So this week at STEIM has been an interesting one, without a doubt: it has been fantastic to see the rich history of the institution, and also to experience it at a time when it is in a state of flux. Commercial interaction/instrument design is increasingly focused on digital software and relative controllers – Monome clones, fader/knob midi boxes, keyboards etc – which are portable, reasonably cheap, customisable and modular. With STEIM having experimented with these technologies very early on (definitely an avant-garde for digital audio-interactivity) and developing some very interesting projects, it is perhaps more difficult to make such an impact today where software-controlling is most certainly a business run by companies with huge resources. As a result, the institution appears to be changing its focus: continuing the development of the useful junXion software, and also working on some excellent artist-led interactive-design projects.
After viewing the past projects of STEIM-folks such as Michel Waisvisz, I was reminded of the action/tactile/gestural roots of STEIM, understanding audio as an invisible presence that can be shaped with macro-movements. Projects such as the cracklesynth are fascinating to me because of its indeterminate nature – it deals with inaccuracy and musical vocabulary in a very interesting way. The performer cannot know exactly what sounds they might produce, forcing an element of improvisation into every performance. The talks at STEIM this week have re-initiated a project I had in mind some months ago – also influenced by my own background in improvised music, my interest in automated compositional systems, sample-culture, and the work of Markus Popp (aka Oval, Microstoria etc).
The idea is constructing a kind of sequencer using a modified turntable and prepared vinyl records. By illuminating a record from below with a bright LED attached to the arm of the turntable, and attaching an LDR directly underneath, one can compositionally program a record by piercing holes in the vinyl. As the prepared record rotates, the LDRs respond to the flashes of light that pass through the holes, and control a series of oscillators connected to an audio output. Think of a player piano’s paper rolls – but circular, and loop-based. It would be possible to control multiple oscillators off the one record by setting up a series of LEDs and LDRs, and making holes in the vinyl at set radii. By the nature of the compositional process the musician is forced to think about musical ideas as short, repetitive fragments, and without any exact idea of how it might sound.
I have posted a concept diagram/short blog post about the work here.