Music Manifesto

I grew up indoctrinated to become a musician  from the age of four so music was always a part of my life, if not my life. Music is really my all time teacher, beyond learning music in itself.
It has taught me various lessons, including how to be creative, patient, disciplined, undisciplined, and curious. Through my curiosity, music has taken me to places unimagined, even if it hadn’t been because of it directly, but also  to mental and physical places. Music is my altruistic history book that has also taught me about different cultures, different ways of thinking, and different ways of doing. Music has informed practically every decision I’ve ever made as well as becoming a pillar in the process of forming my ideologies. Without music, I wouldn’t be me. So I am indebted to it, but I am also honored to be able to contribute to its legacy.
Although I am classically trained, I did not focus on music academically. In fact, music was my inspiration to study other subjects in college, mainly political science and sociology. So, as you can imagine, to me, the intersection between music and politics, as well as music being an enormous sociological contribution, are always on my mind.
I have been concerned with two aspects of music lately. One is production and ethics, the other is distribution and ethics. On the production front, I have always found it to be a double edge that while the means of production have been democratized greatly, it also affords for a more homogeneous approach to it on the large scale. You have to go out of your way to sound “unique” in a sense because everyone is using the same tools. The mass production of instruments has also had an effect. To me, it cheapens the sacredness of the instrument to have all these mediocre versions of it floating around, only as symbols of the effects of capitalism. It is also most likely the most influential of art forms if we are talking about pop culture, which is also a side effect of capitalism, at which point it stops being a culturally rich sociological representation and starts becoming a product to be consumed.
Which brings me to distribution.
I was adamant for a long time about my nostalgia for the paradigm of the past, the record industry and it’s physical mediums of distribution. It was hard for me to wrap my head around the seemingly obsolete concept of making a record as an artist in modern times. Now, the one hit wonder is almost standard. On top of that, people in general aren’t concerned with an artist’s personality, philosophy, or ideology. The song reigns as a 3 minute digital distraction until the next 3 minute digital distraction comes along.
But then I thought…
I’m being nostalgic for a paradigm that is also a product of consumerism, albeit, a bit more artistically rigorous. The record sleeve, the pictures, the liner notes, the 3 minute song, the tours, the money, the drugs, the drama… all of those things were also a part of a system I did not agree with, no matter how romantic it all sounded.
So, what I want to accomplish is to be able to produce intellectually rigorous music, produced by instruments that are not products of an economic system that is tearing our world apart, and for that music to be heard, for it to be listened to, not consumed. I’m working on various fronts in terms of my skill set in order to tackle these different areas, and I realize that much of this work is not only  directly music work, but political work, tool building work, reframing and redrawing work. To take music out of the trappings of the economic system we live in and to create a new paradigm, while hopefully, people are creating those new paradigms in other areas of life.

Wire Frame

The idea behind this app is to turn the phone into an instrument or instrument interface. It is also interactive as you can also get together with friends to play together on each phone, simultaneously being able to record the session and post the session on social media.

 

No Phone, No Problem

I went to Cuba for the second time this past August. The first time I went was a year and a half before that, for ten days. This time I booked a month long trip. I was very excited to go back, not only because I feel like I didn’t do enough exploring the last time I went, and I subsequently spent much time trying to get a connection on my phone at a five star hotel, trying to get a wire, because I extremely underestimated how much money I would need. As most know, Cuba and internet service aren’t the best of friends. I was paying 14 Euro for two hours of really shitty (slow) internet service at one of Havana’s most prestigious hotels. It was hard to judge how much money I was spending on internet versus my time being spent efficiently trying to figure out how I was gonna get a wire sent to me. I probably spent a good five days worth of money for food on internet service. I spent way too much time trying to get a wire and not enough time BEING in Cuba. I promised myself the next time I went, I would take more than enough money. Funny enough, I ended up missing my flight the second time around and I was stranded in Cuba with not enough money to pay for another flight, and spent some time getting another wire. That’s not the point of this story, though.

The point is, I had plans for my second trip. Between the two trips I met a Cuban DJ and producer in New York at a music festival and we eventually made plans to collaborate when I went to Cuba. I downloaded all the musical ideas I wanted to work on in my phone, just because it was so much easier than taking a hard drive. I was really excited to be working on these specific ideas in Cuba, with this specific producer.

