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May 24, 2007

Nervous.

Brent Green (nervousfilms.com) in the midst of an urgent and inspired performance with his group from Pennsylvania, accompanying his beautiful short film, Hadacol Christmas, at Maker Faire 2007. Watch the films here.

January 30, 2007

Look Out, Boyd Tinsley

Yours truly on the violin for the first time. If it has strings, I'll make noise with it. Look out Boyd, I'm comin' to get ya.

October 20, 2006

Visa, Copyright Infringement, and the Power of Alternatives

I saw this story from the Times this morning on Digg and just now happened onto the surface of an interesting resultant discussion on Alex's blog about the relative dangers of corporate vs. governmental regulation:

Cat and I have an ongoing discussion on whether corporate vs. governmental regulation is more dangerous. She leans towards the corporate being the lesser evil, where I believe corporate regulation (that is, companies deciding policy, disregarding lobbying) is the greater evil.

Visa just announced their intention to block payments to the Russian music download site AllofMP3. AllofMP3 insists upon its legality in terms of Russian copyright law—but has promised a change in its business model, hoping for more international acceptance (of course, this will come at a price, as the downloaders are quite happy with the current system).

But is Visa's extreme measure to block payments to AllofMP3 acceptable? As a digg poster commented, Since when has it been Visa's obligation to judge business morality? While I believe that businesses should have models of moral obligation, decisions such as these should be questioned by general consumers and more closely examined by relevant subscribers. Business policies, and corporate morality policies should be easily available, and digestible to consumers, subscribers, anyone who wants them, really—public accessibility is key. Archives of past business and policy movements should be equally accessible.

My personal position is that on strict philosophical grounds, companies and governments are in the position to, and in fact are expected to, make moral judgements. Industry not dumping toxic waste into rivers or bars not serving liquor to six year olds are two relatively simplistic cases where government and corporate regulation overlap. Both may be against government regulations, but in either case, even if there weren't regulations in place, one would hope that the public as a whole would demand some level of responsibility on the part of the businesses.

The problem is when governments and corporations make seemingly moralist decisions that alienate their users, either by preventing them from doing things which they believe harmless or simply forcing them to align by association with platforms with which they disagree.

Is AllofMp3.com legal? I don't know. I'm not a lawyer, and I don't know where the money goes once I send it to Russia. However, if I like cheap music and Visa is "Everywhere I Want to Be", then something doesn't add up.

This, however, is where governments and corporations differ, even if they are holding hands under the table. Visa is an independent entity, and as such is free to make reactionary, moralist decisions, even if misguided. And as soon as they alienate enough of their customers, you can bet there will be a new player on the market, with lower interest rates and better service to soak up the profits. Capitalism can be ugly at times, but in its ability to turn sheer greed into a positive impetus, it's magical.

To some extent, the same is true of government, for which we must be eternally grateful. However, there are a couple of major differences. First, it's hard to perform a wholesale change of government without bloodshed. If Sprint pisses me off, I can always switch to Cingular, but if George Bush pisses me off, the only things I can really do are complain, leave the country, or start a revolution, none of which manage to be particularly attractive or effective. There is impeachment, but historically that is roughly as common at the presidential level as revolution.

The other difference is that, truth be told, the first responsibility of an American business is to its own interests, while by the best definition we have, the first responsibility of the American government is to our interests. Now where the situation gets murky of course is that in order to protect its own interests, a company must also protect its customers interests. But that is a secondary objective, not the primary. So finally, here's the point. I don't think Visa is evil.

I think Visa is wrong.

In doing what they feel necessary to in some way save their own asses (and I don't want to hear the same people who preach how moral-less and greedy corporations are now all of a sudden decide that they are driven by some arbitrary moral agenda), be it from future regulatory action from the government, future lawsuits from the RIAA, or future backlash from customers that sincerely respect the value of copyright (doubtful), Visa has continued what could easily turn into a major miscue. Conservative policy and mediocrity are the bane of passionate users.

This isn't the first time credit processors have made a moral distinction. The vast majority of credit card issuers haven't served Internet gambling sites for almost as long as there have been Internet gambling sites. An entire industry has formed largely around this decision. Companies like FirePay and Neteller stepped in to fill the void (and make a substantial profit) almost immediately. And now, due to increased scrutiny by the U.S. government and, of comparable relevance, the fact that these two startups have grown into large, publicly traded corporations, they are on the brink of stepping down as the feeding tube for Internet gambling.

But what will happen? The gambling sites will not be starved by any stretch of the imagination. The current payment processors will either reconsider their stance or fade into the background, largely marginalized without the differential from traditional payment services (like Visa) created by the very black and white willingness and non-willingness to accept gambling transactions, and newcomers will step up to fill the void. No amount of legislation or threats of prison time or even death can keep an entire world of people from seizing an opportunity to make quick millions. Whatever the potential penalty, there will be a supplier — just not a publicly traded one.

