Category Archives: (Post-)* Modernosity

Quick Recipe for Anachronist Video Game

Taking inspiration from Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and other games of similar concept; and using a full body game controller like XBox’s Kinect, create a Orchestra Conductor Game.

The idea is simple: put the gamer in front of a simulated orchestra and let him learn that all that gimmicky is actually hard work. Forgot to cue the violas ? Disaster ensues. Time for a change of tempo ? Beat that measure or else… Missed the opportunity of that dramatic crescendo ? A drowsiness spell falls on the public .

This basic idea can, of course, lead to wonderful variations. The gamer could, for example, choose from a variety of famous composers, orchestras, conductors and even specific performances. There could be a multiplayer mode, with other gamers occupying  the seats at the strings, woodwinds, brasses and percussions. Imagine the sequels: “Orchestral Wonder: Chamber Magic”, “Orchestral Wonder: A Night at the Opera”, “Orchestral Wonder: Concertanti”… the possibilities are endless.

What I love the most about this concept is the subversion on the feedback visuals and sounds. If you are being world class, the public will stay extatic and static, silent and still. If you start to mess up, people will start to shift on the seats. Start to drop the ball and you’ll hear some coughs here and there, and that lady at the front row will appear definetely sleepy. If you really tangle everything, people will start to whisper, someone will noisily unwrap a candy drop.

If you really ruin everything, a cellphone will ring. And the person will answer.

(As my friend M. says — it would only sell 7 copies, but those 7 people would adore it !)

Unbreakable

As far as I know, the Piano Sonata n. 2 in F K 280 (189e) was composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in late 1774, early 1775, in Munich, while he overlooked the production of his opera La finta giardiniera. He was just turning 19 years old. It was his second sonata for keyboard, though he had already composed two dozen other keyboard pieces.

As far as I have researched, Mozart’s Piano Sonata n. 2 is almost canonically in sonata-form, which is quite remarkable, given that sonata-form was not a prescribed set of rules which composers followed, but an artificial instrument of musical analysis. The second movement of the sonata is an adagio in the parallel key of F minor, whose time signature is a compound meter of 6/8. The Adagio itself is heavily based on sonata-form.

As far as I have found out, Mitsuko Uchida interpreted Mozart’s Piano Sonata n. 2 for Philips Records in July 1987, at a time during which she was playing all his piano sonatas for Philips (from 1983 and 1987). Uchida was then 38 years old. The recording took place at the Henry Wood Hall, London, England. Therefore, though that sonata was one of Mozart’s first, it was one of Uchida’s last in the cycle.

As far as I could discover, Philips has issued those records several times, first around the time of their taping, and then in several reissues, among which one in 1991, as part of a Complete Mozart collection, and one in 2003, as part of a budget-price Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas collection.

As far as I remember, I have been a friend of M. P. since 1993. His parents have a quite impressive classical CD collection, which, as a teenager, I intensely coveted. I am not sure of the dates, but I remember clearly that he has lent me his parents’ Philips’ Uchida’s Mozart’s Complete Piano Sonatas album at least twice. First, he lent me the physical CDs — I was somewhat apprehensive, but M. was sure that his parents wouldn’t notice the CD’s were missing for a few days, and in the case they noticed he would just tell them (M.’s parents were really cool and carefree). I don’t remember well, but I think I hastily copied the CDs and returned them the next day (my own parents were very anal and uptight about anything with a hint of dishonesty — which, in my logic of the time, applied to sneaking the CDs, but not to copying them). There were 5 CDs in the album, and I remember I botched one of the copies, which I only discovered too late, but nevertheless I was happy. Then, maybe around 2005 (when M. had moved back, and I was in vacations in Brazil), but maybe as late as 2007 (when I had also moved back to Brazil), maybe as early as 2003 (when we both still hadn’t left for Europe), M. copied some of his parents’ classical music CDs for me. At that time, nobody in our generation used physical CDs anymore, and he just ripped the MP3 tracks using Apple’s iTunes. Among them, it was M.’s parents’ Philips’ Uchida’s Mozart’s Complete Piano Sonatas.

