Solaris – Stanisław Lem

I finished reading Stanisław Lem’s Solaris this weekend and was just so completely drawn into the work.  The Solaris ocean, the idea of encountering life that existed truly outside of human experience, the exploration of man’s coming to some terms with understanding what it is, and through it learning something of themselves… I had seen the 1972 Tarkovsky film adaptation some time ago, but remembered very little of it except that I thought it somewhat surreal.  I’d like to revisit the film now, and perhaps even watch the 2002 version as well.  
One of the things that I am still thinking about now is the ocean as something somewhat unaware of the humans, something that is reacting to but only mildly curious of them.  Something that just is, going on about itself, and the humans there observing, pondering. It made me think too of music, one that was not in dialogue with an audience, but something that moved along freely in time, existing, simply being, and an audience there as observers, listening and pondering the piece. In this the piece could move along in its own time, by its own set of rules, perhaps ones by which listeners may or may not understand.  
I think the music I have found most connection with has had these kinds of qualities. A co-existence in space and time, breathing and moving along, unaware of those around.  A freely living sound. 
I imagine I will revisit Solaris more than a few times in my lifetime.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and am still very much deeply contemplating it…

Kaija Saariaho’s “L’amour de loin” at the Canadian Opera Company

Lisa and I just attended the opening performance by the Canadian Opera Company of Kaija Saariaho’s hauntingly beautiful opera L’amour de loin (Love from Afar).  This was the second opera we had seen there and I have to say I absolutely love the venue: intimate, stylish, classy. My experience there was as enjoyable if not more so than our last, and I think now it is my favorite opera venue.

The production was fantastic.  The use of doubles was tasteful, as was the use of acrobats.  The latter could easily be a simple spectacle, but here I felt it was well done, very much adding to the experience of the work.  The production accomplished such a wonderful surrealism: I found myself enchanted by, and lost in the work throughout.

The three main singers performed admirably (Russell Braun as Jaufré Rudel, Erin Wall as Clémence, and Krisztina Szabò as The Pilgrim).  Braun’s voice really opened up in Acts IV and V, while the other two were spot on throughout. The music was generally performed excellently, though I did feel like the chorus could have been a little better: adequate, but not exceptional.

Overall, I found the work incredibly gripping, the love so painful, so beautiful.  Powerful and subtle.  Mesmerizing. I have long enjoyed Saariaho’s work, and although I have owned a copy of the DVD for quite some time, I had not seen it before, something I will certainly do when we return home from Toronto.  (I am very curious to see another production…) Just from my experience today though, I would easily say it is a major work that I would be surprised if it was not a common work in the repertoire many years from now.

Extending Composition Workflow with Mobile Computing

We’re at an interesting point in mobile technology where the hardware for devices has, in my opinion, attained a level of power to enable the creation of very powerful music composition tools. To get a bit of background, for four years before coming to do my Ph.D. I developed software for mobile devices.  When I started in May 2007, the landscape of mobile devices consisted mostly of cellphones with very limited constraints in processing power and memory.  Software at that time could only deal with very basic abstractions of music and sound synthesis would really be limited to using the built-in MIDI synthesizer.  There were other non-cellphone devices availables such as PDA’s and Windows Mobile smartphones, and although they were more powerful than their “feature phone” counterparts, there was still a real limitation in what could be done.

When the iPhone came out, the landscape of mobile devices and software began to change.  With each generation of iPhone, more and more music software arrived as the processing power and memory allowed for things like realtime digital signal processing and large file storage/retrieval to be feasible. Android devices also arrived not too long after iPhone and manufacturers for both Android and Apple for iPhone continued to push with each new device.

With the advent of tablet computing (glancing over the Windows-based tablets of the past that never really took off), devices such as the iPad and now many Android tablets arrived with impressive hardware features.  With the current generation of phones and tablets continuing to push what processing power is available, with most devices having at least dual-core cpus, and now with the Asus Transformer Prime tablet coming out with quad-core, we’re at a point where music software that can be developed on a desktop could just as well be developed on tablets and phones.

Granted, there are still differences in CPU power, but I believe the current generation of devices have finally broken a barrier in speed and power that makes kind of music software that can be developed very interesting. We’re now seeing things like GarageBand by Apple and soon to arrive FruityLoops–both full composition environments–arriving in slightly limited forms to tablets and phones.  At this point, I thing things are powerful enough to consider how might we extend our traditional computer music composition workflow with these devices.

