Dec 13, 2023
Music 256a, Stanford University
Demo: VIDEO (download .mov)
Download files (tested on MacOS 12.5.1)
'multimodal modular machine' is a chaotic, uncanny, and confusing exploration of what it's been like to explore the interplay of the arts and technology, especially as a Gen-Z, screen-ridden, iPod-now-iPhone person of this world. The interactive system serves as both an instrument and an installation; one that grants the user control over a mediated conversation: one between themselves (within) and with a computer-like character, Karen (yes, like in Spongebob), in a projective space. Waveforms provide visual cues as to the synchrony of these two parallel, intersecting cacophonies; graphical UIs provide malleable, real-time control over synthesis. As a commentary, there are notions adapted from the current shift of technology. Asynchronous "liking" posits a transition from social media to text; promises of "virtual realities" are birthed from an escape, or "quit"ing from the times of hand-held screens. Nonetheless, our attention is grabbed, encapsulated, seized.
On a hopefully less pretentious (sorry I wanted to try writing a description like that), but simultaneous note, this project depicts my own journey in exploring the intersection between the domains that CCRMA, and I, stand for. I'm fresh out of an Electrical Engineering undergrad, where I actually focused on neuroscience and philosophy. Now, as a grad student at CCRMA pursuing Music, my link to self-expression via sound has been through exploring analog, particularly modular synthesis. Circuits have been a way of systematically observing throughlines between my own neurology and musical instruments; music-playing and making every day technology has been such a reminder of this. At the same time, I've been rather jaded recently with the advent of modern technology; there's so much that gets in the way of authentic interaction, and I wonder if tech - if not those in charge/in creation of these technologies - is disrupting this process more than anything. I fear of the futures where algorithms know us better than ourselves. I fear the dissolution of ourselves as our egos appease to the idea of us that a computer constructed. I believe in the idea that technology can help us transcend, though, whether that be our social norms or the boundaries we constructed within ourselves. May our futures be amused and musical ~ thanks!
"multimodal modular machine"
The ethos of the artistic components of this is "ego death", which I probably experienced along the design curve with this project. I'm okay with this milestone, but definitely not happy with it. There are many improvements with the multichannel ability of the synth, but I got really stuck on the technicalities of sporking and managing concurrent shreds.
This has project has been quite difficult in navigating the scope of what I wish to do, sifting through what I'm able to do, and piecing that together.
The next step with this milestone before the final is to make the interaction even more palateable and put in better visual correspondence. I want some aspect of storytelling to it as well (like adding sounds to some "spoken" word via GText) to solidify some semblance of narrative.
"my Alter Ego owns an iPod Nano synth"
1m VIDEO LINK
In a really weird way, I'm happy with this milestone. It features a live modular synth based on ChucK's Moog simulator, as well as an ability to showcase polyphony.
This was quite a difficult idea to parse through because it's largely a philosophical construct I'm still investigating.
In terms of the software there are definitely some bugs I have to work out in terms of the timing with sporks.
Though "maximally different" the throughline of these three proposals is a premise of modal logic - a philosophical obsession of mine (that in many ways, I'm scared to explore in a formal, non-creative setting). Ergo, the premise of it is exploring "possible worlds". I feel that everyone is capable of creating so much, and the span of that is seemingly infinite, if not overwhelmingly finite. In many ways I hope to feel it all, in many ways that's not meant to be.
Modal logic's underlying premise is having a framework to trace through the necessities and possibilities of life. I see this play out in compostional practices, particularly with analog, especially modular synthesizers. There are certain aspects that are "necessary" for one to generate sound - ie. a DAC and ADC, or VCA and VCO. In extension of that, there are plenty of "possibilities" at hand. Metaphysical philosophers use modal logic to lace through these "worlds" of existence, I mean, we all do in our own ways - how else do we create?
So, here are the three ideas I've thought of for now, visualized. The additional premise is that I hope to explore the mind-body connection; the embodiment of music. Possibly with microcontrollers and force sensors, if time and scope permits:
(1) Modal Man - the multimodal, modular, machinistic synthesizer. I created this character at one of the lowest points of my undergrad. I felt like I was juggling worlds constantly, especially that of being an artist and an engineer, of being logical and emotional, etc. Modal man became a visualization of that past version of myself, but I see his presence in my exploration of modular synths. I'd love to make a visualizer of the character being centered in spheres of sonic worlds, independent but concurrent, and able to influence one another with focus.
(2) Music at our fingertips - I used to draw a lot, channeling synesthesia into coloring so I could make sense of all the sounds. What if we reversed this? I'd hope to take the metaphor of finger painting to make a 2D but hypothetically haptic visualizer. This would likely be a connection to my dreams of implementing a microcontroller + FSR.
(3) Hypercube ion-pump - music touches a lot on my brain, it makes it feel entranced, happily stuck in a loop. It makes me twitch in some ways, and it invites me to face feelings I may not have even known existed. This system is partially modular, a compositional tool, and a break-down of what it feels, neurologically, to let music break my walls down.