As far as I can faithfully recount, these are the circumstances which led me to burn a data CD with the Apple’s iTunes ripped MP3 tracks from M.’s parents’ Philips’ Uchida’s Mozart’s Complete Piano Sonatas: in late 2008, I was back to France when I met my future post-doc supervisor. In August 2009, I moved to Campinas, Brazil, to a small rented studio near the University. It was then that I met S. G., with whom I would find an intense intellectual affinity. I found out that, due to poor architectural choices and construction, my studio was barely tolerable to live in. In July 2010, when S. moved to the United Stated for his sabbatical year, I sublet his flat, which was much older and much farther from the University, but also much bigger and much better furnished. (One thing that we did, before we parted, was to exchange our MP3 collections, so S. has now my Apple’s iTunes ripped MP3 tracks from M.’s parents’ Philips’ Uchida’s Mozart’s Complete Piano Sonatas.) Because the flat was far from the University, it was no longer practical not having a car, so S. offered me to buy his old car. But by this time, my father was just about to buy a new car, and my parents decided that I should get his old one (my parents may be uptight, but they are also generous like that). My new car audio played MP3 tracks, but only from CDs, and only from certain CD formats (CD-Rs were ok, CD-RWs were not, for example). I’ve decided to use Gnome’s Brasero to burn a CD-R with some basic survival pieces: the Well-Tempered Clavier, my favorite Mozart Piano Concertos, some Schubert stuff, and, of course, Mozart’s Piano Sonatas.

As far as I believe, my passion for that Adagio happened suddenly. Just because you hear a piece it doesn’t mean you listen to it. I’ve heard the Well-Tempered Clavier hundreds of times, but I only really listened to the two first preludes and the two first fugues of the first book. Then, one day, something unexplainable happened and I started to listen to the other pieces: at first it was the 7th prelude and fugue, then it was the 10th pair, then it was the 4th, then the entire first book was mine (I am eagerly awaiting for the same magic to happen to the second book). With Mozart’s Piano Sonatas (which I’ve also heard hundreds of times) something similar happened. I would only listen to the later pieces, the ones K 330 (300h) or later. Then one day I’ve listened to the Adagio of the K 280 (189e) and I fell in love with it. I would listen to it in loops for entire hours, days. Nowadays, my passion is more reasonable, but still, whenever that track comes up, I repeat it three, four times, before letting it go.

As far as I am honest with you, that night, late at night, I was driving from the University and arrived at the garage of the flat I sublet from S. in Campinas, and I thought of all things but of making a conceptual piece. The audio of the car my parents gave me was playing the Adagio of Mozart’s Piano Sonata n. 2 in F K 280 (189e), from a CD-R I have burnt with Gnome’s Brasero with the Apple’s iTunes ripped MP3 tracks from M.’s parents’ Philips’ Uchida’s Mozart’s Complete Piano Sonatas. As it often happens, I’ve decided to stay in the car and wait the piece to finish. My father has died two months ago, without ever listening to that Adagio, neither to the Well-tempered Clavier (though he has heard them, I think), but then, my father heard a lot of music, listening to very little, as far as I dare to guess. As the song played I noticed (not for the first time) how the car audio distorted the sound, aggressively emboldening some harmonics, and merciless dampening others. How could I listen to a piece, if hearing it was so difficult? I remembered G. F., my friend and erastes, who once told me, about another Mozart’s work “il y a des pièces qui sont indestructibles”. G., as far as I dare to guess, hears to not that much music, but listens to most of what he hears. Indestructible. Indestructible is not a word I would dare to apply to anything human, but as far as it could apply, it may apply to the Adagio of Mozart’s Piano Sonata n. 2.

