A Glimmer of Hope or Skin or Light — The Album

 

glimmer06
I have been work­ing on an album ver­sion of the Glim­mer of Hope or Skin or Light sound track with KT Niehoff.  It is done, it is awe­some and it was release to the world today. glimmer01

 

 

IvoryNKTlive
It has been an epic expe­ri­ence. I’m so excited about it.  There will be more about the whole expe­ri­ence to come, but for now I just want to share some beau­ti­ful pho­tos, videos and reviews.

Yay, yay, yay, reviews? Thank you so much for lis­ten­ing and writ­ing John Noyd, Simon Smith and Ken Scrudato.

John Noyd from Max­i­mum Ink wrote our first fan­tas­tic full album review I feel like he totally got it, “A dar­ing, dar­ling musi­cal revue fea­tur­ing punk-goth operas topped in macabre cabaret arias barg­ing into off-Broadway bal­lads, “Glim­mer,” daz­zles in rapid cos­tume changes applied with styl­ized guile. Sprung from the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness of KT Niehoff and Ivory Gray-Smith, Eat The Apple’s sound­track to their unpre­dictably orig­i­nal 2010 project is stun­ning fun-house phi­los­o­phy sport­ing dark car­nal hap­pi­ness from smart melo­dra­matic radicals.”

Black­Book pre­miered the video below on Octo­ber 13th.

Simon Smith from Higher Plain Music also reviewed the video, “Whilst I could ref­er­ence sev­eral things in the post to Kate Bush, I’d rather focus on one of the most unique and haunt­ingly inquis­i­tive tracks I’ve heard in 2016. “Hou­dini” is the lead track from Eat the Apple’s lat­est release. Eat the Apple are duo KT and Ivory. KT cre­ated a dance the­atre glam rock show called “A Glim­mer of Hope or Skin or Light” which had sold out runs in 2010 and 2015. Join­ing with Ivory around the same time, the two have worked on cre­at­ing a sound­track from that show and this is the result.

The video for “Hou­dini” is visu­ally strik­ing and moves across var­i­ous exper­i­men­tal art pieces and I’m gen­uinely excited to hear the sound­track in full.”

And I’m pretty stoked to say that Metal Talk also reviewed our video, woohoo.  

 

 

 

IGNITEWOMEN FUELING SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

It is an honor to have one of my com­po­si­tions and a blurb about gen­der dis­par­ity in music tech­nol­ogy fea­tured in The Inter­na­tional Museum of Women’s exhibit, IGNITEWOMEN FUELING SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY.  Please check it out.  

Screen shot 2014-12-06 at 12.15.57 AM

http://ignite.globalfundforwomen.org/gallery/slow-surge-moonlight

If you would like to down­load the Slow Surge of Moon­light please do so:

 

Interview with Brandon Aleson

Digit - Brandon AlesonThis is an inter­view with Bran­don Ale­son about his new col­lab­o­ra­tion with Jesse Montini-Vose enti­tled Digit. The piece in an inter­ac­tive instal­la­tion which will be pre­sented Sat­ur­day, Sep­tem­ber 7th, 2013 as part of the NEPO 5k Don’t Run 2013 city wide art party. The tools used include Pro­cess­ing, Arduino and the Kinect.

For more infor­ma­tion about Bran­don visit:
http://www.brandonalesauskas.com/

For more infor­ma­tion about the Nepo 5k and the Nepo House visit:
http://www.nepohouse.org/

Screen shot 2013-09-03 at 11.27.45 PM

Sound and Processing

Pro­cess­ing is an open source pro­gram­ming lan­guage and inte­grated devel­op­ment envi­ron­ment (IDE) built for the elec­tronic arts, new media art, and visual design com­mu­ni­ties with the pur­pose of teach­ing the fun­da­men­tals of com­puter pro­gram­ming in a visual context…The lan­guage builds on the Java lan­guage, but uses a sim­pli­fied syn­tax…” said Wikipedia.

