## September 27, 2007

### Algorithmic Composition: My first stochastic canon

This is a short little exercise that uses a linear distribution of random numbers to select notes and note durations that appeal to me. These are then arranged into an AABA pattern that gets played over itself in double and quadruple time. Here's a schematic representation:

```AABAAABAAABAAABA
A A B A A A B A
A   A   B   A
```

Here is the csound file, and here is the python script that generates the score. The output from a run of the program (with a 16 second pattern length) is included below (download here).

## September 26, 2007

### NIME: Performance Inspiration

Here's a short clip from a performance by Pelt, an Eastern-inspired drone band that includes guitarist Jack Rose. Here are some of the elements of their performance style that I enjoy:

• Small, careful, deliberate movement
• ... but there's still a lot of noise!
• Certain processes (such as the ringing bowls) are set into motion and left to operate on their own
• Gestures and patterns shift in and out of synch, defying a figure/ground distinction but sometimes emerging as a discernable unity (this could be planned or unplanned)

## September 20, 2007

### Algorithmic Composition: csound is my friend

Here's my first experiment with csound: Conway's Game of Life made audible. This Processing applet creates the score. The essential mapping is this: if a cell is alive at a particular generation, it sounds a note; the cell's y-coordinate in the grid determines the note's pitch, and its x-coordinate determines the cutoff frequency of a lowpass filter on the note. All cells are sounded as a chord for each generation, and the generations are played in sequence.

The csound instrument itself is very simple: it just plays a sample, starting at an offset determined by the score. The sample contains sixteen notes in a pentatonic scale, so the offset effectively controls the pitch. (Download this sample in aiff format here.) Another parameters in the score controls the frequency cutoff of the low pass filter (created with the `lowpass2` opcode). (download instrument and example score here)

Sound samples after the jump.

Below are some examples of the output that this setup generates. (I wanted to do some video to better show the mapping, but damned if I can figure out how to synch Processing's MovieMaker library with csound ...) All excerpts are around fifteen to twenty seconds; the label describes the type Life configurations that generated the sound.

lwss on lwss [7]

octogon II [8] p5 and tripole [7] p2

begins with random distribution, achieves equilibrium

p14 tumbler

two gliders heading in opposite directions

## September 19, 2007

### NIME: Inspirational Sounds

I love me some Vibracathedral Orchestra. What I like is the constant battle between foreground and background: your attention is equally served no matter where it turns. I also like the idea of a constant battle to maintain what ends up sounding very static. (See also: Pelt.) Here's an excerpt from a Vibracathedral Orchestra song called "Aeolian Cistern" off of Versatile Arab Chord Chart.

### NIME: What I saw music doing

Here are some of the more unusual "uses" of music that I picked up on this week.

A demonstration of taste and ethics

This thread on popular community site MetaChat concerns "songs you love" but whose lyrics (or the message contained in the lyrics) you hate. The discussion uses music as a medium for talking about personal aesthetics (what kind of music you like) and personal values (what propositions do you agree with? what are your politics?)—the thread addresses (among other things) abortion, sexism, and race. It's an example of music being used as a way to negotiate personal and group identity.

Territorial music

My walk to the train station each morning lasts about twenty minutes. I listen to music while I walk. I'm not sure why I do this. Maybe to relieve the tedium, but that can't be the whole story—taking a different route or simply trying to be more aware of the environment could also do that. I think it might be a territorial thing: I'm trying to claim that space for me, trying to make it more like home, trying to get it to belong to me. I don't mean the physical space as much as the temporal space. If I listen to music, I feel less like I've wasted those twenty minutes.

(more after the break)

Video game music

I've been playing two video games pretty heavily over the past week: Age of Empires: The Age of Kings for the Nintendo DS and Katamary Damacy for the PlayStation 2. The former is a turn-based strategy game and the latter is an action game—two very different kinds of games, and accordingly the way they use music is very different.

In Age of Empires, I frequently play with the sound off. The music is basically just something to fill in the background, and while there are different themes for different levels (i.e., when you play as Joan of Arc, the music is vaguely medieval; when you play as Minamoto no Yoshitsune, the music has an Eastern vibe), the music doesn't really establish a sense of place or rhythm.

The music in Katamari Damacy is similarly unimportant to the core gameplay, but I'd never imagine playing with the sound off: it's brilliant, catchy, quirky. It contributes to the feeling of being inside the world of the game. Maybe it helps you get "into the groove" of the game, so to speak: the flow.

Bar Music

At TNO last week, the music in the bar was especially loud. What's the use of music that drowns out conversation? Maybe it has the effect of raising the value of succinct communication (making talking more fun, in a way?), or encouraging physical proximity between people, or discouraging words altogether (in favor of, say, dancing). Whatever the effect is, it must be beneficial, since extremely loud music is a strategy favored by almost every single bar I've ever been to ...