As far as I have compared, Uchida has chosen not exactly to play Mozart’s score: in the reprise of the exposition, for example, she adds considerably to the ornamentation; she also entirely forgoes a reprise for the second part. Then there was the choice of Philips’ engineers — the recording, mixing and mastering — but to me that barely exists: I was not beside Uchida at the playing, Philips’ promise sounds good to my ears, I take it as truthful enough. Then there was Apple’s iTunes parameters, and the choices that M. has made to rip the CD’s. Then there was MP3 compression, which is lossy, but quite human-ear friendly. Then there was my car audio, and how it has chosen (or was able) to render that file. Then there was my car passenger compartment, its peculiar resonances. Only a few steps in that chain, the ones where numbers were faithfully copied, didn’t add to the final result. I was thinking of this (and looping the piece, more hearing it than listening to it), when I decided to make an experiment: I would record the piece in my Nokia E63 cell phone, with video and audio. Could someone hearing it (and possibly seeing it) still listen to it? Suppose someone hears my Computer rendered Web browser interpreted WordPress’ laid out Dailymotion embedded Apple’s iMovie retouched MP4 encoded Nokia’s E63 cell-phone recorded Fiat’s Palio car audio rendered Gnome’s Brasero burnt MP3 encoded Apple’s iTunes ripped Philips Records’ recording of Uchida’s interpretation of Mozart’s Piano Sonata n. 2 in F K 280 (189e)’s Adagio. Can they still listen to Mozart? Is the piece indestructible? Does Mozart’s creation survive Uchida’s? Does it get tainted by our questionable copying (which at the time, was clearly legal in France, clearly illegal in the States, and “its complicated” in Brazil)? Warmed up by my friendship with M. and S.? Does it learn from going round the world so many times? Is there any of my father’s death in it (the fact he was just turning 58, the fact he has barely enjoyed his new car, the fact his death has thrown me in a bottomless existential pit?) Does any of its path survive in the end? There are some who believe in the aura of history, that things are indelibly imprinted by those who touch them, that the hand of the artist makes things magical. I am skeptical: I believe in statistics, thermodynamics and information theory. I believe in signals, but also I believe in noise. I think that it is not enough to show, it is not enough to tell, that it is the alliance of both that gives the world sense.

As far as my knowledge is possible, that is the chain of events which led me to write this piece. I am 32 years old. In heart I am much older, but not in wisdom, I’m afraid. As far as I feel.

Recipe for an iGeneration Party

    Augmented reality glasses, with in-ear phones

  1. The promoters should organize a party, in the following terms:
    1. The party may be either open or private, an entrance fee may be charged or not, it may happen once or may be a regular event;
    2. The participants should be explained the concept and highly encouraged to bring their own set of dance music. To minimize disappointments, the technical requirements (file and device format) should be succinctly but clearly explained;
    3. In the best of the worlds, the participants should be provided the memory device (like a SD Card) or player device and this physical object, adequately branded, would also act as the admission token;
    4. A real-time set should also be provided. At least two DJs should be hired for two simultaneous dance soundtracks and another for a downtempo soundtrack.
  2. Each participant should receive a Personal Party Kit, consisting of:
    1. A pair of augmented reality glasses (or a similar device, like an Eyetap);
    2. A pair of high-quality in-ear phones;
    3. A small device, of the size of a PDA, with a reliable belt-clip.
  3. The device should follow those specifications:
    1. It should allow the participant to insert a memory device or player device and play whatever sound files it contains;
    2. It should allow the participant to connect to one of the soundtracks being played real-time by the DJs;
    3. It should allow the participant to choose another participant and listen to whatever they are listening;
    4. It should allow the participants, optionally, to listen to the background sound, through a microphone;
    5. It should allow the participants to send real time text messages to each other, providing convenient functionalities like emoticons, multiple-people conversations and short voice messages;
    6. In the best of the worlds, if beverages are being sold / served, it should allow the participants to order whenever they want and be tracked by the waiters so to get their order at the floor. It should also keep the tab.
  4. The following augmented reality effects should be provided:
    1. Visual effects, in the form of virtual dancefloor lighting, should be provided. As well as technology allows, those effects should be adequate to the mood of the music being played;
    2. The people with whom one is interacting (listening to their music, texting with, etc.) should be highlighted;
    3. Danger situations (people on path of collision, the borders of the dancefloor, etc.) should be unobtrusively but clearly highlighted;
    4. The arrival of one’s beverage should be unobtrusively but clearly signalled.
  5. Adequate floorspace should be provided for the number of expected participants, following those instructions:
    1. The space can be either indoors or outdoors;
    2. If indoors, prefer a spacious, level open room, with high ceiling and neutral décor. Many settings might work, from a proper nightclub , to an empty warehouse or the central hall of a shopping center;
    3. If outdoors, prefer a spacious, level ground. If the party takes place during daylight, provide adequate shading;
    4. Keep any fixtures and furniture on the borders, out of the main dance space.

