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Lorenzo Cercelletta, 264883

Performair: music for offices Relatore Philip Tabor Correlatrice Gillian Crampton Smith Sessione di laurea 31 marzo 2010

Dorsoduro / 2206 Convento delle Terese 30123 Venezia t. +39 041 257 1323 f. +39 041 257 1326

Tesi di laurea Corso di laurea specialistica in Comunicazioni Visive e Multimediali

Performair: music for offices Lorenzo Cercelletta Matricola 264883 a.a. 2009/2010 Relatore Philip Tabor Correlatrice Gillian Crampton Smith Sessione di laurea 31 marzo 2010

Abstract English Performair is an audio-visual interactive installation which ‘misuses’ traditional office devices – printers, modems, scanners etc. – originally designed to perform other functions, to play together as elements of an unconventional orchestra. Performair aims to awake the everyday user from a state of cerebral numbness caused by the present proliferation of technological devices. What once was not only a device but also a medium, today appears as a simple object in an infinite network of objects. By reappraising traditional devices, new ways of auditory and visual communication can be explored.

fig.1 ◊ previous page Particles net (2007) - Author’s own A piece of software developed in ActionScript 2.0 which metaphorically represents the aggregation of thoughts during the initial stage of this project

Italiano Performair è un’istallazione audio-visiva che prende forma attraverso un diverso utilizzo di strumenti da ufficio (stampanti, modem, scanner ecc.) originariamente progettati per assolvere altre funzioni, come elementi di un’orchestra non convenzionale. Lo scopo di Performair è risvegliare l’utente comune dal torpore intellettivo causato dall’attuale proliferazione di strumenti tecnologici. Quello che, una volta, non era semplicemente uno strumento ma anche un medium, oggi appare come un semplice oggetto in una rete infinita di oggetti. Attraverso una pratica di riconsiderazione circa gli strumenti da ufficio tradizionali, nuove vie di comunicazione uditiva e visuale possono essere esplorate.

Abstract ◊ i

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Contents Abstract i 1. Introduction 1 2. Research focusing and contextualisation 19 2.1 A case study: Lozano-Hemmer’s method 20 2.2 State of the art 24 2.3 Sampling: an alternative scenario 34 3. Sound and auditory perception 37 3.1 Sound 37 3.2 Auditory perception 40 4. Concept definition and methodology 43 4.1 Project scope: Verplank’s method 44 4.2 Preliminary phase 46 4.3 Hardware challenge 47 4.4 Software challenge 49 4.5 From pre-prototyping to prototyping 52 5. Performair: final project 59 5.1 Why Performair? 59 5.2 Orchestras 60 5.3 Instruments 63 5.4 Sheet music and Performair’s score 68 5.5 hui: hybrid user interface 69 6. Conclusions 73 Acknowledgements 77 Appendices 79 Sources 83 List of figures 94 Notes 98 Contents ◊ iii

Introduction This is a project about communication, on how communication can be shaped into design objects and how it can be established thorugh an art piece. In The Language of New Media, Lev Manovich1 underlines the importance of text in human culture and, most important, in computer culture. He writes that text plays a primary role among media for a reason: it is, indeed, a medium like others, but also a meta-language by means of which all others media are encoded. This appears evident when concerning computer science, from the most basic to the most advanced element: the bios2 of a computer, the pixel value of images, the formatting of an html page and so forth. However, Perfomair is neither a technological nor a computer science project, but a design project. It is conceived from a design perspective in which text and, more specifically, typographic elements play a vital role. In musical terms, a classical orchestra performs a piece from a score, which is nothing but a text. Indeed, a peculiar kind of text written in a particular language, with its syntax and symbols, yet a text. Performair also uses texts: the compiled text, which enables devices to play as if they were musical instruments, and the printed text, as the result of the performance. The crucial difference is that, within Performair, music is not read and played, but played and then printed for the audience to read. An invisible text which throughout the performance becomes a particular kind of score. Miles Davis3 said ‘don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there’. John Cage4 decided to play what was not there and it took him 4 minutes and 33 seconds (4’33’’).

fig.1 ◊ previous page Impression #2 - Author’s own How things come into focus. Picture taken before the start of the Optronica audio-visual festival (London, 2007)

Introduction ◊ 1

So as to clarify this discourse and to give a consistent theoretical background to Performair, I will now describe a series of works which tried to bridge – sometimes with very effective and plain results – the gap between the visual and auditory realms. It is since the invention of writing that humans explored the expressive potential of visual signs to share thoughts, experiences and knowledge. The birth of cuneiform scripts, hieroglyphics and ideograms has presumably been an answer to the human necessity of crystallize and, essentially, visualize things through peculiar signs or, more appropriately, graphemes. In fact, sign is quite controversial as a term to grasp. Many relevant figures approached it within different fields – philosophy, of art, semantics, semiotics, psychology etc. – and deeply speculated on it: Ernst H. Gombrich5, as an instance, theorised a science of signs when reviewing Charles Morris’s6 Signs, Language and Behavior on the 31st issue of the Art Bulletin (Gombrich 1949, 68-73). However, I would rather concentrate on how writing changed during centuries from being first predominantly illustrative to then adopt an alphabetical form. Relevant to this discourse is not the motivation – probably the alphabetical system was a more versatile and easier way to structure and diffuse texts – but the consequences of this event. Most of alphabetical writing languages – excepted the Korean (Hangul) which is an hybrid of alphabetical and ideogram systems – partially lost their inner visual component. On the one hand we have a semi-pictorial system – ideograms are visual representations – whereas on the other hand a stylized system – alphabets are phonetic representations. Some might have an objection to this by claiming that alphabetical letters do have a visual component. While agreeing, I would add, though, that an ideogram is more figurative than a letter. I find this a satisfactory explanation on how the design of typefaces originated. It seems also quite convincing as the reason that motivated many artists, in different times and cultures, to explore ways of illustrating with letters. This is what Guillaume Apollinaire7 ‘theorised’ when he titled Calligrammes (figs.2,3) his collection of poems written between 1913 and 1917: For me a calligram is an ensemble of sign, drawing and thought. It represents the shortest way to express a concept in material terms and to force the eye to accept a global vision of the written word. (Barcellona 2009, 1) In reality, this graphic art dates back to the Hellenistic era of bucolic poets (3rd-2nd centuries BC). A few of those works survived, among them Simias’s, a poet from the island of Rhodes, who ‘shaped’ a series of verses as simple symbolic images – the axe, egg, altar, wings – to exalt mythological meaning behind his poems (figs.4,5). Other examples can be found in the Latin as well as in the Islamic culture, where visual poetry reached astonishing peaks: in fact, the Koran prohibited the realistic representation of living beings and, therefore, new figurative ways were undertaken (figs.6,7). 2 ◊ Performair: music for offices

figs.2,3 â—Š left, bottom Woman and Horse (1913-17) - Guillaume Apollinaire Two examples of calligrammes. The Author uses text not only to define the contours but also to depict the clothes and body parts of figures

Introduction â—Š 3

figs.4,5 â—Š center, bottom I. The Axe and II. The Wings (about 300 BC) - Simias of Rhodes Series of mythological poems shaped as symbolic figures

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figs.6,7 â—Š left, bottom Islamic calligrammes - Unknown author Representation of a bird of prey and a lion in Arabic characters

Introduction â—Š 5

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Not even the technological progress – i.e. the invention of typography – could work as an impediment to elaborating visual communication through text (fig.8). fig.8 ◊ left Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland (1865) Lewis Carroll Typographical representation of a mouse’s tale

But it is only in the beginning of the twentieth century with the avant-guardes that grammatical and syntactical structures were finally considered an obstacle to demolish. The ‘poet’ had now to face new problems inherent to typography in technological terms: every technology has its good and bad sides as well as its rules to bypass or abide by. More than Cubists, Dadaists and Russian Constructivists, the Futurists found ingenious ways to embed musical nuances within printed words. As Apollinaire said in those years, ‘typographic tricks, pushed forward with bravery, have the advantage of originating a visual lyricism never experienced before’ (Barcellona 2009, 2) (figs.9,10). Indeed, with their Tavole Parolibere (1912-1944), Futurists dismantled old typographic schemes and rules to evocate an onomatopoeic language made of noises and clashes. A step further stands Francesco Cangiullo’s8 Poesia Pentagrammata (figs.11,12): a series of typographic compositions on staff where words get translated into music. It is behind what Cangiullo defined parolibera-musicale that a more focused point of view on Performair can be outlined. The parolibera-musicale gets rid of the rigid schemes deriving from both conventional poetry and music by mixing their rules. Letters float in and out of the staff as if they were notes, vibrato and legato symbols are applied on words as if they were chords. It is in this vein that Performair can be located, taking shape as a possible solution to the never-ending debate between typography and music, updated to the digital era of today.

figs.9,10 ◊ previous page Il Pleut (1918) - Guillaume Apollinaire Typographical adaptation of a handwritten drawing by the author (below) representing the rain

Introduction ◊ 7

figs.11,12 ◊ bottom, following page Poesia pentagrammata (1923) Cover designed by Enrico Prampolini (below) and Francesco Cangiullo’s Piedigrotta (next page)

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Introduction â—Š 9

A reference to concrete poetry closes this reflection, even though I would rather speak about visual poetry, for the term ‘concrete’ is very ambiguous and objectionable. In her Concrete Poetry: A World View, Mary E. Solt9 wrote something significantly pregnant to my thesis: Generally speaking the material of the concrete poem is language: words reduced to their elements of letters (to see) syllables (to hear). Some concrete poets stay with whole words. Others find fragments of letters or individual speech sounds more suited to their needs. The essential is reduced language. [...] In addition to his preoccupation with the reduction of language, the concrete poet is concerned with establishing his linguistic materials in a new relationship to space (the page or its equivalent) and/or to time (abandoning the old linear measure). Put another way this means the concrete poet is concerned with making an object to be perceived rather than read. The visual poem is intended to be seen like a painting; the sound poem is composed to be listened to like music. [...Concrete poetry], of course, asks a great deal of what used to be called the reader. He must now perceive the poem as an object and participate in the poet’s act of creating it, for the concrete poem communicates first and foremost its structure. (Solt 1968, i-xxi) Perfomair begins here since its text has to be performed and then listened by an active rather than a passive listener, a translation which perfectly matches Solt’s view. Since we approached the question of visual language within poetry is now time to step into the realm of music – from Greek μοῦσαι meaning ‘muse’ – by mentioning the question of notation - from which derives the word note. To not digress, the discourse would be reduced to minimal terms to give a simple overview on the matter. The origin of music is not easily datable, surely it existed earlier before the invention and diffusion of the written transcription of it. The first form of music transcription is known as homophonic notation – from Greek ὁμόφωνος meaning ‘same voice or sound’. Only the Greeks, among ancient populations, realised a complete and advanced notation system based on the alphabet: each letter corresponded to a different tone. This system, later adopted by Romans, endured till the downfall of the Western Roman Empire. To underline is the fact that Western notation has also a great affinity with Eastern notation, this grace to the crucial role played by Byzantium. Around 9th century the most diffused system was the ekphonetic notation – from Greek ἐκφώνησις meaning ‘quasimelodic recitation of text’ – based on grammatical accents: the acute accent indicated an ascending melody, a grave accent indicated a descending melody. Along with accents there were inflective marks, called neumes – from the Greek πνεῦμα meaning ‘breathe’ – which, developed from the gestures of the chorus conductor, indicated the melody development without affecting the intonation and rhythm. Later, in the Eastern Roman Empire, the neumatic no10 ◊ Performair: music for offices