Regarding mobile devices, they certainly have different interfaces and form factors to deal with.  What kinds of tools could we build that leverage those differences?  Rather than just make a 1:1 translation of software meant for the desktop for these devices, what might be the best practices in building mobile software?  Also, how might the software on our mobile devices interact with our desktop music composition workflow?  Is it just a limited form of our desktop system, or can it be a real extension to what we do?

These thoughts have come to mind as I have been contemplating what I might develop in a mobile version of my software blue.  At this point, I have been considering use cases for mobile software: capturing ideas, working with instruments, recording audio, perhaps even live performance.  I have also been considering extensions to the desktop system, where the mobile software may act as a control interface while working with blue on the desktop.  I have also been considering how synchronization between a mobile blue and desktop blue system might work, and that has caused me to consider the general issue of system synchronization, whether it is between a mobile and desktop device, or desktop to desktop, or mobile to mobile.

Certainly there is a lot to work out, but I find the possibility of working with mobile music tools that are not just self-contained software, but rather are integral parts of a larger composition workflow fascinating.

Generative Music and Distribution

I have been working on some iOS audio programs lately and the topic of generative music came up for me. Some 10 or 11 years ago, I remember thinking about the issue that generative music–or music that was not fixed in performance–did not have a means of content delivery. At that time, I imagined some form of meta-music player that would have plugins that could read Csound, PD, and other kinds of projects, yet could be queued up in a playlist much like you would find in something like WinAMP or VLC Player. The idea was that composers could then distribute their works in a standardized format, and consumers could then queue it up to listen to in the same manner they might load up an MP3 or CD.

Back in the mid 90’s, Brian Eno had done some generative music work with the Koan Music Player, releasing an album that would be performed differently each time by the player. The Koan Player though never really caught on, and since then the format and program have died off. What a shame it is to me that musical work can be tied to the life of a commercial program.

These days things like Bjork’s Biophilia for iOS start to renew an interest in generative music. However, the distribution scheme here is a custom application for a closed platform (iOS). I wonder too if the kind of thing that happened with Eno’s album and Koan might not happen once again with custom formats and distribution means.

What I would love to see is a generic means of distribution for both fixed and non-fixed works. Such a system would allow meta-data to describe what plugins would be required, as well as what hardware requirements would be necessary. So, for example, if your work required an 8-speaker octagonal cube or a video camera feed, that could be marked up in the distribution meta-data. That way, the distribution format would then be usable not only for consumers at home, but also as a means for concert delivery or generic installation setups.

Thinking about this all again, I think the idea still has merit and that developing a standardized distribution package could expand the audience for such work as well as create a platform that promotes longevity of work.

Autumn in Ireland

A beautiful blue sky and sunny day, I took a walk to the village to take care of errands. Listening to John Luther Adams’ “In the White Silence” (Such an exquisitely beautiful piece of music…), it was the first time I really had a sense of Autumn here: the smell of the fresh air, a slight chill on the skin, the spectrum of colors on the trees. Walking slowly, breathing in the fullness of things, I felt amazed by it all.

Back at the apartment, I am awake and inspired.  With a cup of warm peppermint tea, I return now back to my work…

Art as Experience

At a Digital Arts and Humanities lecture a couple of weeks ago, the topic of what is art came up, with an example of programming code being discussed as possibly being art.  Some mentioned that they did not consider it art, while others discussed that some it may be art. I had contributed my own thoughts at the time, that art might be in the eye of the viewer rather than as a property of the object itself.

Thinking back to that discussion, I still think that art is less an object but more of an experience.  I don’t think that everything is inherently art, but instead, that anything could be art, and that art as an experience has the possibility of emerging from an object.  It depends then not only on the object but also the person perceiving the object.

For example, a person who may not be familiar with paintings may call something “art” because they understand that to be so, but not ever feel any impact or draw to anything they see.  Yet, they may very well see beauty and elegance in something from their daily life, or may be consumed to look and ponder deeply at something usually considered outside the realm of “Art” (i.e. a fine sports vehicle).  Yet, their experience of these objects may very well be just as strong and evocative as any trip to a gallery or concert hall, and perhaps they may call these other things art as well.  I would like to believe that these experiences are every bit as much art as any other.

This has been a fascination of mine, to see art emerge from daily life, to see the tragedy or beauty or other depths of human experience not only in objects classically categorized as art, but elsewhere as well.  This view may perhaps be at odds with other definitions of art, I don’t know, and I’m sure these thoughts are not new either.  All I do know is that this view has served me well and that when I have not been distracted by other things, the days have been fascinating.