The problem from Visa's point of view is that It's easy to fall into the trap that only a few people are hurt by any of these decisions. First, each group is much larger than one might think, and secondly, the disenfranchised groups add very quickly and tend to be vocal. It's much like the downfall of President Bush's approval rating. A chip at a time, one small group of Americans at a time, he lost support, all the while failing to realize or at least care that he was sliding down the side of a mountain from a pinnacle of popularity to the current widespread disapproval. That's what will happen to Visa if this trend continues. If Visa suddenly decided that drinking is bad and that Visa will not be accepted in establishments that serve alcohol, what do you think would happen to their membership?

This feedback loop is key to maintaining control over both government and private interests, but the public can only react to what is seen. And there are two equally important sides to this absorbtion of information — production and consumption. If either side is lacking, this massively parallel system of checks and balance breaks down. The tendency is that peoples' alarms are triggered and things change before it is too late. But admittedly, that works every time...until it doesn't.

Pay attention, and if you do nothing else — think.



The upside to all of this? I visited allofmp3.com and at first glance I have to respect the approach. The site design is adequate, but the interesting part, and the part I would like to see adopted elsewhere, is that you pay for what you get, in terms of quality. Well, lets say bitrate. You can judge the quality of the music for yourself.

For example, say I want to buy Diddy's new CD (I don't). If I just want to hear the tunes at a decent quality (128kbps), I can get the 19 songs for $2.42, or if I will tolerate still lower quality and don't care to have my own copy, I can listen for free. If on the other hand I must hear every nuance, I can pay $5.21 and get 320kbps (near CD quality). That's choice, and that's what I like to see. For comparison, in terms of data per dollar, allofmp3.com is still more expensive than a CD, with the cost of Diddy's CD extrapolated to PCM bitrates ringing in at just over $26 (based on the allofmp3.com 128kbps MP3 price), twice the cost of the physical CD on Amazon. Care to do the math on a "legitimate" online music store?

August 20, 2006

lastFM Artist Cloud

I just finished a perl script, based on a script by Adriaan Tijsseling, that grabs from the Recently Played feed (mine was empty) to create a cloud of artists from last.FM's XML feed of most played artists. You can see the script in action at the bottom of the right hand sidebar of this page.

You can get the script here. You will have to rename the file with a .pl extension, change 'relevante' (my username) to your lastFM username, change the user agent on line 3, set your domain on line 4, and set the file path on line 5 to point to an appropriate directory on your server. Then run the script on a cronjob and include the output file in your blog or webpage (if you are using PHP, you can use <?php include("/path/to/thefile.txt"); ?>). Then everyone can see all the crappy music you REALLY listen to.

July 24, 2006

The radio is on

Yes I am still alive -- and the radio is on.



Courtesy of Last.fm

More details to come...

April 11, 2006

NIME - Performance Plan


For my Chua performance I intend to use my analog chua circuit, with an X-Y interface made of slide potentiometers along with the variable inductor I have constructed previously. On the display will be the analog oscilloscope output, possibly processed with Max/Jitter.


Sonically, I envision the performance to start out very slowly, with solo Chua starting with quiet, simple, near-sinusoidal oscillations (near-circles on the display). Gradually the sound will get slightly more chaotic but still dry, and a simple electronic beat will enter. The Chua will stay dry for awhile, but as a bit of synth is added into the beat, effects will start to be added, opening up the stereo effect and adding a bit of delay. This will gradually build to a climax, which will be full on chaotic Chua with a bass enhancer shifting material down to the lower octaves and getting a very intense rumble in addition to the chaotic top end. At an appropriate moment, this will give way to dry simple near sinusoidal Chua with beats. The beat will stop, and then the Chua wave fades away.

March 14, 2006

Chaos -- Distributed Computing

I just released my new distributed application for chaos research for my NIME musical instrument at http://grid.jamesnsears.com/

Even a low res scan of suspected areas of initial interest of the 6-dimensional parameter space involves some 546875000000000 data points, so download the app and start contributing to the future of chaos in music today.

Click here for more information on the Chua project as a whole.

March 5, 2006

Music is...

Music is not about notes, it is about sound.
-Gerard Grisey

February 25, 2006

Music is...

Music is a number made audible.
-Boethius

Thanks to Gideon and Jamie for these project references for NIME.

February 19, 2006

Music is...

Music is the shorthand of emotion.
-Tolstoy

Enjoy the sounds and musings of brilliant jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas at Greenleaf Music.

February 15, 2006

NIME - Concept Presentation

Controller for Chaotic Synthesizer and Effects

When/Why Chaos?

Original Project

Sound Design for Marisol

Simulation Applet

What's the Problem?

