Whew! Boy am I not exhausted from not attending CES. Via my patented investigative technique of reading other news sources I am pleased to bring you this secondhand report of Things You Just Might Want to Consider Connecting to Max, If You’re So Inclined in that Direction. Up first. Smart lighting.
So here’s the problem. You’re sitting on the floor, the way you normally do, and you have a cat on your lap and the cat just won’t get up. Normally this isn’t a problem, but the sun has gone down and you can’t see anything. Wouldn’t it be great to control the lighting in your room from your iPhone? For that cat’s sake. That’s worth $200, right? These are the difficult life decisions the Phillip’s Hue system asks of me.
Using Phillip’s excellent REST API and some clever hacking, Cycling’s David Zicarelli successfully linked Max to the Philips Hue system with disco-licious results. The system isn’t designed for low latency performance, so don’t expect beat-synced ramping of hues, but using Max to control lighting opens new and innovative ways to annoy the people you live with.
Belkin takes aim at Phillips by expanding their WeMo home automation system to include smart LED light bulbs. While the WeMo light bulbs are cheaper than Hue, they don’t offer changeable colors. Belkin’s LED light bulbs join WeMo’s expanding line of home automation products that include switch and motion sensors.
Also announced for the WeMo platform is the WeMo Maker. This device allows you to take readings from 5 volt analog sensors and switch up to 36 volts DC. Check out the WeMo local SDK for iOS and Android for developer information.
Belkin’s WeMo system has its own set of modules at, ITFFF, a popular service that allows you to create connections between dozens of services like Twitter, Instagram and your phone with a simple IF (this) THEN (that) statement. This allows you to use a WeMo sensor to phone you up if it detects motion in your house, or use a light switch to publish a blog post.
Sure, sending tweets when your dog wakes up is all jetpacky and nineteensixtyfourworldsfairy, but when is somebody going to step up to accommodate people who need to control their crock pot from Starbucks? It has been 25 years since the first internet toaster was demonstrated, surely CES 2014 will show some progress on this front?
Well put away the pitchfork and get out your actual fork because the future is now with the Belkin CrockPot WeMo Slow Cooker.
Belkin this, Belkin that. You’d think Belkin invented smart things, but put down that burrito because I’m going to tell you something that will shatter your brain’s mind. Smart Things invented Smart things. Smart Things is an open platform, meaning multiple companies like Honeywell, GE and Aeon Labs make Smart Things-compatible products. The product line up for Smart Things is a bit more extensive than Belkin. There are options for moisture sensors, pressure sensors, keychain ‘presence’ fobs and more.
Smart Things, WeMo and Hue communicate wirelessly to a dedicated hub that you connect to your home network. That’s why ‘starter packs’ of any of these products fall into the $200 range. Of course, they’re not compatible with each other, meaning you need a separate hub for each system. You can cross integrate, however, and the easiest way to accomplish that is via IFTTT. The allows you to, for example, use a SmartThings motion sensor to turn on a WeMo switch.
I have no idea how my son found out about the Sphero robotic ball. In the days leading up to Christmas, we were besieged by unusually persistent requests. It went something like this, “Can I have a Sphero robotic ball?” My wife’s position had the solidity of granite. “Have you seen this Sphero ball thing? It’s a another stupid remote control toy right? AND you need an iPhone, right? Dumb right? He’s not getting one. Right?” Remembering last year’s remote controlled spider my well-intentioned parents provided last year, I grunted agreement and didn’t research any further. Spousal dissent trumps son’s disappointment (and teaches a valuable lesson about life).
Our cheapness turned to triumph as Orbotix (Orbotix!) announced the Sphero 2B just two weeks after Christmas. The 2B is twice as fast as the original robotic ball! And cheaper too! And won’t be available for nine months. I bet all those suckers who bought the original Sphero are drowning in pools of early-adopter tears.
As my son and I reviewed the specifications for the 2B, it seemed to fit the description my wife supplied: a remote control vehicle that uses an iPhone for a remote. Except for… an SDK. You can develop for it!
