Vive/Live – Controlling Ableton Live with HTC Vive Controllers

For some time, myself and Ryan at Spiral Technica have been contemplating and conceptualising ways of using the HTV Vive VR system with Ableton Live in tandem. Whilst visiting Ryan and his partner in Dunedin, we decided to try and get the two talking.

Here is the end result, as demonstrated by Ryan:

Technical

The resulting ‘instrument’ is probably best described as a two-voice theremin. Vertical motion controls pitch, left/right controls the voices panning, and front/back increases/decreases the filter resonance on the synth patch to add a little emphasis. Note On messages are triggered by the Vive controllers trigger button, and Note Off messages by the grip pads.

Each controller controls a single voice, and the controllers positional data is sent via OSC from Unity to Ableton, where they are received by Ethno Tekh’s ‘Tekh Map‘ set of Max for Live devices.

More technical detail may be found on the GitHub repository that Ryan and I have set up for the project, here.

Simple, but it’s a proof-of-concept that opens the door to more complex iterations of technical and creative possibilities.

Development

One major thing that we’ve established the need for is some form of relative range control. As such, Ryan is looking into enabling the performer to set their position, so that all parameter values are adjusted relative to that point.

Another major point will be to develop Max for Live patches specific to the Vive controllers’ set of parameters. These include positional (XYZ), and rotational (pitch, yaw, and roll) data sets, as well as button on/off messages, and trackpad data, etc.

Development in these two areas should be sufficient in our being able to develop a range of expressive electronic instruments.

Application

Having performed DJ/VJ sets together before, Ryan and I wanted to explore ways of increasing the interactivity between the performance applications we use to create a more dynamic experience for both ourselves and our audience. The next step was to try and bridge the gap between our technical interests and another creative realm, the circus and flow arts. This is more or less where the project stems from.

In doing this, we’ve effectively prototyped a means of interfacing circus (or dance, etc) performers with our computer systems. Vive/Live is our means of interfacing the Vive with Ableton Live.

There are numerous ways in which we envision Vive/Live being used. The primary application we’ve envisioned for ourselves is to use it as a gestural control system in a live setting, however it has numerous applications in a studio/production setting also. For example: I forsee it as being very useful in recording expressive parameter automation, and acting as a modulation source.

Where to?

First port of call is to dive into Max, and start learning how to work with OSC in that environment. After that, development of the first purpose-designed Max for Live device shouldn’t be too tricky.

After that? Well, start experimenting. I have a growing list of concepts, thoughts, and ideas that I wish to test out. Hopefully i’ll be able to either re-visit the South or otherwise find another Vive system locally to work with. Then, it’s play time!

~ OM

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In Review: Bumble – Biological Ripples

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When I was recently contacted in query of reviewing Bumbles then upcoming release ‘Biological Ripples,’ I was admittedly a bit confused. Truth be told it’s not the sort of email that my inbox normally receives, however it occurred to me that I’d make a link on these grounds to Bumbles new label, the burgeoning Shanti Planti collective, which has been making significant waves in the psychedelic electronic music community in recent years.

Circumstances of life prevented me from dedicating the necessary time to the album for a good while, however with patience personal tensions dissipated and I found myself in a state ready to receive such a curious release. Whilst my knowledge of Bumbles now extensive work has been somewhat limited, I have a certain fondness for his previous album ‘Symbiota,’ which has developed somewhat of a cult following for its evocative narrative on the lives of the humble bee, with it’s many tracks interspersed with short interludes detailing the symbiotic nature of life on our planet. Highly recommended listening on it’s ecological relevance alone.

Anyway, Biological Ripples it is, and what a fine collection of electroacoustic works it has turned out to be. Whilst distinctly similar to Bumbles previous works in style, it holds a firm grasp on his playful psychedelic flavouring yet manages a tremendous step forward in the desired production qualities and compositional skills. For the discerning fan of any artist, this is always something to embrace on both first and repeated listens.

