One of the bits of hardware that keep showing up around me are the Percussa Audio Cubes. I would keep on running into Percussa's owner, Bert Schiettecatte, at trade shows, would run into users in different places, and even found out that my friends (see Mark Mosher...) are seriously into them. So when Mark opened the door for me to chat with Bert, I rushed in!
Bert's story is a somewhat common one - a guy with a vision of a product that works hard to make it happen. But when you start talking about all the different things that he had to learn - and master - for this implementation to succeed, it seems like an impossible task. So how does one person make the impossible happen? That's what we talk about.
I hope you enjoy this one - it is very revealing, but also points to one of the most innovative products out there. Enjoy the podcast, and check out the cubes!
In a related note, I’m still using the hell out of AudioCubes in my controllerism rig and with the 9 Box interactive social musical instrument. As was mentioned in this interview, I’m also expanding my use to create virtual patch cables for U-HE ACE (videos coming soon), and using the wireless AudioCubes to play pieces in Concrete Mixer performances.
Below are some videos of the AudioCubes in Action.
Wow, the Mountain Oasis 2013 festival was simply epic! As I mentioned in a recent post, I was that there at the invitation of the Bob Moog Foundation. I brought my "9 Box" installation / instrument to be part of Dr. Bob's Interactive Sonic Experience. In this post I’ll offer some photos and videos from my time at the fest.
9 Box as Part of Dr. Bob's Interactive Sonic Experience
For those not familiar with the 9 Box, it’s part collaborative instrument, part interactive installation -- the 9 Box allows up to six casual players to instantly make music and shape sound by manipulating blocks called AudioCubes.
AudioCubes, made by California based Percussa (http://www.percussa.us), are smart wireless cubes capable of sensing each other's location and orientation as well as distance to your hands, fingers and other objects. They also emit feedback in the form of light as you interact with them. Ultimately this hands-on approach allows players to manipulate sets of sounds in 3x3 grids -- hence the name 9 Box. The 9 Box supports also supports user creatable "refills" allowing for unique and endless sonic possibilities.
So I devised the method, player’s guides and stickers, Percussa MIDI Bridge template, and Ableton Live templates and refill system.
SicImages was there and took this photo and made the comment
"These blocks were really something crazy. Infrared sensors and wireless proximity based effects manipulation into ableton....whatttt!”
The 9 Box ran for 18 hours over 3 days and was played by 100s of festival goers of all ages and went over really well. This embedded video offers a taste of what it was like to be at the 9 Box section of the booth area. It was so rewarding see people's reactions to the 9 Box and to hear their creations throughout the weekend.
Flickr Photo Set of Overall Festival Experience
Of course besides the booth time which ran from noon to seven each day I also was able to experience performances. Highlights for me were Gary Numan, Nine Inch Nails, Tara Busch, and Alan Howarth (co-composer of the soundtracks to all those great John Carpenter horror movies, and sound designer for films like the Star Trek franchise.
Mountain Oasis exceed my expectations in every way. There probably around 7,000 people there which was a large enough number of attendees to make Asheville feel vibrant but not overrun. I felt the festival was well organized and there was a nice mix of artists. The Arena was perfect for bigger acts like NIN and Gary Numan. The 500 seat Diana Wortham was great for more intimate performances by Tara Busch and Alan Howarth. The Orange Peel housed more beat driven shows like Laurel Halo. Moving between venues was in itself interesting as people were in costumes and there were lots of talented street musicians playing.
3 days was the perfect length as by the end I was worn out – but in a good way. After experiencing Mountain Oasis it’s clear that AC Entertainment has hit their stride with this event and Moog Inc’s lack of participation and the name change didn’t phase them. I’d definitely go back.
Mountain Oasis Festival was just an incredible experience all the way around. One of the coolest music-related trips ever!!! HUGE thanks to:
HUGE news! I’ll be helping out the awesome The Bob Moog Foundation at the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit.
I’ll be flying out to bring my multi-player "9 Box" Percussa AudioCubes
casual instrument/interactive installation to be a part of the
“expanded Dr. Bob’s Interactive Sonic Experience”. What an honor! I
can’t wait. If you'll be at the fest come say hi.
The Bob Moog Foundation brings sonic inspiration, engagement and
education to Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit with an expanded Dr.
Bob’s Interactive Sonic Experience. Featuring an array of synthesizers,
theremins, effects, oscilloscopes and more, the Interactive Sonic
Experience will be open to all ages from 12:00-6:00pm each day of the festival in the lobby of the Diana Wortham Theatre.
The community is invited to explore the sonic universe and learn about
the fundamentals of synthesis through hands-on interaction with a range
of incredible electronic musical instruments. Marc Doty,
Education Specialist for the Bob Moog Foundation and highly esteemed
synth demonstrator with over 5 million views on YouTube, will be present
throughout the festival to guide attendees through the Interactive
New to this year’s set-up will be Boulder-based electronic musician and performer Mark Mosher
who will be bringing his multi-player “9 Box” to Dr. Bob’s Interactive
Sonic Experience. Part collaborative instrument, part interactive
installation – the 9 Box allows up to four casual players to instantly
make music and shape sound using smart wireless sensor cubes called
AudioCubes made by California-based Percussa.
In addition to being a source of musical inspiration, the 9 Box and
AudioCubes are becoming popular as a teaching solution in STEM schools.
I’m up late doing some prep work before I start production on Album #3 in my alien invasion series. Tonight I’ve started reviewing some original patches I’ve created in various synths over the last year with the goal selecting a small number of synths for the album in the spirit of “limiting my toolset”.
