Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Music Machine 33 - Connected Exeter

As part of Connected Exeter my challenge was to convert a webpage into music:

Music Machines
What does a webpage sound like? 

"We will be using Raspberry Pi computers, python code and midi sound modules to convert data from webpages into music. The Raspberry Pi is a low cost, credit-card sized computer that enables people of all ages to explore computing, and to learn how to program in languages like Scratch and Python. It has the ability to interact with the outside world, and has been used in a wide array of digital maker projects, from music machines and parent detectors to weather stations and tweeting birdhouses with infra-red cameras. If you have a midi module, keyboard or USB interface please bring it / them along. Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 10am-1pm"

On Saturday I was based at the Phoenix mostly in the black box but in the auditorium later on. On Sunday I was at the CCI building at Exeter College.

I used a Raspberry Pi connected to a usb midi interface connected to a Roland PMA-5.

I used python's urllib library to read a webpage (in this case the Connected Exeter page),
and then convert the characters into numbers.

The numbers were added to a list that was used to generate music within certain parameters. The list contained over 20000 numbers.

The first piece uses the numbers in the order they are read played back one after the other with a delay of 0.1 second between each note using the piano sound from the midi module.

The second piece produces chords from the notes rather than a stream of single notes. The computer chooses how many notes will be in each chord (a choice from 1 to 6). There is also the option to not play a chord at all but remain silent. The volume and position in the stereo field of each note of the chord is decided by taking a number chosen from the list. The delay between each chord is also decided by taking a number from the list. There is a chance that some notes from the chord will be sustained.

The third piece is similar to the second but with the delay between each event shortened.

The fourth piece is similar to the third but uses the list to generate the sound for each note
rather then using solely the piano.

The fifth piece uses the principles already established but uses only one sound,
in this case one that is capable of sounding continously rather than fading away.

The sixth piece returns to the piano sound and shortens the delay in between each event.

The seventh piece uses percussive sounds.

The eighth piece uses the piano sound but here the delay between events is much shorter
and the stereo field reflects how a piano sounds, in other words low notes are heard from the left and high notes from the right.

Music Machine 32 - Damage Limitation

Music Machine 32 was written for a performance of Emma Welton's Damage Limitation at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter.

Programme notes for Damage Limitation:

This piece of music for improvising ensemble is inspired by the number 565 gigatonnes. This is the amount of carbon dioxide scientists say we can release into the atmosphere to stand a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
Musicians are permitted to play no more than 565 notes, collectively. They have strictly 7 minutes to create and perform the piece: 2 minutes to agree on a plan and then 5 minutes to carry it out as a musical performance. It is also important to know that the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal, oil and gas reserves of fossil-fuel companies is 2,795 gigatonnes, and the value of this carbon is already liquid in the global economy - ie, it has effectively already been burned. Damage Limitation was first performed by the Get Rich Quick and Scratch Festival Orchestra at Exeter Phoenix on 19th March 2014 as part of the Vibraphonic Festival.

I played my casio digital horn through a midi module and wrote a short prgoramme in python that played a given number of notes within the preset parameters of the score. The other instruments involved included double basses, percussion, tuning fork, voice, accordion, violin and synthesizer.
Damage Limitation Score:

Music Machine 29 - Sonoroties Festival

Music Machine 29 was one of the pieces chosen to be played on a continuous loop in the 8 channel surround studio during the Sonoroties festival of contemporary music 2014. The annual festival takes place at the Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queen's University, Belfast. The theme of the festival was remembering & forgetting.

Programme notes for Music Machine 29

Music Machine 29 - 6’00” 2ch

Music Machine 29 is computer generated, it consists of two parts and works in the following way. The first part plays a C major scale (both ascending and descending) and arpeggio. The second part remembers each note that the first part plays and stores them in a list. It will then choose a note from that list to play back simultaneously with the first part. Occasionally the programme will delete (forget) some notes from the list and then start remembering again. There is also the chance that notes will be sustained allowing chords to build up.

Although for this event the piece was prerecorded it can also be played live using a midi wind controller, raspberry pi and midi module.

Listen to Music Machine 29

Music Machine 31 - 60x60 Surround Sound Mix

Music Machine 31 forms part of an hour long piece curated by Hans Tammen for Vox Novus:

60×60 is a one-hour-long show made by sequencing 60 pre-recorded pieces by 60 different composers, each piece a minute in length or shorter. A unique collaboration between VoxNovus / Robert Voisey and Harvestworks in New York City to create a 5.1 surround sound mix, this 60×60 presentation will be premiered at Harvestworks’ multichannel TEAMLab listening room

It was first perfomed at Harvestworks in New York on May 16th 2014 and later at the Jack Straw New Media Gallery in Seatle on 29th October 2014.

Programme notes for Music Machine 31

Music Machine 31 consists of eight voices and each voice is a variant of the 60 x 60  variable. The primary voice that is heard from start to finish plays 1 middle C note per  second; a total of 60 and the midi equivalent of middle C is 60. The other parts are 15 x Eb1 (midi note 15), 30 x F#0 (midi note 30), 45 x A1 (midi note 45), 75 x Eb4 (midi note 75), 
90 x F#5 (midi note (90), 105 x A6 (midi note 105) and 120 x C8 (midi note 120). All parts move in a clockwise direction around the four speakers.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Music Machines 4 & 26

To buy your ticket for Machine Music at the Exeter Phoenix click here.