Opener ‘Sun Don’t Know It’s a Star’ is a sweet and sensual warmup; trip hop inspired and of a low key jazzy nature. Following number ‘Flux’ continues the vibe with a gritty evolution in sound design and meter, adding a subtle swing and hard driven midrange layer, picking the percussive pace up as the track progresses. Further still, third track ‘Ebb & Flow’ pulls fresh tricks out of the bag, adding a brass section and busier melodic devices.

The style now well established, the albums middle is filled with playful variations on light hearted themes. Beefier numbers ‘Leave a Trace,’ ‘Shake Up,’ and ‘Keplunk!’ add a greater focus on low end theory, with cheeky yet grunty bass lines driving the way forward beneath harder hitting percussion and sprinklings of spicy brass and woodwind samples.

The remainder of the album seems a balanced fusion of it’s pre-established attributes, slowly winding down with curiously moody and sometimes downright weird explorations. Such is the nature of psychedelic music however, and Bumble pulls off these curiosities with a dynamic flair found few and far between in a genre often littered with releases which I find to wildly miss the mark.

‘Bee Here Now’ at times sounds as though it’s the results of some sort of improvised psychedelic freakout, held together by a peculiarly 90’s scented synth stab, and a gently tasteful brass lick. Successive number ‘Clear Vision’ seems aptly named, almost humorously as it plays around with it’s vibrato laden melodies. Wonderfully titled ‘Biological Solar Panels’ marks a return to a laid trip hop energy, yet rolls along nimbly courtesy of a distinctly drum and bass percussion layer. Album closer ‘Ecotone’ completes the cycle with a low tempo, spacing out with reverberant drenching and dissonance, pushing the albums harmonic experimentations to their limits.

Overall I’d consider Biological Ripples to be somewhat a curious release. Less of a statement than its predecessor, nevertheless it takes its form and guides it in a clear direction. It’s a wonderfully lazy album in the sense that it’d sit well by the fireside on a dreary winters day, but let that not fool you, it possesses a strong sense of movement and select tracks have the punch required to keep an open minded dance floor grooving. It’s as equally intellectual as it is invigorating, a duality I personally value in such a comprehensive release.

A masterpiece, perhaps not quite, but with musical preferences being so infinitely subjective I have no doubts that to some, this is quite something indeed. It’s certainly something special, and if the idea of playful melodic experimentation, jazzed up harmonies, and a healthy dose of dynamic range sounds like you, then this is a gritty piece of electronic fusion which I wholeheartedly recommend you give the time of day to.

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The Astro-Binaural Clock: A Hypothetical Auditory Orrery

One of my longstanding curiosities has been the middle ground to be found between science and spirituality. For many years I have had a strong interest in the field of astrology and have subsequently found it to be a domineering element in my personal understandings of the spiritual world.

When I was first introduced to the concept of ambisonics and elaborate surround sound environments one of the first thoughts that came to me was the possibility of adapting the geocentric model of the zodiac to the given speaker format. I found myself pondering on what ways there may be to translate astrological transits and aspects into a musically pleasing form. Essentially, if one were to view astrological activity as a sort of energetic weather system, what would the resulting weather patterns sound like?

At a first glance, the simplest way to realise this concept would be to take the movement of the planetary bodies on a horizontal axis and assign them specific or generative tones. By doing this you should be able to amass a collection of tracks representing each of the planetary bodies, each of which possessing a distinct tonal signature with which to determine their placement around the sound field. The next step would be considering how, and where, to place them.

Given that astronomical movement is autonomous and not of our influence, it stands to reason that to accurately place the various tonal signatures, one would need to do so in accordance with the laws of physics and well, reality. This is the part that for a long time stumped me, and led to me mentally archiving the concept. Re-assimilating myself into an academic environment recently has been the catalyst for me picking up this project again and contemplating a means of pulling it off.