As luck would bless me, in the first few hours in Cuba I lost my phone. There is nothing like the feeling of losing your phone… IN CUBA. First I shrugged it off because I thought I would eventually find it. Then I started playing out the cab scene from the airport to where I was staying and pondering about whether or not it got stolen. That feeling of not knowing whether you lost your phone or if it was stolen was probably one of the most uneasy feelings. HOW DID I NOT KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO MY PHONE?! I feel like we almost take it for granted that there is an unspoken magnetism between us and our phones. We are so dependent on them, constantly checking them… and you start to realize how the action of checking your phone is so subconscious that it’s really hard to picture the last time you had it in your hand, nevermind the fact that it just slipped through the cracks of your fingers without realizing.

After a solid week of going through phone withdrawal and not being able to satisfy my high by going to the nearest Verizon store and picking up a new phone, and going through the agony of having to recreate my music ideas from memory, and not having a camera, or an easier time connecting to the internet, or having any means of communication at all….. a beautiful thing happened. Actually, many beautiful things happened, and that is because I suddenly wasn’t trapped by the confines of a screen, of a clock, of a camera, of the internet, of music ideas, of anything. It turned into the perfect opportunity to unplug myself, and finally live the life that I wanted to live for this next month.

The consequences became positively clear. Yes, there were many downfalls, all of them mentioned, plus that infamous phantom ring in my front pocket kicked in. But I surrendered to the idea of not having a phone and life began to unfold in a different way, because of the different set of circumstances that present themselves when you have to TALK to people. It forced me to be social, to ask for directions, to go to a bar, to walk around and respond when talked to, to not have a screen between me and the world, ever. Subsequently, I made some really cool friends and made music I never thought I would make. It was a pleasant surprise to be reminded that not having a phone didn’t cripple me at all, and in fact, it helped me spread my wings even wider. It made me be in the moment and only think about what is exactly in front of me. I didn’t have all these access decisions to make about who I spent time with, or making plans, or buying shit I don’t need on ebay, or take part in any social media of any kind. I was only where I needed to be, which is where I always was.

Week 1, Towers of Power

Built to Last’s first two chapters outlines the difference between good companies and visionary companies. Visionary companies stand the test of time through various elements. Although any company can have a great idea, it is being able to ebb and flow with various market changes, cultural changes, and technological changes that differentiate the good from the visionary. Visionary companies are interested in the long haul and understand that in order for this to occur, they must be flexible and malleable, without losing sight of their core ideology and statement of purpose. They have also demonstrated leadership in their respective fields, and have become standards to be strived for, not only the product itself, but the manner in which the company operates.

My list of Visionary Companies include Adidas, Fender, Electroharmonix, and Timberland.

Adidas is the largest sports manufacturer in Europe and second in the world.

Fender is a musical instrument company that completely revolutionized the way pop music is produced and consumed.

Electro-harmonix is also a musical instrument company that has made revolutionary contributions to music production.

Timberland is a shoe company that managed to stay relevant in pop culture with their classic work boot.

 

We also had to look for the IMSI and IMEI numbers on our cell phones. All that info is in our phone. We go to settings and look for the phone stats. These numbers make our phones unique, in the sense that they are sending and receiving unique information based on these numbers. That is how we differentiate between cell phones. They are IP addresses for our cell phone and its networks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump Head- Physical Computing Midterm

Andrew and I decided on making a talking trump head for our Physical Computing midterm. We bought a rubber Trump mask for its malleability and flexibilty, and because of all the room it has inside to fit the hardware we were going to use.

The concept is a talking head/ ball that is meant to be tossed around, and in doing so is meant to treat the personality like a piece of rubber. We also wanted the mask to talk and be self sufficient on its own, without having to be connected to a computer. We connected a sound shield with an sd card reader to an arduino UNO that is triggered by a motion sensor, which is inserted in one of the mask’s eye sockets. When the mask senses a presence it speaks.

We originally made a sound collage of a Trump phrase for Halloween, but we changed it to a Hillary phrase to create a bit of juxtaposition.

There is also a servo connected to the mask’s mouth, so that when the audio is triggered, the servo moves the masks’ mouth.

