Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mr. Watson--come here--I want to see you.

"Mr. Watson--come here--I want to see you." These were the words of Alexander Graham Bell as he made something remarkable for his time, the first telephone. While I have not visited his laboratories, I was amazed one day to have the benefit of learning from a historian under the clothing of a small museum curator in Edison New Jersey. The museum contained many of Edison's inventions including early recording devices, amplifiers, lighbulbs and what even might be considered the first Bose Wave system (or at least a waveguide).

Amd then I think how far we have come and how much we are still stuck. Our telephones have become more sophisticated, many needing no wires at all, our records (once 78s) are now CDs etched with laser light. Some things, have remained relatively unchanged however. The electric light bulb is still close to the original and many other things have not really changed all that much.

MIDI 1.0 was a revolution in music technology in it's time. In 1983, it's first incarnation was published and much like the telephone, MIDI ins and out and thrus started to show up on keyboards until it seems that just about everything that can make a sound has a MIDI interface. At first, the standard was made simply to let keyboards speak to one another something that was already happening with several brand specific standards already.

When MIDI first came out, it worked well. Even a big stack of keyboards could speak to one another. But with an almost explosion these days of all sort of controllers, computer DAWs that can choke MIDI with CC messages and notes, not to mention the world of digital audio with its own standards and the modular synth revolution, the world of Music has gotten a bit more complicated.

I have a wonderful little book about the Telharmonium. It talks about the hope that of wiring a telharmium performance into the rooms of a hotel or even beyond. Futurist minds influenced music and technology and the hope of distributing music in new ways found a ready vehicle in the Telharmonium. Truth was that the thing was a beast. It literally weighed tons. It was impractical in the extreme and yet, it inspired minds to think bold thoughts and new dreams. I imagine, it was like that when Watson heard Graham Bell's words coming over a wire and Edison made his wonderful recording machines and light bulbs.

So lately, I have heard of new paradigms. Here are a few:


This one networks digital audio. Expensive and clearly only for large venues but...

Then there is Open Sound Control:

Products like Jazz Mutant's Lemur, Native Instrument Reaktor and Max/MSP all use this.

and more towards the DIY world, on a much smaller scale, is the Arduino, small, cheap but capable of connecting things in new ways:

So what made me think of all these things? My synths and foogers. I want to connect them and I would love to have a computer control all of it and sequence everything like some gigantic Telharmonium spinning its wheels and gears and making beautiful music.

A last innovation and while I have found it in limited ways, I would love to have something more sophisticated. Think of plugging everything into a box run by computer software. Digital audio, something that would replace MIDI, audio and control voltages. Then think VCS3 or, ARP 2500 modulation matrices write large with computer GUI and sequencer (with automation of everything). That's my vision of the future. Some may say it can't be done but then again, when Watson heard Graham bell asking him into the next room, I don't think he ever expected to be able to call anywhere in the world with a small computer that fits into his pocket.

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