Pedagogical music and making music

Luke plays a lot of music for us in Algorithmic Composition. This is use of music is interesting from a functional point of view: we're listening not for enjoyment, but for historical context, inspiration, and to demonstrate some of the possibilities of the medium.

Last week, Luke also gave a demonstration of csound in lecture, which (almost as a side effect!) created music; and in listening to the music thereby created, we all came to a consensus about how to change the algorithm in order to create something weirder/different/more pleasing. So it's kind of a feedback loop: listening to music in order to figure out how to make it in order to listen to it.

Choosing music

I have a subscription to eMusic. They make available 30 second "clips" of songs in order to help you decide which songs to download. This is another interesting use of music: a segment of the song stands as a representation of the song as a whole, and the purpose of listening to the clip is not to enjoy it (or do any of the other things you might do with music), but to decide whether or not the music is worth listening to in the first place. It's kind of like a meta- musical experience, a musical experience designed to help you decide what music experiences you want to have.

## September 18, 2007

### Mapping Week 2: Methods and Mapping

In this week's selection from Visual Explanations, Tufte concerns himself with graphing data—specifically, the data from John Snow's investigation of the Broad Street Cholera outbreak in 1854. His main point is that (what he calls) aggregation—both spatial and temporal—can "mask relevant detail and generate misleading signals" (p. 36), which can in turn lead to an incorrect interpretation of the data. Tufte draws a distinction between "method" and "reality" - the former being bias introduced by aggregation techniques, and the latter being the "true story of the data." He goes on to note:

A further difficulty arises, a result of fast computing. It is easy now to sort through thousands of plausible varieties of graphical and statistical aggregations—and then to select for publication only those findings strongly favorable to the point of view being advocated. (p. 37)

What interests me here is that Tufte seems to take for granted the accuracy of the data—as if the collection of data is free from political and rhethorical considerations. But the process of collecting data is itself a kind of mapping: you have to decide which chunks of reality are relevant, how to formalize those chunks, how to digitize them. So data visualization is, in a sense, a map of a map, doubly subject to the problems of subjectivity and arbitrariness that Tufte mentions.

So the question is this: can data visualizers can take the data as basic? Or does the process (or potential) of data visualization itself have an effect on how data is collected? (The analogy here is with the observer's paradox, or even the uncertainty principle: observing the world to collect data also changes the world that you're observing.) Do researchers (unconciously?) practice data collection techniques that create data that is more easily visualized? Conversely, do data visualizers seek out data that is easy to visualize? Or, taking a step back: do we organize our world in a way that encourages certain methods of data collection and data visualization?

An even better question: How do these questions come to bear on Tufte's assertion that "the reason we seek causal explanations is in order to to intervene, to govern the cause so as to govern the effect" (p. 28)?

## September 10, 2007

The introduction to Else/Where is more or less a set of entry points, so I'm going to use it as an entry point into something I've been thinking about recently. Specifically, this article: Thoughts on the Social Graph by Brad Fitz (best known as the guy who created LiveJournal). The social graph, according to Fitz, is "the global mapping of everybody and how they're related," particularly in reference to social software. He goes on:

Unfortunately, there doesn't exist a single social graph (or even multiple which interoperate) that's comprehensive and decentralized. Rather, there exists hundreds of disperse social graphs, most of dubious quality and many of them walled gardens.

Fitz uses this article to present a project whose goal is to "make the social graph a community asset." In other words, if you're friends on LiveJournal, you should be friends on Facebook, and vice versa; it should, moreover, be trivial for emerging social networking sites to get their hands on this data. The idea is this: we're talking about a number of relationships that are entirely analogous here. If we could all just pull together and cooperate, we wouldn't have to rebuild our social networks on every site we join.

The problem is that these relationships aren't entirely analogous or, at least, there's room for questioning the analogy. Is being friends on Facebook really the same thing as being friends on LiveJournal? Are LiveJournal friends exactly like MySpace friends? Flickr contacts? Last.fm "neighbors"? It strikes me that the functionality and semantics of the "friend" relationship on each of these sites is very different. The software uses the relationship for different functions (hiding information, revealing information, making recommendations, etc.); different criteria must be met in order for someone to be counted as a "friend" (or "neighbor" or "contact" or whatever).

The belief that these relationships are somehow, deep down, essentially the same is, in my opinion, a mistake. It's a problem of mapping: a classic confusion of the map and the territory. The formalization of the system (the map) only accounts for only a subset (maybe even an imaginary subset) of "friend" relationship in practice (the territory).

It occurs to me that these subtle differences in the way relationships are created, maintained, and abandoned, and what the relationship means in terms of the way the software works, are all factors in what makes a particular social site unique. (E.g., Being able to easily find and grant privileges to schoolmates on Facebook is essentially what made Facebook popular.) Moreover, the fact that these social software sites exist in separate social "enclaves" may actually be a feature - it functions as a way of partitioning different social groups and different ways of socializing.