Processing Code

Just fin­ished, “Get­ting Started with Pro­cess­ing,” by Ben Fry and Casey Reas (the cre­ators of the pro­gram). I thought I would get through it in a week, but it took 4. It was only 190 pages, it doesn’t look like much, but when each page takes 15–30 min­utes, well…it takes a while. It is not often I decide I am going to learn some­thing by read­ing a book (or man­ual) cover to cover. The plus-side included work­ing at my own pace and being able to look over every step until I really got the infor­ma­tion. The down-side included, falling asleep uncon­trol­lably every time more than a page of text went by with­out an exer­cise to engage me, lucky there was a sketch on almost every page. I’ve done the math, I passed out on aver­age once every 15 pages.

Video: Mur­mur — From sound to light, by Talk­ing to Walls

The lan­guage was cre­ated pri­mar­ily for visual artist, but there is a sound library in Pro­cess­ing called minim. I’ve been pok­ing around online look­ing for ways that com­posers are work­ing with Pro­cess­ing. It has been a chal­lenge to find any com­po­si­tional musi­cal based work (if you know of any, please share), although it seems like there are quite a few mixed media artist using Pro­cess­ing to include a sonic com­po­nent and lots of peo­ple using a mix­ture of Max and Processing.

The fol­low­ing two sounds based projects are my two favorites cre­ated using Processing.

This is a piece by Josh Nimoy called Ball Drop­pings. Make sure the vol­ume is up. Draw lines on the black screen to bounce the balls.

CLICK HERE FOR BALL DROPPINGS

This is a piece by Georg Reil and Kathy Scheur­ing called Fine Col­lec­tion of Curi­ous Sound Objects.

The making of the Vallecula, an interactive mini sound installation

First things first: Thank you to my hus­band Joseph Gray for help­ing me with design­ing the box and with the ini­tial setup and test­ing of the Arduino com­po­nents. Also, a huge thank you to my teacher Ben Kamen who gave me so much great feed­back and helped me every time I hit a wall cre­at­ing the Max patches.

So here it is. One of my lat­est endeav­ors, an inter­ac­tive mini sound instal­la­tion, cre­ated using Max MSP and Arduino.

The Tools

Wiki says it best “Max MSP is a visual pro­gram­ming lan­guage for music and mul­ti­me­dia…” Below are a few screen­shots show­ing seg­ments of patches used in the installation.Max MSP PatchMax MSP Patch

 

Arduino is a single-board micro­con­troller designed to make the process of using elec­tron­ics in mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary projects more accessible…”

Arduino 1

The Val­lec­ula is an instal­la­tion that uti­lizes 20 dif­fer­ent cus­tom Max MSP patches, trig­ger­ing 100 vocal sam­ples.  The piece was pre­sented at the North­ern in Olympia, Wash­ing­ton on June 5th. Sam­ples of what com­posed by the audi­ence using the con­troller can be heard below.

The Vallecula
The Arduino makes it pos­si­ble for the con­troller to com­mu­ni­cate with Max and many other pro­grams. There are a total of 12 dig­i­tal ports, that com­mu­ni­cate with 1’s and 0’s. The Arduino also has 6 ana­log ports, that com­mu­ni­cate using volt­age, 0–5 volts.

I used 8 dig­i­tal ports for my but­tons and switches and 4 ana­log ports for my knobs. When the but­tons are pushed it trig­gers the mes­sage to change from 0 to 1, that 1 can be used to trig­ger what­ever you like in Max MSP. On my con­troller I use it to trig­ger patches that include: gen­er­a­tion of ran­dom tones (sam­ples) and ran­dom rhythms, revers­ing the direc­tion of all sam­ples, con­trol­ling tonal shifts and trig­ger­ing sin­gle sam­ples. As you can see, the mes­sage from the dig­i­tal ports is super sim­ple, but you can use it to trig­ger what­ever you like.

The ana­log ports are a lit­tle more com­plex, but not much. There is a volt­age of 0–5, which shows up as a num­ber between 0 and 1023 in Max, you can write a sim­ple patch to con­vert this to any range you want to. In Max MSP the object box used to con­vert the infor­ma­tion reads like this [scale 0. 1023 100 40]. This sim­ply con­verts the range of 0 to 1023 to 100 to 40. I used this par­tic­u­lar range to con­trol tempo, so the tempo range was 40 bpm to 100 bpm. For the shift in tone the same com­mand looked like [scale 0 1023 2. –1] rais­ing the pitch of the piece up 2 half steps to down 1 half step.

