AudioGL, a project teased in videos first in April and then again last week, is a new concept in designing a user interface for real-time music creation. Visuals and sound alike are generative, with the rotating, 3D-wireframe graphics and symbolic icons representing a kind of score for live synthesized music. The tracks in the video may sound like they’ve been pre-synthesized, polished, and sampled from elsewhere, but according to the creator, they’re all produced in the graphical interface you see – what you see is what you hear.
The newest video, released this week, reveals in detail the project’s notions of how to make a 3D, live music interface work. The UI itself is similar to other graphical patching metaphors, but here, like exploding a circuit diagram in space, routings and parameter envelopes are seen and edited in a freely-rotating view in three dimensions rather than on a flat plane.
There’s a reason interfaces like this have been few. Computer displays and pointing methods tend to be heavily biased to two-dimensional use, modeled as flat planes like pieces of paper. Working in two dimension is simply easier; there’s no reason you can’t take another layer of parameters and represent it on a two-dimensional interface. And rotating around in 3D space can make it difficult to keep your bearings.
Those challenges, though, don’t make this less interesting – they make it juicier and more delicious as design problem and stunning, futuristic musical model. Freed in three dimensions, a complex set of envelopes and parameters has room to spread out visually, making a kind of spatial score. This particular project strikes an interesting balance between traditional, iconic UI – operators are represented with graphic symbols – and more free-flowing geometry representing the sequencing and envelopes. To me, the latter is more compelling, but putting the two together may make the program more flexible and familiar to users of other music software.
What could knock you out of your chair, though, is the sheer depth of the software teased in the video. This is no simple tech demo: it’s an attempt to build an entirely new, live-synthesizing music tool from scratch in 3D. It’s like the International Space Station of music software, assembled in some void. I got a couple of tips on this today, and some are even wondering if it’s real.
It appears to be very real. Whether this particular tool is usable or not to me almost isn’t important: a spectacular failure in this arena would even be useful. Anyone waiting for some sort of “singularity” in music tech, I think it’s coming: it’s just going to be a singularity of human software ingenuity, explosive creativity and invention from independent developers. I can’t wait.
Stay tuned to find out more about this particular project.
See also the earlier video (not able to grab the embed code for some reason).
Thanks, Bodo Peeters, among others, for the tip.