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Shane Byrne – Interactive Synthesis

For the previous couple of blog entries I have focused on the work of other artists and composers but this week I have decided to speak briefly about a project that I completed earlier on this summer. It was one of the first installations that I produced for a third party and it was incredibly enjoyable (and at times frustrating) to have to work within boundaries set out by a third party, with constraints imposed on both the concepts and the allotted time to complete the project. These constraints ended up creating a sort of game out of the whole process which was at times quite frustrating but ultimately incredibly satisfying.

The task that I was given was to create an interactive audio installation within a new area at this year’s Electric Picnic. The only information I had upon beginning the project was that the installation was going to be in a laundrette so the main bulk of the installation was to be housed in washing machines. As I had already mentioned time was very tight so I began work on the build almost as soon as the concept was finalised. The concept was that the installation would consist of four washing machines, each representing an instrument. On each instrument there would be four controls that the users could interact with. The controls consisted of an on/off switch, a volume control, a modulation control and a speed control.

Rather than being instruments in the traditional sense, the washing machines were actually generative music boxes. Generative music is a term that was popularised by the legendary Brian Eno and is defined as music that is in a constant state of flux, ever changing and always different, but bound by a system that is defined by certain rules. In the case of the washing machines I created four ‘voices’; a soft pad sound, chimes, a simple bass and a basic percussion instrument. Each instrument would make it’s own harmonic choices, with so many variables present in each choice that the chances of exact repetition  would be extremely low. Although the instrument essentially made it’s own choices it still had to follow a certain set of rules that I had imposed upon the system. What this meant is that all the instruments would be harmonically related to each other and they would play with each other in time.

The next element of the installation was to introduce the human interactive element. This was provided by the controls on the washing machines that allowed the users to introduce or remove the instruments from the ensemble at will. Each instrument’s volume could be adjusted

along with it’s tempo ( varying tempos were all integer multiples of each other meaning that the instrument was always in time, albeit half time or double time etc.). Each instrument had a modulation control which varied in characteristic from instrument to instrument. For example the bass instrument’s modulation was a distortion while the chimes modulation was a subtle delay. The pad had a lowpass filter as it’s modulation parameter and finally reverb was introduced to the percussive instrument.

Unfortunately the only media I have of the actual installation is this short video below this article (I was fortunate enough to be going to NewZealand the day after I completed the install so I wasn’t actually present for the event)

but it gives an idea of what the project looked and sounded like while it was in the final stage of construction (please excuse the audio quality).

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