I’m pretty proud of the lastest machine I’ve added to the abstractmachine arsenal. It’s a musical sequencer integrated into a Rubik’s Cube®. You can play it online, or you can hire me to plug in a physicalised version, with real live Cubes generating the musical sequences. I’m trying to find someone to bite for the later, which might have already taken place, with an installation next summer for a music festival (I’ll keep you posted).
Like most of my interactive/musical instrument work, I’m working against the idea that a musician has to create music digitally — algorithmically — while sitting behind a laptop. The listeners should be given some hook to attach them to what the musician is doing: at least a videoprojection if we must generate behind a screen. What are they doing back there, playing iTunes? I’m also poking fun at the over-programmed nature of many of the current electronic tools that pass for high-tech instruments. For, trying to “program” a Rubik’s Cube, as anyone knows, is not an easy matter. So while one might be freed of the obscur interface (everyone understands a Rubik’s Cube), each permutation screws up permutations on the other faces, making the musical progression a true art to master.
There’s also a performance aspect to 3. Music is a live medium, and has been modular and algorithmic for centuries; the digital field should reflect this and allow for musicians to perform digital algorithms with their hands, just as they do with the guitar. Obviously, I’m speaking under the influence of Michel Waisvisz‘ Hands when I talk like this.
Basically, each face is an independant sequencer, with variable speeds (note: the sequencer was designed to keep each of the faces in sync, notably for electronic dance music). Each face of the cube uses a different instrument to play notes generated according to the colors on that face. The darkened square on each face indicates the currently playing note. The cubes are permutated by dragging one of the edge cubes and rotating it around one of the center axes. Each face is identified by its center square. Center squares never change color and are pratical for keeping track of activity. Dragging with the mouse from the center square rotates the entire cube.
3 loads with default instruments chosen from the MIDI instrument library. These synthesized instruments can be changed on each face by clicking on its current number and entering a new value between 0 and 127, followed by the enter key. The volume of each instrument/face can be adjusted independantly. The tempo for each face can be adjusted independantly. Each color represents a specific note to played by one of the six instruments/faces. Each face can have its own pitch value for each color.
Specific permutations can be memorized in a key, then recalled at any time by simply pressing that key on the keyboard. For example: by clicking on the on-screen ‘A’ button, the current permutations are recorded into the ‘A’ key; subsequently, whenever the ‘A’ key on your keyboard is pressed, the cubes immediately return to this memorized state. In the off-line version of 3, current key memorizations, as well as volume, tempo and note configurations, can be saved to disk. This allows a DJ to have a full set memorized, then work off that set. It’s cheating, I know (the whole point is it’s gotta be tough, right?), but you’ve gotta be pratical too.
As with Trane, 3 uses MIDI to generate the music on each face. Music can be generated by the computer using its internal synthesizer, or connected to an external MIDI synthesizer, sampler, or sound module. The MIDI output can also be rerouted within the computer via MIDI to other music software. This allows musicians and DJ’s to expand 3 and plug it into an infinite variety of electronic sound generators. Just open up the 3 window, and your midi devices should show up.