Peaceful Breathing – Android Application

Yesterday I finished porting my Deep Breathing application to Android and made an ad-supported, fully functional free version as well as paid application.  The application is called Peaceful Breathing and can be found on the Android Marketplace here:

Peaceful Breathing
Peaceful Breathing Lite

I have been using this application for some deep breathing sessions and have been enjoying it for relaxation and calming the mind, as well as to help open up the body.  If you give it a try, I’d love to hear your feedback!  Enjoy!

Ph.D. Programme in Digital Arts and Humanities at NUI Maynooth

Life has certainly been interesting of late… after attending this year’s Linux Audio Conference, I returned home to my work life to realize both how little time I had been spending on music and music software programming, as well as how much passion and joy I had for both. It is perhaps serendipidty that on the trip home I had seen an announcement for a new Ph.d. programme at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM) for Digital Arts and Humanities. When I first read about the programme, I thought to myself that it certainly looked interesting. However, I was never really looking to go to graduate school, and as attractive as it appeared, I set it out of my mind.

A couple of days later, while in conversation with Rory, he made the suggestion that I should apply for this programme. After thinking about it and realizing just how incredible and opportunity it could be, I began inquiries into the programme and set out to work on the application. A little over a month after submitting my application I received the good news that I had been accepted into the programme.

I had waited to publish this publicly until after I had worked out the details and notified my current company that I would be leaving. Now that things are settled, I can now say that one month from now, I will be flying to Ireland to begin a Ph.D. programme in Digital Arts and Humanities at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. I will be focusing my work on my music software blue, and by necessity (and of course interest) I will also be working on Csound. I will be working with Victor Lazzarini, a professor whom I have long known and appreciated for his wonderful music and contributions to the computer music community, and someone whom I consider a good friend.

While there will certainly be some interesting things to work out–becoming a student again after 11 years as a professional, being separated for months at a time from my dear Lisa, living in another country–I am overwhelmed by the incredible opportunity to devote myself for the next four years to my passions: my music software and my music. I have been completely inspired and overflowing with ideas for things to build and explore. I look forward to pushing myself and these projects as much as I can and can not wait to see where it all goes.

As for what will happen after this programme, I do not really know. I will focus on my work and I have faith that things will work out as they should. Whatever happens, I am positive that the next four years will certainly be an amazing experience and a time in my life that I will always remember.

Tai Chi Workshop With Yuan Wei-Ming

This weekend I attended a Tai Chi workshop in Detroit, taught by Yuan Wei-Ming and hosted by Carol Yamasaki.  What an wonderful experience!  Wei-Ming is a very generous teacher and has such a wonderful calm energy about him.  It was very interesting to learn his exercises and Mr. Liu’s, and the comments and corrections he gave were very much appreciated. I very much appreciated the logic behind his exercises and the pace and focus that were given while performing them.  I think they will be very interesting to work with.

One of the most interesting aspects for me was that although the exercises were new to me, all of the things Wei-Ming talked about were so familiar.  I spent a lot of time listening to what we being said and realizing it was either exactly as Ben or Lenzie would say, or was just a different perspective on the same principles.  I think getting the different perspective has in some ways already shined a light on understanding more of what I have learned from Lenzie and Ben.

Beyond the wonderful teaching, it was wonderful to meet so many of the east coast family of Tai Chi players in Professor’s school.  I feel like I got to know the history of the school more from this trip.  It was truly a joy to meet new people and get to reconnect with those whom I haven’t seen in some time.

Overall, it was an excellent weekend.  I’m very grateful to Wei-Ming for his teaching as well as Carol for organizing this workshop and her generous and kind spirit. I look forward to visiting Detroit again in the future.

Max V. Mathews (1926-2011)

I was very sad to read on the Csound mailing list that Max Mathews passed away this morning.  It is hard to imagine how computer music today would be without his pioneering work in creating the first computer music software and work with composers and others. His contributions are truly immeasurable.

Beyond the work he contributed, he was a truly inspiring with his joy and passion for computer music.  I don’t believe I have ever met Max Mathews in person, though I was at a number of events where he was featured in some way or another (a fond memory is from last year’s Bohlen-Pierce Symposium, seeing Max on the big screen performing and giving talks over Skype…).  I always got the impression that he was a person of great character, passion, and joy…

From the people I’ve known who have known him personally, Max seems like someone who truly gave a lot of himself to others.  I will always have nothing but kind words to say about him, and if that is any barometer by which to measure a man’s life, then I would say he was as successful a human being in life as one could be. I will certainly miss his presence in this world, and hope only to be able to learn from his great work and life and maybe be a better person for it.

thoughts and experiences