music is something that still holds importance to me in some way, and that, along with some other stuff that i’m almost done creating a different blog entry about, is giving me the drive to kickstart some abandoned projects in that realm to complete for the next couple of years.  There’s two electronic projects in particular that I’m planning on doing – one is a revision and a revamp of an old piece I did during my undergraduate years that then carried through to my masters called Surrounded By Mirrors for clarinet, MIDI keyboard, and interactive electronics.  The other, In a Fast Paced World, is a piece that I was originally conceiving of as an interactive octaphonic piece of music using a LEAP Motion Controller.  I’m not 100% convinced that the LEAP is the right controller for the job anymore, but it’s still worth fiddling with since the software side of the tech has improved greatly since i last experimented with it, and they may have even figured out at this point how to get two LEAPs to connect to a single computer.  We’ll see what happens, or if something else comes along that is a better sort of input for that project.

the evolution of Drive (including its title)

For a few years now i’ve had this electronic piece that I’ve wanted to write using an octophonic sound environment, something that’s fairly common in electro-acoustic art music concerts. The original title of the piece was Drive.

The concept was to have the piece be a representation of standing in the middle of the road with whizzing traffic happening on either side of you. All of it would be fast traffic, the stereotypical high-speed-loud-engine-doppler-effect that would start as one iteration of it on one side of you, then a pause, then another iteration on the other side, then a pause, then a gradual increase in iteration frequency that would evolve and build to this cacophony of whizzing doppler effect noises.

Two days ago, i was randomly thinking about the piece again and upped the game on the compositional concept and content in two ways. First, i want to add the sound of walking, a loud sort of clack that moves at a very slow pace. The piece itself will be retitled something like slow pace in a fast place except more artistic, the concept being less about the simple experience of how it would sound to be in the middle of the road of fast whizzing traffic and being more about the value of finding times to move slowly in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Second, after establishing the initial expectation and vocabulary of the piece being the walking sound and the whizzing doppler sound, i eventually want to mutate the whizzing to become chords and then start to add my own sort of music to it. This would be in the style of the third movement of Michael Gordon’s Weather, one of the more powerful pieces of music i’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I want to capture that sort of idea in my own way.

I still conceive of it being an octophonic piece, something that could then be mixed down to stereo. The problem is that i don’t have access to an octophonic setup – ideally I think the piece would be primarily designed in Max/MSP with a patch that could route any sound through eight different output channels. I know that I could build this in software with minimal effort, but I don’t know how to truly realize the piece without having the desired octophonic setup, or at least a digital mixer that would not be practical for me to buy.

I’ll probably end up having a conversation with the current Tulane Technology guy Richard Snow about it and see what he thinks. The piece itself isn’t something that I think would take a long time to put together, it may be a quickie summer project after i get done with Cascadia but before stuff at Tulane picks up again, maybe something that I could target for entry into SEAMUS and other electronic music competitions in the 2013-14 academic year. We’ll see how it develops.

a different music video game concept

if you look at the evolution of music video gaming, some of the execution styles may be different (stomping arrows with your feet, playing fake drums or guitar) and some of the judgement granularities are different (guitar freaks gives you perfects/greats/goods/poors where guitar hero is you-get-it-or-you-don’t), but all of them follow a similar model: the performer or performers are executing based on what they see on the screen and they’re being judged based on how accurate they are to what’s happening on the screen.

I never got much into the co-op mode of guitar freaks/drummania/keyboardmania, but i’ve played Rock Band for a couple of sessions now and while i like it a lot, the nature of that particular game brings out a fundamental flaw in all of them – you’re not actually playing with other people, you just happen to be playing next to them.

As in, when you’re playing the game with someone else, what you do has no impact on how they get judged because everyone is keying off of what the game tells them, so everyone is executing in silos with the blinders on. If i’m the drummer and i start to fall behind the beat, it doesn’t matter to anyone else – they just do their own thing.

But a real band doesn’t operate like that, and marching bands/drum corps in particular can’t operate like that. Musicians have to be able to adjust to each other and listen to each other to be able to execute their best. At the extreme level, high level marching drum lines have to learn to be able to adjust and react to what’s happening around them to the millisecond sort of degree or else they sound dirty.

So i want a music video game to have the option to emulate that – to make it so that the judgement that is received is based on how the players are playing in relation to each other.

With something like Rock Band, simple enough. The drummer or the bass guitar or the rhythm guitar acts as the tempo lead, and the video game adjusts its “judgement window tempo” based on what that lead is doing. So if the drummer is the tempo lead and slows down or speeds up, the tracks slow down and speed up with him and everyone else playing has to slow down and speed up with him. Promote the idea of the ensemble truly being an ensemble.

With something like DDR, i had this idea where two players playing the same chart get judged on how closely they hit the arrows in relation to each other, so as opposed to getting a perfect by hitting your arrow within 20ms of the arrow hitting the casings exactly, you get a perfect by hitting your arrow within 20ms of your partner. Then turn on “autosync” (and furthermore autosync the music as opposed to just the visual arrows) so that if the couple slows down or speeds up, the arrows and music adjust with the couple.

If i had to build a piece of electornic music programming from scratch that could do something like that i bet i could pull at least a basic form of it off with some complex Max/MSP work. In an actual music video game that would be more challenging. If i knew the ins and outs of stepmania programming i could probably change the code to measure the judgements based on each other, but i wouldn’t be able to get the “adjust the BPM of the song based on the player’s performance” part since it’s not fundamentally built into the code (and no, speeding up the song in the extended options screen doesn’t count).

fun to think about.