Nu Sigma Alpha

Nu Sigma Alpha

The Politics

This piece was intended to address Carnegie Mellon’s role in the increasingly expansive culture of surveillance both in the US and internationally. We saw the format of a fraternity as a humorous way to compare the NSA’s recruitment techniques to the much more casual commitment of joining a frat. This comparison satirizes the casual nature in which CMU students decide to work for the NSA and other branches of the military industrial complex. With the speaker mounted atop CFA we wanted to demonstrate how the seemingly private or personal act of taking a photo is uploaded to a wider database and is actually in no way a personal act.

The Sound

Camer Shutter:

Drone:

The speakers on top of the room of CFA, command a place of power and authority on campus, due to its central location and height. By distancing, amplifying and broadcasting the shutter clicks from this vantage point, we were attempting to emphasize how each innocuous shutter click, each innocent piece of information about ourselves that we give actually has resounding and far reaching effects. It is not just an image file stored in your phone. Rather, it has been inducted into a vast distributed network of information flow in which the meaning of property and privacy are vastly different and more loose than we think. Secondly, the sound was meant to emphasize the magnitude of the situation. Every photo taken was done so with the explicit consent of the subject, probably under the assumption that it was no big deal. It’s just a photo after all, right? Each photo, each email address, each piece of your life that is taken from you is another nail in the coffin of your freedom, another rung in the ladder to a police state, and will have resounding effects, echoing all through campus, this nation, and the rest of your life.

The Process

installing speakers  on the roof: HIGH SECURITY CONTENT

The Instagram

Click here to see Nu Sigma Alpha’s Instagram!

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Instagram is a social media database where pictures of content are linked and divided according to hashtags. Tagging CMU student’s faces with things like #facesoftheNSA, #surveillance, and #dronestrike not only creates the association between our school and the NSA, but puts our faces into a greater database, grouped alongside pictures of drones, weapons, and topics of national security. Our process of social media categorization mimics the NSA’s own ability to extract, evaluate, and categorize our personal information into unreachable databases.

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thank you to our followers

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Our Friends from the NSA!

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Group 5 Final Project- “Creation and Sustenance”

Visuals: Raphaȅl mentioned the Montreal-based visual artist Sabrina Ratté when we were first thinking about visuals. We looked into her working methods and the concept of visual synthesizers was alluring to us. However, we could not get access to any visual synthesizers for the time being. But we still enjoyed the idea of using some electronic hardware for the visual component of our project. We started talking about doing a collage both visually and sonically.

The original idea was to have each of us record ourselves singing or playing instruments, associate the sound pieces with video clips, and have them both work like rain drops randomly triggered. As we started working on it, we started having doubts about this idea and it’s merit sound-wise. Raphaȅl had the idea of using an oscilloscope for visuals, which branched from the interest in visual synthesizers. We were able to get inputs from the microphone and have it show up on the oscilloscope in a visually interesting way. Since the oscilloscope resets every time it is turned off, we decided it was a better idea to record its reaction to sound ahead of time so we don’t have to tweak the setting during setup for the performance. Then Raphaȅl edited the visuals together to make a beautiful video. We had the oscilloscope in front of the audience during our performance to hint its usage in our visuals.

Sound: For the sound component of our project, we decided to go with the collage style. Cleo, Sean, and Jordan all worked on a short piece of collage-inspired composition, making use of Kyoko’s violin clips and Arnelle’s vocals. Arnelle then pieced all three individual parts together and read poetries by Tao Lin during our performance to transition between the pieces and to add to the collage theme we were going for. The sound and visuals were supposed to match up more in theme than with individual notes.

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Super Mario Soundmaker

Super Mario Soundmaker is a project by Breeanna Ebert, Steven MacDonald, Coby Rangel, and Elliot Yokum. 

We wanted to create a project which managed to recognize the sounds of a pre-existing video game and transform them into something much more haunting and grotesque. We wanted to turn the familiar into the unfamiliar through soundscape and audience interaction. So, we created a patch in Max for Live which recognized specific audio sounds from the original Super Mario Bros. game, and utilized Ableton Live to edit and transform these sounds. We then had audience members play an online emulator of the game, which featured the new sounds, thus challenging the audience to accept the unknown sounds that they were generating by playing a once-familiar video game.

Our original ideas were a bit too beyond the scope of the time we had–we had hoped to connect a WiiU to M4L and to edit the video along with the audio. When we discovered very little information about WiiU-Max connections, we chose to use an online emulator instead. We used Soundflower in order to send the sound from the internet into a Max Patch. This patch had samples of sounds from the game inserted into it, and analyzed the sounds being sent by Soundflower to match them to the preloaded sounds–when it recognized a sound, it sent it to Ableton Live, which added effects to the sound and played the sound from the speakers. Super Mario Soundmaker ended up being a wonderful technical challenge for all of us.

BLASTULA

  • art/animation & sound design: Adrienne Cassel
  • music & sound design: Seth Glickman
  • programming: Melanie Kim
  • hardware: Kaalen Kirrene

Our early discussions of the piece quickly coalesced around a few specific technological concepts and media devices: Interactivity, Audio Visualization, Custom Controller Construction.  We began with the idea that two guests would interact in a space where they had at least partial control over both the audio and visual elements in a collaborative experience.

Projection mapping came up in our talks, and this medium fit well within our original motivations and challenged us to integrate it within an interactive space.  We pulled inspiration from old school table-top video game units where players were situated across from one another, and converted an earlier idea of an arcade style interaction to gameplay activity positioned around a screen.

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Initial draft of the board and gameplay.

The final iteration of the game featured controller button shapes project into the common space between the players when pressed.  Once “launched,” colliding pieces from both players would link and remained positioned within the center “membrane.”  As more combined shapes collected, the environment would increasingly vibrate until a critical mass was achieved, concluding the experience.

