Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Some musings

Aside from making a novel set of controls for a stomp box, there are some actual issues which I'm trying to address by using a textile based interface.

Textiles, be they cotton, silk, wool, or any number of synthetic materials, have a very traditional place in every society. They are used to cloth and protect, provide comfort and have a mess of domestic uses.

Textiles can also be created and processed countless ways. We find them as knits, woven, felted, tassles and decorative knots, and dyed any color imaginable these days. Given all the different ways fibers can be textured, designed, built up, or shaped, I started to wonder why there weren't more artists working largely, if not exclusively, with fibers. It seems as though there are many opportunities to sculpt or even paint with these soft materials.

Certainly working with textiles has usually been seen to exist within the domain of 'craft', and until recently, there has always been a fairly sharp, elitist line drawn between the notion of 'craft' and 'art'.

But I am digressing a bit here. The point I'm making is, why not use textiles in new ways and for applications they are not usually assigned to. For example, some worlds we rarely find textiles intersecting with is that of electronics and that of sound. This is where my interests and most of my work comes from.

I'd like to rethink the way textiles are used, and the way people *expect* them to be used. Along with that comes rethinking the way we expect to interact with them.

But this is all from the point of view of textiles and fiber. What about coming from the point of view of sound? How do we expect to be able to shape or interact with sound? I think that there is a lot of correlation between sound design and textile design; each consider color and texture, and the infer the ability to compose, shape and layer. Therefore, why not directly tie the two together. I feel that wool is a much more germane interface for sound processing equipment, than knobs and sliders. I believe that the softness and physicality of sound can be made manifest through textiles. Like, say, a felted interface :)

I'd be curious to know what anyone else thinks about this however. This is just the way I feel about it and I'm curious to know if anyone else feels the same or in some way completely different.

update, finally

It's been quiet on the home front here, but the end is drawing near (2 more weeks before the final presentation on 5/7, to be exact), and there is quite a lot to update.

This project has changed a lot since its conception, but many new ideas and potential future project concepts have sprung up along the way, and I am pretty pleased with how the project at hand is shaping up.

The original plan was to embed circuitry in felt itself... something I am still interested in exploring. I wanted to design felted audio signal processing circuits that would accept an analog signal in and output it back out after running through a series of filters.

I am near completing a similar project, only I decided to begin the research from a simpler place, working my way up the ladder of experimentation.

Having said that, felted signal processing has become a set of analog signal processing circuits consisting of a chorus effect, delay effect, tremolo effect, and finally, distortion effect. The processing circuits live on pcbs instead of within the felt itself, reassigning the felt's role from circuit board to soft potentiometer. The felt is directly integrated into the hardware, allowing the user to tranform various stages of the processing circuits as the audio signal passes through the mix of natural wool and steel wool.

For example, with the tremolo circuit, there are two felted objects. One controls the rate of the tremolo, while the other controls the depth. There are also two hardware pots available for setting the initial rate/depth. The felted pots offer expressive control over base settings that the user can dial in with the hard pots, for the purpose of introducing some constants to the system. The hardware pots can also be turned all the way down, leaving the signal processing to as much instability and momentary control as desired by the user. The goal is to set a fixed range over which the felt can distort the sound.

Each effect is daisy chained to itself and may be turned on or off within the chain by a switch. However, after I have all the effects and felted controllers finished, I plan on building a 3x3 resistor mixing matrix, that will provide multiple opportunities for feedback, amplification, and attenuation of the signal. Instead of each effect simply being daisy-chained to one another, they will be tied to various nodes in a 9-celled square, each node have 2 or 4 possible routes it can travel down. It opens the the doors up to all kinds of silliness, for sure.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

*going to post video/audio soon btw.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Guitar effects and Max/MSP

Cycling74 has an awesome set of tutorials on designing guitar effects in max/msp. This is great for me, because this will help me mock up effects in max for conceptualizing my final circuit designs.

Next Steps
- Take the circuit I built a couple nights ago and instead of using a 555 timer chip for an audio signal, grab a signal from an electric guitar.
- Figure out how signal filtering actually works... namely the math behind figuring out resistor and capacitor values ideal for achieving different effects.
- Visually design how my final felted signal processor(s) will look.
- Mock up some guitar effects in max/msp

Proof of Concept.. proven!

felt resistor + 555 timer chip
Originally uploaded by 0x000000

Last night I got a simple 555 timer circuit working with a piece of conductive felt connected, acting as a variable resistor. Pressing down or squeezing the felt caused the frequency to change, which is exactly what I hoped would happen!

I tried different swatches of conductive felt I made last week and found that the ones with higher resistance worked best. I'm still trying to figure out which impedance values are most ideal for getting the widest range of frequency change.

I'm learning how to build analog audio circuits as I go, so I'm not entirely familiar yet with what capacitor/resistor values to use for getting specific frequencies out of my board. I also want to figure out how to filter sounds, and eventually pipe in an audio signal from a guitar for manipulation.

In the meantime, this is a happy milestone to make.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Plan of attack!

After some organization of my thoughts, I've broken down my thesis into a series of considerations. 'Challenges' puts forth what the, well, challenges will be as I embark on this project. 'Experiments' suggest what kinds of things I might try out along the way. 'Research Objectives' define what academic/artistic/or otherwise relevant areas I might want to look into further, for providing context and direction for my work. 'Precedents' addresses a similar thing, and finally, 'Questions' is just that: Musings that are probably pretty important to the final outcome of my work. So here they are:

Attaching components to the felt substrate
Insulation of circuits
Consistency of power supply across the circuit
Sound design (source, timbre)
Final form of controller(s)

Experiments (with)
Different sorts of conductive traces (graphite, ink, tape, thread, yarn, steel wool, aluminum tape, wire wrap, ???)
Different kinds of insulating materials (rubber cement, layered felt, rubber, hot glue, plastic stitched over, ???)
Layering circuitry on top of itself within the felt
Different felting techniques (wet + dry, flat forms or very three-dimensional sculptural forms)

Research Objectives
Cultures that relate sound to textiles
e-textiles and the like
NIMEs that incorporate textiles or paper even (arguably a textile itself)
Patterns that relate to the nature of sound
Artists who have worked in similar veins (International Fashion Machines, XY Interaction, XS Labs, and a handful of others)
Qualities of sound, specifically the work of Edgar Varese and his notion of 'sound masses'

How will it look?
How will it behave?
How will it sound (similar to the question of behavior)?

From a personal point of view, the only project I have completed that comes close as a precedent is the Loom I constructed for NIME. It was my first attempt to connect my parallel interests in fiber arts and sound.

In terms of someone else's work, I find inspiration in projects completed by XY Interaction and Brian Crabtree's and Kelli Cain's Felt Calculator.

Historically, I am interested in the conceptual work done by Edgar Varese, specifically his notion of 'sound masses' and his musings on what new instruments may offer in terms of sound and compositional capabilities.

XY Interaction also provides a great page of references which are mostly very relevant to the work I'm trying to do.

To be continued...