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Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: software

Algorithmic Art Assembly 2020

March 27-28, 2020, in San Francisco

I mentioned yesterday the 2019 conference I spoke at, Algorithmic Art Assembly, on the topic “The Woodshed Is a Black Box,” about music communities as algorithms. The lineup of the second AAAssembly conference, to be held in San Francisco on March 27 and 28, has just been announced. I’m almost certain to attend both days. Here’s the flyer:

I’m particularly looking forward to Curtis Roads (author of Microsound, among other valuable contributions to computer music), Chris Carlson (creator of the Borderlands Granular iOS app), Cassie Tarakajian (running a Max/MSP workshop), Hannah Davis (generative musician), Amy Alexander (longtime computer-based artist), and Ruardih Law (of the Broken20 record label). Details will surface at and

And while I’m at it, I should mention for San Francisco Bay Area people that my friend Thorsten Sideb0ard, who puts together AAAssembly, is hosting an event with RM Francis and Shatter Pattern on February 9, 2020, at 180 Capp Street. Details at the event’s Facebook page.

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Harmonica Clouds

And variations within

The layering comes quickly in this video from Ryan Kunkleman. A button is pushed and the harmonica disappears off-screen. We hear a few notes, and we expect the playing to complete a phrase, for the player to pause for a breath. This doesn’t occur. Instead, before the original phrase ever ends another one is layered atop it. Looping has been enacted. There will be no pause for breath for the nearly 13 minutes of this piece. What there will be is a steady accumulation and movement between the held tones of the harmonica, chords giving way to phrases giving way to chords, little moments occasionally peeking (and peaking) through the sonorous clouds.

The tools, in addition to the harmonica and microphone, are a recent piece of software called Cheat Codes (, running on a Norns, an open-source sound computer from Monome (

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video first posted at Kunkelman’s YouTube channel, under the moniker esc.

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White Noise, Dark Theme

Version 7.6.2

This is an alert from iOS informing me about the updates to the latest version of this white-noise app, which has reached version 7.6.2. Now I’m wondering how dark-theme white noise differs from regular white noise, and if we’ll get to a point where we start employing the retronym “light-theme white noise” for regular old white noise, and yes I’m joking.

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Red Means Recording

UX, consent, and emotions

I was interviewed yesterday morning for something related to the Disquiet Junto, and the interviewer began, appropriately, by doing that standard interview thing where they ask if it’s OK that they record your voice. I’ve done this countless times myself, and I’m still getting used to it, to being on the other side of the proverbial and literal microphone. It turns out (and this was news to me, hence my making note of it) Skype now has a recording feature built in, so there’s no need for a handheld recorder, or for using a second app (though I would still recommend a backup). For privacy’s sake, when your Skype interlocutor elects to employ this in-app recorder, a little alert pops up in your window. The image shown here is from the upper left corner of my screen (in this case an iPad) as it appeared when the interviewer hit the record button. (I had, in turn, asked my interviewer if I could take this screenshot.) The message is a little reminder. The color red here is a standard “currently recording” tell, but in our global moment of heightened surveillance awareness it feels, as well, like a warning. Which is to say, there might be a nicer way for Skype to frame such an interaction.

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The Virtue of Virtual Cables

Andrew Belt talked about the VCV Rack software at Stanford on July 3.

Over the past two years, a remarkable piece of free software has helped make modular synthesis widely available. The software is called Rack, from the company VCV, which like many small software firms is essentially a single person serving and benefiting from the efforts of a far-flung constellation of developers. Andrew Belt, who develops VCV Rack, this past week visited the San Francisco Bay Area from Tennessee, where he lives and works, to give talks and demonstrations. I caught his presentation at the Stanford University’s CCRMA department this past Wednesday, July 3. It was a great evening.

Belt spoke for an hour, starting at around 5:30pm, about the origins and development of VCV Rack, how it began as a command-line effort, and how then he went back to a blank slate and started on a GUI, or graphic user interface, approach. That GUI is arguably what makes VCV Rack so popular. Rack provides emulations of synthesizer modules that look just like actual physical modules, including virtual cables you drag across the screen, much as you’d connect an oscillator and a filter in the physical world. The occasion of his visit is the release of version 1.0 of VCV Rack, following an extended beta honeymoon. He covered a lot of material during the talk and subsequent Q&A, and I’m just going to summarize a few key points here:

He talked about the “open core” business-model approach, in which the Rack software is free and open source, and how third parties (and VCV) then sell new modules on top of it. (This is a bit like a “freemium,” the difference being that the foundation here is open source.)

Belt went through various upcoming modules, including a “timeline” one, a “prototype” one, a “video-synthesis” one, a DAW-style “piano roll,” and one that is a bitcrusher emulating super low-grade MP3 encoding. He didn’t mention which existing synthesizer module companies are due to port theirs over to Rack, and no one asked, likely because, this being CCRMA, the conversation was way more deep in the DSP (digital signal processing) weeds — which was great, even if 90% of that material was way over my head. He showed tons of examples, including how the new polyphony (up to 16 voices) works.

There was a great moment midway through the talk. Belt was discussing the employment of a type of synthesis in Rack called FM synthesis, and he asked if anyone in the audience could remind him who had first developed FM synthesis. One of the senior CCRMA professors chimed in and explained that we were all in this room precisely because of FM synthesis: CCRMA was funded for many years thanks to profits on the patent for FM synthesis, which was developed by Stanford professor John Chowning. FM synthesis was what made the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer a massive success during in the 1980s. For many years to follow, Chowning’s FM synthesis patent was, reportedly, the single most profitable patent in all of Stanford’s existence. After drinking in the impromptu history lesson, Belt pulled up a DX7 emulation in Rack. Someone in the audience noted how things come full circle.

I highly recommend giving VCV Rack a try. It’s available at

This is lightly adapted from the July 7, 2019, issue of the free weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound.

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