Max MSP Patch

 

Con­cept­ing and Building

I wanted to cre­ate some­thing that could be con­trolled by any­one, any age, at any level of tech­ni­cal or musi­cal under­stand­ing. I want each per­son to cre­ate a unique com­po­si­tion and to be empow­ered by act­ing as composer.

How much con­trol should I give the user? What would be ran­domly trig­gered by Max, and what would be set?

I used the Eb har­monic major scale for the com­po­si­tion. The idea of hav­ing more vari­ety and com­po­si­tional out­comes was excit­ing, but I didn’t want to do it at the expense of the user expe­ri­ence. It needed to sound good and be easy to use. Each patch needed to take up a dif­fer­ent dynamic and spec­trum of sound. It took awhile to find tim­bres that sounded good together and stood out on their own using only voice to gen­er­ate the samples.

The first patches were trig­gered man­u­ally, so I could bounce around some ideas before I started using the con­troller. I started with record­ing the long chords and build­ing the patch that would trig­ger them. Each of the mid­dle but­tons have an assigned set of long tone chords, each time you trig­ger the but­ton it plays the same chord.

The melodic burst were next. Each time you press a but­ton it ran­domly selects one of 16 sin­gle tone sam­ples. The rhyth­mic pat­tern for trig­ger­ing the sam­ples is also ran­domly gen­er­ated. Ran­dom in this case means that it selects from a 5 dif­fer­ent note lengths, so not ran­dom in a sense that any­thing can hap­pen, but ran­dom in that there is vari­a­tion every time you hear the burst. Each sam­ple is a record­ing of me lay­er­ing my voice on one note, exactly 250 mil­lisec­onds in length. The sam­ples are selected notes from a Eb har­monic major scale spread­ing over 2 and ½ octaves. Ran­dom, but I have do have it it trig­ger­ing the tonic and 3rd and 5th twice as often as the other tones.

Once I had these begin­ning ideas in place I made a few designs for the the box, decid­ing on how many but­tons switches and knobs I would have and what they might even­tu­ally be used for. I pur­chased the com­po­nents at Radio Shack. The one on Queen Anne has a good selec­tion (inside tip from Joe). Once I had all the but­tons and knobs I mea­sured the shaft width of all the com­po­nents. Joe and I worked together to cre­ate the design for the box. Joe had already cre­ated a generic con­troller called the pro­jBox and we cre­ated a design based off of the orig­i­nal model to suit the projects needs. We then had the box laser cut at Metrix Cre­ate Space.

design for Lazer Cutter

 

wood cut

Then started the process of assem­bling the Arduino, test­ing all the com­po­nents, wiring and sol­der­ing once every­thing was in place.

testing Arduino

When wiring the Arduino you must make sure every com­po­nent is grounded. Here we are test­ing the knobs and switches.

I glued the box together and used screws to secure the Arduino and bread­board to the bot­tom of the box.

Building Box

 

 

 

wiring ArduinoAfter installing the Arduino and bread­board I dry assem­bled the circuits.

 

wiring Arduino2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I sol­dered the com­po­nents and wiring at Metrix Cre­ate Space…

Ivory a Metrix

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wiring Arduino3

…and com­pleted the wiring between the breadboard/Arduino and the components.

In my last blog I men­tioned that I had a frus­trat­ing time test­ing the Arduino. I was hav­ing trou­ble find­ing the code to get it to work with Max. I couldn’t find any­thing using the word Arduino in the Max tuto­ri­als, the infor­ma­tion is in the sec­tion talk­ing about ser­ial ports. The Arduino is a ser­ial port device.

At this point I was able to assign the but­tons and knobs to the patches I had already writ­ten. I had long tones, the melodic bursts and a bass line. The base line turn out to be annoy­ing. One of those ideas that you think will be good and when you hear it you know it’s not.

I assigned the these all to but­tons and then started work­ing on cre­at­ing patches for the knobs. Knob 1 was a vol­ume con­trol for the lame bass line and knob 2 con­trolled the tempo of the bass line.

At this point I was in the mid­dle of it and needed some feed back. What did peo­ple want it to be able to do?

