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“Krapp’s Last Tape” on ReacTIVision Vimeo Channel

October 7, 2011

One of our “Krapp’s Last Tape” videos has been featured on the ReacTIVision Vimeo channel. I encourage you to surf around this channel and see the astounding variety of projects made possible by the open-source release of the ReacTIVision software.


Krapp’s Last Tape: Soundwalk 2011 Installation

October 3, 2011 1 Comment

Go to 20’21” to hear our contribution to the Audio Catalog.

The Soundwalk festival happened this past Saturday. The installation created by my students was very well-received. It was particularly interesting to watch the variety of interactions with the piece; I documented some of them in the above video.


Krapp’s Last Tape: Mapping Fiducials to Ableton with ReacTIVision and some Links

September 29, 2011

With our Soundwalk installation date rapidly approaching, my students have just finished their soundscapes, hosted them in Ableton Live 8, and are learning to MIDI map them to ReacTIVision fiducials via OSCulator.

What I have enjoyed about this kind of project is seeing my students not only grapple with the abstractions of composition, but watching them consider multiple modes of interactivity. I think the important lesson is not just learning to execute the project by daisy-chaining software, but dealing with the metaphors of the objects and their associated sounds.

I am especially appreciative of Martin Kaltenbrunner and Ross Bencina for their open-source gift of ReacTIVision, the software that allows fiducial-tracking. This has opened up a creative use of technology to my high school students that otherwise would be well beyond their capabilities, not to mention mine!

Even the simplistic implementation we use has far-reaching implications for metaphoric and abstract thought.




Ableton Live

Krapp’s Last Tape: Proof of Concept Number 1

September 26, 2011

Our Soundwalk entry this year is inspired by Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape”. In the play, Krapp interacts with his recorded self separated by some thirty years.

Our installation seeks to explore the experience of memories through an interactive soundscape.

Participants will visit a table with a tape player and objects of childhood. Placing cassette tapes on the table triggers soundscapes designed by my students. The soundscapes recreate a memory from their past in the way they remember it.

At the same time, the installation itself is a soundscape. The tape player sets the keynote sounds establishing the time and place of the table in the late 20th-century. An omnidirectional microphone picks up the recording as well as any ambient sound. Projected in front of the table is a ghosted and delayed video capture of the installation itself.

The participants will see and hear the experience in realtime and delayed by three to five seconds. Our hope is to convey the distortion of time upon the memory of one’s experience.

This proof of concept is to check the delay capabilities of the computer and software over several hours, and to set basic parameters for this part of the project.

The software used for this portion of the installation includes Macam and Live Video Delay by Zach Poff.

From the Macam website:

    macam is a driver for USB webcams on Mac OS X. It allows hundreds of USB webcams to be used by many Mac OS X video-aware applications. The aim is to support as many webcams as possible.

    In addition, macam also supports downloading of images from some dual-mode cameras. macam especially tries to support those cameras not supported by Apple or by their manufacturers.

From Zach Poff’s Website:

    This app was made to answer a question from a student: “How come there’s no free software to delay a live video feed?” The original version used the GPU for fast video processing and storage, but VRAM is too limited for long delays, so version 2010-04-08 uses system memory to store the recorded frames. Stereo audio is also delayed, with independent delay-time so you can tweak the synchronization between picture and sound. Additionally, you can mix between the live and delayed video feeds with a crossfade slider. DV-NTSC runs at a solid 30fps on a MacBook Pro laptop, but HD resolutions might be faster using the older (more limited) version of the app.

Krapp’s Last Tape Project: Asking My Students to Compare Schafer and Cage

September 8, 2011 4 Comments

In my music appreciation classes, we have been learning about the aesthetics and construction of sound-art and soundscapes as models for their individual contributions to “Krapp’s Last Tape.” Today we watched a short and fascinating video portrait of R. Murray Schafer, the composer and environmentalist.

Schafer coined the term “soundscape”. According to him, there are three main elements of a soundscape:

From Wikipedia article on Soundscapes:

    Keynote sounds
    This is a musical term that identifies the key of a piece, not always audible… the key might stray from the original, but it will return. The keynote sounds may not always be heard consciously, but they “outline the character of the people living there” (Schafer). They are created by nature (geography and climate): wind, water, forests, plains, birds, insects, animals. In many urban areas, traffic has become the keynote sound.
    Sound signals
    These are foreground sounds, which are listened to consciously; examples would be warning devices, bells, whistles, horns, sirens, etc.
    This is derived from the term landmark. A soundmark is a sound which is unique to an area.

It is interesting to note how Schafer speaks about sound as music and uses the word “noise” pejoratively.

In the following video, John Cage also speaks of sound as music, but without judgement.

His philosophy about listening to sound seems to be codified by Michel Chion’s Three Modes of Listening and Pierre Schaffer’s Reduced-Listening. Cage derives pleasure from the transient qualities of sounds themselves.

My students watched and discussed these videos as they prepare to fabricate their contribution to “Krapp’s Last Tape”. They will make sound-compositions about a personal memory in a way that gives the listener a window into how they uniquely experience memories. They will consider Schafer’s aesthetic and structure when composing the piece as well as reduced-listening skills when evaluating the sound-material and placement for the composition.

SoundWalk 2011: October 1st

Just a reminder that Soundwalk 2011 is coming. In the above promo video, a clip of our project appears at about 20 seconds in. Below are some videos of our past Soundwalk installations from the last two years.

Soundwalk 2011 is coming!

