weekend silliness: sound art and the pain of adult learning

Blake Andrews uses the simple sinewave synthesizer Tonematrix, which is based on the concept of the Yamaha Tenori-On, to make mini musical compositions from various black and white photographs converted to 16×16 pixel arrays. He’s posted graphics of the stages of conversion as well as sound samples. The music sounds very similar since the palate is limited, but still, it is veddy interesting. Unfortunately I can’t get Flash to work on my computer, so I will have to scheme to find a computer on which the program runs. (There is a similar iPhone widget but I don’t have an iPhone either!)

The Tenori-On itself, released in 2007, is an interesting piece of equipment. It is a more abstract, simpler version of JazzMutant‘s Lemur, first widely released in 2005. That’s probably giving it more credit than it deserves – maybe it’s more like a combo of Ableton Live and the Kaoss Pad, which is a bit older, having been released in 1999. Of course, sampling and looping devices have been around for a while now (i.e. the MPC), but the new devices are so much more fluid and intuitive.

The interesting thing about these interfaces is that they seem to indicate that sooner or later our electronics interfaces are going to be far more fluid, customizable, and most importantly, tactile, than ever. I’m looking forward to escaping ye olde mouse and keyboard point-and-click interface. (Please, let it be before I develop carpal tunnel!) It doesn’t take too much imagination to see what implications touchscreen technology will have for not only photo but any software. I happen to be familiar with sound devices, but I’m sure similar things are being developed for strictly visual applications, which I’d guess are limited more by the expense of large touchscreens.

I’d hope that the manuals for these devices include videos. It would be inefficient to try to describe the functionality of these very visual devices in mountain of text. If you’re curious, Yamaha has several videos demonstrating the different basic functionality of the Tenori-On, but more interesting are the Youtube videos of musicians being introduced to it in their homes and studios (some of them are filmed opening the box for the first time). You can see what Mouse on Mars and I am the Robot and Proud do with it on Youtube:

You can approximate the passage of time by the light coming in through the window, and by the end of the evening, he’s already pretty adept. I’m extremely jealous of the manual dexterity and coordination of musicians! I confess that I tinkered a bit with sequencers and whatnot before I picked up a camera, but alas, my brain is a visual rather than a musical model so I left musicking to more skilled hands than than mine.

The hardest part of learning a craft when you are no longer a child is that your judgment is well developed (hopefully) and you can tell that in the beginning stages that, to put it bluntly, you suck. As a child, you blunder about, everyone encourages you and you don’t know any better, but as an adult, you have a painful awareness of your own inadequacies, especially when compared to skilled competent practitioners. Once you get to that plateau of basic technical proficiency, it’s hard work by the law of diminishing returns to make each small improvement, but at least the ego blows aren’t quite so violent. My theory is that adults can achieve some degree of pleasing proficiency in almost any new craft if they can live through that first phase of being soul-crushingly bad.

In the end, I wasn’t able to get through that terrible beginning stage with music – it was somehow more painful with music. I’d been ogling things all my life before I even knew what that skill was good for, but I hadn’t learned any instruments, so my brain was in no way primed. I’d also been exposed to more music than fine art photography by then, so I sailed through that first phase of learning photography in semi-ignorant bliss. Not so with music. There’s nothing worse than than being assailed with bad music that you can’t close your ears to. The world is probably a better place when I have a camera instead of an instrument in my hand.

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~ by Jin on June 28, 2009.

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