I brought this ver­sion into the class for peo­ple to inter­act with and I got some great feed­back. I can’t remem­ber the sug­ges­tions I didn’t take but I do remem­ber the ones I did take. It was sug­gested that I use words or do a poem of some kind, that I have a but­ton to reverse the sam­ples, that I did not have a con­tin­u­ous bass line and that I cre­ate some­thing to mess with the global tempo not just one patch.

In order to raise and lower the pitch I had to trig­ger all the sam­ples in Max using groove instead of play. With groove you can do more with sam­ples, like rais­ing the pitch and revers­ing the sam­ple direc­tion. So I rewrote all the patches for the first time. I rewrote all the patches mul­ti­ple times, part of the learn­ing process. I would go in with a com­pletely crazy look­ing patch and Ben would say, “you know there is an eas­ier way to do that.” So I would take apart my hours of hard work and learn I could have done the same thing in a quar­ter of the time.

I could go on for­ever about the details and intri­ca­cies of the rest of the process, what I tested, what I kept and what I trashed, but then this blog would go on for­ever. I did want to talk about the very begin­ning stages though because I think it is inter­est­ing the way things take on their own life and just how impor­tant good feed back is when you are new to a way of think­ing and cre­at­ing. Some­thing I very much appre­ci­ate about the music tech­nol­ogy com­mu­nity so far is how shar­ing is part of the cul­ture, there is very lit­tle hoard­ing of ideas or fear around some­one steal­ing some tech­nique or tool, it’s all good if some­one uses some­thing you cre­ated and builds on it, as long as they give you credit.

So, here is a sum­mary of the final prod­uct and a brief descrip­tion of the patches that were used.

Vallecula Map

Val­lec­ula Map

* Dig­i­tal trig­gers for cen­ter but­tons, that trig­ger sam­ples of sung slow chords

* A dig­i­tal trig­ger for the right round but­ton that trig­gers the melodic bursts made up of a ran­dom selec­tion of 16 sam­ples and ran­domly selected rhyth­mic pat­terns. The sam­ples are made up of 16 tones that are part of an Eb Har­monic Major scale rang­ing 2+ octaves

* A dig­i­tal trig­ger for the left round but­ton, trig­gers the poem sec­tion. The poem is made up of two verses. Each word in the poem has 3 dif­fer­ent note choices, so although you hear the same words every time it is a dif­fer­ent melody each time the poem is trig­gered. Each verse of the poem uses call and response, we hear the first words panned hard right and a rep­e­ti­tion of the word imme­di­ately at a lower vol­ume panned hard left. The sec­ond verse is panned oppo­site of the first. The first verse uses a ran­dom gen­er­a­tor for the note dura­tion and the sec­ond verse has a con­sis­tent rhythm. At the end of each verse there is a back­wards sam­ple of one of the phrases in the poem. (When reversed the back­wards phrase is the only part you can understand)

* The upper left knob manip­u­lates the pitch cen­ter of the entire piece. By twist­ing the knob you can raise the pitch up a minor third

* The lower left knob con­trols the tempo of both the poem and melodic bursts

* The left on/off switch con­trols direc­tion of all samples

* The right on/off switch shifts the melodic bursts up an octave

* The knobs on the right con­trol the LFO fre­quency and depth caus­ing a tremolo effect for the long chords and ring mod­u­la­tion for the melodic bursts

Duncan with machine

 

Adventures in Electronics

Over the past year I have been explor­ing and learn­ing more about elec­tron­ics and com­puter based sound and music. Work­ing with vin­tage tech­nolo­gies like the Buchla, learn­ing new pro­grams likes Max MSP and Pro­cess­ing, learn­ing how to work with Arduino and build­ing my own con­trollers. It has been a really excit­ing and inspir­ing jour­ney. I love the out­come of this work, both musi­cally and con­cep­tu­ally. The next few blog entries are going to be about my dis­cov­ery of new (to me) technologies.

My hus­band, Joseph Gray (Joe), is a new media visual artist whose work over the past decade has focused on inter­ac­tive video instal­la­tions. He often works track­ing light, sound and move­ment to cre­ate ever chang­ing and react­ing visual pieces. He has been build­ing his own tools for cre­at­ing live ani­ma­tion since 2001, we met at his sec­ond show doing live ani­ma­tion oh so long ago. He often performs/projects live ani­ma­tion with music, but I hadn’t seen or heard any musi­cians using the same tech­nol­ogy. That is until 18 months ago. I was per­form­ing near Grand Rapids, Michi­gan with Lingo where I met a com­poser named Ken­neth Stew­art who was work­ing with chore­o­g­ra­pher Thomas DeFrantz (Tommy).

