Monday, December 28, 2009

Symmetry and the Monome

I was just in Cambridge, MA over Christmas and happened to walk into the mathematics section at the Harvard Book Store. There was a book on Symmetry called "Symmetry" by Marcus De Sautoy. Not only is it an absorbing read into how symmetry works and its role in the world, but it's also an interesting journey into the life and work and mind of a mathematician.

I was amazed to read that all 17 possible types of plane symmetry are represented in the patterns and designs on the walls of the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain. I was just there a few years back and it's one of my favorite architectural wonders. It wasn't until hundreds of years later that it was mathematically proven that 17 was the limit and there will never be an 18th type.

The human mind is a master of pattern recognition. In fact, we are very very good at noticing differences in patterns but not so good at absolute measurement. For example we can look at two very similar shades of a color and detect minute differences but we can't look at one color and know absolutely that is was this shade or the other without two to compare. This is a capability encoded in the way our mind works. It is essentially a pattern comparison and recognition machine.

This brings me to something important in the world of music. Symmetry and the language of patterns is extremely important to music as well. The mind loves patterns but also likes the challenge of finding patterns that are not obvious. If we present a pattern that is too symmetrical or too perfect or too obvious, it is not always pleasing to us and we grow bored quickly. The Japanese knew this and added imperfections to perfect things. The word for this was "Wabi-sabi" - "The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" (according to Leonard Koren in his book Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers) quoted from Wikipedia".

I believe that this striving of the mind to make patterns and recognize patterns as well as cause and effect is also why the monome is so interesting and attractive. Applications on the monome are written to change a blank slate grid of lighted buttons into patterns that represent how we interact with music, video and other applications of the monome. The mind not only strives to understand the patterns of this interaction but also the cause and effect of hitting a button and a light appearing. This makes it a perfect human interface. It is imperfect by design, and that makes it perfect.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Track - In Deep

Here's a little track I recorded with my modular and monome a bit ago. The interesting thing here is the organic and shakey quality of the tones. It's definitely analog in a unpredicatable and pleasing way. At least it's pleasing to me.

InDeep by barnone

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I'll take One Alpha Please!

Ok, I friggin did it. I ordered an Eigenharp Alpha...and only days after the announcement. I'm not usually a sucker for a slick marketing campaign and PR blitz. I think what happened here was a lot of pent up frustration with midi and keyboards and other controllers and a vision of what could be suddenly became a physical object of desire, put on preorder at a lofty price, finished in fine wood and metal. Days after said act, I am not repentant in the least. In fact I am feeling better and better about it. Granted I really don't think this is for everyone. Early adopters are a strange lot. If the shit hits the fan, I can hack and program my way into something useable for me. I have a decent understanding of the technical approach they are taking, the limitations and risks. Basically, I'm starting an eigenharp weblog right now. I am very optimistic at this point that this instrument is truly not just unique but fairly revolutionary. I cheer these guys on as it is surely not an easy task or a small one. I especially applaud the fact that they have released something like the Alpha that is also a fine work of craftmanship. While the price is expensive, so is a fine guitar. I don't expect that this will be the only price points for these instruments, but I do think it worthwhile and telling that they produce and instrument that is designed to last decades, like a Gibson Les Paul or a Strat or Tele from the 60's. That's a truly bold statement that I have to respect.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Eigenharp's Big Ambitions Involve Open Source

More details are emerging on the Eigenharp everyday. I must say that this controller has me pretty excited. It seems to align well with ideas that I have been playing with recently around how to design a better performance keyboard device in general. Certain concepts using the Monome grid to play scales in SevenUpLive are reflected in the design of the Eigenharp's grid as well. After having played with such a grid arrangement of buttons tied to scales, I can say that it is a highly productive and exciting way to play music that does away with the physical limitations and quirks of traditional fingering arrangements, for example on the guitar or piano keyboard. Moreover you can use software to move and transpose fingerings by keys or degrees in the scale on the fly.