Notes:

  • Be wary of security issues, especially considering the participants will have their perceptions diminished and overwhelmed. Plan beforehand for any emergency situation;
  • It is crucial to have technical personnel available to quickly solve any technical that may arise (replacing faulty personal devices, switching to a backup central processor, etc.);
  • People wearing prescription glasses will have a sub-optimal experience with the augmented reality glasses. Those people may consider wearing one-day disposable prescription contact lenses on the occasion of the party.
  • Recipe for Interactive Art

    One US Dollar Banknote

    1. The machine should be a parallelepiped with the following dimensions (within a 5 cm allowance):
      • Height = 1.4 m
      • Width = 1 m
      • Depth = 1 m
    2.  The bottom part of the machine should be a short (about 10 cm high) socket finished with brushed steel;
    3. The middle part of the machine should be an empty transparent tank of 1 m³ internal capacity. This capacity should be as exact as manufacturing technology allows (see notes);
    4. The upper part of the machine should be a brushed steel covered parallelepiped, following those specifications:
      1. One of the sides of the machine should bear a large digital display, containing a decimal currency value;
      2. That same side should bear a banknote slot;
      3. The other sides of the machine should be kept as simple as possible, eventually containing (if absolutely necessary) ventilation slots, holes for the cables, service accesses etc., but in no hypothesis decorative elements;
      4. The cabling should be as discreet as possible;
      5. Internally, the machine should contain a recto-verso image scanner, a computer, a secondary-memory storage device and a paper shredder;
    5. The machine should operate as follows:
      1. A banknote is inserted in the slot;
      2. The banknote is scanned on both faces;
      3. The machine identifies which currency and value corresponds to the banknote;
      4. If the banknote cannot be identified, it is returned;
      5. If the banknote can be identified, the following events should occur:
        1. The banknote will be shredded into tiny bits (no larger than 5 ×5 mm), which will be thrown on the tank below;
        2. The value of the banknote will be converted to the reference currency;
        3. This converted value will be added to the value on the digital display in front of the machine;
        4. The image of both faces of the banknote will be stored in the memory device with these metadata: a sequential id, a timestamp, the identified currency, the identified value, the value in the reference currency;
    6. While on display, the machine should be left operating, with the public allowed to insert banknotes on it. If the machine needs to be stopped for more than a short while (e.g., to be serviced), it should be removed from display (either physically, either by being covered with an opaque crate);
    7. When the tank becomes full, its contents should be compacted and left at the bottom, and the machine should resume operation;
    8. When the tank becomes unredeemably full, the machine should be retired, with the following provisions:
      1. The tank should be removed and sealed with a transparent cover;
      2. The tank should be put over a cylindrical socket (H = 20 cm, Ø = 110 cm, white matt finishing);
      3. The storage device should be removed from the machine;
      4. The storage device should be put over a cylindrical white socket (H = 120 cm, Ø = 25 cm, white matt finishing);
      5. The tank and the storage device should be displayed together, near each other, but as independent pieces, with the labels “9999 $ in 1 m³” and “9999 $ in XX GiB”, substituting 9999 by the appropriate value, $ by the appropriate currency and XX by the size of the data stored in the storage device;
      6. The remaining parts of the machine should be destroyed and discarded.

