Interface to the flow state

The flow state (otherwise known as “in the zone”) is what every real-time performer seeks. Charlie Norton‘s research is on how to design musical interfaces to optimize the flow state.

Norton and colleagues, Daniel Pratt and Justin Paterson, describe their work in “Performance mapping and control: Enhanced musical connections and a strategy to optimise flow-state”, a chapter in the new book: Innovation in Music: Technology and Creativity, published by Routledge.

Norton’s goal is to design control interfaces that are independent of the target system and which do not require reconfiguration of the sound-generation structure for each new performance apparatus.

Employing Symbolic Sound’s Kyma sound-design platform as a host for generating a dynamic set of sound structures with a variety of control types, Max and Node.js (JavaScript) servers are then used to map, combine, and route control signals which can be assigned, merged, and swapped in real-time without interrupting the sound processing or performer flow. This system allows one or more performers and their director to interact with the same system, turning an offline logical configuration process into a real-time reflexive act.

Here’s a link to the abstract (and institutional access to the chapter text).

If you use Kyma and Max8 and are interested in beta testing MaxVCS, a zeroconf bi-directional portal for Max8 to control the Kyma VCS by parameter name, contact Charlie at this address.

The Book of Sarth

Is it a graphic novel? A concept album? An animation? An App? A book?

The Book of Sarth is all of these things plus a narrative about an ear worm that is, itself, an ear worm! The Book of Sarth is the first example of an entirely new art form for the early 21st century.  The initial offering of the Gralbum Collective, a self-described group of musicians, artists, and programmers working to establish new forms for creative expression, The Book of Sarth is available now in the App Store and has to be experienced, more than described, but an attempt at a verbal description follows:

Imagine discovering an ornate leather-bound book abandoned in an attic; when you pick it up, a voice says “Open the Book”.  Cradling the iPad in your lap like an old tome, flipping through parchment pages with colorful watercolors, it really does feel as if you’ve discovered a magical story book, one where the drawings come alive and music fills the stereo field (headphone listening is strongly recommended for the experimental, Kyma-drenched score by Sarth Calhoun).

Like the tracks on the album, the animated paintings come in “chapters”, each having its own style and character: the storybook water colors of “Discovery”, the ink-on-glass Japanese photo/drawing colorized loops of “Transmission”, the stark black and white ink images of Occupy-like mass protests for “Awakening”, psychedelic pattern loops for “Access”, symbolic poker-hands and other cryptic numbers (4 X 7), beautiful iridescent ghostly animations on black-inked stark background images of the police state, and so on, concluding with an Epilogue of beautiful geometric patterns, sometimes occluded by human silhouettes.

Born into an angular world with no color, two children discover a sound-generating device that enraptures the world, introducing color, movement and shapes; the epilogue hints at ancient technologies that were known to resonate with sounds of a healing nature and reveal hidden order and patterns.  The rest of the narrative is a struggle between the black-and-white (or “the brown and grey”) police state who shut down the transmissions, and the rioting crowds who learn to make their own underground sound-generating devices.

The musical narrative can accompany the visual or not and is an uncompromisingly experimental mix of vocoding, heavily processed poetry, ear-worm inducing loops, exquisitely glitchy electronics, and Euclidean rhythms.  It ends, not with an ecstatic out-of-body experience, but with a warning: “the black days are coming.”


Disintegrating Podracers

The Sounds of Star Wars (, a new book by JW Rinzler and Ben Burtt, describes how Kyma was used to create some of the iconic sounds in the Star Wars prequels.

The Sounds of Star Wars, co-authored by JW Rinzler and Ben Burtt, is no ordinary text; this book comes with its own built-in sound-playback system and headphone jack, so when you read about a sound, you can also hear it at the press of a button.

Not only does the book cover the classic Star Wars sounds, it also describes how Ben Burtt and Matt Wood used Kyma both to update some of those sounds as well as create new sounds for the prequels.  You can read (and hear), for example, how they used Kyma to generate Wat Tambor’s dialog or to do frequency following on Doppler shifts for podracer fly-bys (and the Kyma Chopper to create the sound of pieces flying off the podracers).

For more information and excerpts visit