Worse, I realized the original Sphero robotic ball was much more than a remote controlled vehicle. It has an accelerometer, compass, and gyroscope. You can use it as a controller. It can provide haptic feedback. Crap. Now I want a Sphero.
There was a time when one driver was enough. A simpler time. A time when frequencies under 100Hz were just as welcome as a fixed DC offset. Sure, “Time in a Bottle” sounded just fine on an AM radio, but this is 2014 and we can’t be expected to fully appreciate Dad Metal without shoving eight drivers into our skulls.
The SE846 uses a three way crossover, with two drivers dedicated to the low end. The SE846′s secret sauce is an physical maze of stainless steel plates that act as a “ground breaking low pass filter for a true subwoofer experience”. This channel adds about four inches of distance between the driver and the output canal.
If you’re ready to pay $1000, and enjoy using words like “soundstage”, “shimmer” and “space” to your friends, be sure to get a pair of these earphones. They won’t fully obliterate the shame and embarrassment of your teenage years, but they’ll help. Bonus: you can’t hear your kids crying.
Anything we missed? What was your favorite product announcement at CES?
Sam and I had the pleasure of meeting Masato Tsutsui in Japan in December and discussing his interesting Max-based projects.
Here’s one for the holidays:
It’s getting frosty in San Francisco these past couple of weeks, but here at sea level, we rarely get to see much snow. The California Academy of Sciences has a new exhibit that let’s us get a little taste of snow in Golden Gate Park. The other day, while reading the Chronicle, Lilli spotted a story about Toshiro Chiang’s computer-controlled artificial snow machines at California Academy of Sciences. Having originally met Tosh at the first Expo ’74, and having seen some of his Max-driven exhibition controls before, I got in touch with him to see what was behind it all. Max of course!
Here are the details we got from him:
It’s max/msp & some unix, all running on a Mac mini. The original program was written 4 years ago. Back then, we needed to tie together a showcontroller and DMX lightboard asap. This economical solution enabled us to quickly and cleanly solve every problem, with tools that we already had on site.
The patch supports DMX cues and low-voltage digital i/o. There are diagnostic indicators for system health as well as feedback. The computer itself lives in a 1RU rackspace, alongside a 1RU KVM, an ipad-driven mixingboard and some Crown amplifiers. There is even a large industrial push-button, which when enabled with an inline switch-guarded toggle (imagine that red hooded-toggle for fighter pilots enabling weapons in the movies), allows people to have it snow on demand. This feature is no longer used, but can still be supported.
There was originally a stage as well, with some par cam lights and Martin MiniMAC controllable spotlights (with full color + gobos + and pan/tilt/zoom motion!!). This is why the patch needed to support live DMX mixing and cues. There were daytime cues, night cues, special event cues, etc. This feature is also no longer utilized.
Lastly, the computer is the same one which drove our former Piazza Dancing Fountain, in which it tied a schedule to midi triggers, synchronizing the solenoid valves of 16 laminar jets and 6 leap jets to things like Electrolane, Peggy Lee & Ratatat. When we want to switch cpu configurations between fountain and snow, we just open a different patch!
During the month of November, I took a little journey into a new programming area: creating content specifically for the Ableton Push control device. This hardware has a unique place within the Max community due to its tight integration with Ableton Live (and therefore Max for Live), but it is also a powerful control surface in its own right.
With help from Mark Egloff of Ableton, I started with a goal: to create a device that would be a usable performance tool, but would “take over” the button grid on the Push to make it easy to manipulate in real time. I chose an 8-band EQ-like device that I called the Frequency Mixer, and created the code necessary to run it solely from the Push. See the result (along with some video).
Next up was to work directly with the Push in Max – completely outside the Live environment. Based on some information that Mark (Egloff) provided, I was able to determine the values needed to update the Push button matrix RGB values, and created an interesting, if rather useless, 8×8 image display. I can imagine using this to modify a program based on the display values, but have left this as an exercise for the willing Push student!