tation became a standard mnemonic system to facilitate the recitation of chant. This is attested not only by the large Byzantine documentation but also by the surviving of this tradition within Greek orthodox chant. In the west, also Gregorian chant recurred to grammatical accents from Greek and Latin literature and to neumes, even though the neumatic system did not last long for the rise of polyphonic notation – from the Greek πολυϕωνία meaning ‘many voices or sounds’ – based on staff (10th – 17th centuries): at first neumes ‘cohabited’ with the one-line staff to progressively disappeare as the staff lines increased to be conventionally set to five. To precise is that notation did not change much after the 17th century. What did change was the attitude of composers towards both the staff and performers, since the notation of musical basics – rhythm and sound – had been solved already during the 14th century. In the period of time between the end of 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century two divergent trends appeared. On the one hand, the fracture between conductor and performer grew wider: while the performance strove to gain pre-eminence, notation became more and more deterministic and serial, this to impose the conductor’s will on the performers. ‘Embryonic’ in this sense the cases of Schoenberg and Stravinskij. On the other hand, together with the repudiation of the traditional conception of composition, it appeared the refuse towards notation as an institutional code to abide by. The composer freed himself from the chains of traditions and conventions to finally express music in a more figurative way. The music piece was not anymore based on the sole sound component: the graphical configuration of the score came in first place. In fact, the musical sign progressively lost its denotative function – unambiguous information requiring a determined performance – to progressively acquire a connotative function – ambiguous information playing on the emotive and behavioural levels. The musical sign could then become, to an extreme extent, purely aesthetical for it exchanged its phonic value for a visual value (figs.13,14,15). For concrete poetry has been previously mentioned, a brief excursus on concrete music is also due. A primary role within experimental music was surely played by Luigi Russolo10, who theorized first the abandon of harmonic sounds in favour of noise – only later defined as noise music – with his L’arte dei rumori (1913), a manifesto dedicated to Francesco Pratella11. Not only, he also realised, with the help of Ugo Piatti12, a series of sound machines (intonarumori) and their amplifier (rumorarmonio) to produce and modulate disharmonic sounds (fig.15): this was the start of a series of musical experiments which brought into being, in the second half of the 20th century, concrete music with Pierre Schaeffer12 and electronic music. Schaeffer, in particular, faced in his Traitè des objets musicaux the problem of ‘sound-object’. The seek for new sound materials which directly derived from the need of expanding the rigid boundaries of music: new instruments could take the place of classical instruments as the demarcation line between sound and noise was becoming thinner.

fig.13 ◊ following page Serenata per un satellite (1969) - Bruno Maderna Score of concrete music

Introduction ◊ 11

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Introduction â—Š 13

figs.14,15 ◊ previous page, top La Passion selon Sade (1966) - Sylvano Bussotti Concrete music scores fig.16 ◊ bottom Risveglio di una città (1913) - Luigi Russolo Music score for intonarumori

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It was the discussion started by Russolo which Schaeffer carried on by revaluating sounds within the ‘everyday soundscape’. As Solt talked about a reduced language, Schaeffer introduced the concept of reduced listening: the immediate perception of the sound itself, what he defined as ‘sound-object’, rather than the common practice of perceiving the sources associated to sounds. In a certain sense, his treatise postulated a renovation of the musical language based on the extrapolation of the self from the music context to focus exclusively on the sound matter. The connection between this thesis and Schaeffer’s thinking is evident. But let us get back to design. To use an old office device – the case of Performair – to create music is not that far from realising a book which is not meant to be read; the theoretical stance is the same. Bruno Munari’s13 series of Libri illegibili (Unreadable Books) (fig.17) is a striking example of recovering ‘objectivity’. In his Da cosa nasce cosa, Munari says that he wants to explore the possibilities of visual communication within a book: Normally when we think of books we think of texts of various genre […] to print on the page. A little interest is given to paper, binding, ink colour […], typefaces, and even less to blank spaces, margins, pages numbering, and all the rest. The aim of this experimentation has been trying to understand if it is possible to use the book material (text excepted) as visual language. Therefore, the problem is: […] Can the book as an object, regardless of printed words, communicate something? (Munari 2002, 217) Munari is speculating on the recovery of an object and the discovery of it as a medium of communication. In his case, communication happens on the visual and tactile levels, whereas in Performair’s case the levels involved are the visual and auditory. There is something more to design than developing brand new things. Most of the time what for us is an original idea ends up being something thought or invented by someone else already.

fig.17 Libro illegibile (1948) - Bruno Munari Detail of a two-coloured spread obtained from a particular series of die-cuttings

Introduction ◊ 15

To use old-fashioned devices for creating music, instead of throwing away something which still works, might seem naïve. Nonetheless, the ethical and aesthetic sides of this matter originate in the question Munari was asking. Without this question there would have been neither Munari nor ready-made. The act of recovery and discovery, which I previously mentioned, can somehow be assimilated to ready-made: the capability of re-using objects, tools and devices in a new way so as to make the most of their communicative potential. Another aspect to take into consideration is why a book is commonly considered as a simple support for text. A convincing answer is given by Eric F. Clarke14 in his Ways of Listening, where he proposes an ecological approach to music perception, mainly based on James J. Gibson’s15 theories. He writes: The world is a highly structured environment subject to both the forces of nature (gravity, illumination, organic growth, the action of wind and water) and the profound impact of human beings and their cultures; and that in a reciprocal fashion perceivers are highly structured organisms that are adapted to that environment. (Clarke 2005, 17) The definition of the world suggested above perfectly overlaps with the present situation, concerning Western society in particular. Marshall McLuhan’s16 The Medium Is the Massage – a play on his famous phrase ‘the medium is the message’ – is enlightening on this matter: All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. (McLuhan 1967, 26) It appears clear, then, how humans, as perceptual systems, become overwhelmed by media and their continuous series of inputs. Attuned to this environment, we apply a filter to reality and are somehow forced to select. But this survival mechanism, almost unconscious, implies the weakening of our sensorial perception. The perceptual spectrum of our senses seem to become less and less sharp. One example is the state of numbness in which the objectivity of a book passes unnoticed: we no longer see the book but what is on the book. This observation can be applied to other familiar objects, such as an old printer: what would normally be perceived as background noise, could be structured and perceived as music. Performair is about selecting that particular kind of cognitive filter, which is an impediment to perception, and to re-establish a communication between the human and the artefact. Before analysing the project, a short description of Gibson’s ‘ecological’ approach is essential to clarify how music is perceived. He explains that ‘a system hunts until it achieves clarity’ (Gibson. 1966, 271). Nevertheless, clarity, today more than in the past, is a sort of mirage which is progressively slipping away: 16 ◊ Performair: music for offices

Organisms and their environments are constantly changing. […] Human beings have exploited natural opportunities for music making and have also adapted themselves to those opportunities, and enhanced those opportunities, through toolmaking of one sort or another […]. Once made all these artefacts help both to sustain existing musical behaviours and to make new behaviours possible. (Clarke 2005, 20-22) By exploiting the ‘hidden’ potential of office devices, Performair proposes a different approach to music composition and performance.

fig.18 Casual Poetry (2009) - Author’s own A printed text from initial tests with an IBM dotmatrix printer. The result was not intended but had some visual quality to it

This dissertation is articulated in the following sections. In chapter 2 the premises within the introduction will be further developed. To locate the project within the fields of interaction design and installation art a series of case studies will be taken as reference, this to analyse the state of the art. Chapter 3 will then briefly mention some key concepts about sound and auditory perception to make understandable the technical side of the project treated in chapter 4. This chapter will be a guide through all the steps undertaken along with all the problems encountered in the realisation of the project. Chapter 5 will then concentrate on the project itself, on what are the main instruments which compose Performair’s unconventional orchestra and how they actually produce sound. The final chapter will summarize the whole thesis process to then imagine possible implementations and the future scenario of the project.

Introduction ◊ 17

Research focusing and contextualisation The discussion of ready-made in the previous chapter is strictly intertwined with both the misuse and the decontextualisation of objects. The capability of merging the realms of interaction design and installation art by misusing decontextualised objects make the work of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer1 surely noteworthy. For this reason, I will now describe two pieces I saw during the 52nd Biennale di Venezia in 2007. Some Things Happen More Often Than All of the Time was the name of the exhibition – curated by Príamo Lozada and Bárbara Perea at the Mexican Pavilion – which showcased, among others, those installations. Despite the different aesthetic tone, a common approach could be found in the development of affordance2. The physical characteristics of objects, which normally suggest their function(s), get reinvented and ‘declined’ each time in a different way. To notice how Lozano-Hemmer also works on a very discreet and delicate mapping – the relationship between user control and installation response. For the users to experience such installations, the artist must rethink how they could possibly interact with objects which have been ‘distorted’: a chair which does not act as a chair might have, on an adult, the same impact that a chair has on a baby the first time he sees it. As adults, we usually relate to the world by means of our experience and personal knowledge: a chair which does not ‘act’ as a chair is not a chair anymore. To accept something which goes against our beliefs, we, as users or simply spectators, need a convincing metaphor which could please our mind and senses. Lozano-Hemmer’s methodology of

fig.1 ◊ previous page Random Plotter Art (2008) - Author’s own Combination of default patterns printed by a plotter during some ink tests. The personal interest in random rhythms and patterns was prior to Performair

Research focusing and contextualisation ◊ 19

mapping and renovation of affordance appeared to me effective and totally convincing: objects for everyday use came to new life and surprised me for their natural behaviour.

2.1 A case study: Lozano-Hemmer’s method Before describing all the further examples as a case study, I will tend to quote what the authors themselves write on their work to then develop my view. By sticking to the author’s motivations, I believe that my speculation would be more trustworthy and incisive in giving Performair a contextual reference. The first piece to be presented is Wavefunction (figs.2,3,4,5,6), a reactive ‘fluidnetwork’ of chairs premiered by Lozano-Hemmer at the Biennale:

fig.2 Wavefunction (2007) - Rafael Lozano-Hemmer The chairs in motion after the users’ passage

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Wavefunction is a kinetic sculpture comprised of fifty to one hundred Charles and Ray Eames3 moulded chairs (designed in 1948) and placed in a regular array of rows, facing the entrance to the exhibition space. When someone approaches the work, a computerised surveillance system detects their presence and the closest chairs automatically begin to lift off the ground, creating the crest of a wave that then spreads over the whole room. A system of electromechanical pistons raises each chair forty centimetres from the ground. The pistons are controlled by a computer that runs the mathematics of fluid dynamics, thus making the waves interfere with each other, creating turbulence or becoming calm, just like real water. The idea of a ‘function’ as a field for artistic experimentation is a motivation for this piece. Other references

fig.3 ◊ top left Wavefunction (2007) - Rafael Lozano-Hemmer Users triggering the surveillance system and initiating the movement of chairs

fig.4 ◊ left Overall view of the network of chairs in the static mode

fig.5 ◊ bottom left Detail of the the surveillance system tracking the users’ movement. In the top frame is possible to see how user is ‘highlighted’. In the bottom frame it is possible to see the ripples created by the users and the chairs which have been activated fig.6 ◊ bottom right Rear view of the network of chairs in the static mode

Research focusing and contextualisation ◊ 21

include: the mathematics of dynamic systems, capable of generating complex non-linear, behaviours, the materialisation of surveillance and turbulence and the anti-modular reinterpretation of the work of modern designers such as Charles and Ray Eames. ( projects/wavefunction.htm)

fig.7 Pulse Room (2006) - Rafael Lozano-Hemmer Staff member passing his heartbeat through the electric circuit to the first light bulb