Recent contemplation had led me to believe that what was necessary was a sort of digital ephemeris, however in order to compile this there would almost certainly be a magnitude of data entry and processing which quite frankly exceeded my interest somewhat dramatically. The concept held water though, and in pondering how to simplify the data, it occurred to me that what I needed was a sort of calculator for computing the positions of the various planetary bodies. In essence, a basic format which worked for all possible objects and required as little data input as possible. As luck would have it, Google searches presented me with exactly that.

Whilst I am yet to sit down and contemplate exactly how to translate that into the auditory domain, at a glance it seems logical to devise a Reaktor or Max/Max For Live device which handles the necessary calculations, and outputs the spatial data to a fairly standard ambisonic/surround sound/binaural plugin. Whilst the calculations aren’t exactly simple, they upon examination appear to be within my grasp, which is saying something given that I don’t consider myself to be particularly mathematically minded.

And so, in it’s simplest form, I have the necessary ingredients with which to produce a fairly rudimentary proof-of-concept, and I’m quite happy with that. Regardless of this however, if I were to take the idea further I would run into some fairly interesting technical design challenges. Accordingly, I shall elaborate.

One of the details of astrological study often overlooked is the fact that not only does the movement of planetary bodies exist on the horizontal axis, but the vertical as well. This is something referred to as declination.

One of the drawbacks of conventional sound reproduction is that it exists primarily on the horizontal plane, and so spatially positioning a sound either above or below a listener isn’t something easily achieved. It is possible to give the impression of vertical spatialisation via clever filtering and time based effects, but it isn’t wholly accurate.

By employing ambisonic processing it is entirely possible to send audio signals to speakers placed above and below the optimal horizontal listening space but a distinct issue here is that by creating further rings of speakers above the listener, you start running into technical requirements which far exceed even that of say, a simple circular octophonic speaker array like the one I’m starting to work with at the New Zealand School of Music.

Similarly, if one were to design a speaker array which covers not only the higher dimension of space but the lower one as well, you’d find yourself running into what could be best described as an overwhelmingly expensive engineering project that edges precariously on being nothing short of a total clusterfuck to develop. To be totally honest, it’s not really worth the effort for the sake of pure curiosity. Consider this point – ground level is totally a thing.

This is one of the unfortunate pitfalls of surround sound and ambisonics. It is inherently expensive and very demanding on technical resources. It’s on these grounds I believe that surround sound and ambisonic arrays have never really taken off in the consumer market. There is an overwhelming amount of precision engineering involved to do it correctly, and so it’s of no surprise that these formats exist primarily in the academic domain.

Simply put, surround sound formats are extremely challenging. This is not to say that they do not have their purpose, but realistically speaking, they aren’t commercially viable in the traditional sense of easy listening. This considered, it’s worth going back to basics, and therein lies the key to undertaking a project like this on at the very least, an energetically logical level.

Here is where binaural processing walks in.

Binaural audio is a form of sound recording and reproduction which exploits the human hearing system in a way that enables one to simulate 3D audio spatialisation in a fairly realistic manner. It isn’t perfect, and there’s a great deal I have to learn about it, but it seems to be as being a considerably easier means of pulling off the more complex iterations of this overall concept with the technology I have immediately available to me. So, in other words, a rather nice pair of headphones and my trusty laptops expanse of digital resources.

Part of the beauty behind binaural audio is that it requires only two channels. So, it’s basically a stereo signal. The only caveat there is that it requires the use of headphones rather than loudspeakers, which is in some respects also a drawback. It’s something to work with however and accordingly, i’m totally cool with that.

That considered, I have readily accessible options for both the proof-of-concept and a slightly more advanced iteration. And after a few years of pondering on this I’m feeling quite happy with that. Truth be told I’m not entirely in a position to give the time to this project that I would like right now but it at least gives me a solid ground upon which to get going when the time does arise. Depending on my next semesters assignment briefs I may be able to pull it off through those means, but I’m not expecting it to be the case.

This for now remains conceptual, and curious. When the time comes i’ll further detail the project and it’s eventual trials and errors, and I look forward to that. I believe that time will come before too long.

Science and spirituality indeed. I wonder how this will actually work out.

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