Portfolio Work

Chua Parameter Space (2D View)

Chua Parameter Space (3D View)

Effects

Time and/or Pitch Based

What's the Solution?

Analog or Digital?

Analog - Physical and/or Electronic Interfaces

Digital - Max, Java, Processing, C++ (VST), etc.?

Requirements

Many dimensional

High expressivity, at least in a few channels

Interface Approaches

Video Sensing

Hand Recognition

2 Hands * 3 Dimensions = 6D Control

Color Recognition

Use printed patterns and/or lights to control

Sensor-based Gesture Recognition

3D, Flight-sim like interface

Existing interfaces

Any ideas?

February 2, 2006

My Original Chua Project

Morris and I working on the ChuaBack to where the madness all began. I just found this link to the first project I did involving Chua's oscillator as an undergrad in 2000 at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with Morris Chukhman, who at the time was a graduate student in mathematics, for a class on the physics of electronic musical instruments taught by Steve Errede.

We succeded in building an analog implementation of Chua's circuit, learning about the details of the required components and where non-idealities were not acceptable. We then experimented with combining the circuit with traditional digital effects as well as perturbing the system with the output of an electric guitar, as in the photo. These sessions produced the recordings which led to the use of the system in my sound design project at SIUE with Nathan Ruyle.

January 23, 2006

Modeling Chaos with Iterative Simulation

Chua Oscillator Applet (requires the JSyn browser plugin)
Previous Chua Work (includes video, photos of circuit, etc.)

Analog Chua Attractor X-Y plot of one of the Chua Attractors, created with analog circuitry

Perhaps the first tenet of chaos theory is that complex behavior need not arise from a complex source. More specifically, systems of relatively simple differential equations, impossible to solve classically, can be iterated in software or hardware to bring to life their nuanced behavior.

In my previous work, I used an analog circuit to solve Chua's equations, using the output as audio to act as a synthesizer for music and sound design work. I am currently investigating new interfaces for this system to make it more playable. My first vision is to track both of the users hands in three dimensions and to use each hand-dimension as a control input, allowing six parameters to be controlled simultaneously. In order to simplify the design, I intend to first realize the actual chaotic synthesis system in software, using iterative solutions, because achieving the finely-grained control of circuit parameters under microcontroller control necessary in the analog circuit will be a quite difficult problem in and of itself.

I am currently experimenting in Java and Processing with software realizations of Chua's equations and also intend to investigate the usability of other similar systems of equations. The screenshot below is from a first generation Processing applet, available here (requires the JSyn browser plugin). Move the mouse around to change parameters and control the system. If it runs out of bounds or stops, click the mouse button to reset it.


Digital Chua Attractor
X-Y plot of one of the Chua Attractors, created with Processing (applet) (code)

December 24, 2005

Vibrato - Touch Sensitive Musical Instrument

Vibrato is the final project Anne Hong and I did for Physical Computing last semester. The photo at left shows the layout, seven tubular illuminated keys, with linear proximity sensors that detect the position of a finger touch anywhere along each tube. By touching the key anywhere along its length, the user plays a corresponding note of the music scale, with the octave depending upon which third of its length is pressed. Subsequently, the user can slide the finger on the key to perform pitch bend or vibrato effects.

The sensors used were Quantum QT401 linear touch sliders on custom designed PCBs embedded within each key, with 3M Photographic tape used as the required resistive element. A 12" piece of the 3/4" wide tape has a resistance around 75k-Ohms, perfect for this application. More details are available on the project site.

Upon further refinement, the project has been requested for display in ITP's Spring 2006 Show.

About Me

Me at ITP Winter Show 2005

Welcome. I have started this site for myself and others as a memoir of my trip through life and, for now, the Interactive Telecommunications Program experience and as a place to log the ideas and thoughts that otherwise seem to slip away. I look forward to comments and criticisms, helping and being helped, and whatever else comes my way. Life is good.


Contact me.

View my resume.

December 25, 2004

Chua's Oscillator in Musical Applications

Using the sounds of chaos in music and sound design

Watch video (4:04 - 36.2MB MPEG with stereo sound)

For decades, musicians have been experimenting and working with electronic synthesizers to generate sound. In some cases the reasoning is logistical - often it is prohibitively expensive, for example, to haul a heavy and expensive piano or organ to a venue. Many times, however, the goal is creative expression in the generation of new and previously unheard or unharnessed sounds. Chaotic oscillators, including the example discovered by Leon Chua, open the door to a new universe of sonic possibilities.

Chua's oscillator is a system described by a set of three differential equations that can be realized either in digital form or in analog form using opamps and passive circuit components, simple in appearance, but extraordinarily complex in its analysis and behavior. In the video, you are listening to two of these three signals, at first from Chua's circuit acting alone, and later from this same circuit used similarly to a module in an analog synthesizer, acting through effects and with varying levels of this effected signal feeding back to further perturb the behavior of the oscillator. The video is a phase plot of the two dry (non-effected) signals from the circuit (one moving the display beam left and right, and the other up and down) on an analog oscilloscope.

