All posts by Elliot Yokum

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.

Creation

There is a video, which is not completed yet (two cluster computers have crashed in the making of it).

Creation is a performance piece featuring robotics by Arnelle Etienne, Cleo Miao, Anna Rosati, and Elliot Yokum. It is inspired by the Chinese story of the creation of humans, in which the goddess Nuwa created the first humans out of clay.

In Creation, Arnelle plays the goddess, and with her singing, she brings two creatures to life–one a minimalist puppet resembling wings controlled by Anna, the other, a human played by Elliot. Over time, the goddess begins to play with a metallic percussion instrument–after growing bored, gives the instrument to the human. The human plays with the instrument by themself at first, only to soon discover technology, which they then use to play the instrument. Through live mixing done by Cleo, the sounds grow throughout the room, as machine replaces man’s job.

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The goddess perch, with the heat sink instrument.

For this project, we chose to build an atmosphere out of the room through sculptural elements, including a depiction of the goddess atop a podium which Arnelle sat on, and a large floating orb which hung from the ceiling. The puppet Anna controlled was our final major structural component.

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Anna and her wings puppet.

We used two robotic elements in the piece, using an Arduino with a motorshield. We had a motor which rhythmically plucked a string attached to the floating orb, which Cleo then live mixed. We also had a solonoid on the ground near where Elliot sat, which was used to strike the heat sink percussive instrument.

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The final setup. The block Arnelle is sitting on is where the string for the motor was placed, and the floor nearby is where the solonoid was placed.

Our project went through several iterations and concepts: early ideas included making a color theremin, rolling marbles down pipes, and making a robotic music box. However, upon finding two heat sinks, and hearing the interesting noises they made while struck, we decided upon doing something with that. Eventually, the topic of the Chinese creation myth came up in a discussion about Cleo’s heritage, and Anna, a sculptor and puppeteer, came up with several pieces that could be used as sculptural elements. The combination of these two somehow turned into the performance piece we’ve created.

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An early brainstorming session.

We had several technical difficulties with this project. None of us were very comfortable with the Arduino software. Our motor would randomly refuse to work and our motorshield would occasionally start smoking. Many of the motorshields available for use were burnt or broken, leaving us with very limited quality material. We had two failed performances due to issues with the Arduino, but finally managed to succeed a third time, creating a performance that integrated storytelling, puppets, song, and robots.

Elliot – Interesting Sound

The sound I’ve picked is titled “God’s Chorus of Crickets” and is a slowed down recording of crickets chirping. This sound was recorded and created by composer Jim Wilson, whose intention with the sound was to represent what a cricket chirp must sound like to someone with the lifespan of a cricket, rather than the lifespan of a human. The slowed down cricket noises sound very similar to a choir singing.

This recording contains both the original sound of crickets chirping and the slowed down version. While it is an hour long, it pretty much sounds the same the whole way through and you get the idea within the first 30 seconds.

However, there’s been considerable discourse regarding whether  Jim Wilson’s cricket chirps are authentic, or whether he edited them to form a sort of melody. Several other composers and sound artists attempted to recreate his work without heavily editing the sound, but were unable to. I’ve decided to add one of these responses, created by Dave D’aranjo, titled “Darwin’s Chorus of Crickets.” The first 10 seconds of this are what crickets actually sound like, and then the rest is clips of the crickets slowed down.

While Wilson’s version may be more pleasing to listen to, D’aranjo’s version feels more authentic due to the lack of melodic structure and repetitiveness of his cricket piece. This discourse brings up the question of, when recording from nature, whether or not authenticity is more important than pleasing sounds, and in which situations which one is more important.