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.