The Eigenharp goes much further than just a nice controller layout. It also has super sensitive controls with x,y,z data, for velocity, tremelo, and whatever else you decide to tie to them. Combined with very high sampling rates and data throughput, the instruments biggest problem will be the fact that virtually no existing software can deal with the possible volume and expressiveness of the data produced. This is why it's important that there is also software packaged with it to provide support for this data internally and to transform the data into packages that existing plugins and even Midi instruments can handle.

The biggest fear in all of this is to have a totally proprietary system where integrations to the instrument and it's software cannot be made by external parties. Luckily recent interviews and information coming out of the company point to open sourcing of the protocols and APIs, allowing external developers to build the bridges to other systems. I'm encouraged by what I am hearing.

The Create Digital Music blog has a great article detailing the plans for the protocol and APIs here: Eigenharp on Create Digital Music

An informative series of interviews with the founder on Sonic State.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Monomeet just wrapped up in Princeton, NJ last weekend. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a meeting of monome people and monome interested people and other assorted gawkers.

Watch this location for videos that are posted or soon to be posted.

monomeetfall2009 on Vimeo

There is also a soundcloud account with performance audio posted that is definitely worth your attention.

Audio on Soundcloud

I didn't make it to the East Coast but instead woke up and did a video performance contribution remotely. We announced a beta version of SevenUpLive that has some very nice enhancements to it's melodizers that enable a player to transpose the notes they are playing or patterns they have recorded across modes and keys of a scale.

Bliss - SevenUpLive 1.4 Preview from bar|none on Vimeo.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Don't Mess With Open Source

With the APC-40 out for controlling Ableton Live, we have seen probably the tightest integration yet with Ableton. Other controllers like the monome and JazzMutant Lemur can't help but be jealous. MaxForLive was going to be the holy grail for integrating controllers with Live, but it has been slow to be released. Enter "LiveAPI" which is a python remote script API to Live, put together by members of the Open Source community. This API gives MaxForLive functionality now! It was no mean feat as these APIs to Ableton needed to be discovered and uncovered without any help or documentation from Ableton.

Thread is here on
LiveAPI Discussion

One of the fruits of this effort is a new Lemur template for API-40 like clip launching control from the Lemur. It works wonderfully an has some tricks up its sleeve the APC-40 can't match like textual labels on the clips, tracks and scenes. Even the colors you choose in your set synchronize with the Lemur. This template was provided on the Covert Operators site here with an instructional video on how to set it up.

Covert Operators Lemur Template for LiveAPI

Live 8 Lemur Clip Launcher by The CovOps from Bjorn Vayner on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I'm always tripping over the word "realtime" when I describe a recording or a video or a performance. What is "realtime" and what is not? It's pretty fuzzy these days. Is a sampled instrument being played "realtime"? Is a midi pattern you just recorded on the fly playing back "realtime"? Is a loop, you are slicing up by pressing keys on a keyboard or monome "realtime"? It's kind of a hazy concept isn't it?

Maybe we need a new term. I need some candidates. How bout a definition first. "A performance state where a sound can be transformed and manipulated at a moments notice by the performer so that the outcome of the performance is not known ahead of time ".

Give me a good term for that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Self playing patches are another area of using the modular that are fascinating. Using random voltages and subtle interplay between modules to create a patch that plays itself without human intervention of any kind.

This is my first. Sounds like a great horror movie sound track to me. Now if my modular could keep producing this stuff on it's own and cash in on the horror genre movie royalties, I could stop working.

More fast forward here. Just started working with Kyma sound design language. Here is a little noodle using one sound from Kyma that I used for bass and melody and then sampled and created reverse slices to accent the melody. I play these slices with some nice granular reverb. It doesn't really go anywhere yet, but I'm working on it.

AAC version sounds better and posted here.


Soundcloud for ease of access.

What is it about drones? I've never really understood why people make them before I got a modular and now I see the art form. They are also cool to listen to. There is something unpredictable about them where your ear tries to tune in and make order of it. There is beauty in that. I find the subtle ones can be quite beautiful to listen to.

Here's a little snip of one of my first.

Oh wow, I am so behind on this blog. A lot of new stuff, so this may feel like a fast forward. First of all, new video tutorial posted on how to get started with SevenUpLive.