Schroed­in­bug Descend­ing a Stair­case from Joseph Gray on Vimeo.

Lingo was shar­ing a bill with Ken­neth and Tommy. We saw their sound check/ tech rehearsal and were totally enam­ored. We all hit it off imme­di­ately, thank god! We were in the mid­dle of nowhere with no trans­porta­tion, I couldn’t imag­ine how bor­ing it would have been with­out Ken­neth and Tommy’s com­pany. Sean and I spent the first evening drink­ing cheap beer and play­ing with Kenneth’s com­po­si­tional tools in their hotel room. The sec­ond night was well…I’ll just say this, if you ever have the plea­sure of singing Karaoke with KT you must request Time Warp, you will not be sorry.

Ken­neth is work­ing on his PHD at Duke Uni­ver­sity study­ing elec­tronic music com­po­si­tion, Tommy is fac­ulty at Duke, that is how they con­nected. Ken­neth was using a Kinect to con­trol the sound for the piece. Push your hand for­ward the sound got louder, chang posi­tion of your arm and tones changed. He was using a pro­gram called Max MSP. It was all so new to me, so I did not yet under­stand what was being done (magic), or how Max and the Kinect were com­mu­ni­cat­ing, but it reminded me very much of what Joe was doing with color and light, but Joe was mostly using cam­eras, motion detec­tors and a pro­gram called Pro­cess­ing. I was very inspired and wanted badly to be able to under­stand and use the tools that Ken­neth and Tommy were using. My mind felt expanded con­cep­tu­ally and I felt that by hear­ing the gen­er­a­tive sound work I was able to under­stand what Joe was doing on a whole dif­fer­ent level and what might be pos­si­ble musically.

Here is a link to a lit­tle arti­cle about Ken­neth and Tommy’s work together.

It was then that the seed was planted, I wanted to learn the pro­grams that made this work pos­si­ble. So, at the begin­ning of the 2012–2013 school year I enrolled in a class enti­tled Hybrid Music at Ever­green State Col­lege. It was a year long class explor­ing both vin­tage and new tech­nolo­gies. I thought I was qual­i­fied for the class because I had done a year of audio engi­neer­ing school already and because I had used Rea­son to cre­ate my own key­boards. I emailed my way in, con­vinc­ing the teacher that I had the expe­ri­ence and that I was qual­i­fied to forgo the first year elec­tronic music courses. After the first class it became painfully obvi­ous that I was way out of my league and really didn’t have the foun­da­tional knowl­edge to under­stand the mate­r­ial. What was I think­ing for­go­ing a year of intro­duc­tory classes. But, I con­vinced myself I could catch up if I just put some extra time in.

There was a whole other weird dynamic going on too, I was the only woman in the course, it was 14 guys and me. I tripped out about it alot the first few months. Why? Why was I the only woman in this class, what did it mean? Music is male dom­i­nated too, but not this extreme. When I was at Cor­nish it was 20% ladies. Is this the way music tech­nol­ogy is across the boards? This was like 5% and I was the 5%. Is it about inter­est, is it about learn­ing styles, is it about the way in which the infor­ma­tion is taught and shared? I don’t know. What I do know is that this class was really hard and I had alot of catch­ing up to do and on top of it I had to prove that girls could do it too and not embar­rass or tar­nish my gen­ders rep­u­ta­tion in anyway.

Modular SynthWe began with the vin­tage stuff, that meant I had to under­stand how elec­tric­ity worked, I still don’t totally get this, but I’m get­ting closer. Then I had to make music using basi­cally mostly just elec­tric­ity, or at least that is my sum­ma­tion for those who don’t know about the Buchla or mod­u­lar Synths.