I thought I'd share a photo of my experiments where I'm an AudioCube to modulate parameters Tone 2’s Rayblaster. Rayblaster allows you to assign CCs 16-19 right into the mod matrix saving you a MIDI mapping step. This makes it very easy to assign corresponding MIDI CCs in MIDI Bridge.
When narrowing down to this list, I worked to find a very complimentary set of instruments with great workflow. The instruments range in character from pure synthesis instruments (Zebra and Predator), to sample-based instruments (Sampler, Iris), to hybrids (Alchemy, ElextraX) to virtual drum machines (utonic). The instruments with green dots in front are ones I’ve been spending 100s of hours with working to create signature "patches” from scratch that I’ll use in future compositions, productions, and live performances. I should also note that I’m also using many of these synths as effects processors allowing me to capitalize on the investment I made learning the synth workflows (here is a post on this notion) .
For those not familiar with some of these synths checkout some audio samples from past sound design experiments. First is a clip with Alchemy (download MP3) where I use granular synthesis to repurpose the field recording of a fluorescent light bulb.
Here is another example where I use Alchemy (download mp3) to repurpose crowd noise from a CU bastkeball game, a morse code key, and add in something called factalized waveforms.
Next is a Zebrify patch where I slowly pitch up and then process this incoming signal of a Theremin with two comb filters with the pitch of filters being modualted by a step LFO (download mp3)?
Next Steps – Deeper with the Top 3
As I go into the fall I’m going to be spending a lot more time with Zebra and Alchemy. They are both extremely deep and very complimentary. They nicely cover the entire spectrum from pure synthesis to sample mangling. Absynth, which I bought in 2002, is the first virtual synth I ever owned so holds a special place in my rig. I’ll be doing some synth work with it as well but will focus heavily on using it as an effects processor.
Which Should You Pick?
If you have limited funds or time and just want to go deep with one synth, you can't go wrong if you pick one of the three mentioned in the previous paragraph. Again, Zebra is pure synthesis (no samples) and semi-modular. Alchemy is great at resynthesis and sample mangling so if you are into field recordings this is your best bet. Absynth is somewhere between the two and is a great pick if you want to work with extreme multi-segment envelopes and very interesting and unusually effects. I give them all 10/10 and the deeper you go, the more you’ll be rewarded.
If you are looking for a fantastic subtractive that can also be used as an effects processor Predator is fantastic choice. If you want a hybrid with subtractive workflow with visual feedbak, ElectraX is a good bet.
Controllerism with the Top 4
Now that I’ve further narrowed my list, I’m working on templates for various controllers to get even more expressive results with Zebra, Alchemy, Absynth and Predator. I’m using the Alchemy Mobile to control Alchemy on my computer, I’m working on a custom Lemur template for Zebra and Absynth. I’ll also be working on mappings for my Novation Remote SL and refining my AudioCube patches for these synths.
I’ll leave you with a video I did some time ago showing the use of one Percussa AudioCube face in sensor mode to play a note plus send MIDI CC info to control the XY of Alchemy.
I decided to combine the fluid tangible spatial control of Percussa AudioCubes with the some droning patches I made from INIT with Madrona Labs wonderful Aalto synth.
Aalto has an awesome gate feature which allows you to create interesting drones leaving your hands free to modulate the hell out of parameters to create expressive and unique performances. You can also modulate the gate. Two AudioCubes in Sensor mode allow you to modulate with 8 MIDI CC’s with two hands.
AudioCubes Makes Virtual Synths Tangible
Watch the video above first with annotations on, then a second time with annotations off. On the second pass through watch how fluid the control is and how many parameters I’m managing at the same time. You’ll also see I’m getting visual feedback in the form of light intensity and color. After you perform with AudioCubes for a while your brain starts to fool you into thinking that there are pressure bubbles around the sensors. In other words, even though the throw is about three inches when using your fingers with cubes, you can become quite accurate with control – especially when you combine visual feedback and audio feedback.
Because you can configure and map cube function differently with each patch, set and instrument, you start also thinking of each combination as an instrument on to itself. Once I set something like this up, I find myself coming back to it again and again getting a little better with the “instrument” with each use. This often results in me wanting to push things further and I learn the synth better plus creating more expressive performances.
I used the configure button on the Ableton Device holding the Aalto synthesizer select a set of parameters that I then map to faces of two Percussa AudioCubes in sensor mode. I did a video on the this Ableton mapping process a few years back with different devices, but the premise is the same. These cubes were configured via Percussa’s free MIDIBridge app. I then use spatial movement of my fingers modulate parameters in Aalto. In same cases cubes modulate each other if sensors are facing each other.
Percussa continues it's excellent customer support with another free update to MIDIBridge. The big featue in this update is the app now supports up to 16 AudioCubes up from 4 of the original version! Patches from previous versions will load just fine and simply load parameters for the first 4 cubes.
They also implemented one of my requests to add a modal dialog that pops up when you try to shut-down MIDIBridge. This prevents accidentally shut-downs during live performance.
Earlier this year Percussa upgraded the app to support:
“Solo” buttons on "sensor" cube faces. Soloing allows you to “send the distance info as a MIDI control change only for the selected cube face. This is handy if you want to quickly MIDI-map a cube face to an effect parameter in Ableton Live for example.”
Fixes which improve cube "state" recognition after patch loads - again speeding up configuration work.
Cube color is now saved with the preset for relevant modes.