Organum Vivum – a interspecies interface from Paul Seidler on Vimeo.

Your next digital interface might be grown, not made.

Organam Vivum drops the usual combinations of knobs and hard surfaces and wires for something organic – an “interspecies” interface. The sensors are grown from bacteria, formed into alien-looking, futuristic materials and a mask. The bio-interfacing project began as a collaboration between Aliisa Talja (who has a background in industrial design) with Paul Seidler at the CDM-hosted MusicMakers Hacklab at CTM Festival earlier this year. Not only are the materials literally organic, but in touching and breathing into these delicate constructions, your interactions themselves become unpredictable.

This is bacterial cellulose, routed into a computer via Leslie Garcia’s open source PulsumOSC library. (Leslie was the co-facilitator for this year’s lab; find her OpenFrameworks code on GitHub.) SuperCollider produces the sound, with Arduino providing the interface. Since the hacklab, the project has been steadily growing (so to speak), and Aliisa sends along the latest documentation from her and Paul.

The results may seem strange and alien, but that’s perhaps part of the point. This is speculative work that exposes the tension between interface and user, material and sonification. But in doing so, it also reveals some of what may happen as we open up fabrication and design to new realms, beyond just the oft-trod paths of our petro-chemical world in the peak of the cheap oil age. And watching Paul and Aliisa embrace the ritual of playing it is entrancing. More details below of their process.

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Novation’s Launchpad Pro has just begun shipping, and it’s lovely, very flexible hardware. You can use it with Ableton Live. You can use it with other software, as a standard MIDI controller. It’s USB class-compliant, so it works with other devices and operating systems, like the iPad and Raspberry Pi. You can change how it works with Max for Live, or any software that supports MIDI. And it works in a variety of standalone modes, so you can use it to play hardware without connecting to a computer.

That’s a lot, already. But soon, the Launchpad Pro could do more.

Novation quietly released a special customizable firmware as open source code on GitHub. And, inspired by recent Head of Product Innovation Dave Hodder has even written a screed about hacking. Despite the Launchpad-specific headline, it’s actually more or less a love letter to the whole hacker / DIYer / open source community, generally:

Launchpad Pro: A Hacker’s Dream

Now, you’re not actually hacking the entire Novation firmware. That’d cause potential mayhem, and apart from being a support nightmare for Novation, it’d be more or less a nightmare for you, too – and wouldn’t really yield any interesting results.

Instead, you can think of this as an open API to the hardware itself. You can’t “brick” the device, or otherwise break it. What you can do is make new applications for the Launchpad Pro as a standalone device.

In your code, you can include messages to and from the hardware:

  • Receive events when you press the pads and buttons
  • Receive messages from the USB port or MIDI port (there are MIDI input and output jacks on the Launchpad Pro)
  • Send messages to the USB and MIDI ports
  • Receive tick messages – so your app can sync to an external source
  • Change the LED colors

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They moved from one flagship software product to adding one piece of flagship hardware. Now there’s a flagship event, too.

It’s called “Loop,” and it will be held 30 October – 1 November in Ableton’s headquarter city of Berlin. It’s clearly in part a summit for the Ableton Live community. But just as their recent book covered the creative process rather than Live per se, the event is pitched a convergence of creativity and technology generally.

It’s not just talks or demos, either. The event organizers are combining hands-on workshops and invites educators. There’s also a collaboration with CTM Festival to set up evening performance programming.

As they put it:

Loop is three days of performances, talks, and interactive workshops aimed at exchanging ideas at the cutting edge of music, creativity, and technology. Bringing together artists, technologists, and other creative thinkers, Loop is a collective exploration of what it is to make music today and what it could be tomorrow.

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What do machines sing of? from Martin Backes on Vimeo.

While Google has imagined how machines might dream, media artist and multi-disciplinary technologist Martin Backes has revealed how they sing.