Buchla 1I don’t cry often, the year before I enrolled in Hybrid music I could count on one hand the amount of times I cried. I could count on one hand the times I’de ever cried about any class.  Not so last year, I was in tears at least once a week out of pure frus­tra­tion over this class. Are men so dif­fer­ent with their learn­ing process. I would be will­ing to bet that not a sin­gle dude shed a sin­gle tear over that class the entire year, even the ones at the same level as me. I was alone in the room with the Buchla try­ing to under­stand how elec­tric­ity works and how to turn it into sound and no mat­ter how much I thought I under­stood or how much I got it con­cep­tu­ally I could not make that thing do what I wanted. I banged my head again the wall for a 100 hours in that class the first quar­ter. It went like this, I tried, I tried, it wouldn’t work, I tried, I tried every­thing, it wouldn’t work, I broke down and cried, I walked out­side for some fresh air, I felt worth­less, felt like there was some­thing wrong with me, I felt I would never progress, I calmed down, I tried again, some­times I left, some­times I had a break though and some­times another, I felt ecsta­tic, I was get­ting it, I could do this, I under­stood, stu­dio time up, repeat the next week, repeat, repeat, etc.

Buchla 2The ques­tion I couldn’t help ask­ing, is it because I am a woman or is it because I didn’t take the intro class or a combo or none of the above? I will never know really. Yeah my emo­tions and pride were get­ting in the way of my under­stand­ing and learn­ing. Did the guys go through the same thing, but with­out the tears or maybe it just lasted like a minute before they could clear their head and move on. Why did I had to have a god damn emo­tional break­down dur­ing every stu­dio session?

5 weeks in, I wanted to stay in the class, but I was really strug­gling, I didn’t want any­one to know how much I was strug­gling, because I wanted to stay in the class. So my major break­through, which may not sound like that big of a deal but it was kind of cathar­tic for me, was get­ting over my pride, stop­ping car­ing if I wasn’t at the same level and real­iz­ing the only way I could really get it was to ask for help, lots and lots of help and to stop car­ing if I didn’t look like I knew what I was doing because I didn’t really. So I let Ben Kamen the teacher know and two of my class­mates, the best and the bright­est, Charles See­holzer and Dun­can Marsh, both in their early 20’s and both had been pro­gram­ing since they mid­dle school. These were the ones I hit it off with and these were the guys who really helped me out. They had a deep under­stand­ing of what was going on with that beast the Buchla and other so many other ana­log synth mod­ules. I stopped car­ing if I looked like a fool or was hold­ing peo­ple back and I asked dumb ques­tions when I had them and asked for help when I needed it and I started to get it. I mean I wasn’t set­ting the curve or any­thing, but I was keep­ing up with the class and I was learn­ing alot.

The sec­ond quar­ter was a wel­come relief, it all evened out, we started work­ing with Max MSP, oh joy! Now this was the rea­son I took the class in the first place. It turns out I’m way bet­ter with mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, which is great because that is what is the least expen­sive, most diverse and most avail­able. After work­ing with the mod­u­lar synths where each time you had to rebuild your patch from scratch, it was so lovely to be able to save a patch and refer back to it, pick up where you left off, I can’t even tell you what a lux­ury it felt like. I was in heaven, I bought Max so I could work as much as a wanted to any­time I wanted to and I stayed up many a night until 4 am totally obsessed with what I was work­ing on. This quar­ter was not a chal­lenge it was a joy, I didn’t cry again until I was try­ing to test the Arduino at the end of the third quar­ter. Embar­rass­ingly my last break­down was at Metrix, in pub­lic, a hacker lab on Capi­tol Hill. Joe said it was the first time he had seen some­one cry at Metix when their pro­gram wasn’t work­ing. But that is it no more cry­ing sto­ries in this blog.

I spent the rest of the year mostly focus­ing on learn­ing Max MSP, how to gen­er­ate com­po­si­tion, build effects, and cre­ate my own sounds and synths. I learned how to use Max with Arduino and build­ing my own con­trollers. All really fun stuff and espe­cially cool because now Able­ton is part­ner­ing with Max, so when I upgrade (any day now), I will be about to use them together more eas­ily and there will be so many more peo­ple using Max with Able­ton that the forums and get­ting ques­tions answered online will get eas­ier and easier.

I’m going to post a few thing I cre­ated and try to explain a bit about the process of cre­at­ing them and share some stuff that I find inspiring…soon.