Finally, based on feedback received on YouTube, I modified the first (Frequency Mixer) project to act on other tracks in a Live set. This way, you could either mix multiple channels, or (by inverting the values) crossfade multiple tracks from a single instance of the Frequency Mixer. This is based on the use of send and receive objects that share a specific name, which is propagated through the entire Live set. See the result — a fun extension to the original device.
While I create some specific devices and projects, the implication should be much greater – that the Push, like many other controller devices, is an interesting playground for the creative coder. Hopefully you will find tips and techniques that can help you get more extensive use out of your Push!
“One of my early desires as a musician was to sculpt and organize directly the sound material, so as to extend compositional control to the sonic level – to compose the sound itself, instead of merely composing with sounds.”
A strange loop arises when, by moving only upwards or downwards, one finds oneself back where one started. The concept of a strange loop was proposed and extensively discussed by Douglas Hofstadter in Gödel, Escher, Bach. In it, he describes a beautifully-structured framework for exploring the question of how a sense of self arises out of something that has no self; to go from a state of meaninglessness to something that can refer to itself.
One kind of audible strange loop is called a Shepard tone. This illusion was invented by the psychologist Roger Shepard in 1964. He used a computer to create a series of tones that seems to rise forever. Jean-Claude Risset created a version of the scale where the tones glide continuously. The tone appears to rise (or descend) continuously in pitch, yet return to its starting note.
These pieces were the result of several years of collaboration with Max Matthews at Bell Labs, realized with Music V. Music V was an extension of Music III, (including Music III’s innovative concept of generating units which pre-dated voltage control as a formal protocol), rewritten in Fortran, with added support for analog to digital conversion so one could manipulate digital audio directly. Music V was also distributed free of charge, at the request of Max Matthews, to stimulate research and the production of computer music. During his time at Bell Labs, Risset also compiled a catalog of computer synthesized sounds, including FM and additive examples, for a synthesis course he gave in 1969 with John Chowning at Stanford University.
I set about executing a Risset glissando in Max without referencing existing implementations. I deduced that one would need a master phasor, subdivided in 90 degree phase offsets to act as the control system for the effect. Each subdivided output controls the pitch of an oscillator that moves four octaves, thus the distance between the quadratic outputs is always an octave.
The second part of effect is controlling the output level of each oscillator. The most logical way to do this is to use the existing phase-offset phasor output. The output of half of a cosine function from 270 to 90 degrees produces the correct shape for our purposes. So, if we reduce the magnitude of our phasor output by half, and shift the phase by three quarters, we’ve achieved our goal. Now when the ramp controlling the output pitch is at its most extreme (at either edge), the oscillator output is inaudible.
My first implementation of the Risset glissando resulted in a new Beap oscillator type. These oscillators are designed to accept a 1v/oct input, so, as long as all oscillators are connected to the same master phasor output, they can be stacked and played like normal oscillators. In other words, one could think about musical structures using the normal rules of harmony.
In addition, I produced a Quadrature Risset Generator module, which, when given a 0-5v phasor input, will produce eight control voltages corresponding to a pitch and amplitude pair for each quadrature output. This module can be used with any Beap oscillator to produce Risset glissandos, or used in conjunction with quantizers to produce chromatic or diatonic Risset figures that endlessly rise or fall.
At this point, I migrated to MaxForLive to produce a couple polyphonic Risset synthesizers, one based on subtractive synthesis and one based on a simple two operator FM group.
Here is a generative Risset Ableton Live set. This uses one Aleatoric module to generate the notes, followed by a mutating MIDI delay, followed by the FM Risset Synthesizer set to a period of 32 measures.
Some example output:
These devices have been added to my Live 9 Inspiration Suite along some related devices like an aleatoric generator and a couple new delay effects. (click the Download .zip button). As always, the latest version of Beap, including the new Risset modules, can be found at the Beap site.
Computer music is still in its infancy and there is so much area to explore. Risset’s work has inspired me to challenge some of my assumptions about music that I thought were fixed.