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What Lozano-Hemmer describes as the motivation for the piece is what I was previously expanding on, the problem of function. Within Wavefunction, Eames chairs cease to be well known and recognised objects of industrial design to become something else. This stance somehow recalls that of Performair: printers, modems, scanners are not any more office devices but musical instruments. Another aspect to analyse here is the re-interpretation of surveillance, which is a recurring theme in the field of interaction design. Before getting into this, an introduction to what surveillance actually is appears necessary: ‘surveillance’ is the monitoring of behaviour, while ‘systems surveillance’ is the monitoring of people’s behaviour in conformity to norms within a system, for reasons of security and social or political control. Surveillance exemplifies a crucial matter, the concept of misuse. According to this, the term ‘mis-surveillance’ could describe a tracking system which, more than the simple monitoring of behaviour, collects data for artistic purposes. What has to be underlined is that the misuse and the decontextualisation of an object are two sides of the same coin. When used as a tool, every object automatically becomes a medium, for it establishes an implicit form of communication. Hence, a system of objects – in this case a surveillance system – can be intended as a system of media and, therefore, be subjected to some-

thing definable as medium dichotomy. The medium is created for some specific purpose, though: it is the use or misuse of the medium itself that make its purpose. Both terms should be read positively: use means approaching the medium as it was meant to be used – ‘old function’4 – whereas misuse suggests a different way of approaching the same medium – ‘new function’5. The next project by Lozano-Hemmer, Pulse Room (figs.7,8), is the first of a series called ‘Pulse’, including Pulse Spiral, Pulse Front, Pulse Park and Pulse Tank, which all present, in different scales, modes and arrangement, the transposition of users’ heartbeats into the pulsation of lights or even water: Pulse Room is an interactive installation featuring one to three hundred clear incandescent light bulbs, 300 W each and hung from a cable at a height of three metres. The bulbs are uniformly distributed over the exhibition room, filling it completely. An interface placed on a side of the room has a sensor that detects the heart rate of participants. When someone holds the interface, a computer detects his or her pulse and immediately sets off the closest bulb to flash at the exact rhythm of his or her heart. The moment the interface is released all the lights turn off briefly and the flashing sequence advances by one position down the queue, to the next bulb in the grid. Each time someone touches the interface a heart pattern is recorded and this is sent to the first bulb in the grid, pushing ahead all the existing recordings. At any given time the installation shows the recordings from the most recent participants. (www.lozano-hemmer. com/english/projects/pulseroom.htm)

fig.8 Pulse Room (2006) - Rafael Lozano-Hemmer Overall view of the installation displaying with the series of lights all users’ heartbeats

Research focusing and contextualisation ◊ 23

Pulse Room is a plain example of what McLuhan intended when writing about how human beings are being progressively translated into media. The ‘metaphor’ becomes physically evident, thus ceasing to be a metaphor: each heartbeat gets stored and then visually represented via light bulbs. No matter how technological the installation is, Lozano-Hemmer’s ability is to transform technology into poetry. The warmth and blinking of an incandescent light communicate well the essence of life; it possibly does better than the idea of a candle which inspired the author, as he wrote in his website. What happens, in reality, is just a sequence of ones and zeros – i.e. the closing and opening of electric circuits – but when staring at it, you are convinced those lights are persons. An effective metaphor can produce very vivid and intense emotions and make a clear difference to how people approach an art piece.

2.2 State of the art To picture the state of the art, let us consider first Dialtones: a telesymphony (figs.9,10,11,12,13,14), a project by Golan Levin6 and his large teamwork composed by Gregory Shakar, Scott Gibbons, Yasmin Sohrawardy, Joris Gruber, Erich Semlak, Gunther Schmidl, Joerg Lehner, and Jonathan Feinberg. The project was presented by Levin at Ars Electronica7 in 2001 and then at the Swiss National Exposition in 2002. The passing of time did not change the stance of this project and its related performance, which can still be considered topical: Dialtones is a large-scale concert performance whose sounds are wholly produced through the carefully choreographed dialing and ringing of the audience’s own mobile phones. Because the exact location and tone of each participant’s mobile phone can be known in advance, Dialtones affords a diverse range of unprecedented sonic phenomena and musically interesting structures. Moreover, by directing our attention to the unexplored musical potential of a ubiquitous modern appliance, Dialtones inverts our understandings of private sound [and] public space [...]. Wireless telephony has quickly become an indispensable aspect of modern life. […] Ironically, the astonishing eagerness with which we have adopted mobile phones is matched by our almost equal repulsion on the occasion of a cell phone’s ringing. […] Announcers at every modern-day concert command us to turn off our cell phones. […] The mobile phone’s speakers and ringers make it a performance instrument. The buttons make it a keyboard and remote control. Its programmable rings make it a portable synthesizer. ( experience/telesymphony/index.html) The need to revaluate objectivity – already treated when writing about Munari’s Libro illegibile – associates Dialtones with Performair: the purpose is to organically make music with devices which, 24 ◊ Performair: music for offices

in normal contexts, are considered disturbing for their undesired sound quality. The sound component of a device is not an impediment to set aside but a quality to exploit. figs.9,10 â—Š left, bottom Dialtones (2001-2002) - Golan Levin Detailed view of the GUI and diagram of the installation

Research focusing and contextualisation â—Š 25

figs.11,12 ◊ right, center left Dialtones (2001-02) - Golan Levin Mobiles loading in the roadcases - working as charging stations - and getting set for the performance fig.13 ◊ center right Team member pictured while dialing the mobile numbers of the audience fig.14 ◊ bottom Overall view of the live performance in a theatre. Members of the team are playing on stage and divided in three groups – each illuminated by a red, blue or green light. The audience can see its reflection and the dialing patterns on the screens placed both sides of the stage

26 ◊ Performair: music for offices

In The Universal Principles of Design, the authors treat a thematic which could be useful to go deeper in the auditory theme. ‘Functional aspects of a design are less subjective than purely aesthetic aspects and, therefore, functional criteria present a clearer and more objective criteria for judgement of quality.’ (Lidell 2003, 90). Perhaps, this can explain how the sound quality of devices – not designed for music making – automatically becomes irrelevant. The sound samples surely are functional but secondary to the main function: the mobile was invented for facilitating a long distance communication combined with the possibility of movement. Generally speaking, we tend to be reluctant to accept what is totally new versus what we are familiar with – the new always presents old functions (McLuhan). However, all this has become less relevant in recent years: with the appearance of the iPhone an ‘old’ device – it is still a mobile phone – presents ‘new’ (innovative) functions – multi-touch applications for music making and accelerometer based applications for orchestra direction (figs.15, 16). Particularly pertinent is also the problem of space which afflicts office devices. Although printers, modems and scanners are less ubiquitous than mobiles – they are used indoors – it is difficult to conceive for them a different setting than a performance stage to explore their potential. This reflection leads us straight to other figures who used technological devices – extrapolated from different working environments – to perform music. The idea of making office devices perform music exists in a developing field of experimentation: people play with all sorts of objects, even floppy disks,

fig.15 ◊ bottom left Bravo Gustavo (2009) - Hello Agency Screenshot of the iPhone application fig.16 ◊ bottom right Explanatory screenshot of the application which uses the accelerometer to translate the user’s movement into the direction of the orchestra. The faster the movements, the faster the tempo of performance

Research focusing and contextualisation ◊ 27

and hacking them in order to get sounds. To finally restrict the ground where Performair can be located, a triangulation between similar projects, all involving dot-matrix printers, will be made. The first project to be analysed is Dot Matrix Patterns (figs.17, 18,19,20) by Metabiosis – a duo composed by Aymeric Mansoux and Marloes de Valk – who mainly investigate digital art, software, and the themes of music and image: These graphics are not generated as an image and sent to the printer, but instead are [generated] directly using the 8-pin graphics mode of the printer. In this case, each of the eight bits in a byte of data sent to the printer corresponds to one pin on the print head. A bit’s value can be either 1 or 0. When the printer receives the data, it interprets a bit with a value of 1 as a command to fire the corresponding pin. Bits that are set to 0 don’t cause pins to fire. Each block code will end up with its own ‘byte id’ so it can be visualized and identified on paper in the graphics line. But before getting there, a few tests have been done to try different bit combos and select the generators the most aesthetically pleasing for us. (http:// I find the visual result very convincing. Those abstract and geometrical shapes were obtained, as the artists themselves admit, by an intense experimentation. Hacking a printer to directly control the print head so as to have graphics is a matter of hard work. Afterwards comes a slow and systematic mapping between each command line and its graphical counterpart. The procedure is far from Performair’s, since here music is not involved at all. In this case the dot-matrix printer is simply used to print: it is a different way of printing aimed to different visual results, yet it is still printing. Metabiosis’ work can be framed in the field of ‘PostScript Art’: a series of visual experiments, made by different artists, based on PostScript language8. Concerning Performair, the reproduction of music generates the printing, so the difference is evident. fig.17 Dot Matrix Patterns (2008) - Metabiosis Example of raw code used for experimenting a particular kind of pattern


# OKI 320 ML tests

# this test is to generate (crap) random 8 pin mode patterns #PRNG

function rand {

echo “obase=8;`expr $RANDOM % 256`” | bc }

function randpat { n=1

while [ $n -le 256 ]; do RND=`rand`

echo -ne ‘\’$RND n=$((n+1)) done }

PATTERN=`randpat` # noise

# PATTERN2=`head /dev/urandom -c 1024`

echo -e ‘^[@^[5^[9^[*1\0\4′$PATTERN’^[@’ | lp -o raw

28 ◊ Performair: music for offices

figs.18,19,20 Dot Matrix Patterns (2008) - Metabiosis Series of visual patterns printed by 8-pin dot-matrix printers

Research focusing and contextualisation â—Š 29

The second project to consider is Paul Slocum’s9 Dot Matrix Synth 3.0 (fig.21). The work is an ongoing project since 2003, and consists in hacking a dot-matrix printer by reprogramming its firmware10. This operation turns a printer into a real music instrument and allows direct control of the device by means of a button interface. Slocum describes the sound generation: The printer creates sound from the print head firing pins against the paper and the vibration of the stepper motor driving the print head back and forth. To generate different notes, the software adjusts the frequency of the printing process. Higher pitches tend to come from the firing of the pins against the paper, and lower pitches come from the rattle of driving the stepper motor. The external eight-button interface plugs into the printer’s font cartridge port. Each button has an assigned pitch, and pressing multiple buttons simultaneously activates the arpeggiator that quickly cycles through the notes you are holding down. What makes this project more relevant than others is the relationship between the melodic and the visual sound of the performance: As the printer is played, it’s also printing a set of images that are programmed into the printer’s eprom with the software. There is interaction between the images and music. The image dithering patterns fluctuate depending on what notes are played, and the music’s volume and rhythmic patterns change depending on the pattern in the current horizontal section of the image. ( Nonetheless, there is a crucial point to be clarified. On the one hand, within Dot Matrix Synth, there is a reciprocal interaction between the making of melody and the printing of images – it is a two-way process. On the other hand, within Performair, there is a direct interaction between what is computed and what is printed meanwhile it is executed – it is a one-way process. Although the two projects from a superficial analysis might seem very similar, the theoretical stance behind them is completely different. Moreover, what is being printed in Slocum’s case is an image whereas in my case it is a typographical score: the printed result of Performair has a visual rather than a figurative connotation. In a certain sense my approach can be described both as limited – for it sticks to the device limitations since there is no hardware hacking – but, at the same time, as coherent – what is being keyed in is exactly what gets printed and heard. This point is essential. If it true that a device requires a much deeper effort than simply using it, it is also true that using a device implies a series of constraints and, thus, its peculiar difficulties. It could all be reduced to a matter of the aesthetical intent of making beautiful compositions versus the ethical intent of making ‘faithful’ compositions sound as aesthetically valuable as possible. 30 ◊ Performair: music for offices

fig.21 Dot Matrix Synth 3.0 (2003) - Paul Slocum Detail of images printed during a live performance with an Epson dot-matrix printer

