This page is about the audio workshop/art experiment I put together for the 2010 Megapolis Audio Festival in Baltimore.
A short description
Mixing on a computer is usually a solitary endeavor: one person controlling one mouse and keyboard making one decision at a time. We’re going to try to fix that. Part workshop and part experiment in “crowd-sourced” audio art, this is like editing Wikipedia but with sound instead of text. Participants will be asked to provide four short sounds with four different sonic characteristics. (Details below.) We’ll import all these sounds into a computer and collectively mix and manipulate them as a group in real-time using a bunch of colorful customized keyboard controllers, all connected to a single computer. The idea is to get as many hands/ears/minds at once collaborating (and competing) on the same soundscape, so that whatever strange, beautiful, or frightening noises that emerge are the product of our group’s collective will. Everyone is in control at the same time and yet no one is! NO prior audio software experience is necessary; everything you need to know is explained on the keyboards. Recordings of our experiments will be available immediately following the workshop.
So what does it sound like?
It can sound like almost anything depending on what samples are used, your own sonic tastes, and of course the tastes of everyone else using Wikimixing at a given time. The goal is that some sense of order emerges from the input of a group of people listening carefully and making intentional creative decisions based on the sound of the composition at the same time.
Here are some examples of Wikimixing v1 from the Megapolis 2010 Archive:
After the festival, a few of us hung out in a hotel room and decided to play with it some more.
(Photo credits for above: Andrea Silenzi)
Here are a couple test examples using sounds from my own sample library. I’m the only person at the controls.
And here’s an older test. The samples in this one are mostly animal sounds and ambient music.
I’m a geek. How does this work?
I’ll have 14 USB computer keyboards all plugged into my laptop via two USB hubs. When I first thought of this, I was imagining using real MIDI keyboards with knobs and sliders…but at $50-100 bucks a pop, that wasn’t gonna happen. USB keyboards, on the other hand, can be had for as little as $5 each–so I can hack them apart and paint them without too much worry.
I built a MaxMSP patch that translates keyboard typing to MIDI control change (CC) data. This is what the patch looks like:
This is what the patch looks like under the hood:
Those are just the guts; don’t let that scare you off. Here’s what it looks like on the outside:
Here’s my initial sketch for the keyboard controller:
So the computer keys control each one of these parameters on the “4-track.” For instance, “z” and “x” make the blue volume slider move up and down, the F1-F12 keys turn the various effects on and off, and MaxMSP spits this out as MIDI data. I’m also going to label each key’s function on the actual keyboards. Someone with better programming skills than me would be able to make the whole WikiMixing project entirely inside MaxMSP, but this aside, I also didn’t want to reinvent the wheel so I’m routing this MIDI data into a program called Live by Ableton.
An aside: You don’t need to be familiar with Live in order to do WikiMixing, but those who are might “get” what I’m trying to do and how I’m doing it a little easier. That said, if you’re interested in electronic music and not familiar with Live, you owe it to yourself to check it out. I find people coming from a “serious” electronic music composition background scoff at Live as being a toy for DJs and 4/4 beatmakers. Live can indeed do these very easily (and elegantly), but it can do so much more. Live is one fine piece of software design. Check it out if you haven’t.
I load everyone’s samples into Live, with one track for each sonic category. And then we play with it. Fun!
About your four samples… (Instructions for Wikimixing v1 at the 2010 Megapolis festival)
I’m asking for you to do a little bit of homework. I’d like you to send me four different sounds that are around 5-30 seconds long from each of the four categories below:
The idea is to have a diverse palatte of sounds, so don’t worry if your sounds don’t exactly match the categories. Sounds can be acoustic, synthesized, or anything between. Surprise me! (Bonus points if they are in stereo.) I can accept WAV, AIFF, or MP3 files.
Naming and uploading audio files
Please format your audio files like this: [short description]_[category #]_[your name].wav
You can send me your audio files ahead of the festival two ways: email or FTP. (While it may be possible to import a few people’s sounds at the beginning of the workshop, it will be MUCH easier for me if I can load them beforehand.)