 

 

 

 

Arduino Code:

#include <SD.h>
#include <pcmConfig.h>
#include <pcmRF.h>
#include <TMRpcm.h>
#include <SPI.h>
#define SD_ChipSelectPin 4
TMRpcm audio;

//using a O O G resistor (3.3 ohms) for IR sensor
//dont delay less than 250 between openMouth & closedMouth

#include <Servo.h>
Servo mouth;

int speakerPin = 3; //digital out
int servoPin = 2; //digital out
int sensorPin = A0; //analog in

int closedMouth = 45;
int openMouth = 180;
int sensorStrength = 500;
unsigned long lengthOfPhrase = 9000; //in milliseconds
unsigned long timePhraseBegin = 0;
boolean movementDetected = false;
boolean speakOnce = false;

void setup() {
  audio.speakerPin = 9;
  Serial.begin(9600);
  mouth.attach(servoPin); 
  mouth.write(closedMouth);

  if (!SD.begin(SD_ChipSelectPin)) {  // see if the card is present and can be initialized:
    Serial.println("SD fail");  
    return;   // don't do anything more if not
  } else {
    Serial.println("SD success"); 
  }
  audio.setVolume(5);
}

void loop() {
  unsigned long timePassed = millis() - timePhraseBegin;
  
  int sensorRead = analogRead(sensorPin);
  
  if(sensorRead > sensorStrength){
    if(!movementDetected){
      Serial.println("ON.");
      timePhraseBegin = millis();
    }
    movementDetected = true;
  } else {
    if(movementDetected && timePassed >= lengthOfPhrase){
      Serial.println("OFF.");
      movementDetected = false;
      speakOnce = false;
    }
  }

  if(movementDetected){
    
    //move mouth
    mouth.write(openMouth);
    delay(250);
    mouth.write(closedMouth);
    delay(250);

    //speak
    if(!speakOnce){
      audio.play("0000.wav");
      speakOnce = true;
    }
    
  } else {
    //close mouth
    mouth.write(closedMouth);

    delay(250);
  }
}

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Mixtape- ICM Final

My final for Computational Media is called ITP Mixtape.

As a musician living in the beginning of the 21st century, it took me a few years to grapple with the fact that I am solely responsible for the production and distribution of the work I make.  It seemed as though technological advances in the tools to create media arts and music production, as well as their price points, became much more accessible.. just in time for the music industry to crash and burn. The consequence turned out to be a double edged sword, in fact. Artists had to learn how to be self sufficient in every aspect of their artistry, from creation to distribution. I was directly affected and influenced by this trend, and in my formative years as a young musician I leaned in on the approach, deciding that I would eventually make my own record label.

I was always inspired by DIY record labels as a teenager, labels like Sub Pop, Epitaph, and Matador. Those were the labels that most of the bands I listened to were on. It was an attractive answer to the major labels that were ridden in capitalist ideals, primarily in how they handled their artists and production. The correlation between the political ideals of the bands and HOW they distributed their music was harmony. I don’t want to get too involved in explaining the history of record labels, but to put it simply, I am nostalgic for them, and their relevance as cultural ambassadors. In an age where people just download songs digitally and don’t listen to albums, nor really care how they are produced, it cheapens the experience of understanding the artist. My impetus to use the term Record Label comes from a place not only of nostalgia, but the record label as a means of connecting ideals and identity with the art itself. I still find relevance in the platform for platform sake because of this.

I understand that the distribution itself is quite a labyrinth, what works and what doesn’t is really up in the air. Artists like Jay-Z have even teamed up with cell phone companies to package a record release within the purchase of a cell phone. Also, new platforms like Spotify and Pandora have created a new monopoly over music distribution that doesn’t really approach the action on a democratic level. Artists are forced to accept cents to the dollar for their downloads. I feel like the scope is wide open to create more efficient ways of music distribution and my ICM final is an experiment in this vein.

I wanted to control not only what people want, but where they are while they are getting it. I am also interested in taking people out of the black hole of their cell phone screen and create more meaningful social experiences outside of technology. I thought applying this experiment to a project of bigger scale can achieve just that.

I collected work from 12 ITPers and made a mixtape, using geo-location as a tool to bring people together. The point is to obligate people to be in a certain place at a certain time to be able to download the art. If they are not in the specific location it is impossible to download. The page simply doesn’t appear and another page pops up giving the person instructions to be in the right place at the right time.