August 30, 2011

Sound Art: Parthenocarp- Drones with Drills and Cucumber Plants

According to their website:

‘Parthenocarp’ is a sound art installation which consists out of 3 one string instruments. The sound of the 3 instruments is creating a ‘drone’ which is changing in a very slowly way by the growth of the cucumbers. Each string is vibrating by the touch of a wooden wheel which is slowly turning around by a drill behind each instrument.
Because each cucumber has it’s own speed of growing, the tone of each instrument is changing in it’s own way. Therefore the drone is constantly changing into harmony and dis-harmonie…
The work refers to the changing urban plans of Alkmaar during the last 50 years. It changed from an agricultural area into an industrial area and is now being changed into a residential region.

dimension: length of each instrument: 4,5 meter
materials: cucumber plants, water, sodium lights, drill machines, ply
-wood, metal, steel strings.
year: 2010
exhibition: Kunsteyssen, Alkmaar, Netherlands

concept, production and design: Ronald van der Meijs

Sound Art: Parthenocarp- Drones with Drills and Cucumber Plants

August 1, 2011

Krapp’s Last Tape: Software that’s not Krappy

July 19, 2011

image by steven speciale

I am featuring software I use in my class. Without a one-to-one computer program, I could not guarantee that all of my students had equal access to technology. I began searching for open-source and cross-platform software that would equalize the playing field. Over the last two years, I think that some of my class’ strongest projects were created using the free-software ReacTivision.

reacTIVision is an open source, cross-platform computer vision framework for the fast and robust tracking of fiducial markers attached onto physical objects, as well as for multi-touch finger tracking.
ReacTivision website

In other words, my students can turn physical objects into reactive multimedia controllers. ReacTivision can read and track blobs called fiducials. By assigning these blobs to different features of other software via a MIDI or OSC protocol, one can remotely control the features of that software. I will detail how to do this in upcoming posts. For the impatient, visit the ReacTivision website for instructions.

While this technology’s most spectacular applications require high-level programming abilities, with a little ingenuity, I think this software lends itself to creative class projects.

I find that group projects work best when I provide an overarching theme that gives creative space for each student to express their personal views. It also works best when the projects can have the same requirements for each student in the group so that the ultimate success of the project is not totally dependent on the work of the group’s weakest link.

In the above featured works, I gave my classes the challenge of designing reactive music tables where the player intuits the manner of playing. Sounds also had to relate to the objects used. Students, therefore, had to consider the user-interface, the design of the objects, the consequence of moving the objects on the table, and the sound.

Projects not pictured here included album-art fiducials that triggered iconic hooks which could be mixed on the tables and fiducials of face-parts where users mied eyes, noses, mouths, etc… to create different pieces.

I do imagine similar projects working in other curricula as the technology threshold is not too overwhelming. Our current-project, for example, requires analysis and reflection on the play “Krapp’s Last Tape” by Samuel Beckett.

I will provide tutorials and software-specific examples in the coming weeks. I will also detail relevant aspects of my lesson plans.

The Skoog: photo by Ric Charlton EduGeek & BETT 2010

The geektastic Brett Domino and his cover of “Hey Ya” on the Skoog:

I have been preparing to hack a Microsoft Kinect for use as a computer-music interface. While surfing the web for further inspiration for my music-appreciation projects, I stumbled upon the Skoog.

The Skoog is a new way to interface with digital music creation. Designed for special-needs students and music therapy, it is a brilliant and intuitive device that invites one to hug, shake, and pet music from it!

The creators have left the musical design open so one might choose from presets like pentatonic scales, or design one’s own scale. You can visit their website to watch several demonstration or review videos here. The videos are terrific!

This is one of the most brilliant examples I have found of a digital musical interface that doesn’t sacrifice expressive potential for accessibility. Bravo!

I want a Skoog!

July 15, 2011

image by Steven Speciale

I have read Samuel Beckett’s play “Krapp’s Last Tape” several times looking for themes for my students to elucidate with sound.

Krapp, Beckett’s protagonist, is a failed writer/artist. Each year since he was 24, Krapp records his impressions of the year’s events into a tape recorder. We meet him on his 69th birthday listening to a 30-year-old tape of himself, preparing to record a new summary on the exact anniversary of his birth.

There are three notable features of “Krapp’s Last Tape” I want our piece to realize: the conversations between one and one’s former-selves through recorded media; that our contemporary-selves are unique as compared to our former-selves; and the symbolism of polar opposites.

We will be using six pieces of software in our piece to realize these objectives: ReacTivision, MacCam, Osculator, Ableton Live, and an as yet undetermined piece of video software. This list is for the actual installation. It does not include the use of iMovie, GarageBand, Audacity, Soundbooth, etc…programs we will use to construct the pieces.

The installation will be a glass table illuminated from below. On top will be two objects, symbolic polar opposites of each other, that will serve as speakers. Cassette-tapes and other objects from Krapp’s world will be in nearby cardboard boxes. Each object is tagged with a fiducial. When placed on the table, the fiducial will trigger the associated sound design. Moving the object closer to each of the “speakers” will pan the sound towards that speaker. The sounds are modified apropos to the symbolism of each speaker. One speaker will present the tape as it recorded. The other will present the tape as heard through the distortions of time. The distortions will be both digital and acoustic.

The next step is to create an interpretive/symbolic framework as a model or template for my students. They will then be responsible for creating sonic analogs to Krapp’s tapes from their own lives.

As this is a music appreciation course, my students will first study musique concrète and familiarize themselves with the three modes of listening by Michel Chion, as well as sonic-installations by Bill Fontana. Music by Alvin Lucier will serve as models for the digital and acoustic manipulation of their sound-designs.

Krapp’s Last Tape Project: Analyzing my Krapp!

July 11, 2011 1 Comment

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