Sonic Solar System ver. 2

Title: Sonic Solar System ver. 2
Artist: Ben Breidenthal
Completion Date: March 17, 2015
Place of Creation: Laptop
Technique: Computer Programming/DSP
Material: Pure Data patch

Hey class! For my final I’ve been making refinements and upgrades on my midterm. While still incomplete, I thought it would still be nice to show my progress. For a basic description, see the original video in my Midterm post. For my final I have about 26 minutes of the program running on its own.

You’ll notice a different sonic quality to the overall piece, this is because I am using a different formulation for frequency modulation. There are also different pitches to give a wider range of sound. I also made it easy to change and add more planets, and you’ll hear a few very high pitched sounds that are the dwarf planets in our Solar System. The rest of the improvements are more to do with making the code more elegant and customizable.

So close your eyes, put on some headphones, and take a step out of the human experience and get into a different perspective on a different time line and hear what it’s like at the center of our Solar System. Thanks for a fun quarter everyone, looking forward to checking out all your final projects!!

-Ben Breidenthal


Week Ten Response

I’d Just like to respond to the three things we did in class.

First, Rachel Mayeri’s work with the primate cinema struck me in two ways. For one, the juxtaposition with the humans in the bar made me think a bit about how primal a lot of human interactions really are, and it was really fun and educational to see them side-by-side. I really loved how they took an un-scientific approach to it as well. Yes, doing things for science could yield some factual results that could be used in some way or another, but as just a science experiment it wouldn’t have been the same experience. The let’s see what happens when we go for this approach is so much more fun, for one, and allowed for some amazing footage of an experiences with the ape audience experiencing the humans acting as apes, and their reactions to it. We wouldn’t have been able to experience anything like that if someone like Mayeri hadn’t gotten creative with it, and we certainly wouldn’t just be viewing more traditional experiments on apes in a vis arts class. Overall I felt really enlightened and learned a bit more about ape interaction, and I think they must have gotten a kick out of seeing a bunch of humans dress up as apes.

Onto Adam Burgasser’s movement/gesture approach to learning physics. Similarly to the ape situation, where we learned more about ape interactions but through art, this activity was so much richer than just viewing a powerpoint or reading about the physics that we did in a text book. Being a part of something and witnessing the gesture that you created populate around the room in a matter of seconds was so cool, and a way better example than some numbers in a book. I also loved how we worked collaboratively on the last thing to create two sculptures, that not only taught us, but embodied our learning experience (and subjugation!) in a physical form. Yes, some people learn better by reading, but I love hands on activities so much more, so this was a great experience and would love to learn more this way.

Lastly, Deborah Forster’s activity was so eye opening (if we had eyes inside our body that could look inwardly and what it was experiencing) for me. Ever since, I’ve been more aware of what I’m doing with my body, and I want to do more of these activities. I went into lecture feeling groggy and unlikely, but during the break after the activity I felt better than I had all week. I have just been thinking about how repetitive my movements are every day, and I want to look more into the Feldenkrais method and maybe include it in my life somehow…

Also I think this is our last blog post, maybe? If so, it was a pleasure taking this class with you all and reading your blog entries! See you on Tuesday and good luck with finals next week! 🙂

-Ben Breidenthal

Fractal Music vs Fractal Inspired, Musical Sound

In Lecture we made a the distinction clear between fractal art and fractal inspired, musical sound, when we checked out this sweet fractal animation video with a fractal inspired jazz ballad accompaniment:

I wasn’t happy with just hearing fractal inspired sound, I wanted to hear some fractals, the real deal, so I dug around in this website to find some results! I figured any fractal music would be pretty recent and computer generated, because of the computing involved in making a lot of the fractal images you see today, but it turns out a sort of fractal music has been around for at least six centuries.

Below is an excerpt from a three-part mensuration canon by Josquin.  Taking the top voice as a reference, the middle voice progresses one third as fast.  The bottom voice moves twice as fast as the middle voice, or two thirds the speed of the top voice.

This idea is called motivic scaling, where the same motif was played at different tempos simultaneously by different voices. Not all mensuration canons are fractal, but this example is. It’s worth a listen, too:

This website has several examples if you scroll down with MIDI files and explanations of different ways fractals have been implemented in the composition, such as scaling the duration, pitch, intervals, motifs (see Josquin piece above), and structural scaling.

Here is an example of interval scaling for a more contemporary example, explanation follows:

Have fun clicking the earlier linked website to hear more cool examples of fractal music.