Designing and building the board

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We decided to use acrylic as it is easy to laser cut and it has a surface on which it is easy to project. We wanted our board to have buttons and controls that we could projection map to. We used Makey Makey to facilitate buttons and Ardunio to add an additional source of control that was more dynamic than a button press. The buttons were different geometric shapes so that the projection mapping would be more unique.

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We used conductive tape on the bottom of the button and on the top of the board with wires connected to both. That way when the button was pressed, the conductive tape would meet thus completing the circuit. With the help of our mechanical design consultant Kelsey Scott, Kaalen designed the board in solid works and then laser cut it in the fabrication lab. Then all that was left to do was wire up the circuit and attach the conductive tape to the buttons. We used hot glue to attach the spring to the buttons and the board so that the button would return to it un-pressed position.

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Musical score and sound design

In tandem with working on the visual elements, we began to establish a sound design for the pieces and their interactions.  We wanted to create both a signature sonic style for the game, as well as enable a certain amount of user variability, fitting for the piece’s focus on interactivity.  We were aiming for short sounds with crisp attacks that could exist in a consistent digital sound space, but also uniquely identify and associate each of the game piece shapes.

The sound design of the game piece shapes were to be “played” by the guests as they interacted with the controllers and engaged with the gameplay.  Could we establish a sort of instrument that could be performed?  Was there a way of being good at playing the game in terms of the overall sound experience?

The score was also composed with this in mind.  To first fit within the sonic space, but then to provide a sense of progression over which the gameplay sound design would provide a version of melody and counterpoint.

Length of play was established to be a general baseline of between 2 and 5 minutes of user engagement per game session.  For a game of this length, customized linear background music can be used in place of a shorter repeating loop structure, fostering the feeling of forward progression through the game experience.  The final background music was 8.5 minutes of vertically-remixed digital tracks produced in Ableton Live.  Ultimately, the music would seamlessly loop if the game lasted longer than estimated projections.

Bringing it together in Unity

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What the game looks like in the Unity editor.

The game was built in Unity2D, coded in C#. It has two sources of inputs: w/a/s/d (player 1) and arrow keys (player 2)  from the Makey Makey for the individual shapes, and Arduino for the two dials (potentiometer) that the player can aim the shapes with.

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Arduino code.
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C# code to set up the Serial input from Arduino. Make sure to include “using System.IO.Ports” at the top for importing the proper library and set the Api Compatibility Level to .NET 2.0
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C# code to parse values from Arduino in the Update() function.

This is the basic logic that was programmed:

  1. Press button to initiate launch animation and sound, unique to each shape.
  2. The launched shapes all have 3 frames of hand drawn animation. They are unable to interact with each other until within the big circular waveform, also hand animated.
  3. When player 1’s shape hits player 2’s shape within the big circle, the two combine to produce a unique sound.
  4. Every time two shapes combine in the middle, they vibrate in increasing amounts.
  5. To reach the ending, reach a certain number of shape combinations. The background music would slow and fade when this happens.
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C# code for the audio manipulation at the end.

The name, “Blastula,” was coined by team member Adrienne Cassel as the gameplay pieces forming and collecting in the center reminded her of the hollow cells that appear in early stage embryonic development.

Split Walk – Final Project

Matt Turnshek: Piano

Amelia Rosen: Visual Design, Live Video Manipulation

Guy de Bree: Composition, Live Mixing

For our final project, we were interested in exploring the mental space of a person with anxiety. We knew we were more interested in a come conventional piece of music performance, and we were working off the back of Matt and Guy’s research projects (two extremely different pieces of music we were trying to resolve into one), when the idea of exploring anxious psychology came up, and we felt it matched the direction we were going in well.

Structurally, the piece work as follows: Guy was live mixing an Ableton project containing a variety of recorded and synthesized sounds, as well as the lights in the room. Amy was using a Max patch to war a piece a piece of video to match the mood Guy was setting, and Matt was improvising on piano in response to what he was seeing from both Amy and Guy.

The piece contains a number of ‘phases’ that are switched between, that were meant to represent a gradient from normal to highly anxious. The more anxious the phase, the more aggressive the sounds guy was playing, and the more erratic Matt’s and Amy’s parts became also.

The Max patch we used was based off of adrewb@cycling74’s DirtySignal patch. We modified it to our tastes, and added controls for Amy to use.

Tinkering with Tinko: Episode 1

Tamao Cmiral:  “Tinko”, Costume Design
Erik Fredriksen: “Honky Tonk”, Sound Design, Script
Mark Mendell:  Max Programmer, Guy Who Cues the Lights and Sounds
Ticha Sethapakdi:  Lighting Design, Arduino Programmer, Sign Holder

For our project we were interested in making a performance that played out like an episode from a children’s television show.  The performance involves one actor and a “puppeteer” that controls the robotic toy piano using a MIDI keyboard.

Content-wise, the episode has the host (Tinko) teaching his toy piano (Honky Tonk) how to play itself and contains motifs such as disappointment, external validation, and happiness.  And of course, feelin’ the music.

Our diverse group of skills was what allowed us to bring this show to life.  Erik wrote most of the script and recorded the very professional-quality show tunes; Mark made a Max patch that converted note on/off messages received from a MIDI keyboard into bytecodes that would be sent to the Arduino through serial, as well as a patch that allows him to control the lights/sound cues from TouchOSC; I wrote Arduino code that reads bytes from the serial port and pushes/pulls the solenoids on the piano keys depending on which bytes were read, and made the lighting animations; and Tamao put together a Tinko-esque costume and spoke in a weird voice throughout the skit while maintaining a straight face.

Overall we had a lot of fun developing this piece and are very satisfied with the outcome.

 

Github page.