And not just bad karaoke, either. Following in the footsteps of a legacy of machine vocals that originates with Max Mathews’ Daisy Bell, a computer rendition so ground-breaking it was featured in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, Mr. Backes has gone one step further. He wanted to produce an algorithm that would make a computer seem to emote. Grab a mic, and this is a sound art installation. A installation in my heart that is.

And… aw… I said I wouldn’t cry, damnit!

Okay, in case you’re wondering, the software behind the scenes is SuperCollider, the free and open-source multi-platform sound toolkit. And Backes cleverly hauls the machine out of the uncanny valley, but approximating the songs in an almost cartoonish, muffled machine voice. It’s the imperfections that make it work, in other words, steering clear of being too human. (See also Chipspeech, earlier this year, proving that sometimes the earlier, “flawed” synthesis algorithms are actually more desirable than more modern ones.)

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IDOW Gear 1 (Buchla)

The modular synthesizer, that wild animal covered in wires, has seen its once-endangered populations flourish and its revival in full swing. And now, it has its own movie.

Some years now in anticipation, and with limited screenings here and there at film festivals, I Dream of Wires gets a wide release.

The film is surely a landmark, but the launch is likely to be, too, bringing one of the modular synth’s greatest composers (Morton Subotnick) back to Berlin, Germany for a gala release performance, joined by video artist Lillevan. Mr. Subotnick is a rare figure, having made an impact not just one generation of electronic music, but several – he’s as vital to our understanding of the computer and alternative instruments and interactive software as to the modular. CDM will of course talk to the artists and to director Robert Fantinatto when they’re here in town.

So what can you expect from the movie, and how can you see it from wherever you are in the world?

These two will bring live performance to celebrate the opening. Lillevan and Morton Subotnick at Lincoln Center, New York 2011 © Lillevan.

These two will bring live performance to celebrate the opening. Lillevan and Morton Subotnick at Lincoln Center, New York 2011 © Lillevan.

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A guy I went to college with once swore there was a ghost in a practice room, tapping along as he played late one night. Augmenta might make that experience happen all the time.

Call it augmented drumming. An algorithm listens as you play, and adds wild IDM-style glitches and additions and more percussion. Simple patterns become complex – fast.

The work is the research project of CDM reader Alessandro Guerri, who completed it as the thesis for his Electronic Music Bachelor Degree at the Conservatory of Music G. Rossini in Pesaro, Italy. I’m not sure what Maestro Rossini would think, but I think it’s wild. He describes the concept:

Agumenta is a project born to discover the projectual [sic] strategies of an interactive system and the feedback relationship between musician and software.

The concept of an augmented instrument was the starting point of what has became my thesis … timbral and rhythmic features, unachievable by a human activity,could be created and managed by the interaction of the musician with the software.

Agumenta is a continuously- evolving project; its random nature gives a specific musical behaviour to the software and it opens up new possibilities of control ranging from a total randomness to sequential approach.

The system’s features can be applied to all electronic percussion instruments which are able to transmit Midi messages and Audio signal,and to all the acoustic percussions through microphones and triggers.

For more, you can reach Alessandro on Facebook.


Electro-Harmonix have a new looper out, introduced last week in Nashville, that I suspect could be a really big hit. The winners: dual stereo operation, loads of recording space, and then easy connection via USB so a looped improv today could be the beginning of a track tomorrow. Oh, and it’s not expensive, either.

When it comes to looping in live performance, most folks haven’t taken to the computer as much as the standalone looper, particularly BOSS’ LoopStation line. And that’s with good reason: you want dead-simple operation so you can focus on playing.

The heart of the idea is giving you access to two loops. And their implementation couldn’t be simpler. There are two footswitches, one for each loop, so you can record, play back, or overdub on each loop with your foot – tap once to start, tap twice to stop.

You can use those individually or link them together, with separate mix controls for each.

Around that, there’s a lot more power if you want it: Continue reading »