SevenUpLive v1.1 Getting Started Tutorial from bar|none on Vimeo.

Secondly, I've been super immersed in learning how to use my modular synth. What a cool learning experience. The hardest thing is letting go of cool sounds once you patch them. There is no "Save" option. This is an amazingly cool thing and a terrifying thing all at once.

This next video is one of those sounds that I patched. It sounded awesome and I just had to record something immediately. It's great to document this way, but then comes the hard part of unpatching it and knowing you can't get it back exactly the same ever again.

Flight Test from bar|none on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Collide into me

Made a new video with the new v1.1 SevenUp. For the first time I played with the vocoder in Live 8. The carrier for the vocoder is the lush pad line that is playing but you don't hear it since it is sidechained into the vocoder. The voice itself is me singing some short phrases. The melodizer triggers each voice part at a different pitch using Sampler. Different samples are mapped to different melodizer notes for variety.

Collide into me from bar|none on Vimeo.
The new SevenUp v1.1 has been released. It was definitely time for a video demo as the new looper and loop recorders in 7up have some pretty deep possibilities. Here is the first in hopefully a series of video demos on 7up.

SevenUpLive v1.1 Looping Tutorial #1 from bar|none on Vimeo.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I remember vividly in high-school getting my early generation Sony Walkman. Yeah I know I am dating myself. It was a marvel and expensive and desirable. Cassette tapes on the go! Well I also remember the tape I listened to over and over again on that thing when I first got it. It was The Who - Who's Next and my favorite track was Baba O'Riley. The sound on those headphones was incredible and the synth part and the start was a marvel. Despite trying to duplicate it later at various times with certain tools, I never could. Now fast forward 2009 and I get my first Modular and what happens, this track just opens up to me and becomes clear because I am using a tool with the same limitations as what Pete used. The limitation is that it's a mono-synth with certain note priority, so when you play a base pattern, then play notes over that between the base notes, you get the signature interference pattern. Add to that, some real analog oscillators and filters and envelopes and voila!

Now all the sequencing including drums, drum fills, bass, piano and the synth lines are done using SevenUpLive on the Monome. They are all laid down in one pass with no edits as I like to do. It's not a complete track but an experiment in conjuring the past.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Drum machines are notoriously mechanical sounding and it is very hard to simulate the dynamics and randomness of a human drummer. I just discovered a little trick in Live 8 for creating some humanization in your drum rack. Put a random velocity filter in front of your rack that intercepts velocity coming from in my case the sequencer in the SevenUpLive monome app. SevenUpLive only has 2 fixed velocities of light and hard. By putting this filter in, I can inject random changes to velocity, and even gate notes that are below and above a certain range, plus move the dynamics of the whole thing up and down. Here's a track and video where I do just that. The Lemur controls the humanization module as I call it.

Gleetched from barnone on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Ok, it's happened. I told myself I wouldn't succumb to the temptation of so many knobs switches and patchable wires, but what can I do? I'm drawn to this sort of thing. I finally took the leap last week to start building a modular analog synthesizer. I pretty much knew I was doomed to this fate at some point but what better point than in the middle of an economic meltdown. I figure the best music and poetry is created in times like this, so I better get my game on and be prepared.

A few pages of posts on the muff wiggler forum asking the experts there how to pack a whole bunch of functionality into 6Us of rack and I'm on my way. It was actually less painful decision-wide than I had thought once I was resigned to the task at hand.

Here's a diagram of the rack I'm shooting for.

Rack arrives on Monday so I'm prepping the studio this weekend to make room. I'm sure there will be more on this topic later.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Recent project to mashup a Monome 40h with a bleeplabs thing-a-ma-kit. The idea was just to create a fun and unique monome. The real beauty in this is sometimes using the monome there is so much to do just to start making noises. Boot up your computer, open monomeserial, open your DAW, open your app...etc... With the bleepnome, you just turn a switch and instant satisfaction. A little random noise in your day makes you happy.

I was unprepared for the number of hits this little gem got after getting picked up on the MAKE magazine blog. Bleepnome on MAKE

Bleepnome from barnone on Vimeo.


I begin therefore I am...