We looked at the arc controller, and interviewed creator Brian Crabtree, early this year. In a way, the design is as much conceptual, kinetic sculpture attached to a computer as it is music hardware. It’s not for everyone, but it does inspire some sound designers and composers whose work I love, giving it a secondary advantage – without owning one, I can still see people doing interesting things with it and find musical discoveries in their work.
stretta in his latest video turns the controller into synthesized sounds that reference in the title of the piece the Dharma Wheels, the objects of Buddhist reflection. A cycle of birth and rebirth seems as appropriate to the act of musical composition and sound creation as metaphor I can imagine. And so, the wheels of the arc, ringed by dancing LED lights, become sparkling meditative wheels in motion, powered by simple, FM-modulated sounds in a ringing reverb. (That reverb is one of my favorites – Eos by Audio Damage.)
The work is all Creative Commons-licensed. In that spirit, I’m going to copy streta’s thoughts below, as I think anyone who enjoys sound design will get a kick out of his thought process.
software: electric dharma wheels
I received a production-run arc4 with the final firmware on Friday. This signaled a mad scramble to update my work for that and the latest serialosc with arc support so it’ll be ready when people start receiving their units in a few days. So what do I do on Saturday? Make a new app, of course. Sure, that totally sounds like the responsible thing to do.
After receiving the arc4, I thought it might be a good idea to produce an example that demonstrates a ‘bank’ of encoder values that you can switch between. That gave birth to an application idea involving triggering modal notes from a pool of probabilities across three octaves of scale degrees. There is a separate bank of pitches depending on clockwise or counterclockwise rotation so you can shift the harmony with a simple gesture. The weighting of scale degrees is programmable and editable in real time on screen or with a MIDI controller. This allows for a more controlled structuring of compositional development over longer periods of time. The speed of the rotation determines how often a note is triggered, and can also be used as a modulation parameter for the FM synthesis engine.
Relevant synthesis parameters are also editable on the arc as the notes are triggered. The state of these parameters is overlaid on the LEDs, so interesting patterns emerge when this mode is engaged. There was a really awesome bug where switching editing modes also transposed the output modally, so I built in a score feature that allows you to advance a programmed chord progression with a button push.
A sit-the-arc-in-your-lap-and-doodle app has been on my mind a lot and I have at least three good starts in this area, but other priorities have often pushed these out of the way. The prototype arc2 I had lacked the mounting bracket for the USB cable and the logic board was floating free inside the enclosure, so I always had to use it (carefully) on a stationary, flat surface. It is really nice to have an arc that can be moved around or used in the lap. My cat disagrees.
I recorded this video, holocene, as a demonstration of this app, which I’m calling electric dharma wheels. This is the raw output from the electric dharma wheels, with some Eos reverb added after the fact.
more information about monome can be found at monome.org
more information about me can be found at stretta.com