The sounds from Chua's circuit are widely varied, ranging from pure sine waves to almost pure noise, with many varied behaviors within. Period doubling and intermittency effects can be particularly useful from a sonic standpoint, especially when processed through appropriate effects, such as delays, reverbs, resonant filters, ring modulators, and pitch shifters. A suitable control interface for the many parameters of the oscillator and effects system is necessary for full realization of the sonic potential of chaos.

This system found extensive use in a sound design for Marisol at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and was received with very positive responses from critics, audiences, cast, and crew alike. The eerie sounds generated by the combinations of chaotic oscillator with effects fit the bill perfectly to accent the dark, apocalyptic tone of the play, but certain ranges of the system's behavior and combinations of effects, and possibly even by utilizing different chaotic systems, can produce sounds with a wide and emotionally expressive variety.

Future opportunities in this area of research include mapping the system's parameter-space behavior (the complexity of which is astounding - consisting of fractal-like clouds of points where various behaviors take place), using this information to develop new methods and interfaces for control, the use of gyrator circuits to lessen the expense and simplify control of the circuit's reactive elements, investigating the effects of various feedback loop effects topologies, the use of multiple interacting systems to create further sonic variety, implementation in digital form (which could reduce cost and potentially simplify many control problems, likely at the cost of fine nuance in the behavior), and similar investigation of or exploration for other suitable chaotic oscillator systems.

Below are a few pictures of the phase plots of the Chua circuit's behavior. Click on the picture to hear an audio sample of the sounds of chaos. Note how at the end of the series, the stable attractors that appear as the variable inductor (pictured at right with circuit board) is increased decrease in pitch roughly with the musical scale. This is inherent to the behavior of the system - these four stable tones are like islands in a sea of chaos as the value of the inductor is changed - and while these islands don't always align the intervals with our musical scale, behaviors like these could still be valuable in harnessing the system musically.

Photos (click image to hear mp3 sound clip):

The next seven pictures and sound clips illustrate the musical tune of the Chua's stable orbits as the inductance is decreased, and the chaotic behavior between these orbits. The tuner software has been calbrated to F3 = 92Hz, but I believe that the base frequency of this behavior could be tuned by changing the capacitances of the circuit.

Parameter-space behavior:

The plots below are from a MATLAB simulation of the chua oscillator system. X and Y directions each correspond to varying a particular parameter of the system and the Z direction (represented by height and/or color) is a calculated value that reflects the level of chaos in the waveform by measuring the spread of the frequency distribution of the signal using an FFT and additional mathematical processing of the frequency spectrum..

Higher values of Z (brighter colors and/or higher altitude) indicate that the output power is spread among more frequencies, which is indicative of the onset of chaos and corresponds to more harmonics and/or more chaotic noise in terms of audio output. Lower values of Z indicate simpler tones, to a minimum of 1 when the signal is at a single fundamental frequency or 0 when there is no AC signal, as in the case when the system comes to rest at a steady-state (DC) solution.

The graphs act as a map to the oscillator's behavior. Within a simulator, or with the parameters scaled to real-world component values in a hardware implementation, they should allow one to pick a range of behavior and find combinations of parameters that fulfill the requirements.

Click the pictures to enlarge:

May 20, 2001

Marisol Sound Design

Marisol

Complete score and sound design for the play by Jose Rivera

When reading the script for Rivera's dark play set in pre-apocalypse New York, co-producer Nathan Ruyle and I knew that a special kind of sound would be necessary to bring the chaotic scene to life. Using Steinberg DAW software and a slew of effects plugins and associated hardware we wrote, played, and recorded the guitars, pianos, vocals, electronics, and other instrumentation (including a guest cellist) that created the sonic backdrop for the play, corresponding to its descent to chaos and ultimate final message of hope.

Chua's oscillator was used throughout the entire second act, played through a separate sound system hanging above the audience in the rafters to create a surreal and chaotic soundscape to accent the scripts shift in tone after intermission.

The production was presented by the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville's theatre department under the direction of William Grivna in April 2001. Sound clips and reviews can be found below.

Listen (mp3 format):

Somber - Intermission music, shifting the mood from the first act to the much darker second act
Second Sight - Exit music
Ambient - Backed a scene in the first act
Chua demo - An example of the sound from the chaotic oscillator played from the rafters as an ambient backdrop throughout the second act

Read:

Review from the Riverfront Times, St. Louis' arts and entertainment weekly
Review from KDHX, a St. Louis radio station
Review from Alestle, an SIUE student publication

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