A Personal Remembrance of David Wessel

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wessel_at_slab_0I was very shocked and saddened to hear that David Wessel, Director of the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT), passed away suddenly on October 13. There have been quite a few thoughtful and strong tributes written in the past few days. Mine is more focused on our personal connection and his influences on my work and interests.

When I came to CNMAT in the mid 1990s, David Wessel was already well established in our small but growing community of academic music with computers. He had already made major influences in the field including timbre spaces and software for real-time musical performance. His focus, both in his own work, and those whom he guided, was on expressive musical performance. Through his introduction, I began working on research that included both of these influences. Along with Adrian Freed, Matt Wright, and others, we embarked are a run of successful research projects and publications, several of which remain influential.

As part of my thesis work, he and I did a version of his groundbreaking piece Antony, which features hundreds of moving partials in frequency space using my OSW software. I am hoping to resurrect the software for that in the coming weeks, but until now this video gives a sense of what this piece is about.

I did also have a chance to work on musical composition and performance at CNMAT. I was quite influenced and inspired by Wessel’s work with controllers and real-time synthesis, especially in ways that preserved the physical embodiment of performance – physical gestures mapped intuitively to musical sounds and ideas, rather than sitting behind a laptop. Although my music and performance style has evolved in very different directions since then, the principle of physical gestures guiding technology for music that he championed has remained a core part of my electronic music.

We got to attend many conferences together, including several years of the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC), where he was always ready to include me and others in social gatherings with colleagues from all over the world – he seemed to know everyone in the field. The beer, wine, and spirits often flowed freely, as did the conversation, veering from personal to deeply intellectual ideas in mathematics or psychology. This picture below was taken in Barcelona in 2005, and also includes Roberto Morales and Clarence Barlow.

David Wessel, Roberto Morales, Clarence Barlow

In addition to attending these conferences, he continued to support my participation in musical and research activities and remain a part of the community, most notably sponsoring me for a prestigious Regents’ Lecturer spot in 2011. He had joined the faculty and advisory board of Berkeley’s ParLab for research in advanced parallel computing, and part of the appointment was to give talks and work with students there, but he also made sure that it included the chance to give a solo concert at CNMAT. I still recall the glowing and generous introduction he made for me at the start of the evening. Indeed I was deeply touched by it. I had the chance to return the favor early this year when I introduced him for a panel at the Bone Flute to Auto Tune conference at Berkeley. It was the last time I saw and spoke with him in person.

The entire community around CNMAT and the greater community he touched have been mourning the passing of David Wessel, as well as celebrating is personal, artistic and technological influences. There will be events to remember and celebrate his life over the next month, and I hope to be there for some of them.

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Wordless Wednesday: Oil Fields, Kern County, CA

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Oil Fields, Kern County, CA

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CatSynth pic and audio: USB Accelerometer Cat Music!

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From Chrissie Caulfield via Twitter:

I attached a Hot Hand USB accelerometer to a cat collar and let Sophie run around and chase a fish-on-a-stick toy for a little while. I captured the MIDI output from this and fed it into a synth on Ableton Live. This is the result!

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CatSynth pic: 2001 Moog Odyssey?

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Moog as monolith

Moog as monolith! Created by Christopher Anderson for Cats on Synthesizers in Space, and submitted to CatSynth by both Jill Burton and Moe! Staiano via Facebook.

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CatSynth video: CatStretch by Max for Cats

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By Max for Cats, via matrixynth:

“Available here: http://sonicbloom.net/en/packs/max-fo…
Noland is a unique Synthesizer with individually automatable XY-control.Noland lets you store custom XY automations and colour schemes as Presets.
NolandFX is a old-school harmoniser effect, also part of this pack.
Max for Cats crafts Software Instruments, Effects, MIDI devices, Sound Design and Samples for Ableton Live.”

I am Max user for some projects, but still haven’t taken the plunge into Max for Live. Time to do so? (and not just because of the cats)

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Wordless Wednesday: 11th Ave (Self Portrait)

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Reflection of Amanda on 11th Ave

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CatSynth pic: Cat and Minimoog in space

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This cat seems to really enjoy the Minimoog, even in low earth orbit. From the Facebook group Cats on Synthesizers in Space.

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CatSynth pic: Lissette and Micromoog

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Lissette and Micromoog

Another picture courtesy of Regina Cherene via our Facebook page. This one features Lissette the cat near a Micromoog and sundry items.

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APAture 2014 Visual Arts Showcase

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Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture 2014 festival opened last Friday with its visual arts showcase at Arc Gallery. The show featured a diverse collection of works in different media by emerging Bay Area artists.

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Although there were quite a few pieces in the show, the gallery presentation was clean and spacious, which always makes it more inviting to spend time with art. There was also a good balance of three-dimensional pieces in the show, so that it wasn’t confined to the walls.

Situated in the center of the main gallery was a set of stoneware heads by featured artist Victoria Jang.

Victoria Jang

The heads appear artificial, identical fabrications reminiscent of characters in anime. But they were each hand sculpted from a traditional process of stoneware and glaze and contain visible flaws. The glaze accentuates the flaws and brings them out for the viewer.

Another sculptural piece that made strong use of the space was Marya Krogstad’s Stone Hills. This visually simple piece was a bringing together of many elements, including bell heather plants, concrete blocks, mirrors, and homemade telescope.

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Nancy Otto’s large abacus with hand-blown glass beads in visually inviting in itself. But as one gets closer, one realizes the beads each bear a headline related to the effects of climate change.

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It is a bit of a mystery how the form of this ancient computing device and climate change are related.

There were also several video installations in the exhibition, including this rather captivating and colorful video performance by Laura Kim.

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Kim places herself in a space filled with basic colors and shapes, taking on the poses and expressions common in popular music videos and live performance. The geometric quality made it fit well as a contrast with the more organic and soft sculptural works. It was also just plain fun to watch.

Another work that was fun but also very meticulously crafted was Yuki Maruyama’s sticker drawings. One first sees a large nebulous field of small red dots, but as one gets closer one can see that each is an individual drawing in itself.

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The small nature of each drawing and the somewhat comical or suggestive quality in many of them invites the viewer to keep looking at them one by one, and indeed to come back a few times during a visit to the exhibition.

There were of course more traditional two-dimensional hanging works as well, including this watercolor by Cathy Lu entitled Girls Playing (float), a riff on the theme of “boys playing” common in traditional Chinese art.

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A darker and more tragic tone is present in Lana Dandan’s digitally processed photographs depicting buildings in Beirut, Lebanon, bearing scars from that’s country’s civil war.

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Despite the emotional tone, I did find myself drawn to the beauty of the buildings themselves, simple modern forms in concrete.

The mathematical concepts and processes in Vincent Yin’s ink-on-paper works also caught my attention. Yin attempts to answer the question “what does probability look like” by representing numerical data with drops in different ratios of color.

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It is interesting to step back and look at the whole rather than the individual elements.

There are more works at the show beyond what I am able to cover. I recommend stopping by to see it at Arc Studios, 1246 Folsom Street in San Francisco, before it closes this weekend.

As a final disclosure, although I have covered quite a few of Kearny Street Workshop’s programs in the past here on CatSynth, this is the first time I am doing so since joining the organizations board of directors. It’s an exciting role to take on, but I do plan to continue providing reports on APAture and other events.

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Wordless Wednesday: Vertical (MoMA Sculpture Garden)

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MoMA Sculpture Garden

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