Interesting Decisions @ KISS2016

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This week, I’m settling in from my trip to Leicester, UK, where I attended the Kyma International Sound Symposium to premiere my new work, Interesting Decisions. The piece is a digital game that creates music through player interaction with a procedurally generated world. In the guise of a retro, neon-packed walking-simulator, Interesting Decisions engages with issues of the homogenizing effects of technology, as well raising questions about new trends of video-game voyeurism.

More thoughts on the Kyma symposium later (I’m still processing an fascinating remark from Christian Vogel where he said “I’ve started thinking of my studio like a network rather than a chain”).

For now, I have some catching up to do.

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At the end of my performance in Leicester, the game displayed a message that one could “download the game at simonhutchinson.com” a little prematurely.

Notice that I blame the game for this.

So, with apologies to the delay, here is the game (available in Web, Mac, Windows, and Linux versions):

By necessity, the audio and graphics have been simplified for this standalone version. The piece I performed at the symposium sent OSC messages from the game in Unity to Kyma, and, in order to do a “anyone can play” distribution, I had to bounce out the audio and bring them into Unity, so there’s less nuance in the real-time audio, but I’m sure this is a compromise that game developers must make all the time.

If you’re interested in the original work, you can see a video of a “studio” performance here:

Circuit-Bending Speech with the Intellivoice

I’ve finally got my workbench set back up following the move out to Connecticut for my new gig at the University of New Haven, and I’ve started to get back to some tinkering.

I had been poking around on eBay for a little while, trying to find an Intellivoice module to build my collection of vintage consumer audio chips. The Intellivoice was an add-on for Mattel’s Intellivion Game Console that strapped on to the side and added a couple of chips allowed a few games to have computerized speech output.

intellivision

It sounds a little something like this:

Anyway, I found and Intellivoice for about $10 (plus shipping).

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The seller, however, neglected to mention that it seems like he had been storing it in a bath of saltwater. I had to drill out a couple of the screws to get it open, as they had rusted beyond recognizability as screws.

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After I got the RF shield off, however, it all looked relatively clean. The whole piece isn’t particularly attractive as a collector’s item, but the chips seem to be in good shape.

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So, let’s make this thing talk. With a little Arduino magic, I got some words out (see below), and, with a little more tinkering, I should be able to make a MIDI-controlled Intellitalker instrument.

[audio:http://simonhutchinson.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Intellivoice_Test.mp3]

Watch this space.

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RCA Output on a Super Game Boy

Always looking for an excuse to open something up
Always looking for an excuse to open something up

For my latest “chiptune” project, I’ve put in some RCA jacks on my Super Game Boy.

Of course the Super Nintendo already has the possibility of a component out (via RCA jacks), but, since the Super Game Boy basically contains all the circuitry of the Game Boy, this mod bypasses the Super Nintendo altogether.

If you’re interested in trying this yourself, check out this instructable for step-by-step instructions.

Super Game Boy guts
Super Game Boy guts

Testing...
Testing…

Closed back up
Closed back up

So… Does it sound better? I don’t really know, and I don’t really have the time to set up a comparison, but this mod sure makes it easier to get sound to my mixer.

Here are a couple quick recordings of games I had lying around:

Battletoads

[audio:http://www.simonhutchinson.com/BattleToads.mp3]

Ninja Gaiden

[audio:http://www.simonhutchinson.com/NinjaGaiden.mp3]

The thing I have to be careful of, though, is that the clock speed of the Super Game Boy (4.295 MHz) is 2.4% faster than the Game Boy (4.194 MHz). A minor change, certainly, but a significant one if I’m trying to keep my music in tune between different devices, and I’m switching between the SNES and a Game Boy.

…like the time I brought my NOPera to Germany, forgetting that Europeans don’t tune to A440.

KISS2013

For the past few days, I’ve enjoyed meeting other members of the “cult of Kyma” at the 2013 Kyma International Sound Symposium (KISS2013) in Brussels, Belgium.

The theme of the conference is interfaces (more precisely: “INTER faces”), and KISS2013 used for its symbol Belgium surrealist painter Rene Magritte’s “Les Amants” (“The Lovers”), an image of two people kissing with cloth covering their faces:

Les Amants

This painting illustrates a the role of interfaces as borders, emphasizing the separation between the two lovers (a separation which exists between all people) even in this most intimate moment.

In the realm of electronic music, we most often use the term “interface” to talk about the point of human interaction with a machine, whether through typing on a keyboard, using a mouse, or even the Graphical User Interface (GUI) of a piece of software. The KISS conference’s choice of Magritte’s painting for its symbol, though, re-examines the interface as a border, a concept that Kyma creator Carla Scaletti was also quick to point out in her keynote speech (poorly paraphrased here): without these borders, we would just all be one mass of cells flowing everywhere.

Dr. Scaletti’s image here immediately reminded me of Katsuhiro Otomo’s cyberpunk manga and animated film Akira, specifically the scene where the character Tetsuo merges with the mechanical devices around him, and becomes and uncontrollable expanding mass of organic and inorganic matter.

Akira

While Akira’s level of human-machine bordlessness is, hopefully, metaphorical (at least for the time being), it seems that we are moving toward more and more transparent interfaces in our human-computer interactions.

Several workshops and pieces involved the Microsoft Kinect (including performances by fellow UO alums Jon Bellona and Chi Wang), an interfaces that understands an impressive amount of data about a person’s body position without requiring any physical contact.

A step further, though, were two piece presented where the performers did not interface with the computer physically, but instead through EEG neural headsets. The performers took the stage, then thought in front of an audience in order to create music. The EEGs then gathered data about the performers neural impulses, which was sonified by the computer.

Of course I couldn’t help but wonder exactly what they were thinking about…

bacon

(I think all of my EEG pieces might sound the same.)

Rather than seeking to erase the human-machine border, though, it seems that these new devices are designed to allow us to interact with machines on more human terms. Typing or using a joystick, for example, are actions we have learned for the sake of interacting with computers, whereas the Kinect offers a way of interfacing with a computer using actions that might hold referential meaning beyond human-machine interaction, as evidenced in Bellona’s “spell-casting” actions in Casting, and Wang’s conducting motions in SoundMotion.

Of course, in musical performance, we should remember that performers for centuries have practiced and learned how to physically interface with these instruments in a way that is not necessarily referential to motions outside music, so the transparency of an interface doesn’t not necessarily reflect on its effectiveness (or all musicians would just play the timpani, where one can see from across the room how the performer is playing the instrument).

An interesting question might be, though: does a novel interface, one that has never been seen before and whose performance we have not yet been acculturated to, benefit from a degree of clarity between the performers actions and the sonic results?

violinStockPhoto

an image from Stock Photos of Violinists
Clearly this young woman is not acculturated to violin performance

Finally, here is one more image from Magritte, this time, the artist transgresses rather than emphasizes the interface. The title of the piece seemed rather serendipitous, “Sixteen September.”

16Sept