    Notes:

    1. The tank dimensions may vary considerably as temperature changes. The tank should therefore be dimensioned accordingly to the expected exhibition conditions. Consider also that, once full, the integrity of the tank might be jeopardized if it shrinks as temperature drops. A tough material which changes little with temperature might be the best choice for the tank, on the other hand ordinary Plexiglas might be particularly ill-adapted;
    2. The memory storage technology should be chosen to be very compact, error-tolerant and to keep the bits reliably for a long time. Currently, the best compromise would be either a small form-factor hard-disk drive, either a solid-state drive ;
    3. The reference currency should be the currency of the place where the machine is located. If the machine is expected to travel across places with multiple currencies, U.S. Dollars should be used instead;
    4. For reference, if the machine is fed only usual USD banknotes, about 883 thousand notes will be necessary to fill the tank, the total weight of which will be 883 kg;
    5. For reference, if all those notes are 100 USD bills (highly unlikely), the display will need 12 decimal digits (8 units before the decimal point and 4 after);
    6. For reference, if no data compression is used and those notes are digitized at 600 dpi (236 dpcm), each will need approximately 11 MiB for a recto-verso scan, resulting in 9.3 TiB of data; for 100 dpi (40 dpcm) resolution, this is reduced to about 260 GiB of data — a compromise between resolution, compression and available technology for the storage device may be sought;
    7. The memory device should be designed so to be extremely unlikely that it will fill before the tank. And if this ever happens, the machine should be temporarily removed from display, the data should be transferred to a new, roomier device, and the original device should be destroyed;
    8. Intently destroying currency is illegal in most jurisdictions. It is possible (but by no means guaranteed) than an exemptions could be obtained if the curator agrees to refund the Treasury the cost of replacing the destroyed banknotes.

    Recipe for Performance Art

    Punch CardThe Setting

    1. The performance should be held on a large unadorned room, if possible longer than it is wide;
    2. The scene where the performance takes place should occupy approximately half the room in one longitudinal strip;
    3. The public should be kept either on one side of the room, either on both sides (with the scene on the middle strip);
    4. The public should subtly be made to understand that the scene is not to be penetrated (use narrow strip marks on the floor, or different flooring on the scene, or etc.), however physical barriers or different floor levels are absolutely proscribed;
    5. The scene is to be divided into approximately three equal parts, without explicit demarcation:
      1. On one extreme, a minimalist artist’s studio; with a large drawing board, a matching chair and a small support table to hold the artists’ materials;
      2. On the middle, a large table with a stack of finished pieces, an equipment which is a combination of a  large-format scanner + document shredder, and a card punch;
      3. On the other extreme, a dumpster trash receptacle and a warehouse-type steel bookshelf;
    6. If possible, the room illumination should be as follows:
      1. The “studio area” should be bathed in warm, comfortable lighting, with auxiliary lighting for the drawing area;
      2. The “scanning area” should be bathed in strong cold lighting;
      3. The “storage area” should be bathed in very warm lighting (almost red) much fainter than the other two areas;
      4. The rest of the room should be left in the dark, with just enough lighting to ensure the safety of the public.

    The performance

    The performance comprises three moments: The Creation, The Digitization, The Punching and The Storage / Disposal. The three latter form a sequence, but there may be long hiatuses (because the scanning and the punching are potentially slow processes) during which the operators may, in the interest of avoiding unnecessary visual clutter, leave the scene. The Creation, however is quite independent from all other steps, and may be performed either in sequence or in parallel with them.

