My objective is to tell an ethnomusicological story using modern tools. My idea is to map out Afro-Latin rhythms to African Rhythms based on rhythmic similarities to tell the story of the Slave Trade and the roots of American culture. I realized how ambitious this project was as soon as I started making a data base of Afro-Latin rhythms. Brazil alone has 50+. So I had to scale down.
I chose three rhythms to start working with from different regions in Latin America. Samba from Brazil, Cumbia from Colombia, and Candombe from Uruguay.
As a musician with a Sociology background, I am interested in various topics that surround the analysis of these rhythms. First is the blatantly musical side. These are three rhythms I hold dearly to my heart, three rhythms that reflect my vision of what it means to be American. Beyond the syncretism that is deeply embedded in these rhythms, I am also taking a Pan American approach to the presentation of the information as I attempt to avoid political borders.
Since I am using rhythm to tell the story, I thought to make the interface for the interaction an instrument of sorts, although it is essentially a disguised database. I wanted to make a drum machine that lets the user interact with the different rhythmic patterns while being able to dissect the rhythms themselves. Each drum has a story, both in the pattern it plays, as well as its construction. For instance, Cuban conga drums were originally made of rum barrels, modified into different sizes. Similarly, Uruguayan Candombe drums were constructed of tobacco barrels that went through the same fate. The claves for both Cuban rhythms and Candombe are also identical, employing a 3/2 approach on 4/4 beat. It is this kind of information that turns speculation into fact, when it is safe to say that Cuban and Uruguayan rhythms are cousins. They share not only a musical language, but if you dig deeper, there is religion, language, and ultimately geographical origin in common. Most slaves during the slave trade came from Angola and Congo. In this case, the word conga can be etymologically traced to the word KONGO. In Congo, the Bantu language was spoken, and thus we can create the bridge that the word Candombe is also of Bantu origin, meaning “of the black man.”
It is especially imperative, that while I take this approach in making a sort of rhythmic salad, in the face of appropriation, the engagement of the user must also be presented with historical facts about what they are listening to and the material they’re creating with. In the sampling age, where pop music has blatant musical influence from these and many other rhythms that aren’t “white,” the attempt is to give a platform to these and other exploited musical forms via information other than the audio files.
My medium for this piece will be a drum machine.
My first job in making the machine was to consider the interaction. I want the user to experience the sounds, but also to be able to experience the geographical location. I am taking an Interactive Music project a few steps further, and making a P5.js sketch physical. The design of the piece is an abstract representation of Latin America.
The red dots are buttons that play the rhythm from each location.
I went through a few iterations on how to make it less abstract. I finally landed on this design, which is the first physical prototype of the machine.
Foam cut on the CNC machine.
My next job was to record all three rhythms in a studio and stem out each drum so I can create 4 bar loops of each drum within the pattern. I employed three master percussionists, Martin Vejarano recorded Cumbia, Arturo Prendez recorded Candombe, and Lisette Santiago recorded Samba at G Studios, in Brooklyn. After some BPM experimentation, we (Gary Atturio, sound engineer) and I decided to make the common BPM for all three rhythms 95 bpm.
Here is a clip of Martin recording Cumbia maracas at G Studios in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
The sounds will be running through a Max/MSP patch, connected to a Mega Arduino.
I also want to connect a screen that connects to the buttons. On the screen I want to display short descriptions and history of the instruments being played.
During this time I have also been interviewing different people in different areas of expertise.
This is my first prototype for the interaction, made with construction paper. I think it falls short of intuitiveness. The triangles indicating the rhythm as well as the rhythmic patterns is a bit ambiguous. I think the shape, color, and sizing of the different components can help tremendously.
My second prototype for the interaction, also made with construction paper. My main focus is to make the interaction as clear as possible. I think it would also help to add a visual element to the drag and drop buttons indicating what the drums look like.
This is a sketch in Fusion 360, a 3d modeling program. The grey piece on the side has the dimensions of the wood I will be cutting to make the first machine. I’m testing to see what it might actually look or feel like before I cut the wood.
This is a sketch of me explaining my spatial audio idea to a friend. The overall shape is Latin America, drawn on a floor. The X marks the user’s spot. The circles represent speakers, and they placed according to geographic locations, i.e : Colombia, Panama, Brazil, and Uruguay. The rhythms would be coming from the speakers, and every rhythm will be quantized with each other, so they will all be playing on the same BPM.
First Outline of Topics Included
‘Independent Coordination’ by Jim Chapin
‘Participating Discrepancies’ by Charlie Kyle
‘Rhythms of the Afro-Atlantic World’ by Diouf and Nwankwo
‘From Shipmates to Soldiers: Emerging Black Identites in the Rio de la Plata’ Alex Borucki.
I wanted to write a playful children’s song, inspired by a Woody Guthrie vibe. I imagine Woody and Oscar the Grouch singing it together.
