Death and the Powers Arrives

Wednesday 29 September 2010, 6:52 pm   /////  

The opera and “robot pageant” composed by Tod Machover, directed by Diane Paulis and with a libretto by Robert Pinsky has finally been staged in Monaco. I won’t see it until it comes to the Boston area in a few months, but I’m delighted to see the project reach the stage. Death and the Powers (discussed in this WBUR interview) has been in the works for about a decade. I wrote about it as we rang in the new year (2006) at Grand Text Auto, and I was very pleased to hear the workshop performance of the opera at A.R.T., here in Cambirdge. By now, we not only have the performances in Monaco: The libretto has been printed in Poetry and is available online at the Poetry Foundation. And those of us in the US can look forward to the March arrival of Death and the Powers in Boston.

Font’s Unusual Creative Kinetics

Thursday 26 August 2010, 9:54 pm   /////  

Two recent hit songs on the Web are the tribute “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury” by Rachel Bloom and the non-tribute “Fuck You” by Cee-Lo. Perhaps after me and you – us, them, him, her, and it will be next?

The typographical treatment of “Fuck You” in the video is much more straightforward than in the well-linked “Say What Again” video by Jarratt Moody, which sets dialogue from Pulp Fiction to animated type. The words and letters in “Say What Again” aren’t demanding to be read as insistently, and they’re doing so much that it’s a joy to see them in motion. When there’s not as much happening, getting presented visually with the same words that are being sung to me seems a bit like having someone slap me repeatedly while saying “Slap! Slap! Slap!”

Of course, type can be used with music to do other things besides writing out the lyrics. An even simpler typographical treatment can be seen in Flash pieces by Young-Hae Chang, including the excellent “Dakota.” In those, though, the text doesn’t repeat something in the audio channel, it proceeds at a rapid pace but is legible to the attentive viewer, and it all makes for compelling reading and listening. By the way, in case you think I’m wandering off topic, the first word of “Dakota” is “fucking.”

I wonder if a straightforward animated type video, a sort of blank slate, tends to encourage remixing and the creation of new videos? In any case, Cee-Lo’s song has already been mashed up with other videos. You can see what the last scene in Dirty Dancing is like when set to that tune, for instance.

Oh, and let’s not forget Ray Bradbury. This purports to be a picture of the famous writer watching Rachel Bloom’s video.

One-Line C64 BASIC Music

Monday 26 July 2010, 1:10 pm   ////////  

Local sound artist/electronic musician Keith Fullerton Whitman released an extraordinary piece on the b-side of his November 2009 cassette hallicrafters, inc. The piece is called 10 poke 54272+int(rnd(1)*25),int(rnd(1)*256) : goto 10 and is 18 minutes of sound produced by a Commodore 64 emulator running the BASIC program that is the title of the piece.

The memory locations beginning at 54272 are mapped on the Commodore 64 to the registers of the SID (Sound Interface Device). By POKEing random values into them, the SID, although it is a musical chip, is stimulated to produce sounds in what probably seems like a non-musical way: based on the effect of register settings and the sequence produced by the system’s random number generator, a polynomial counter.

I’m listening to the piece running on a hardware C64 now, which is soothing, although it seems like it shouldn’t be. Looking at the code, I note that the program

10 poke 54272+rnd(1)*25,rnd(1)*256 : goto 10

will put the same values into the same memory locations (and therefore SID registers) in the same order. The INT function is unnecessary because all arithmetic in C64 BASIC is done in floating point and then cast to integer whenever necessary. It’s possible that removing these functions will cause the piece to speed up, however, and I suspect it will, even though a BASIC interpreter could skip the unnecessary INT calls to begin with. There would be various ways of determining this, but the one I’d like to try involves getting two C64s, each with one version of the program, and seeing if they go out of phase.

By the way, I say that these two programs will put the same values in the same order because RND(1) returns a deterministic sequence. Any time either of these programs is invoked before other calls to RND are made, they will produce the same sequence. Using RND(0) would seed the random number generator on the jiffy clock, so would do different things depending upon how long the computer had been on before startup.

