MONOLITH

MAX MSP / ARDUINO

WHAT IS IT?

This project, an interactive and generative sound instillation, was the concluding piece of my undergraduate degree. The concept was simple, to create a music box which could respond to its surrounding environment, composing music on the fly.

 

The core component of this project was a large scale modular synthesiser built within the confines of Max MSP, taking design influences from the early modular systems built by Donald Buchla and Robert Moog. These modules were then paired with generative music systems, also built within Max. These systems were almost exclusively chance based but designed specifically so that their rules and behaviours could be manipulated in real time. 

To manipulate these composing elements and adjust the parameters of the modular synthesiser, Max MSP was fed a host of environmental data that came the way of an arduino and two cheap web cameras. The arduino was wired up to distance, light, temperature, humidity, altitude and sound sensors and the cameras fed colour data across two separate planes. 

Incoming sensory data was used to regulate the modular synthesiser and to provide logic to the generative systems via a set of pre-defined rules. To give an example of how this might work, imagine the rules stating that temperature would affect the speed of the composition, light affecting the dominant frequency content and distance affecting the dissonance of the note selection. When placed in a cold, dark and confined space you would be greeted with slow, dissonant and bass driven music, and conversely placing the box in a bright, open and warm space would gift you energetic, harmonically pleasing sounds with a shimmering characteristic. Whilst this is a slight simplification of the processes involved, this gives an idea to how the sensory data was mapped to different parameters across the Max patch. 

The sound output was loosely based around the early music created with the Buchla synthesisers, specifically the work done by Donald Buchla on 'Silver Apples of the Moon' . The appearance of the box made visual references to the Monolith from '2001: A Space Odyssey' but was mostly designed to be an object that could reflect an environment back upon itself, whilst doing so in a particularly obtrusive and distracting manner, visually mirroring the way in which the object would create sound.

All said and done, the project was for the most part, a success, acting as an audio instillation that can be placed anywhere, producing differing results that were entirely dependent upon the environment it was placed in. However, it is something I would like to eventually re-visit. The Max patch could do with some serious simplification as it was far from the most efficient work I had ever created, and I always felt I could harness a more extensive range of musical results. One for the future.

© DAVID HAMILTON - 2017

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