Research focusing and contextualisation â—Š 31

Surely, who proposes the closest idea to Performair is the Canadian duo [The User] – architect Thomas McIntosh and composer Emmanuel Madan – with their Symphony #2 for Dot Matrix Printers (figs.23,24,25), a work focused on ambient noise: The Symphony focuses the listener’s attention on a nearly forgotten technology: the dot-matrix printer. Specifically, it employs the noises the printers make as the sole sound source for a musical composition. Leaving the constituent elements untouched, the process imposes a new order upon them, reorganizing the sounds along a musical structure. Dot matrix printers are thus turned into musical ‘instruments’, while a computer network system, typical of a contemporary office, is employed as the ‘orchestra’ used to play them. The orchestra is ‘conducted’ by a network server which reads from a composed ‘score’. Each of the printers plays from a different ‘part’ comprised of rhythms and pitches made up of letters of the alphabet, punctuation marks and other characters. [The User] uses ascii text files to compose, orchestrate, and synchronize sonorous and densely textured, rhythmicallydriven music. During the half hour performance, the sounds are amplified and broadcast over a sound system. (www. This project is similar to Performair, but again there are some deep differences. The experimentation of the duo is oriented only towards dot-matrix printers whereas my research includes also other office devices, such as modem and scanners. Secondly, to have each printer managed by a computer and then control all computers with a server it is, both on the hardware and the software level, a completely different stance from Performair’s. The technological challenge within Performair it has been experimenting with several typologies of device and trying to realise a system to manage them all through one computer only. It is a different way to conceive the same problem. fig.22 Symphony #2 (1998) - [The User] Series of dot-matrix printers set to perfrom

32 ◊ Performair: music for offices

figs.23,24 Symphony #2 (1998) - [The User] Team double-checking the system before the performance (top) and detail of the amplification of a printer (below)

Research focusing and contextualisation â—Š 33

2.3 Sampling: an alternative scenario Now that the state of the art has been proposed and the location of Performair been clarified, it is possible to move forward towards the realm of music. ������������������������������������������� Both works are based on the same simple assumption, the possibility of composing music by recording audio fragments of technological machinery while they are in use. Without divagating too much in describing this experimental field of music – there are far too many artists, tendencies, genres and labels to examine – I would take the two full lengths as an excuse to figurate an alternative scenario to Performair. When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence (fig.25) is the debut full-length which Harmonic 313 released under the label Warp in 2009. Behind the moniker is hiding Mark Pritchard, one of the most acknowledged and active musicians in electronic music with a numerous series of projects – Global Communication, Jedi Knights, Harmonic 33 – and alias – Troubleman, Link, Reload among many others. The album is a mashup of all kinds of obsolete devices and sounds coming straight from arcade games, a sort of travel through the long history of consoles but not only. Aesthetically speaking, this composition of machine-made audio samples sounds astonishing and was an inspiration to Performair. The ethic of my work is obviously different, however: a project about music, like Performair, cannot leave aside the aesthetic value of music composition. In this sense Pritchard’s pieces, Quadrant 3 in particular, are an inescapable reference. fig.25 When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence (Warp 2009) - Harmonic 313 Album front cover

The other work I was previously referring to is A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure (fig.26), an album released by the experimental duo Matmos – M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel – in 2001 under 34 ◊ Performair: music for offices

Matador Recordings. In the genre of electronica few can compare to Matmos who are able to structure an entire full-length around the medical world of machines and cosmetic surgery. If there is a boundary in music here it has been shifted much further: not only equipments for liposuction, rhinoplasty and anaesthesia are sampled but also the sound of teeth, bones and reactions to the surgeries. Hard to believe but the result is pleasant, even attractive, and demonstrates how from a radical and unlikely stance remarkable music can be composed. fig.26 A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure (Matador Recordings 2001) - Matmos Album front cover

Research focusing and contextualisation â—Š 35

Sound and auditory perception Paul Hindemith said that ‘music, in any form, is nothing but noise without meaning till it reaches a mind capable of receiving it.’ (Ottó Károlyi 1980, 201) Except for particular circumstances, the discussion about music in this chapter will relate to concepts rather than physics or anatomy.

fig.1 ◊ previous page Sheet paper - Author’s own Conventional music notation

3.1 Sound It is impossible to discuss music or a musical project before introducing its vital premise, sound. Sound is nothing but a vibration of a medium – air, water, wood etc. – by means of which this vibration can be transmitted. A regular vibration results in a musical sound, characterised by a given pitch, while an irregular vibration produces simply noise. The only motion which can originate sound is vibration: whatever the instrument, some components always vibrate – strings, drumheads etc. – and others amplify this resonation. The vibration originates waves which move through the air by a series of compressions (high pressure) and rarefaction (low pressure) of the air molecules: to picture the phenomenon you can think of sea waves. The speed of sound propagation in air is approximately 335 m/s depending on atmosphere variations. Waves are defined by speed, length and frequency (fig.2): the speed v indicates how fast a wave moves from a point a to point b, the length l is the distance between two sequential wave peaks, the frequency f is the number of oscillations in a second and is measured in Hertz (Hz). Sound and auditory perception ◊ 37

fig.2 Wave measures - Author’s own Illustration of the length and frequency of a soundwave

l time


The modulation of a waveform is of two kinds: amplitude modulation (am) is the size variation of wave peaks, while frequency modulation (fm) is the size variation of the wavelength (fig.3). The terms am and fm are commonly used to describe how radio signals travel. In music, a regular amplitude modulation is commonly defined as vibrato, a regular frequency modulation tremolo. fig.3 Modulation - Author’s own Comparison between amplitude modulation (above) and frequency modulation (below)

The three characteristics of a sound are pitch, intensity, and quality. Pitch describes our perceptive capability to distinguish between high and low sounds and is related to the frequency: the higher the frequency the higher the sound and vice versa (fig.4). Human hearing works between a minimum of 16-20 vibrations per second – described with the notation c/s where c stands for full cycle – and a maximum value of 20,000-25,000 c/s. Musical instruments work within this range. Intensity – measured in dB (decibel is dimensionless) or W/m2 (Watts per square metre) – is related to the amplitude of the vibration: the higher the amplitude the louder (more intense) the sound and vice versa (fig.5). fig.4 Pitch - Author’s own Comparison between a higher sound (above) and lower sound (below)

fig.5 Intensity - Author’s own Comparison between a louder sound (above) and a weaker sound (below)

38 ◊ Performair: music for offices

Quality defines the colour of a note and allows us to perceive the difference produced by the same note played by different instruments. Since a note corresponds to a given frequency all instruments should play the same, but frequency is only the primary characteristic of notes. The secondary characteristic, no less important, is harmonics which determine not only the timbre but also the vividness of notes: the variation of harmonics intensity make the difference. Consonance – an interval or chord which produces a sense of stability – and dissonance – an interval or chord which produces a sense of instability – are strictly intertwined with harmonics. According to the Helmholtz1 theory of consonance, consonance or dissonance depend on how many harmonics have the note within the same interval: the more harmonics in common the more consonance; the fewer the more dissonance (fig.6). harmonic series 13



























fig.6 Harmonics - Author’s own Comparison between the harmonics of an oboe and a horn

horn primary note

Sound and auditory perception ◊ 39

3.2 Auditory perception The psychological study of the human perception of sound is called psychoacoustics. Its aim is to explain how sounds get identified and extrapolated from the environment, and decoded by our ears to be, only then, elaborated by our brain. Information within sounds is transmitted by means of a spatial and temporal sequence: obviously this applies to the outer environment but also to music. A melody can be identified through the intervals which link different notes and make them perceivable as a meaningful whole. Tension and pause, together with the chosen notes, are the ‘ingredients’ of a melody. Without the rhythm deriving from tensions and pauses there would be no melody, just a meaningless phenomenon without shape. As Ottó Károlyi writes in his Introducing Music, to be effective a melody needs balance, which is commonly reached by means of recurring themes. A distinction is necessary to clarify the significance of ‘theme’ as a term. A scale – a series of ordered notes which equally starts with a lower octave and finishes with a higher octave or vice versa – is not a theme. It is simply the frame which allows the improvisation of a melody in a tonality – a system of notes subjected to a hierarchic tone – or the modulation between different tonalities. Any interval, melody or chord can be translated in a different tonality. A basic example of a musical theme is the use of a swelling movement to which corresponds a subsequent decreasing movement. The practise of harmony – the simultaneous combination of two or more sounds – appeared only later in the beginning of the 9th century. While melody has a horizontal development, the harmony has a vertical development. This will be covered later in Section 5.6 when comparing the traditional staff with Performair score. The auditory system is in charge of interpreting all the intrinsic connotations of sounds – frequency, duration, speed – and the relationship among them. Melody is a sort of “benevolent virus” which is constantly changing: what we take for granted as it happens automatically – hearing – is the result of the constant adaptation to a constant change. Clarke reinforces this idea: In everyday life, the perception-action cycle is usually so seamless that there may be little need or opportunity for perceivers to become aware of their subject-position in relation to the world. [...] The overwhelming majority of perceptual learning occurs “passively”, [there is] no explicit training involved, [but it is] profoundly active from the perspective of the organism itself. (Clarke 2008, 23, 124) It should appear much clearer now the question of mutual adaptation treated in the Introduction. Given two sources able to vibrate with the same oscillation, the one subjected to direct stimulation would ‘sympathetically’ influence the indirect vibration of the other. As the oscillation of a string is reinforced by the resonating chamber of the instrument, 40 ◊ Performair: music for offices

the oscillation of a vocal cord makes all the upper part of our body resonate. As perceptive beings we also resonate to the outer environment (fig.7). ‘The auditory canal has its peculiar resonance […] which makes us more sensible to frequencies between 500 and 4000 Hz.’ (Grassi, Plack. 2008, 12).

fig.7 Ear resonance - Author’s own Illustration of the auditory canal resonating

Sound and light waves are similar in some respects. As light can directly hit an object but also be reflected from that object towards other objects, so can sound. It is somehow less credible simply because we are counting too much on the visual side of perception to the detriment of the auditory. Relevant to the discourse is intonation, the pitch accuracy of an instrument. In an orchestral performance, non-tuned instruments playing together instead of a symphony would produce a cacophony. Intonation prevents this by setting two or more instruments to the same note – i.e. a given frequency (conventionally 440 c/s corresponding to A) – so as to produce a unison – the replication of the same note. A couple of brief annotations. The majority of office devices cannot be ‘tuned’ for they were not meant to play music. Not only the defect of intonation affects office performances, but also the acoustic of the environment itself: non-reciprocal sounds are repeatedly bouncing within our four walls. The design studio, considered as our auditorium, has its own resonation period corresponding to the time needed for a sound to fade out. Most auditoria are characterised by a resonation period of approximately 1 to 2 seconds which is surely not comparable to our case for evident reasons.