-Ben Breidenthal

The Telepresent – Steven Wilson (1997)

We looked a lot at things with arial views, using the “god trick,” having a view from above in an unnatural manner that gives us insight into what we might never be able to see without the power of flight. The arial imagery comes from birds, planes, drones and satellites, and looks down upon us. What about the view at ground level? This got me thinking about Steven Wilson’s project, The Telepresent. 

The Telepresent actually looks and is interacted with like a present. It’s gift wrapped and you give it to someone else when you are done with it. It is equipped with a laptop, wireless modem and camera (all hidden in the box) which periodically take pictures and upload them to the web, so web viewers see what the present sees. Web viewers can also send the present text which it will speak to the holder of the present, but I’m more interested in the idea of the imagery. Also, it has a GPS locator so the viewers can see the current location of the present.

So, rather than viewing from above for an inhuman perspective, this project, still using satellites for location and up/downloading the data, is giving viewers a very human perspective that they wouldn’t see without this kind of a project. A quote from wilson’s page about it sums up the experience nicely:

Eventually the telepresent will unpredicatably wander the world through networks of friendships and gift giving. It will chronicle its travesl as it goes, showing whatever each recipient thinks is important or interesting – providing a small window on the world’s diversity of personal lives and cultural niches.

It’s a really interesting project that deals with human networks, access, freedom, mystery, as well as surveillance, solitude, and economics, all of which are discussed further on the site I linked above (and here). A video documenting the project along with some interviews with participants if you are interested:

Now this was 18 years ago. Technology for remote sensing gets more and more advanced, reaching farther out into space and getting us more and more previously impossible perspectives. Social media is sort of the opposite direction, where we are seeing more and more into personal lives, but in a very composed manner. How might we use technology like The Telepresent to see an inhumanly human perspective on human culture and society? And where is the line with privacy in all this? Just some things to consider.

-Ben Breidenthal

Midterm: Sonic Solar System

Title: Sonic Solar System (demo)
Artist: Ben Breidenthal
Completion Date: Feb 16, 2015
Place of Creation: Computer
Style: Audio Programming, Genre: Space Simulation
Material (programing environment): Pd (Pure Data)
Link to documentation (short video demo with me explaining what the program is doing):

Whats up class. I made a program in Pure Data, a real-time graphical programming environment for live interactive computer music. The program has 8 “planets”, which are patches that are fed data about the actual planets in our solar system and use that data to make a sound unique to each one. The planet’s year controls the base frequency of a sine wave oscillator, as well as the frequency that you hear it pass in front of you. The planet’s day controls the frequency of modulation on that oscillator, and its mass controls the index of modulation. When listening to this piece, you should be wearing headphones to create a surrounding experience, and have the lights off or eyes closed to become immersed. You will be removed from your earthly perspective and take the place of the sun. You will hear each planet pass in front of you at a proportional rate to what is actually happening. This experience is intended to give the listener a less human view on time, existence, and the movement of the planets, and give them a new perspective from the point of view of sun, around which we orbit and depend upon for energy and life.

Here’s a link to 11 minutes (I allow neptune to pass by just once, thats ~165 earth years, squished into 11 minutes!) of the audio alone if you want to try it out without me talking over it like in the linked video above. May immersing yourself and listening to it bring you new perspectives on time and space that you haven’t experienced yet:

There’s a lot of room for expansion on this project. I’d love to give each planet its own waveform instead of sinusoids, add sounds for planets’ moons and ring systems, as well as other cosmic happenings.


Cosmic Dancer, sculpture and weightlessness

Hello one and all. I would like to say a thing or two about a piece from the Space chapter in the Wilson book, in the section about Art  Executed in Space and Weightlessness. The piece is called Cosmic Dancer and it was created in 1993 (the year I was born!) by the Swiss/American artist Arthur Woods. Some info from the website:

a painted geometric form made out of welded aluminum tubing measuring approximately 35 x 35 x 40 centimeters and weighing exactly one kilogram – was the first three-dimensional artwork to be specifically conceived for and officially realized in a space habitat. The purpose of the project was to investigate the properties of sculpture in weightlessness and to evaluate the integration of art into the human space program.

So lets get a look at this thing [full gallery]:

So this is the first time I’ve seen something like this: sculpture without the constraint of gravity which has been burdening sculptors since the beginning. Not only is this project opening up opportunities for artists to get involved in space projects, things you’d normally expect to be strictly scientific, but further down the road when space is a more accessible sort of place, what unthinkable directions will art go in without the constraint of gravity, and other worldly forces?

