Augmented cyborg performance by Onxy Ashanti, built with free tools and with freely-shared hardware, in the hopes of accelerating the rest of the musical human race. Photo courtesy the artist.

At the Metropolitan Opera in New York, high in the rafters, there’s a set of unusually-cheap seats called the Score Desk section. There, in addition to the seating, panels of wood are oversized enough to accommodate full-orchestral scores. While leaning over the railing to see the performance (the section is not for those with fear of heights), studying composers, conductors, and musicians can pour over the details of Debussy’s orchestrations or Verdi’s prosody.

Now, the line between tool, instrument, and composition is blurred, whether we’re talking dance music or experimental sounds. So, in a new event we’re kicking off in Berlin this Saturday night, participating artist are sharing the guts inside their performances. We’re giving away schematics for our hardware, downloadable patches used for performance, code, and sounds. Even if you aren’t in Berlin, we’ll take a look at some of these soon on CDM.

But the experience could be a return to the tradition of the score desk. Music technology can tend to become a black box, a sort of mystery. Exposing the inner workings of these tools lets music lovers peer behind the curtain and better understand what they’re hearing, much as a score can. I’m sure this will appeal to fellow geeks, but I hope we can move toward a community where even more casual users may poke around, if even for curiosity.

The title: Open Source Music.

The opening lineup is diverse. There’s the experimental dance duo of Restlichtverstärkers, working in Pd. There are networked laptop ensembles, my own audiovisual reveries, and the bio-enhanced cyborg performances of Onyx Ashanti. So, here’s a first look and listen of the artists involved.

On top of spaghetti: the inner workings of Restlichtverstärkers’ Pd patches are anything but simple – but now you can explore them freely.

Restlichtverstärkers: Networked Grooves that Click

The duo of Malte Steiner and Servando Barreiro constructs dance music live via an elaborate patch built in the free tool Pure Data, working with step sequencing and live-synthesis machines they’ve built themselves. They synchronize their two laptops over networked OSC, and generate visual accompaniment.

Working with Pd isn’t jut an exercise in using free software. It opens up new collaborative possibilities and easy interfacing with inexpensive computer hardware and controllers. And, if you dare, you can explore the spaghetti of their work via free download.

The video quality isn’t terrific, but we do have extended video documentation of the duo’s performance at LiWoLi festival earlier this year in Linz, Austria (at which I was also performing, and you might even spot me in the video).

Here’s a listen to some of their music, as well:

Sneak-Thief working his magic live. Courtesy the artist.

Sneak-Thief: All-in-One, All-Original Live Sequencing Hardware

We got to enjoy Sneak-Thief, aka Michel Morin, at last month’s CDM-hosted MusicMakers event. For Open Source Music, Michel gives us a closer look at his extraordinary all-in-one hardware creation. It’s an absurdly-deep sequencer he’s built from the ground up, a real case of a performance creation that involves engineering and musical composition in equal, obsessive parts.

It’s crazy enough that it deserves its own story, which we present separately.

Onyx Ashanti: The Bionic Performer

Onyx is another artist whose work we’ve covered on CDM, following him from New York to San Francisco to Berlin. But that performance has evolved at an astounding pace – so much so that when I asked for up-to-date documentation, it was unavailable because it’s changing on a week-to-week basis as Onyx enhances his musical machinery.

Onyx explains beat jazz philosophy at TED:

And in his own video:

From the solo, lonely rectangle to ensemble: two groupings promise to make the computer performance something that’s shared. From top, Republic111, Polypragmosynthesis Quartet. Photos courtesy Alberto de Campo.

Alberto de Campo: Laptops as Ensemble Intruments

Composer Alberto de Campo offers up two groups – one quartet and one larger networked laptop ensemble – that turn computer music into chamber music. Everything from live sound code tool SuperCollider (itself open source) to various DIY hardware and Arduino monsters makes the cut; I hope we’ll have a closer look soon.

Society for Nontrivial Pursuits – Republic111

Codelets that create sound patterns are being rewritten live, sounds can be sent to any of the unamplified laptops in the network, and all code gets equally shared between the players. Republic111 explores a highly democratic form collaborative live coding: Using and extending the SuperCollider library “Republic” developed by powerbooks unplugged, a continuously evolving code base mutates in performances that can morph or instantly switch between radically different aggregate states. Beginning from a workshop on network music with Julian Rohrhuber and Alberto de Campo, the group has been playing since 2009 with an expanding line-up; currently up to 15 players assemble for performances.

Polypragmosynthesis Quartet – Dominik & Sara Hildebrand Marques Lopes, Sascha Hanse, Alberto de Campo

Free improvisation with a wide variety of analog devices, controllers, interfaces, software instruments, homemade food sensors, chaotic synths – anything that sounds good is good.

If you’re in Berlin…

Join us this Saturday night. I’m working on what I can do for documentation or (if we have a quick enough connection) live streaming for the rest of the world.

Music to dream to, music to dance to – and with source code for hardware and software online to share.

at Krach Studios:
Part of Retune:

Retune Conference runs from 26th to 28th October.

Open to all (not just Retune attendees); 5 EUR suggested donation.

RSVP on Facebook event