Sound and auditory perception ◊ 41

Concept definition and methodology For my thesis, I was keen on a music-related project within the field of interaction design. Personally speaking, music is not only a matter of pleasure and cultural enrichment but also one of the highest art forms. If I were to explain in a sentence what interaction design has to do with music, I would say that it is about enlarging the boundaries of music and amplifying its communicative power. New instruments can be designed along with new ways of interaction within them. Most relevant to my thesis, new ways of music making with non-musical instruments can be conceived and pursued, but this I realised later when focusing the research. The first idea concerned a portable object which could enhance the listening experience of a user: a pair of headphones which could allow real-time mixing and a three-dimensional perception of music. In order to design such a device I sought similar devices available on the market. The more I focused on the subject the more I discarded elements which at the beginning appeared relevant but, in the final instance, were not. I did not want to create something new. I wanted to do something new with something old: a reason might be my attention to recycling and sustainable design. Thus, I started thinking how everything that surrounds us has a musical tone, no matters how noisy or unorganised this might seem. Perhaps there could be a structure – some basic rules – which could make sounds and noises identifiable, understandable, and, therefore, aesthetically valuable for our ears and minds. I also noticed how this auditory process of comprehension is much easier in a natural than in an artificial environment: to find music by the seaside it is surely less hard than

fig.1 ◊ previous page Dot-matrix scores - Author’s own Superimposition of all the test scores printed with different dot-matrix printers

Concept definition and methodology ◊ 43

in a city centre; natural dynamics still have their hold on us. As a designer I then speculated how this reflection could be translated into a much smaller scale, and this led me to think of a design studio or, more generally, a simple office. I therefore imagined a space where devices were playing as if they were reading an invisible score, a studio becoming a theatre and the design process a performance.

4.1 Project scope: Verplank’s method fig.2 ◊ following page Motivation and metaphor - Author’s own Illustration based on Verplank’s method

In order to frame Performair, Bill Verplank’s1 four-step process (fig.2), is very useful in defining the interactions involved within the project. 1. Motivation What, in a design studio, is normally perceived as noise could be meaningful. The environment where designers usually work could be alive and, therefore, lived in a different way. There is an osmotic relationship between humans and environments as well as a mutual communication – what I would define as a ping-pong effect – between users and objects. What the user is seeking, as McLuhan theorized, is the experience of being translated into the media; this is the real interaction. Media are seen as extensions of our body; this is attractive because it triggers sub- and unconscious reactions, both on mental and physical. 2. Meaning From the need to make music in a tangible way, office devices become musical instruments – metaphor – while the studio becomes the theatre – scenario – where this ‘orchestra’ can perform musical compositions. 3. Mode The Performair set-up resembles a small ‘chamber orchestra’ whose task is to perform an innovative piece of music. To do so, all the peripheries are connected via powered hub to a computer. By clicking on the keyboard, the different devices react to the input and perform their part of the composition. 4. Mapping Regarding the displays and controls, the system is an hybrid between a Graphical User Interface (gui) and a Tangible User Interface (tui): - the gui is a piece of software developed in QBasic2, i.e. the infrastructure that controls all the peripheries - the tui is the computer keyboard, used to control the above-mentioned system by typing letters which initiate command strings

44 ◊ Performair: music for offices

Concept definition and methodology â—Š 45

4.2 Preliminary phase Massimo Banzi3 writes in Getting Started with Arduino: One of the best ways to quickly get to results is to find a great source of technology junk and use it to quickly (and cheaply) get to prototype an experience. Accumulate junk and go through it before starting to build something from scratch. (Banzi 2008, 12)

fig.3 ◊ bottom left raee

Ecological scrap-yard where special materials get collected and then recycled fig.4 ◊ bottom right Dot-matrix circuits - Author’s own Getting dirty with dot-matrix printers to fix and test them

46 ◊ Performair: music for offices

My initial approach to the pre-prototyping phase somehow resembled Banzi’s words. However, even getting to the junk I needed appeared to be a problem for I was seeking office devices, dot-matrix printers in particular. According to the latest Italian laws on the ecological matter, technological devices are classified by competent institutions as raee – rifiuti di apparecchiature elettriche ed elettroniche (fig.3). Special material, even if rubbish, cannot be sold or lent to a citizen but only listed and disposed for recycling in appropriate scrapyards. This meant that public institutions such as councils, hospitals, schools, devices left on the floors, would not allow me to have them legally. Because of this, I first started to search in specific scrap-yards around Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto, then in computer centres, and finally in companies and courier offices where dot-matrix printers are still in use (see Appendix B). By building a network of contacts I managed to gather far more printers than I needed eventually. Afterwards, all the devices had to be cleaned and tested (fig.3) in order to see which was working and which had to be fixed or brought back to the ecological scrap-yard (fig.4)

To understand the situation from different perspectives I started researching on my own but also sought advice from professionals in the field of informatics, physics and engineering. I first visited Enaip4 and then the Centre of Informatics and Engineering at the University of Udine (see Appendix A). There I could show to competent professionals my thesis and its main technological challenges to get relevant feedback. The consultations, along with a series of initial tests, were helpful to focus on the main problems involved in the actual making of Performair.

fig.5 raee recycling

Machinery used to recycle special materials

4.3 Hardware challenge There are two kind of ports to connect a dot-matrix printer to a computer: - Parallel Port (lpt) (fig.6) - scsi Port (scsi) (fig.7) After researching, the best choice appeared to be the first one, i.e. the parallel port. However, this implied a complication for no board is available on the public market which would be able to expand the parallel ports of a computer to the actual number of devices I was aiming to use. Ideally, the devices had to be divided into three groups - made of two units each - according to my studies of orchestral composition, but also of the practicality of the final performance itself. Another choice then had to be made so as to control more than one device with the same computer: Concept definition and methodology â—Š 47

- Building a handmade parallel port multiplier - Using a powered usb hub (fig.8) The second option appeared to be more convenient for it was faster and easier to achieve. The only element which concerned me was the possibility that a parallel-to-parallel connection had a pin-to-pin correspondence while the usb-to-parallel connection obviously not. I thought this might have been a concern, but it eventually was not because appeared to be the sole option I had anyway. The procedure would then be to connect one printer at a time via usb-to-parallel adaptors (fig.9) and, afterwards, a series of 56 K modems. Crucial would be to have the least latency possible and the most accurate synchrony between all the instruments. This depends on the software side of the project. fig.6 lpt male - Author’s own

fig.7 scsi male - Author’s own

fig.8 Powered hub male - Author’s own It is used to connect all the peripherals to one computer

fig.9 usb-to-parallel adaptor - Author’s own It allows the operating system to manage more than two peripherals, since the default number of lpt ports on Windows bios is either 2 or 3

48 ◊ Performair: music for offices

4.4 Software challenge How to control a series of devices in perfect synchrony? For the accuracy and effectiveness of the performance even milliseconds of latency should be avoided, and this is obviously difficult. Consider just printers as an instance, even though this problem applies to any peripheral. Simply sending more than one text file to different printers is not a solution because no operating system would give a real-time response. Windows has its buffering time to execute a user request, and that is not accurate nor computable: there would be no simultaneity if we let the operation system manage the print queue. After checking several forums on the matter, the solution was analysed with some engineers. I first proposed what Paul Slocum did with his Dot Matrix Synth 3.0 (fig.10) where he made an external controller as an interface to send data to the printer via firmware. To send command strings by firmware, as Fabrizio Barbarino5 explained to me, implies a deeper understanding in programming terms: designing a piece of software to dialogue with the parallel port of a device does not mean an assured result, still less the desired one. Between the software and the device is an operating system – in this case Windows – and its drivers, which complicate the data transmission. The platform has to be by-passed to achieve that given action which produces that given sound.

fig.10 Dot Matrix Synth 3.0 (2003) - Paul Slocum Hacked Epson dot-matrix printer controlled by a custom interface able to send string commands via firmware to the device

Concept definition and methodology â—Š 49

It is necessary to set the parallel ports from in such a way to send data in raw spp6 or epp7 mode (figs.11,12,13,14). In other words, avoiding other low levels of control to send just simple electric imputs so as to get precise results. This is why Slocum modified the firmware of his printer, not only to make the printer sound as he wanted but also to avoid problems such as the printer jamming for the lack of paper. Different programming languages – from the most basic to the most advanced – could be used to realise Performair: dos, Pascal, c, Basic.

fig.11 lpt port setup - Author’s own Since the computer used for early tests has only one parallel port all the printers have been installed on lpt1

fig.12 Raw mode setup - Author’s own To bypass Windows control, it is necessary, for testing, to make sure the data can be sent to the printer in a ‘safe’ way

50 ◊ Performair: music for offices

figs.13,14 Raw mode setup - Author’s own To bypass Windows control, it is necessary, for testing, to make sure the data can be sent to the printer in a ‘safe’ way

Concept definition and methodology ◊ 51

4.5 From pre-prototyping to prototyping

fig.15 ◊ following page Tonality test #1 - Author’s own Text written to test the timbre of each printer and to map correspondances between frequencies and typographic elements

52 â—Š Performair: music for offices

The pre-prototyping stage consisted of a series of systematic and non-interactive tests based on a step-by-step procedure. Firstly, every single device had to be played to verify its musical timbre or range and versatility, i.e. the possibilities of producing particular noises. Similarly to electric, semi-acoustic or acoustic instruments, a printer, a modem or other technological device sounds slightly or totally different one from another. The difference depends on several factors: materials, assemblage, technology, and state of usage. An old instrument never sounds like a brand new one, its sound will always be peculiar. In this sense, there is not much difference between a musical instrument, say a guitar, and a technological device such as a dot-matrix printer. Dot-matrix printers are versatile devices because typographic elements are printed on paper by a matrix of pins - 8, 9, 18, 24 (most common) or 36 - which differs by model and manufacturer. This implies a strict correspondence between the visual input and auditory output, very relevant to this project. It is like composing for a classical instrument: a violinist plays notes on a treble clef by reading a score while a dot-matrix printer plays notes by writing a typographic score. Different logical process but equal result: music. Secondly, for every device a table of correspondence between typographic elements and sounds had to be mapped (fig.14). The more similar the typographic element the more similar the sound: a v and a w are visually similar, meaning that the needles to be activated would produce a similar sound. For the same reason, a v and an i would sound different. Finally, a series of short pieces was composed as simple text files to get started with performing. This step was essential to understand what problems could happen when playing live and improvising with more than a device (figs.15,16). Thanks to the help of Barbarino, a second series of interactive prototyping tests was run on a raw QBasic software; a simple program which would print a simple message. Afterwards, a more refined version was developed to use the keyboard as medium of interaction with the printer: by pressing a key the printer would print a specified symbol resulting in a particular note (figs.17,18,19,20). These tests aimed to manage simultaneously a series of devices to design a more reliable program: initially a single device has to play, then other devices have to play in perfect synchronous. Meantime, some more research was done on the type of music to compose and possible ways of performing it. Clear at this stage was the necessity of a fully working program able to handle different types of devices from different manufacturers. Lack of time could be a possible drawback in realising such an ambitious project. The worst-case scenario would imply systematic sampling8 of notes - corresponding to printed letters, numbers, symbols (printers) and dial numbers (modems) - with Steinberg Cubase9 to perform live using professional music software such as Ableton Live10.