Thanks to sound artist and digital media scholar Kevin Driscoll, a.k.a. Lone Wolf, for letting me know about this.

Update: Hilariously, I overlooked that Whitman is not the author of this program – he credits Noah Vawter, a.k.a. Shifty, who is currently collaborating with me on a project about a one-line Commodore 64 BASIC program. I guess I was too distracted by that picture of an iPhone running a C64 emulator.

Rilke and Prejudice and Robots

Saturday 3 April 2010, 7:30 pm   //////  

In Robot Rilke, you can find the selected poems of Rainer Maria Rilke translated by robots. “With a special biographical introduction cut-and-pasted from Wikipedia.”

If you love it, you may want to sing Robot Love, I Love You. (Video by Ignatz Topolino, audio by Echelon and Jane Dowe, a.k.a. Oh Astro.)

Musics Are Being Killz0red

Thursday 18 March 2010, 2:03 am   ////  

This was posted on March 12 and yet no more than 22,000 people know about it by now. So, I figured that I’d better mention: Home Taping is Killing Music. (Thanks to Allen on ifmud.) And remember … whenever you violate copyright, God kills a kitten.

Micro Art Machines

Tuesday 5 January 2010, 4:34 pm   ///////  

Here are some tiny bits of code to generate some amusement and aesthetic value.

The album sc140 features 22 tracks, each one generated by no more than 140 characters of SuperCollider code. You can download 80 MB of MP3 (for the weak!) or grab the source code (less than 4 KB, with all the formatting) and, if necessary, install SuperCollider, which is free in every sense. Here’s a November New Scientist blog post about the album.

On the visual and literary side, check out Pall Thayer’s Microcodes, tiny art pieces in Perl. Thayer also offers a PDF guide to the appreciation of tiny programs. Some of Thayer’s program incorporate play with the human-legible dimension of code; “WAR has NO value,” now on the front page, is a simple and nice example of this.

Piksel09 Kicks Off in Bergen

Thursday 19 November 2009, 11:28 pm   ///////  

Piksel, a festival for free-software-creating and -using artists and developers, has begun in Bergen, Norway. If you can’t drop by, at least visit the festival on the Web and check out the brilliant hackery on display at the main exhibition.

Computational Creativity at ICCC-X

Thursday 2 July 2009, 4:28 pm   ////////  

The First International Conference on Computational Creativity will be taking place in Portugal on January 7-9 2010. ICCC-X will follow on a decade of smaller-scale workshops and symposia. The call for papers lists the deadline of September 26 (extended 5 days) for papers, and promises:

The conference will include traditional paper presentations, will showcase the application of computational creativity to the sciences, creative industries and arts, and will incorporate a “show and tell” session, which will be devoted to demonstrations of computational systems exhibiting behaviour which would be deemed creative in humans.

Note also that contributions are solicited in several areas, including “specific applications to music, language and the arts, to architecture and design, to scientific discovery, to education and to entertainment.”

Robot Jams

Sunday 10 May 2009, 8:41 pm   /////  

I heard Ensemble Robot last night at AXIOM. It was a suitably outrageous performance and a nice final event for the 2009 Boston Cyberarts Festival, which officially ends today. Ensemble Robot has robot musicians who play alone and with human performers. Two of them, a robot glockenspiel and a one-string robot instrument/performer, were at AXIOM last night. They played several pieces, including Belle Labs. The final number involved using one of the robots as an instrument, controlled by a MIDI guitar. It was a nice finale that sounded fittingly extreme, but I have to admit that “slaving” this former silicon-based collaborator to a person in this way disturbed me a bit. I also wish that there had been time for questions and discussion, so that I would have a better idea of how autonomous the robots were, if they were listening to the other performers, and so on. In any case, if you have a chance to hear this unusual group, I highly recommend it.

The performance, which included people playing on hacked-together non-electronic instruments, reminded me of the amazing sort of things that used to happen at MITRES, the MIT Electronics Research Society, back when they had their open mic/show and tell nights. I noticed that Ensemble Robot artistic director Christine Southworth is an MIT and Brown alumnus; perhaps the coincidence runs deeper.

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