Interactive beat machine that yearns for the human touch

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Between radio stations, algorithmic beats formed out of snippets of sound captured from the airwaves form the basis for a musical piece that is played out through human interaction. As you rotate and twiddle the set’s dials the system gains energy and becomes frenetic, when you pause it slowly cools off.

At the heart of the set is a database of sounds that is added to whenever the radio is tuned, each represented by a rotating square. These samples are sorted along the length of the bar by acoustic properties (spectral centroid, loudness, noisiness) and selected by you for use as you rotate the frequency dial. Changing the mode from FM to MW or LW changes the sorting mode. As samples are played more often their square slowly becomes more opaque, the bluest square corresponding to the most popular sound. If the radio set is left tuned to a particular station then slowly it will degrade the signal through boredom while it grabs percussive, strong attack sounds. When this happens the set’s data visualisation degrades too and if a new sound is found a correspondinglittle square floats out from the centre.

The piece is seeking to answer the question: ‘Can electro-acoustic, noise based, art music be made more accessible by allowing the listener to erect parameters of its realisation?‘. The music is composed in the sense that certain rules have been expressed rigidly, for instance the complex fashion in which each dial affects the sound engine, but how they are applied is left to the listener to be expressed by their own choice of knob twiddling.

None of this really matters, and if you’ve read this far then you’re probably missing the point. The most fun can be had by grabbing a knob (gently as all breakages must be paid for) and twiddling until you think you’ve figured out what is happening or you just don’t care anymore. Glitch factor ten can only be achieved by really going for it and twiddling like crazy.You’ll know when you’re there, the visuals will go mental.

Robin Price, November 2007

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