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Concept definition and methodology ◊ 53

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54 ◊ Performair: music for offices

tempo (BPM)

Untitled #5 / minimal techno

_ __ ___ ____ _____ ______ _______ ________ _________ __________ ___________ ____________ _____________ ______________ _______________ ________________ _________________ __________________ ___________________ ____________________

‘one voice’ piece for dox-matrix printers tested on Epson FX-850 and IBM 2391-001

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ”””””””””””””””””””” ££££££££££££££££££££ ££££££££££££££££££££ __________________________

Strophe A Each typographic element produces a frequency corresponding to a note; a repeated element produces a continuous note

A continuous line gets printed in one go while other elements in two Strophe B

££££££££££££££££££££ ”””””””””””””””””””” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ”””””””””””””””””””” ££££££££££££££££££££ ££££££££££££££££££££ __________________________ ££££££££££££££££££££ ”””””””””””””””””””” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

* $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% ’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’ ’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’ __________________________

The star is used to fire the print head two times to keep the song tempo

Strophe A

The time to print the continuous line (1 go) and the star (2 gos) has been calculated to keep the tempo costant Strophe B

Strophe C

Movement I

Strophe D

’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’ %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

* $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% ’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’ ’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’ __________________________

Strophe C

Strophe D

’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’ %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$


Concept definition and methodology ◊ 55

fig.16,17 ◊ previous pages Pattern test #4/Composition #5 - Author’s own Text written to detect useful rhythmic patterns for ‘dot-matrix compositions’. A minimal techno piece for a dot-matrix printer

figs.18,19,20,21 ◊ below, following page QBasic Prototype - Author’s own By pressing a tab on the keyboard the program sends to print the given typographic element so as to obtain the desired note

56 ◊ Performair: music for offices

Concept definition and methodology â&#x2014;&#x160; 57

Performair: final project 5.1 Why Performair? Within Western music, performance is mostly considered as an interpretive art which usually include one or more performers – those who play the music – and an audience – those who listen to the music. Although in the present time we tend to consider it as an interpretative phenomenon, music and musical performance originally coincided: the pleasure deriving from music was the same pleasure deriving from the making of it since music started as an oral tradition of religious rituals. A performer is not just a player, he is also an interpreter and throughout time this fact has not changed. In the past, the heartbeat and breathing together with the musical possibilities of human voice were the elements of music. Presently, the performer to a certain extent influences the music he plays by determining its dynamics and phrasing through instruments. The more musical notation developed the more performers acquired the role of interpreters by being subjected to a series of limitations: the information within the score, their knowledge and technical skills but, more important, their taste. In this sense, the passage of time amplified the value of performance: it is not just a matter of enduring musical traditions but also a refinement of those traditions. There is no performance without a performer and a medium to make it happen. In fact, to try to perform without air would be like trying to swim without water. Air is the medium which makes the magic: the act of performance suddenly becomes real – visible and audible – while the performer’s role becomes culturally valuable.

fig.1 ◊ previous page Arditti Quartet - Author’s own Member of the Quartet performing live at Exit_01 Party Sintomatico (Venice Biennale Musica 2008)

Performair: final project ◊ 59

5.2 Orchestras

fig.2 ◊ bottom Orchestra - Ottó Károlyi

figs.3,4 ◊ following pages Performair’s orchestra - Author’s own Diagram, overall view and details of the orchestra’s sections

The previous chapters explained how office devices can be conceived as musical instruments. It is now possible to extend the metaphor to the orchestra (fig.2). In the ancient Greek theatre this term designated an area between the stage and tiers where the chorus could dance and, more relevant, the musicians could perform. As an instrumental ensemble, a modern orchestra is composed of five different sections – woodwinds, brass, percussion, keyboards and strings – and has a conductor. Some sections are in charge of the rhythm while others which develop the melody of the composition. For this reason the Performair ‘orchestra’ (figs.3,4) is divided into three sections: - Rhythmic: dot-matrix printers and scanners - Melodic: dot-matrix printers and modems - Visual: dot-matrix printers and scanners Within this ensemble the boundaries between different sections are not rigid but can be traversed. Dot-matrix printers, in particular, are very versatile and can play both rhythmic and melodic parts. Printers are also involved in visuals since they produce printed results while performing. Concerning modems, the peculiarity of producing different sounds according to the different numbers being dialled makes them perfect for melodic parts. Scanners, on the other hand, are more suitable for rhythmic parts and can also be used for visuals. So what are their musical qualities?

60 ◊ Performair: music for offices


rhythm + visuals


dot-matrix printers




rhythm + melody + visuals

modem melody

5.3 Instruments a. Dot-matrix printers According to the model and manufacturer, a dot-matrix printer can have print heads of from 8 to 36 pins, even though the most common are 9-pin and 24-pin. As the matrix of pins varies so do the printed dots: 8 pins 8 dots, 24 pins 24 dots. Pins are arranged in vertical rows – the 8-pin and 9-pin models have only one – and are controlled by magnets. At each movement of the print head across the page a vertical selection of pins impacts first the ribbon and then the paper (figs.5,6).

fig.5 ◊ left Print head - Author’s own Illustration of a 8-pin print head firing the pins to compose a P

There are as many bits of information as there are pins: 8 pins 8 bits, 24 pins 24 bits etc. Since a bit value can either be 1 (mode on) or 0 (mode off), the corresponding pin can only be activated (mode on) or deactivated (mode off). In the case of a 8-pin printer the data sent from the computer is encoded as a byte (8 bits) whereas for a 24-pin model 3 bytes (24 bits) are necessary to encode the data. To make a simple example, if we were to use a 8-pin printer and the information sent to it corresponded to the numeric value of 10,000,000 this would result in only the first pin being fired. What is relevant here is that the larger the number of pins the more versatile is the printer in printing and, therefore, as a musical instrument: a 36-pin printer has a wider range of sounds than an 8-pin model for the pin combinations are more. This means a huge acoustic variance between dot-matrix printers and inkjet printers: older device are musically better than newer ones.

fig.6 ◊ below 8-pin print - Author’s own Print mode of the letter A within an 8-pin dot-matrix printer

Performair: final project ◊ 63

fig.7 USRobotics 56 K modem - Author’s own Model used for tests

64 ◊ Performair: music for offices

b. Modems Dialup modems are much like telephones and require a series of procedures before establishing a connection. Normally, a modem must be connected to telephone line and needs another modem at the other end of that line to reply. When connecting, the two modems – home modem and Internet Server Provider (ISP) modem – initiates communication through the so-called ‘handshake’. Before exchanging information, the speed of transfer must be agreed, for each modem has its own standard: the model I used for tests is a V.90 USRobotics (fig.7), where the V.90 wording indicates a transfer speed of 56 Kbps (56,000 bps). I chose this rather than older standards mainly for the sounds it produces – I was attuned to them – but also for its availability. How do modems produce sound? While computers are mostly based on digital technology, phone lines partly work on analogue technology. Modems function as ‘signal translators’ by turning digital into analogue data which travels as electricity through the wires and produces sounds. It is called a modem because first it modulates the signal – from digital to analogue – then it demodulates it – from analogue back to digital – and the other way round to have a two-way communication (fig.9). All modems respond to a command language called at – a command line prefix meaning ‘attention’ – which is generally used to change parameters and setting within the device. Although every manufacturer and model differs, some command strings are universal and can be used to produce sounds. Without the need of programming it is possible to access the modem via HyperTerminal – a sort of white dos window – where those at commands can be typed in. Here is a list of commands:

ATI3: Device identification and confirmation of AT commands

ATA : Answer an incoming call

fig.8 Data modulation - Authorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s own Illustration which displays how a 56k modem works

ATDT: Dial the following phone number ATE : Turn echo off ATH1: Hang up

ATH0: Receiver mode

ATm0: Switch loudspeaker off

ATO : Return to on-line state

ATZ : Reset the modem to the values

stored in the NVRAM (Non-Volatile Random

Access Memory)

+++ : Return to the command state

(not to be preceded by <AT>)


: Repeat last command (not to be pre ceded by <AT> or followed by <ENTER>

This system would not be very reliable in a live performance setting. Sometimes the HyperTerminal window does not show the command lines even though it executes them, and at other times command lines do not get executed at all. After all we are interfacing with the modem through an operating system and that always brings complications.

Performair: final project â&#x2014;&#x160; 65

fig.9 Scanners - Author’s own Models used for tests

c. Scanners Some peripherals, only for the sake of designers, feature hidden configurations which in jargon are defined ‘Easter eggs’. Some models of Hewlett-Packard (Scanjet 3c/4c) are provided with those configurations, meaning that they can not only emit sounds but also generate several tonalities. The journal section of HP’s official website shows Play Tune (Esc*u0M) a hidden software which offers the possibility of playing all the notes in a three-octave range. How does this scanner produce sounds? Since the scanner has a variable y-direction when scanning, the speed of the scan head varies according to the y resolution. In other words, the stepper motor which control that scan head movements must run at different frequencies and these produce sounds. Thanks to the Scanner Control Language (scl) is possible to send to the internal buffer notes in hexadecimal format. Using the buffer is a limitation in terms of live performance and implies the limitation of sending data all in a go: it is impossible to press a key and get singular notes executed on the fly. Before being performed, the data – in this case the encoded musical score – gets transferred with the following procedure: - step 1: opening of the cycle - step 2: data transfer through the scsi - step 3: data storage in the internal buffer - step 4: closing of the cycle - step 5: data execution Each note is coded in 24 hexadecimal bits but all ports have only 8 bits, meaning that those 24 bit have to be divided in three chunks to be transferred from the computer to the scanner – i.e. three 8-bit

66 ◊ Performair: music for offices

pushes. For this reason each note presents the following format: <freqMSB>: Most Significant Bit of frequency (first part of data) <freqLSB>: Least Significant Bit of frequency (second part of data) <duration>: time value specified as multiples of ca. 1/8 sec (third part of data) Binary is the format used by computers, and hexadecimal is commonly adopted by programmers for it is the simplest system to split halves of data. Let us explain in practical terms how the system works: we would like to play middle C for 1 second. The frequency of middle C corresponds to 256 Hz, while the clock frequency is 3 MHz (3 MHz = 3 x 103 Hz). Since the stepper motor in the scanner is working in full steps we must multiply all the values by 1/2 to make it work in half-steps. In other words, if the motor rotates 0.9° per step it will take 400 full steps or 800 half-steps per revolution. The equation would therefore be: 3000000 X 1/256 X 1/2 = 5859,375 The decimal number 5,859 has to be translated into the corresponding hexadecimal value 16E3 – remember that Play Tune does not work in decimals. Now the least piece of data we need is the note duration: since we wanted to play middle C for one second we would digit 8 (8 X 1/8 sec = 1 sec) in the last byte. The value to be computed would then be 16E38: <16> : first byte of data <E3> : second by of data <8> : third byte of data

Performair: final project ◊ 67

5.4 Sheet music and Performair’s score Sheet music is the term used to indicate musical notation, written in such a way to allow the vision of all the different parts of the composition. To compare a traditional piece of music to Performair’s I would indicate the first as sheet music and the second simply as score for its generic meaning which embraces all kinds of musical notations. In the sheet music ‘voices’ – parts to be played by different instruments – are written one below the other – to each instrument is assigned a line (not the staff). As introduced in Section 4.2, by reading horizontally each line is possible to follow the melody played by each instrument. At the same time, a vertical reading, meaning the simultaneous reading of all lines together, would convey the harmony of the music piece, i.e. the combination of all melodies. This is possible because conventionally all musical instruments ‘read’ the same language, even though all instruments ‘speak’ differently. In Performair this is not possible: no convention can be established between different instruments. All peripherals are indeed controlled via computer by a binary language made of zeros and ones. Nonetheless, as we interface with each device we need to adopt each time a different language which, only afterwards, gets converted in binary language: it is like having a meta-language which get things more complicated. To try playing a harp as if it was a piano would be like trying to play a printer as if it was a modem. However, musical instruments have been designed to function at the human scale: all body parts – lips, tongue, fingers, feet – get involved with all physical gestures possible – breathing, beating, pinching. But office devices have been designed to function at the computer scale: there is a level which separates the user – i.e. the performer – from the instrument to be played. Within that intermediate layer is condensed the critical side of the project. From this perspective it is clear that each peripheral requires its own score to be written in a specific language: there would be no sheet paper, no harmony to be read, only three scores corresponding to three patterns. These scores would be computable and readable by the performer only horizontally, as separate patterns, meaning that the harmony will be only audible. In practical terms the most effective way of performing would be by having some prewritten score – a loop sequence – played by one device as the main melody while improvising with the other devices. Imagination and experimentation are the passkeys to Performair. fig.10 Scanner Score - HP A Mozart composition translated in the Scanner Control Language (scl)

