Friday, July 11, 2014

Musicians' Microcontroller Magic

Today's post takes a look at using microcontrollers in 'musical' instruments, the subject of a couple recent online articles, as well as the topic of a discussion last night about building a laser harp (see the June 27 post about laser harps). Using microcontrollers to create, control or modify music, as well as converting the music or the performer's inputs into a visual experience of light and motion could be a tool for interested creative people in Humboldt to bring new sensations to audiences here and elsewhere.
Nomis -- a music-light instrument

A pretty cool way to use MCUs in a musical 'instrument' is Nomis, as shown in the recent PSFK article, "Musical Instrument Interface Displays Complex, Layered Composition." Along with showcasing great pictures of the unique sound-light machine, the article explains Jonathan Spark's creation this way:
"Nomis by Jonathan Sparks makes loop-based music an expressive and visual experience. Created by Brooklyn, New York-based artist, musician and maker Jonathan Sparks, Nomis is a new musical instrument interface that aims to make loop-based music more complex, expressive and visually-entertaining through gestures and lights. Sparks...combined Arduino, Max/MSP, and Ableton Live to allow the musical instrument to loop and display MIDI sounds across two light towers and a polyphonic octagonal interface. The light towers and polyphonic octagonal interface respond to gestures to create layered melodies. The
melodies are illustrated via colorful lights, with each sound represented by a different color. What results is a stunning musical and light show."
Watch the Nomis video embedded in the designboom article, "jonathan sparks invents loop-based instrument using color and gesture." When I watched it, I started wondering what type of captivating performances could be given by a four or five-person band if each person in the band had a different but complementary audio-visual instrument which gave the audience a sensory-overload experience with music, light and motion. Those instruments could also explore a variety of new and traditional musician inputs, such as touch-panels with haptic feedback, keyboards, foot pedals, and movement of the fingers, hands, torso, head and feet,  that generate the audio-visual compositions. As John H said at the July 10 Humboldt Microcontrollers Group meeting when we were discussing a group project to build a laser harp, a band with MCU-controlled audio-visual instruments could truly be called the Electric Light Orchestra, or some takeoff on that name.

The designboom article explains the music-light interaction this way:
"'nomis' is a musical instrument by jonathan sparks that reinvents the way that producers and artists interact with MIDI boards...MIDI sounds are played and repeated to pass across the machine as a way of illustrating how songs are created and how they fit within an overall composition...they are displayed through the first of two polychromatic light towers, indicating that they are available to be played from the polyphonic octagonal interface in the middle made of black and frosted plexiglass. the interior edge of the construct allows the composer to play the individual tones of his or her choosing. as the interface is spun counterclockwise, the loops are then transferred through to the second tower where each set can be turned off and on again to create a dynamic harmony."
Another MCU music project was covered in a July 10 Gizmag article titled "Tele Servo Bender emulates a lap steel sound using servos." The Tele Servo Bender seems to be more an MCU-controlled instrument to generate close to the same sound that a human-played traditional lap steel guitar gives, as compared to a wildly different musical-light experience from the Nomis.

As I read this article, it made me wonder if the Servo Bender or something very close to it in design will result in AI-played steel guitar concerts with computer generated hologram performers. Concerts that teenagers 25 years from now will walk away from and not fully realize that similar performances used to be only given by a skilled live person. Sort of in the same way that most of today's teenagers might intellectually know that milk comes from a cow, but would find it hard to visualize that real world process of a dairy farm and have never been exposed to a cow being milked in person.

For people interested in the Servo Bender programming, the Gizmag article said the instrument's designer, Dean Miller, has made the MCU code available to anyone who wants to build a similar instrument.

If *you* might like to help design, build or play instruments involving MCUs, come to the next Humboldt Microcontrollers Group meeting on July 24 or contact me at arcatabob (at) gmail {dott} com.


No comments:

Post a Comment