Before this work, Woods had been making geometric sculptures that could be positioned differently for different perspectives of looking at them. Since Cosmic Dancer isn’t made to be stationary or in an environment with gravity, it doesn’t have a top or a bottom, while in space it can be viewed from an infinite number of perspectives. Not only is the shape constantly changing as it dances in space, but the color composition is as well because of the way it’s painted:

My painting technique was initially inspired by particle physics research and, simply stated, I use points of color as a metaphor of the components of the sub-atomic cosmos, calligraphic lines signifying energy and motion, and geometric shapes as a metaphor for our approach to knowledge based on science and mathematics.

The last thing I’d like to talk about is the experience of the piece. It’s not like it’s people going into a gallery to see the art, it’s in a high stress, totally new environment to humans. One of the cosmonauts on the space station with Cosmic Dancer noted that it was a comforting reminder of earth. So it was serving a bit deeper purpose and certainly farther reaching purpose than you can draw from most sculptures. Another thing the cosmonaut said about it:

Sometimes it behaves like a living being, it swings and floats . . . And
contemplating the sculpture turning in weightlessness while listening to music results in an effect which is possibly totally unknown on Earth. It is difficult to describe this effect.

So, as you watch these men dance around with Cosmic Dancer and witness its motion and interaction with liquids and you just stare at it because it’s so cool, think about what else could come from weightless sculpture. Not only with metal sculptures being send to a space station, but where is art going in general without Earth’s constraints?

-Ben Breidenthal

Microbial Bebop: Jazz and Sonification of Data

Hello,  hello! In class last week we looked at a few cases of sonifying data, such as the Restless Genetic Mix in which bits of DNA sequences were assigned to instrument parts and it made some slick beats. We then took a glance at some algae songs which is what I wanted to take a deeper look at in my case study.

This microbial bebop project was done by Peter Larsen at Argonne National Laboratory. Larsen is a computational biologist, and the songs were put together as a method for making large sets of data easier to parse by scientists. They felt that sonifying it as classical music would be too rigid, so they borrowed from the improv style of jazz/bebop.  I’ll talk a little bit about a few of the pieces:

Blues for Elle – in this composition (the one we heard a bit of in class), the chords are “generated from seasonal changes in photosynthetically active radiation. The melody for each measure is comprised of eight notes, each mapped to a physical environmental parameter… temperature, soluble reactive phosphate, nitrate, saline, silicate, and chlorophyll A concentrations.” Now this might not make a lot of sense to someone not versed in biology, but it gives those who are a new way to look (hear) vast amounts of data.

Far and Wide – this one focuses on a highly abundant plankton called Pelagibacter ubique that follows a distinctive seasonal pattern that is turned into music as follows: Two chords per measure (four beats in this case), generated from photosynthetically active radiation measurements and temperature. Melody is 6 notes a measure describing the abundance of the species. The melody in each measure follows the pattern of the species from a point in time, such as rise in pitch, fall in pitch, rise and fall, fall and rise. The more abundant the species, the fewer rests (where no notes are played) are in a measure. At the most abundant points, there is a cymbal crash.

Check out this picture, this is how they explain what’s going on: “The main advantage of Microbial Bebop over previous efforts to transform scientific data in music is the ability to highlight relationships between data types. The same melody, generated from the same set of data, sounds different when played in the context of chords generated from different data types. In the hypothetical example above, the notes in measure in (A) are comprised of six hypothetical data points. All twelve measures in (B) are derived from the same six data points, but each measure is rectified to different chords, representing the same data played in context of different hypothetical parameters. Each measure in (B) is subtly but audibly distinct, demonstrating ability of Microbial Bebop to represent data in a way that can potentially be interpreted by a listener.” They say it better than I could, haha, but yeah if you don’t read music it might not make much sense, basically each set of notes is going to sound different, so if you understand the relationship, you don’t have to read the music, you can hear it to interpret the data. Well, you don’t have to at all, you can just enjoy the music and leave the analysis to the scientists.

These types of sonification projects may be neat to listen to for us, and may be very useful in helping scientists parse large sets of data, but if they become more common and widespread and easy to understand, it could change the way we learn about things. Imagine picking up an album with a brief description of the parameters that the songs were made with, and then listening to some sweet science jams on your commute in the car while you expand your knowledge on something, (like the patterns in algae in this example, but it can go farther than that!)

-Ben Breidenthal