02f 16E3,6 16E3,6 0f47,6 0f47,6 0d9c,6 0d9c,6 0f47,9 00,2 1125,6 1125,6 122a,6 122a,6 1464,6 1464,6 16E3,9 00,2 0f47,6 0f47,6 1125,6 1125,6 122a,6 122a,6 1464,9 00,2 0f47,6 0f47,6 1125,6 1125,6 122a,6 122a,6 1464,9 00,2 16E3,6 16E3,6 0f47,6 0f47,6 0d9c,6 0d9c,6 0f47,9 00,2 1125,6 1125,6 122a,6 122a,6 1464,6 1464,6 16E3,9

68 ◊ Performair: music for offices

5.5 hui: hybrid user interface Humans have always ‘interfaced’ with the outer world through the body, an osmosis between our micro environment and other macro environments and all those living and inanimate things which are plunged into them. Not everything was at hand though, and that made us develop our sensorial faculties so that we could translate our bodies much further. We then felt the need to overcome our physical and sensory limitations by inventing tools to transform our limited possibilities and allow new ways of interactions. If the Universal Exhibition of London (1851) was the spark which marked the birth of industrial design as a field of research, the birth of design surely came much earlier with the first stone tools. We have been constantly interfacing ourselves with reality throughout the centuries untill we became aware of the interface problem rather than the problem which motivated our interfacing. When Charles Eames was questioned about the meaning of the word design, he explained: ‘[it is] a plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose.’ (Neuhart 1989, 14). Not only, further in the discussion Eames would precise: Design depends largely on constraints. [...] One of the few effective keys to the design problem [is] the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible. (Neuhart 1989, 14) In fact, a series of constraints has been leading my design process towards a User Interface ui which is an hybrid between a Tangible User Interface tui (figs.11,12,13,14) and a Graphical User Interface gui (figs.15,16,17,18,19,20). The ‘space’ where the interaction between humans – giving inputs – and machines – giving outputs – take place is defined as user interface. This interface can be realised physically via hardware – tui – visually via software – gui – or as an hybrid between the two as in the case of Performair. When facing the prototyping stage I realised that only by reducing the project to the basics I could resolve it: the operating system gui was just an accessory to set aside. Most of my time was spent on prompting command lines on dos-like windows, a sort of step back in the prehistoric age of computers. As I started to get some practical results, I understood that the primary implementation of Performair would be the design of a gui – a piece of software on top of others – so as to have a real-time control on all devices in one window rather than three. The feasibility of a live performance mainly depends on three cardinal points: reliability – the software needs to be stable – ease of use – the software needs to be intuitive – and immediacy – the software needs to be responsive. Before getting to that point more than a series of tests, alpha and beta versions would be required. As a counterpart to the pieces of software used to control peripherals there are also the device tuis: within a research on objectivity and decontextualisation the tangible aspect of an object

figs.11,12,13,14 ◊ following page Reactable tui (2007) - Sergi Jordà, Marcos Alonso, Günter Geiger, Martin Kaltenbrunner Detailed view of object manipulation (above) and overview of the full table (below). Each object of the tui is characterised by a peculiar shape and fiducial (placed underneath) which enables both the user and the system to distinguish the different controllers and associate them to the right command.

Performair: final project ◊ 69

70 â&#x2014;&#x160; Performair: music for offices

is not secondary at all. In fact, some elements of the tuis, especially on dot-matrix printers, are used to enhance the range of musical solutions within the performance. In terms of interface the challenge was to design a hybrid interface which could bridge the gaps, both on the software and hardware levels, between the devices. A system which could grant the same level of control on all devices could be finally considered as a real orchestra made of musical instruments.

figs.15,16 ◊ top Macintosh OS X 10.5 gui (2009) - Apple Overall view of the desktop metaphor figs.17,18 ◊ centre Windows 7 NT 6.1 gui (2009) - Microsoft Overall view of the desktop metaphor figs.19,20 ◊ bottom Ubuntu 7.4 gui (2007) - Linux Overall view of the desktop metaphor

Performair: final project ◊ 71

Conclusions The ambition which led me to Performair was to conceive new ways of interacting with devices as if they were musical instruments. I did not feel the urge to create something new, as most designers do, but to combine one of my greatest passions, music, with what I have been studying for years, design. Long before tackling the thesis I felt this necessity so I started experimenting with turntables to translate music into rotational graphics. This thesis was an occasion to reverse that reasoning, to start pondering how non-musical instruments could perform music. The first device I considered was a printer and, consequently, typography got involved. Somehow things started having sense, the puzzle pieces progressively came together. What had then to be done would be exploring the possibilities of interaction between the two and, equally important, how to handle them for a concrete and satisfying result. I think there is a common link between recycling objects and recycling ideas. Almost everything can be recycled, not only that particular printer but also the idea behind printers. What I was aiming to with Performair was to demonstrate that a printer, modem or scanner can be seen with different eyes. There is always a hidden value within objects which can be extrapolated, manipulated to then be translated into functionality. For this reason my theorization has been based on five keywords, the crucial nodes of Performair’s framework: objectivity, misuse, decontextualisation, affordance and mapping. Through the revalorisation of objectivity – the intrinsic value of the object – objects can be decontextualised – the release from

fig.1 ◊ previous page William Basinski - Author’s own Basinski directing Alter Ego performing the Disintegration Loop 1.1 at Exit_01 Party Sintomatico (Venice Biennale Musica 2008)

Conclusions ◊ 73

a determined context of use – and misused – the application of the function within another context of use. The mapping of objects – the relationship between controls and effects – get subverted and so does, as a consequence, their affordance – the cause-effect relationship between function and physical conformation – which loses its original sense. All this becomes possible when the metaphor – office device equal musical instrument – is convincing. Printers, modems and scanners stop being what they are and become something else without the need of a redesign. I consider this operation deeply ethical for it is diametrically opposed to the swelling trend of restyling in design, which is a wholly aesthetic matter. Since Performair is an ambitious project, what was easy to theorize was less easier to put into practice. As I wrote in the chapter concerning the research and project contextualisation, similar projects were usually developed by large teams throughout the course of years. No surprise if all I had in mind did not happen in a few months. The absence of a team surely played a part in this. On the conceptual side, that meant not being able to share views and solutions while, in practical terms, it also implied the absence of a linear development. Every time something was changing somewhere I had to go back, rethink everything and, only afterwards, move forward. This resulted in a fragmented development and forced me to go through circles. From my personal experience interaction design projects require a team counting three persons at least. The division of tasks is the only way of avoiding undesired stops, i.e. having to constantly switch from one activity to another. In my case it would have been very helpful to approach the project by focusing on three sub-problems: - the theoretical research and adjustment of the concept - the recovery of devices, programming and testing - the realisation and editing of all the documentation With the possibility of exchanging roles or teaming up to accomplish big tasks, it would have been possible to have three parallel paths and save a lot of time. The situation required a perfect timetable, to be systematically adjusted each time an obstacle was encountered, which I did not have. This confirmed that the design approach adopted in the interaction design studio of the Faculty of Design and Arts was effective. Most important, it became clear that for a more refined and reliable system to perform live, as I am planning to do, I would need a development team and more months of work. The next implementation for the project would be the design of a gui which could allow a direct access and control to all the instruments. Since my initial will of doing a music-related project, I am more than satisfied because I succeeded in sticking to my original idea. I did not get distracted by the many obstacles I encountered, nor changed my mind in the pipeline, always a big risk when working alone. I am pleased with the subject I investigated and I do not consider Performair a closed chapter of my life but an ongoing project yet to be accomplished. 74 ◊ Performair: music for offices

Conclusions â&#x2014;&#x160; 75

76 â&#x2014;&#x160; Performair: music for offices

Acknowledgements For their support, I would like to thank my family first, particularly my mother. A special thought goes to Silvia for her patience and closeness, to musicologist Stefano Casanova and to the director and composer Giuliano Medeossi for their musical advice. For their particular dedication I thank Philip Tabor, whose advice has been vital for the dissertation, Fabrizio Barbarino for his help in the early stages of the prototyping development of the project and Francesco Chirico for helping with the printing of this dissertation. My thanks to engineers Andrea Plozzer and Stefano Bonomi, for their help in finding the devices, to engineers Renato Spoletti and Massimo Cuttini for their technical advice. I would take this chance to remember also Gillian Crampton Smith, Massimiliano Ciammaichella, Yaniv Steiner and Nicholas Zambetti, for their useful suggestions. Finally, a warm thanks to all my thesis colleagues, especially Claudia De Angelis, for all the moments we shared together.

Acknowledgements â&#x2014;&#x160; 77

78 â&#x2014;&#x160; Performair: music for offices

Appendix A consultancies list






Università degli Studi di Udine Departments of Maths and Informatics

Via delle Scienze 208 Udine

Ing. Renato Spoletti Head computation centre

0432 558433 329 7506269

Email sent Meeting done

2nd floor: end of the corridor on the right

Università degli Studi di Udine Departments of Maths and Informatics

Via delle Scienze 208 Udine

Ing. Stefano Bonomi Data transmission service

0432 558894 348 6397658

2nd floor: end of the corridor on the right

Università degli Studi di Udine Departments of Maths and Informatics

Ing. Fabrizio Barbarino Electronic engineer

0432 556241 320 4350825

Università degli Studi di Udine Departments of Maths and Informatics

Ing. Stefano Cotterli Physicist

to be contacted through Fabrizio Barbarino

Standby Meeting not done






Meeting done

0432 693611

Meeting done

Ing. Pascottini

0432 693611


Sig. Gianni Head computation class

347 9416259

Meeting done

Università degli Studi di Udine Departments of Maths and Informatics

Via delle Scienze 208 Udine

Ing. Fabiano Zaninotto

Università degli Studi di Udine Departments of Enginering

Via delle Scienze 208 Udine

Prof. Luca Montessoro Computer science professor

Università degli Studi di Udine Reception

Via delle Scienze 208 Udine

Email sent Meeting done

Email sent Meeting schedule fixed

1st floor: next to the computer laboratory

Ground floor

ENAIP Via Leonardo Pasian di Prato da Vinci 27 H-Resources Centre Pasian di Prato (UD) ENAIP Via Leonardo Pasian di Prato da Vinci 27 H-Resources Centre Pasian di Prato (UD) Istituto Magistrale Via Leicht 4 Caterina Percoto Udine

Sig. Castellarin Head technical section 1st floor: end of the corridor on the left Ing. Massimo Cuttini 2nd floor: room 201

Appendices ◊ 79

80 â&#x2014;&#x160; Performair: music for offices

Appendix B device collection list






Personal contact


Sig. Andrea Plozzer #1 Dot-Matrix Printer EPSON FX-850

328 1547748

Recovery done

ELLEBIZETA Informatics scrapyard

Via Malignani 27 Martignacco (UD)

Sig. Luciano

333 4626222

Very expensive material

FERCAM Via Maù 17/11 TRANSPORTS Martignacco (UD)