    The Creation
    1. A large blank sheet of paper or canvas is attached to a drawing board;
    2. One of several invited artists creates an original artwork, using any flat, conventional technique as s/he wishes (charcoal, pastel, acrylic, watercolour, pencil drawing, etc);
    3. Once finished, the artwork is detached from the drawing board and stacked on a pile on the table at the middle.
    The Digitization
    1. Two operators choose a random piece from the pile;
    2. They carefully feed it into a large-format scanner / shredder, which gradually reduces it to small bits just as soon as it digitizes it;
    3. The resulting shreds are collected in a box lined with a black trash bag.
    The Punching
    1. Once the piece is completely digitized, it is processed to fit into a 175 KiB JFIF file;
    2. Operator 1 takes the black trash bag from the shredder and puts it in the chad box of the card punch;
    3. Simultaneously, operator 2 feeds new cards to the punch and instructs it to punch the JFIF file.
    The Storage / Disposal
    1. Operator 1 takes care of disposing of the thrash bag with the chad and the shreds of the original artwork. S/he takes the bag from the card punch, ties it and throws it into the dumpster;
    2. Simultaneously, operator 2 takes care of putting the punched cards into an archive box and handwriting a label with the name of the artist, the name of the artwork, the date of creation and the date of scanning. S/he attaches the label to the box and carefully puts it away on the bookshelf.

    Notes

    • Artwork: techniques that may prevent the scanning / shredding process should be avoided, which may include collages and thick empâtements. If ink is to be used, it should be fast drying (oil paint, for example, is to be avoided);
    • Operators: no provision is made about specific gestures or costumes, except to stay away from stereotyping and overacting. In particular, the dreadful white lab coat cliché is to be avoided at all costs;
    • Invited artists: they should not be constrained in terms of action or dress. They must, however, agree to refrain for interfering even in the slightest with the action outside “The Creation”;
    • To provide a reference, if  80 column × 12 bit cards are used, each artwork will demand approximately 1500 cards;
    • To keep the performance interesting, it might be advisable to be able to slow down the timing of scanning and punching, in the case technology allows it to proceed too fast. Ideally, each process should take a dozen minutes, so an entire cycle, from “The Digitization” to “The Storage” could take about half an hour;
    • Provisions must be made in the (not unlikely) event of technical troubles, so that the operators can stay in character, and the performance may “fail graciously”.

    This latter issue is so important, that I may want to address it in more specific terms in future versions of this recipe.

    Recipe for Conceptual Art

    1. Choose a few writers using the following criteria:
      1. They must be professional writers (journalists, essayists, fiction writers, scientists, etc.);
      2. They must use a word processor in their ordinary creative writing;
    2. Ask each writer to write a piece on their usual word processor, following those instructions:
      1. They should use a large-size computer screen (up to 32”). They can choose whether to orient the screen in portrait or landscape mode;
      2. They should write a short piece, of any genre (essay, short story, chronicle, review), provided that it fits on a single computer screen when using an easily readable type;
      3. The entire writing from blank page to finished piece must take place in less than 12 hours;
      4. After they finish, the piece will be unredeemably finished. Errors and omissions (including grammar ones) will be considered features;
    3. Capture the entire process in video, following those instructions:
      1. Capture the entire contents of the screen, in at least 30 fps and full resolution (equal to the screen);
      2. Capture the of the ambient noise synchronously (with special attention to keystrokes and writer utterances);
    4. Display the resulting videos, following those instructions:
      • Use a screen of the exact same proportions as the screen used in the writing. The size can be scaled up. The screen “feel” should be the same as the one used in the writing (in particular, both should be either emissive or reflexive). Keep frames neutral and unadorned. Be especially wary of strong LEDS and large buttons;
      • Have the soundtrack played synchronously. Avoid disruptive interference between the pieces (use headphones, “bubbles” of sound, etc.). Make the sound devices the less noticeable as technology allows;
      • Keep room decoration to a minimum and be careful with illumination to avoid parasite reflexes.

    The concept is illustrated on thie video clip below. I had to make several compromises to make the video possible on the available media, so it is accelerated (twice the speed), has a lower resolution than the original (making legibility poor), does not capture the entire screen and (worse of all) was somewhat horizontally squeezed. But it gives a taste of what the artwork intends to convey — how contemporary text is wrought by using contemporary text processing tools. It also wants to capture the very particular way which an individual writer employs to arrive to the final result.

    By the way, the text shown in the video is ipsis litteris the text on the first part of this post (which has, as I now discover, several typos, mistakes and stylistic blunders — which I am lefting untouched to honour the proposed contract).