Homebrew Adventures

Michael Forrest
Wed 31 Dec 2008
Scroll to the end to see the two videos (I got onto a little bit of a ramble with my explanations) :-)

I have a lot of admiration for Raymond Scott. He created his own instruments and he played them well.

Raymond Scott lived in times of hardware. We live in times of software. Software is where I see the most potential for innovation and creativity. Ada Lovelace got it right in 1852 when she "acknowledged some possibilities of the machine which [Charles] Babbage never published, such as speculating that "the Engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent."

For years I have worked to gain mastery over the world of music software. I started with the Amiga on MED (getting an Amiga was the sole purpose I had with getting a job as young as I possibly could - paper rounds before and after school almost every day from when I was 13 years old). A few years later and Iwas using PCs and Cubase. I sold my hardware synth (to get a cello) when software synths started becoming viable. I started using Ableton Live from the moment I heard about it - initially sucked in by the realtime time-stretching and kept on it since being able to work with video the same way I've always worked with audio (see my Watchmen Trailer Remix for the most insane project I've tried recently). And let's not forget Propellerhead Reason, and the glory of Rewire. Having had training in classical instruments, I am a great believer in learning how to play my instruments. Ironically enough, the better I get with software, the less good I have to be with classical instruments... (my trumpet teacher would be so un-proud).

Sometimes the software you can buy isn't enough. I spent a few years playing in bands and always wanted to use samples to bring some more life into the sound. But it always felt so disembodied and strange to have sounds coming from nowhere when it was obvious what was coming from the guitars or drums. So I conceived this idea of a 'virtual band'. This would give form to the weird and wonderful sounds possible through audio synthesis and processing, and could inject a lot of interest into live performances. Over the years I have tried to realise this vision in many different ways. I've created models with Poser and 3DS Max, I've written MIDI responsive software in Director, I've made sample players in Flash, but there was always too much latency, or 3D modelling, or rendering or... well ... non-realtime problems, and I always ended up putting the idea on the back burner. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Create Digital Motion blogged about Animata. An open source animation tool with a really simple concept at its core, and the ability to do exactly what I've wanted to do all these years, with a fast workflow, flexibly, and in realtime. So I got to work.

I'd already used Max/MSP for a project but found it incredibly unwieldy when arrays were necessary. I've attempted to use Processing for a complex commercial project and learned that doing everything within Processing can lead to a lot of problems. I've used the Processing libraries in pure Java but found this was too much of a sacrifice in terms of sharing code and exporting applications. So this time I decided to make libraries for Processing with a bit of scripting to bind little projects together within the Processing IDE. So I built a library for the Korg MicroKontrol (and have some others underway), I got the source code for Animata to compile so I could make changes, I did some drawings, I pulled out some of the ideas I'd had earlier in the year for visuals, and I slapped it all together to make what you see in the videos below.

Turns out something that seemed quite simple in my head is gargantuan in terms of implementation complexity, but - well - here it is. Working.

VIDEO 1: Software Tour - overview of the sort of stuff I've been doing. It's kinda blurry but I think that's better than 'kinda takes forever to load' like the first version I uploaded (here, if you're very patient and have a massive screen)

Homebrew Adventures from Michael Forrest on Vimeo.

VIDEO 2: Demo:

Homebrew Adventures - demo from Michael Forrest on Vimeo.

Yeah. So my 'tribute' to my heroes comes across somewhat creepy doesn't it... But hey. It was just a quick job to wire everything out so next week I'll try something else :) Hope you got something from that anyway.


3 comments on "Homebrew Adventures"

grigori says

January 03, 2009 06:31

You are awesome!!

Michael Forrest says

January 05, 2009 07:20

Thanks for blogging me :)

Lex says

October 04, 2011 09:47

Hi Michael,

Very cool indeed. I'm writing from Montreal. I recently got a Korg MicroKontrol and I am curious about trying to do something like your set-up live for my band the Balloon Marsupials.

It doesn't look like you have been updating your site for awhile. I know that blogs can be a bit to maintain - it took me two years to discover yours. What are you doing now with this, any new discoveries?

Thanks for the inspiration!

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