Improv Sequencer

New Version of the Improv Sequencer

The new improv / performance interface for the Gravity Harps is functional, if not polished. It’s like sequencing musical DNA. I hope you like it. Let me know what you think.

disclaimers:  The visual design looks like a programmer did it. Fixed soon.  It works fine in Chrome and Safari. Ditto.  The other three tabs are blank b/c they’re only useful when connected to the Gravity Harps

2011-04-05 15.27.28

The Gravity Ring

The Gravity Ring was originally envisioned for Bjork’s Biophilia project. I met her and Michel Gondry at the MIT Media Lab when they were looking for people and inspirations for a 3D film based on Bjork’s Biophilia concepts.

Concept 1
We discussed a lot of ideas in the first meeting. The first challenge was to play one of her lovely new songs with carefully synchronized pendulums. I tried to find a simple way to play the irregular pattern of the new song Solstice. This way wouldn’t work live. But for film it would be just fine:

Concept 2
Next, it was time to make some music. It would have been easy to place instruments on the floor and pluckers on the pendulums. But I wanted each to be self-contained. The first physical prototype worked out really well.

Marina Porter came through with 11th hour help on the cigar-box instruments:

Concept 3
The song is called Solstice, so I wrapped the line of pendulums into a circle, to create patterns that echo celestial cycles.

This would have looked amazing on camera. I still hope this idea gets used someday.

At this point I thought I knew what I was doing. So I worked with Dan Paluska and Bill Washabaugh to test out a mechanical drive system for pendulums. This it the prototype that taught us that you can’t fool the eye. It was going to have to be real, free-swinging pendulums.

Bill’s early CAD drawings reflected an original, simpler design in which each pendulum could play a number of different notes. This would give the instrument musical flexibility to play the structurally complex song with as few as 16 pendulums.

Concept 4
But Björk wanted each pendulum to play only one note, so that the patterns of motion echoed the patterns of the song. An instrument shaped like a song! I liked it. So I wrote this simulator to figure out how to do it. Click the image below to open it.

Marina Porter created a series of prototype harps made from fiberglass, spruce and aluminum.

Karl Biewald created these fresh renderings from our CAD models. They show the scope and shape of the finished ring and pendulums.

We were just ramping up for final production when the parameters of the Biophilia project changed, requiring a complete redesign.

We were all still excited to use gravity and robotics to play music. So we pushed forward again to create the Gravity Harps.

Overtones and Intervals

Minor Adventures in Harmonics

While at the MIT Media Lab I created a magneto-acoustic instrument that used electromagnets to set 31 piano strings vibrating at precise frequencies.  I found each string could be played in all of its harmonic modes, and in the unstable areas between.

Here’s a recording of one string, freely resonating while the frequency of its electromagnet changes.  Notice how rich sounds and timbres bloom in the spaces between the nodes.  It feels like scuba diving in the deep harmonics of just one string.

Like the Whirly-Bot, its upper notes all lay in the harmonic series above each string’s fundamental.  So I tuned the fundamentals in 31-tone equal temperament, which approximates patterns of the harmonic series much better than 12-tone equal temperament.  I wrote this interaction simulation to prove it to myself: