Three p5 sketches make up the different elements of an ambient music palette/orchestra. Sketch 1 - Lower frequency, harmonic warmth. Sketch 2 - Higher frequency, airy textures. Sketch 3 - Discrete, arhythmic percussive elements.
Sound design and musical samples of my creation make up arrays of sounds, so that long form, evolving musical experiences and compositions are possible and interactions can last from a couple of minutes to much longer. "Ambient Machine" is both a toy and a tool, both entertaining and versatile.
An interest in ambient music listening has led to making, and my background as a recording and touring electronic musician has informed my design of these sound palettes. Over the latter part of this semester, I also established ITP's Ambient Medias Group (AM Group), wherein each week I set up and curate an ambient music album listening paired with moody, slo-mo projections in the Micro Studio.
Ambient Machine is similar in scope to other pieces of mobile and DAW music software that allow users access to different audio sample banks, however in my case the variations in the samples' cycle length (the differing heights of the rectangles that bound the balls) create shifting patterns of overlap and counterpoint. In this way, users have two choices - actively freeze/unfreeze the motion of the balls so as to compose, or make some initial compositional choices and then let the soundscape evolve and play out over time in the background.
A venn diagram of users that includes children through adults, those interested in meditation, mindfulness, passive listening experiences, music creation, and generative/evolving creative coding.
A user gets acquainted with the arrays of sounds and the ball's gravity function, and quickly begins to foresee and engage with compositional choices and pleasing sonic overlaps. The aesthetics of the tones and the gentle slow motion of the balls' movements encourage a thoughtful and meditative state, and the user is intrigued to create a recording of their own design, shaping a song arc or relaxing soundscape.
It's three p5 sketches made for touch screens. Ideally, the large-size touch screen monitors like in ITP's entry hallway. The touch screens would be a triptych on a wall or tabletop. A pair of stereo speakers will flank touchscreens. Alternatively, the speakers could be traded for headphones.
I also learned a lot about how p5 works with audio, which began in ICM homework assignments. I also learned a lot about spatializing audio in my Immersive Listening class, which gives the sounds in these sketches more breathing room in the mix, especially as they combine with one another. A lot of time went into the trial and error of finding which sounds worked nicely together, and user testing reinforced these choices (some users really hated some of my original sounds!). The challenge in general with ambient music I find, is that you want it to toe a very fine line of emotionally neutral but suggesting thoughtfulness, and passively listenable but not too boring.
The project initially had me worried that it was too simple. But user testing showed me that people were compelled to play with it, and that whether they had music backgrounds or not they tended to find it interesting to play with and listen to. In many ways, this project has reminded me of the wisdom in keeping things simple.
The FM3 Buddha Machine is a physical music product that I fell in love with years ago, and allows users to cycle through different music loops inside a small speaker box. In some ways this is like that, but is a dissected and stemmed out software version. Brian Eno's "Air" mobile app is also a reference, in which you can perform samples or put it into auto-pilot mode and let it generate its own soundscapes.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Shawn Van Every and the residents Yining, Justin, and Kat who were all helpful in different phases of this project's evolution throughout the semester. I also really appreciate my ICM classmates for being encouraging of the project and showing me it had value for people from a variety of musical and non-musical backgrounds.