Martin Parker

spectral tourist

The relationship between a musician and an acoustic instrument is not solely concerned with converting human gesture into pitch and timbre: there is a process between player and instrument that involves resistance. It is within the struggle to produce and then control a sound that conflict between a musician and his instrument can give rise to complex and interesting results.

It is a continuing struggle to make computer-based sounds that breathe with their own life and to play the computer like a musical instrument. Interfaces for transferring real-world data into the computer such as fader boxes, tracker-ball mice, graphics tablets, game controllers, wireless devices, motion tracking etc., are increasing in flexibility and interest and through software such as Max MSP , these interfaces can offer reasonable ways of converting human movement into sound. Joysticks, for example, are a ubiquitous, inexpensive and a generally reliable piece of technology. An external MAX object was written by Adam Schabtach in 2001 to collect joystick data and view it within Max MSP.

However, there is nothing inside the hardware of most joysticks to curb a gesture. They can be pulled between extremes in milliseconds, while with a real world instrument such as a saxophone, extremes are very hard to reach and have to be found with care to avoid complete breakdown of the system and a split note. Therefore, grafting the joystick’s extremes to the extremes of one’s software may result in an artificial and possibly unfulfilling musical experience.

One way in which to create some ‘resistance’ is to imagine the joystick as a tool for travelling rather than for gesture mapping. In computer games for example, one is never in the same place for long. Pushing forwards with differing degrees of intensity means that one travels forward at different speeds. This approach has been implemented in the Spectral Tourist, although the landscape traversed is not one of snipers and guard dogs but the hilly terrain of a spectrogram.