The interface was drawn on P5.js. I created a button that leads to the html page that the links exist on. Here are the pages.

If the person isn’t in Washington Square Park, the page with the map of WSP appears, with the words “Come Hither.”

If they are in WSP, the mixtape page appears.

 

This is the link to test out the project in WSP:   https://marcoitp18.github.io/itp-mixtape/

 

 

 

 

ITP Mixtape Interface, drawn on P5:

 

 

Interface if you are NOT in the Park..

 

 

If you ARE in the Park…

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-8-28-41-pm

Chameleon Drum Machine

Our (Grau and Rogue) final Physical Computation project is the Chameleon, a hand held drum machine.  The concept behind the object is to take the drum machine off the table and into your hands, leaving your body free to move (with the instrument) during a live performance.  It’s also intended to be an instrument in its own right, not simply a midi interface that runs whatever you want it to run. We also don’t want it to feel like a toy, but rather an instrument that is simple enough to understand it by just picking it up, but having a bit of a learning curve, for old instrument learning sake.

We wanted a hand held design that would feel like something between a table top drum machine and a game controller, but we didn’t want it to feel like a game. It needs to feel like an instrument with its own personality. Ideally, we would have pads similar to an  MPC drum machine as the buttons, but we are using arcade style buttons for the first prototype.  The design is cylindrical, inspired by the shape of an actual drum.  This design led to an unintended use on the top surface of the instrument.  During our test run in class some classmates thought to play the top of the object like a drum, as if it was the rim of a drum with a skin on it. We briefly entertained that idea but ultimately we decided to use that real estate for buttons instead.

The first design is a bit blocky. The positioning of the hands holding it gave way for tension in the shoulders, so we knew we had to re-work the design to tell the hands how to hold it in a specific manner and to spread the shoulders more to get rid of the concave angles the shoulders were resting at.

First Prototype:

imag0051imag0052imag0053

 

We cut some fat off of the first prototype and created Prototype # 2, with an ergonomic design that is easier to hold.

imag0072

The placement of the buttons is a bit more successful in directing how the hand holds it. The shape also spreads the shoulders out, creating a comfortable shoulder position that is near natural standing position or shoulder width apart.

The concept of the instrument is for it to be as dynamic and inclusive as possible in terms of the sounds it produces. Ideally each setting on the instrument is a different sound bank that is guided by the names of the settings: Africa, Middle East, Latin America, Asia, Space. Each of these settings would recall sounds from each specific region of the world.

imag0047imag0048

We drew up various schematics for what the button functions would be, based on the position in the hand and how comfortable it would be to create a beat with your fingers. Taken into consideration were two main factors, which fingers were the strongest and fastest. The index, the middle, and the ring fingers were the most comfortable to use, especially the index and ring fingers for precision purposes.I also included various features like pitch-shifter and volume control, which will be additions that we will add in the future.

The end result for the prototype includes six buttons on the front, three for each hand, and four on the back, which will be played by the thumbs.

For the prototype we concentrated on programming a traditional western drum set, with finger positioning that looks like this:

We originally drew up the casing for the Chameleon thinking that we were only going to use one arduino, plus a sound shield to store all the sounds it would recall via a mini sd card. We worked on the casing and the computation simultaneously, really hoping that one arduino would be enough. One arduino wasn’t enough, however.  In order to play three sounds at once without any latency, we decided to employ three separate arduinos with three separate mini sd cards.

The final prototype of the Chameleon is still in the works. One hiccup we ran into was the size of the casing versus the amount of hardware that fits inside. We need to figure out a way to minimize the hardware. An easy way out of this dilemma is to use Max MSP to control the interface, but we are adamant about creating an instrument with it’s own sounds..without having to plug into a computer.

We also had to build a custom audio mixer to mix together the three lines of audio from the three arduinos and the three breakout chips. We also had a bit of an issue with the sounds themselves. It seems the sounds we selected for the Chameleon got lost in translation and are coming out as amorphous blobs of sound, rather than drum sounds.

It works, though!

We should have these two kinks done over the break, and as soon as they are, I plan on filming a performance piece using the Chameleon.