(Chorus) Treasure Trash, it’s everywhere. Treasure Trash, we all can share…
People throwing things on the street
We’re kicking gold with our feet
The things that we throw away
We all know they’re here to stay
Paper, Plastic, Wood, and Metal
Styrofoam.. and all these chemicals
If you’re wondering what to do with these things
Just throw it in the right bin
Don’t throw away what you just ate
In the same place you dumped the paint
treasure trash, we can use it again
but only if it’s in the right place
We can fix things that are broken, with treasure trash and some imagination
we can have a beautiful world with treasure trash.. you can build your own stash when you don’t spend money using treasure trash.
My life as a musician has had me playing instruments for quite a while. I started with the violin at 4, then the piano at 6, the guitar at 10, and the drums at 14. And while playing these instruments, relationships are formed with them. For most of my life I’ve been obsessed with guitars. There was always this gravitational pull towards them. It wasn’t just the sounds they made, or who played them. I was also obsessed with their aesthetic. Their colors. Their shapes. Their compact size, despite how powerful they are.
My favorite guitar company has always been Fender. They are responsible for the iconic Stratocaster guitar, and at this point, it has become almost a generic, albeit, classic design. The first run of them came out in 1954 and they changed the way popular music sounded and LOOKED for the rest of time. It set a standard for every single guitar design made after it. The Fender company came out with upgraded models in 1959, like the Jazzmaster and the Jaguar, which also have their super loyal fanbase. I am part of that fanbase. Although not as versatile as a Stratocaster, their unique shape and sound has earned them “the off-set standards.” The Fender Mustang was introduced in 1964 and also earned its loyal cult following.
Now it was time for me to actually make the instrument I’ve been playing all these years. My guitar design was inspired by all of these models, and thrown into the mix is the triangle, as a shape. In my fabrication class, Piecing it Together, I spent the semester designing and building this guitar.
My original sketches of the Triangle Guitar. Functionality was secondary. Shape was priority. I decided to curb this extremely triangular shape and go for something a bit more pragmatic in the end.
My first iteration of the Triangular guitar. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the shape. I was also learning how to use Fusion 360, a 3d modeling program, and ran into various detours throughout the process such as file transfers not transfering properly, having to go through Vectorworks, which was a downfall in my process, and using the CNC Machine and making a mistake in the programming, disturbing the proper measurements of the guitar.
My first 3d sketch on Fusion 360.
My second 3d sketch on Fusion 360, which became the final product. I finally worked around my mistakes the first time around. Measurements were more efficient and neat, the guitar became more ergonomic.
Foam cut on the CNC Machine.
Wood cut on the CNC Machine
Foam cut guitar, cardboard pickguard. First semi fully functional Triangle Guitar prototype. It kind of looks like a Mustang, it kind of looks like a Jaguar, it kind of looks like a triangle.
For my piecing it together final I decided to build guitar # 2. This time I was adamant about designing the body in Fusion 360, and not having to pipe the design into Vector Works. I feel like I have more control over the intricacies of the design in Fusion. I also designed the pickguard in Fusion 360, alongside the guitar body, so I don’t have to deal with the crazy geometry and measurements of it separately. I cut a prototype of the pickguard first, on the 75 watt laser cutter. The file was a DXF file exported into illustrator. The wood is basswood, although the intended material is acrylic. It came out really good, actually. The drawing on the pickguard is a work by Elizabeth White. But after the body was cut, I realized the measurements were off. The pickup holes were also too big. I’m still working on making the measurements right.
Fusion 360 Sketch.
Elizabeth White’s Drawing.
Again, I had trouble in the CAM in Fusion 360, so I exported the DXF file from Fusion to Illustrator. Then I ran the Illustrator file into the CAD. I also had some trouble with the CAD. The first cut on foam only cut the pockets.
So back to the CAD.. to get all my pockets and contours right.
Then to the CNC…
Although the back edge of the guitar got cut off, I’m happy with my foam prototype.
Here, you can see that the pickguard doesn’t fit into the bevels I made for it on the body so that it would be flush with the surface of the body.
Here is the wood body right after it got cut. The edges are harsh, but it looks right.
Guitar body after sanding. I sanded it down with a 150 grit first, to round out the edges. Then I went to 600 grit to smooth the wood out.
The pickguard will be a double sided mirror made out of acrylic, but for now it’s cardboard.
And the body will be wood, not foam.
But this is what it will look like when it’s done.
For my final in Always On, Always Connected I worked on my musical map of Latin America. Originally I intended to make an instrument, but a spontaneous drawing of Latin America in p5.js spawned the idea to make this piece. It has turned into the inspiration to my plans next year to go into an ethno-musicological study of Latin America using interactive means. What I set out to make is a visual library of beats/ educational music instrument, and I still have a lot to go in terms of functionality, but I think this is pretty strong prototype.
I set out to literally connect the dots between different beats in Latin America. What this means is to create a premodal frame of most of the beats, otherwise known as a study to find the distinct patterns between the beats, what they have in common, what they don’t have in common, and where they came from, i.e Africa, Europe, the Middle East.
I realized that in order to pull this off I would had to have all the beats and their rhythmic elements stemmed out or separated so I can create faders between different countries and able to measure what rhythmic element they actually had in common.
This is the interaction that I have for now. The beats themselves are samples of original recordings from their respective places. What I also wanted to accomplish was to have them play at the same beats per minute so that the beats can be faded in and out seamlessly, or together, depending on the functionality.