I've been using a computer for a while now to create music machines, small programmes that run by themselves and generate music within certain parameters. You can read about them (and download some) here.

More recently I have started to combine the computer generated aspect of creating music with live performance. The first machine that I adapted in this way was Music Machine 1 which you can read about here and even try it out with a group of friends.

I have also recorded some machines for live performance in specific locations or for particular events, this year Music Machine 29 has been played at the Sonorities festival and Music Machine 31 formed part of VoxNovus 60x60. To create these I have been using a Raspberry Pi computer running a version of linux and I have written the code in python.

I have always been interested in process and systems and particularly in the idea of systems that breakdown. In Michael Nyman's book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond he writes of John White's music '... being English they are ambling, friendly, self-effacing systems, which may break down.' (Coincidentally John White's Humming and Aah-ing Machine forms part of Sunday's concert).

Music Machine 4 consists of 14 cells of music ranging from 4 to 16 cells. For this performance each member of the string quartet has an ipad which displays the cell to play and how it should be played. The performance options are style (pizz, arco etc), dynamics and transposition (an octave up or down). The piece begins slowly with comparatively long pauses between cells, those pauses grow shorter and towards the end the computer joins in playing pre recorded clips of the cells.

Music Machine 26 consists of a slow, sustained chord progression played by the quartet. The progression is played three times. During the first play the computer records a number of clips of varying length. In the following two repeats of the progression the computer plays back those clips over the live quartet at random times.

These machines are designed to be different every time they are played although they will always sound the same (you wouldn't mistake Music Machine 4 for Music Machine 26)

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Earworms and May the 4th

Had real fun at this month's Earworms' concert. Exeter Contemporary Sounds played two of my pieces, Between the Moon and the Earth and Music Machine 1.

Here are some photos of Between the Moon and the Earth:

and here is one of Music Machine 1:

The whole event was started of by R2D2 singing the Earworms' Jingle:

And finished with the quartet playing the Star Wars' theme while R2D2 danced at the front!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Music Machine Radio Show

The Music Machine Radio Show that I recorded for BasicFM is now available to listen to at any time on mixcloud the full text is available here

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Music Machine 1 - live performance

There will be a performance of Music Machine 1 by Get Rich Quick as part of the Vibraphonic Festival at Exeter Phoenix on 19th March.

 The line up of improvising musicians for the Vibraphonic Festival gig at Exeter Phoenix on 19th March has been finalised as:
Tim Sayer – trumpet/flugelhorn/percussion/electronics
Gill Baker – Eb tenor horn
Ruth Molins – flute/alto flute
John Welton – bass clarinet
Rebecca Willson – violin
Hannah Willson – cello
Marcus Vergette – double bass
Tom Wright – minimal drum kit
James Clemas – keys
Pete Canter – soprano sax

The gig will include several totally free improvisation sessions as well as performances of a number of guided improvisations including:
  • “Music Machine 1″ by Simon Belshaw
  •  ”Let’s Throw Some Shapes” by Anna Matthews
  • “Suspensions” by Jane Carrington Porter
  • “Damage Limitation” by Emma Welton
  • “Improv Sandwich” by Pete Canter
Tickets at £5 each are limited to 40 and are available from Pete Canter ( or other members of the orchestra. There may or may not be tickets left on the night.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Music Machine 30

Music Machine 30 began as an experiment in constructing a physical music machine.

Initially I tried using some freestanding bells that were struck by solenoids attached to a Raspberry Pi. However I found that the solenoids were too noisy and there were power and wiring issues with the Pi.

I concentrated on the idea of using a motor with some form of striker attached. I took some motors from Sony PlayStation controllers as these had low voltage and amperage requirements. I attached electrical wire connectors to the spindles and inserted copper wire from electrical cable into the top. I bent the wire at approximately 45 degrees.

I dismantled a wind chime and built a wooden frame to suspend the bars from.

The whole arrangement is a bit Heath Robinson and deliberately so. Michael Nyman in his book Experimental Music; Cage and Beyond writes of John White's machine music '... being English they are ambling, friendly, self-effacing systems, which may break down ...'

I recorded the sound of each bar being struck by a screwdriver, edited those clips and transferred them to the Raspberry Pi. There were two programmes that ran simultaneously on the pi. The first operated the motors, it decided how many motors would run, which motors they would be, how long they would run for and how long the gap was between spins. The second programme played the audio clips back at random intervals at varying loudness through the speaker system. Here is a photo of the machine connected to an ibook running debian:

The original wind chime that I used had five bars but because of the length of them (the longest was 30 cm long) I found that the frame required was really too large. I got another, smaller wind chime (longest tube 16 cm) so that I could attach all five bars to a frame. I also added an ultrasonic sensor to the system that meant that as people approached the machine more motors span and as they got further away fewer span.

Last weekend I decided to make the machine more controllable and connected it to a midi controller via the Raspberry Pi. I have subsequently played it using both a midi keyboard and casio digital horn as you can view in the video below.