In the past few months Taku and I have been working on the technical aspects of the new fanfare instruments. The goal was to create 3 new instruments, based upon existing ones, a percussion instrument (snare drum), a brass instrument (tuba) and a melodic percussion instrument (glockenspiel). All instruments should be able to use ‘live’ sampled sound of the voice of the tambour maitre, each instrument treating that sound in a unique way.
For the instrument design we asked Piet Jan Blauw, a musician, sculptor, instrument builder, because he already had a lot of experience in building electronic wireless (and powercordless) music devices. For the technical solution we chose to use an Apple Mac computer running Steim’s sensor mapping software junXion and steim’s live sampling software LiSa to generate and process the sampled voice.
A problem we were facing was how to distribute the sampled voice of the Tambour maitre to the (initially) 3 new instruments. First we were thinking about using one computer that would read the sensor data of the 3 instruments and then distribute its sounds to those 3 instrument’s speakers again. For that we would need a fairly sophisticated wireless data transfer system and the risk of utter silence if that main computer would fail. So we decided that each instrument would use its own dedicated Mac computer, meaning that the audio of the instrument could be directly connected to the computer (using a small amplifier between the computer and the speaker) and the sensors of the instrument also could be connected to the mac using wires. Of course we still had to solve the problem of how to send the wireless microphone data to 3 computers.
The solution we have come up with is to use one computer as the ‘master’ sampling machine, it will receive the wireless microphone signal and the wireless commands to ’sample’ a new fragment of vocal sound of the tambour maitre ™. Once the tm will release the ‘record’ button, the master machine will send a message (via junXion-Wifi) to the other 2 computers and junXion on those computers will then know there is a new live recorded sample available to load into LiSa. Also for that LiSa will have to have a wifi connection to the harddisk of the master machine, because that’s were the new recorded samples are stored.
Besides this, the instruments don’t have any configuration displays or whatever, they need to ‘auto-boot’ and this should be as trouble free as possible. For this I needed to design a fairly complex startup mechanism, which has the three machines communicating a lot in the initialization phase. For this, one of the instruments also needs to carry a wifi router, because all 3 instruments will use this as their wifi network access point.
The power for each instrument is provided by 15 1,2V rechargeable R3 batteries which are able to deliver a proficient amount of current, which is needed because besides the Apple Mac mini computer also the audio amplifier needs to be powered. For the sensor data acquisition Byungjun Kwon, Steims’ hardware engineer developed the teensy junXion board, a very small piece of electronics that is highly configurable and can be connected to the junXion software that will read and map the sensor data.
At this moment the ‘tuba’ is almost ready, when it is I can start creating the data mapping algorithms and the LiSa setup. In a few weeks the other 2 instruments should be ready as well.