#1 Dot-Matrix Printer IBM 2391

0432 657283

Recovery done


#1 Dot-Matrix Printer EPSON LQ-1170 #1 Dot-Matrix Printer EPSON (disassembled / broken) #1 Typewriter IBM 6747

0432 522443

Recovery done


Sig.ra Fiorella Secretary #1 Dot-Matrix Printer BULL Compuprint 914 #1 Typewriter TRIUMPH SE305


Recovery done


Dott. Giuseppe Scrufari 0432 508685 GPS notary #1 Dot-Matrix Printer BULL Compuprint 4/45

Recovery done

Bonomi’s contact

Sig. Maurizio Sorgo 348 2616765 #1 Dot-Matrix Printer Honeywell Bull 4/66 #9 Dot-Matrix Printer BULL Compuprint 4/66

Recovery done


RECME Via Provinciale Sig.ra Milena / Sig.ra Elena (Staniv’s contact) 104-104/A Samone (TO) Sig. Alex

0125 53950 348 5185703 393 5436345

Called No material

CESPED SPA SS Grado Km34 TRANSPORTS Lauzacco (UD) Headquarters

Sig. Bergamasco

0432 659911

Called No material

ARTONI Via Romania 22 TRANSPORTS Reggio Emilia Headquarters


0522 369111


KARPOS Recovery cooperative QUERCIAMBIENTE Recovery cooperative

Via Torricelli Porcia (PN)

Sig. Paola / Sig. Quinto

0434 924012


Via Cavalieri di Malta 3 Muggia (TS)

Sig. Gigi / Sig.ra Gabriella Zona industriale Noghere

040 572370 040 9235095



0432 594111

Called No material

PREFETTURA Via Piave 16 UTG Udine Registry office

Appendices ◊ 81

82 â&#x2014;&#x160; Performair: music for offices

Sources 1. Bibliography Banzi, Massimo, Getting started with Arduino, O’Reilly Media / Make, Cambridge (MA) 2008 Bussotti, Sylvano, La Passion selon Sade, Ricordi, Milano 1966 Barcellona, Luca, Calligrammi ws, clasvem master degree, IUAV / Fondazione Claudio Buziol / Teach me, Venice 2009 Cameron, Andy, The art of experimental interaction design (IdN Special 04), Gingko Press, Hong Kong 2004 Cialdini, Robert B., Influence. Science and practice, Pearson Education, Boston (MA) 2009 Clarke, Eric F., Ways of listening. An ecological approach to the perception of musical meaning, Oxford University Press, New York 2005 De Fusco, Renato, Storia del design, Grandi Opere Laterza, Roma, Bari 2002 Fabbri, Paolo and Gianfranco Marrone, Semiotica in nuce, volume II: teoria del discorso, Meltemi Editore, Roma 2001 Grassi, Massimo and Chris J. Plack, La percezione uditiva, dams bachelor degree, psychoacoustics course, Università degli Studi di Udine, Gorizia 2007 Károlyi, Ottó, La gramatica della musica. La teoria, le forme e gli strumenti musicali, Einaudi, Torino 1980 Lidwell, Will and others, Universal principles of design, Rockport Publishers, Beverly (MA) 2003 Maeda, John, Creative code: aesthetics and computation, Thames & Hudson, London 2004 Manovich, Lev, Il linguaggio dei nuovi media, MIT Press, Cambridge (MA) 2001 McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding media, Routledge, London, New York 2001 Miller, Paul a.k.a. DJ Spooky, Rhythm science, Mediaworks Pamphlet, MIT Press, Cambridge (MA) 2004 Moggridge, Bill, Designing interactions, MIT Press, Cambridge (MA) 2006 Munari, Bruno, Da cosa nasce cosa, Economica Laterza, Roma, Bari 2002 Sources ◊ 83

Newhart, John and Marilyn, Eames design. The work of the office of Charles and Ray Eames, Thames & Hudson, New York 1989 Russolo, Luigi, L’arte dei rumori, Nuovi Equilibri, Viterbo 2009 Sharp, Helen and others, Interaction design. Beyond human–computer interaction, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, New York, Hoboken (New Jersey) 2007 Solt, Mary Ellen, Concrete Poetry: A World View, Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1968 Spinrad, Paul, The VJ book. Inspirations and practical advice for live visual performance. Feral House, Los Angeles 2005 Sterling, Bruce. Shaping things, Mediaworks Pamphlet, MIT Press, Cambridge (MA) 2005

2. Web resources Atsma, Aaron, The Pattern Poems (2007) (January 2010) Bussotti, Sylvano, La Passion selon Sade (1966) (February 2010) Webb, Steven and others, HP journal online, Scanjet 3c/4c (1997) (February 2010) Levin, Golan, Dialtones (a Telesymphony) (2001) (January 2010) Lozano-Hemmer, Pulseroom (2006) (January 2010) Lozano-Hemmer, Wavefunction (2007) (January 2010) Metabiosis, Dot Matrix Patterns (2008) (January 2010) Schwartz, Margaret, A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure (2001) (January 2010) Slocum, Paul, Dot Matrix Synth 3.0 (2003) (January 2010) [The User], Symphony #2 for Dot Matrix Printers (1998) (January 2010)

85 ◊ Performair: music for offices

Sources ◊ 85

86 â&#x2014;&#x160; Performair: music for offices

List of figures Abstract fig.1 - Author’s own, Particles Net

Chapter 1 ◊ Introduction fig.1 - Author’s own, Impression #2 fig.2 - Apollinaire, Guillaume, Woman. Barcellona L., Calligrammi ws, Teach me, Venice (2009) fig.3 - Apollinaire, Guillaume, Horse. Barcellona L., Calligrammi ws, Teach me, Venice (2009) fig.4 - Simias of Rhodes, I. The axe. fig.5 - Simias of Rhodes, II. The Wings. fig.6 - Unknown author, Islamic calligrammes. Barcellona L., Calligrammi ws, Teach me, Venice (2009) fig.7 - Unknown author, Islamic calligrammes. Barcellona L., Calligrammi ws, Teach me, Venice (2009) fig.8 - Carroll, Lewis, Alice’s adventures in wonderland. Barcellona L., Calligrammi ws, Teach me, Venice (2009) figs.9,10 - Apollinaire, Guillaume, Il pleut. Barcellona L., Calligrammi ws, Teach me, Venice (2009) fig.11 - Prampolini, Enrico, Poesia pentagrammata. fig.12 - Cangiullo, Francesco, Piedigrotta. fig.13 - Maderna, Bruno, Serenata per un satellite. fig.14 - Bussotti, Sylvano, La Passion selon Sade. fig.15 - Bussotti, Sylvano, La Passion selon Sade. fig.16 - Russolo, Luigi, Risveglio di una città. fig.17 - Munari, Bruno, Libro illegibile. fig.18 - Author’s own, Casual poetry

Chapter 2 ◊ Research focusing and contextualisation fig.1 - Author’s own, Random plotter art fig.2 - Lozano-Hemmer, Rafel, Wavefunction fig.3 - Lozano-Hemmer, Rafel, Wavefunction fig.4 - Lozano-Hemmer, Rafel, Wavefunction fig.5 - Lozano-Hemmer, Rafel, Wavefunction fig.6 - Lozano-Hemmer, Rafel, Wavefunction fig.7 - Lozano-Hemmer, Rafel, Pulse Room fig.8 - Lozano-Hemmer, Rafel, Pulse Room fig.9 - Levin, Golan, Dialtones (a Telesymphony) List of figures ◊ 87 fig.10 - Levin, Golan, Dialtones (a Telesymphony) fig.11 - Levin, Golan, Dialtones (a Telesymphony) fig.12 - Levin, Golan, Dialtones (a Telesymphony) fig.13 - Levin, Golan, Dialtones (a Telesymphony) fig.14 - Levin, Golan, Dialtones (a Telesymphony) fig.15 - Hello Agency, Bravo Gustavo fig.16 - Hello Agency, Bravo Gustavo fig.17 - Metabiosis, Dot Matrix Patterns fig.18 - Metabiosis, Dot Matrix Patterns fig.19 - Metabiosis, Dot Matrix Patterns fig.20 - Metabiosis, Dot Matrix Patterns fig.21 - Slocum, Paul, Dot Matrix Synth 3.0 fig.22 - [The User], Symphony #2 for Dot Matrix Printers fig.23 - [The User], Symphony #2 for Dot Matrix Printers fig.24 - [The User], Symphony #2 for Dot Matrix Printers fig.25 - Harmonic 313, When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence fig.26 - Matmos, A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure rlqEG_sAI24x_full.jpg

Chapter 3 ◊ Sound and auditory perception fig.1 - Author’s own, Sheet paper fig.2 - Author’s own, Wave measures fig.3 - Author’s own, Modulation fig.4 - Author’s own, Pitch fig.5 - Author’s own, Intensity fig.6 - Author’s own, Harmonics fig.7 - Author’s own, Ear resonance

Chapter 4 ◊ Concept definition and design methodology fig.1 - Author’s own, Dot-matrix scores fig.2 - Author’s own, Motivation and metaphor fig.3 - raee fig.4 - Author’s own, Dot-matrix circuits 88 ◊ Performair: music for offices

fig.5 - raee recycling fig.6 - Author’s own, lpt male fig.7 - Author’s own, scsi male fig.8 - Author’s own, Powered hub fig.9 - Author’s own, usb-to-parallel adaptor fig.10 - Slocum, Paul, Dot Matrix Synth 3.0 fig.11 - Author’s own, lpt port setup figs.12,13,14 - Author’s own, Raw mode setup fig.15 - Author’s own, Tonality test #1 fig.16 - Author’s own, Pattern test #4 fig.17 - Author’s own, Composition #5: minimal techno figs.18,19,20,21 - Author’s own, QBasic prototype

Chapter 5 ◊ Performair: final project fig.1 - Author’s own, Arditti Quartet fig.2 - Author’s own, Orchestra figs.3,4 - Author’s own, Performair’s orchestra fig.5 - Author’s own, Print head fig.6 - Author’s own, 8-pin print fig.7 - Author’s own, USRobotics 56 K modem fig.8 - Author’s own, Data modulation fig.9 - Author’s own, Scanners fig.10 - HP, Scanner Score figs.11,12,13,14 - Jorda, Sergi and others, Reactable tui figs.15,16 - Apple, Mac OS X 10.5 gui figs.17,18 - Microsoft, Windows 7 NT 6.1 gui figs.19,20 - Linux, Ubuntu 7.4 gui

Chapter 6 ◊ Conclusions fig.1 - Author’s own, William Basinski

List of figures ◊ 89

90 â&#x2014;&#x160; Performair: music for offices

Notes Chapter 1 ◊ Introduction 1. Lev Manovich - Russian, he is a new media theorist and a professor at the University of California - San Diego (ucsd) and a director of the Software Studies Initiative at California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (calit2). His The Language of New Media ‘is hailed as the most suggestive and broad ranging media history since Marshall McLuhan.’ 2. bios - Boot firmware, is the backbone system designed to be the first code run by the machine when powered on. It identifies, tests, and initializes all the system devices setting the computer hardware into a known state, so that software can be loaded and executed. 3. Miles Davis - American, he was a trumpeter, bandleader, and composer widely recognised as the innovator of jazz as well as one of the most brilliant musicians of the 20th century. 4. John Cage - American, he was an all-round artist but notably one of the most experimental composers of the 20th century. He introduced first the non-standard use of musical instruments together with a series of music genres. 5. Ernst H. Gombrich - Austrian, he was an art historian an art critic mainly known for his The Story of Art. 6. Charles Morris - American semiotician and philosopher. 7. Guillaume Apollinaire - French poet, writer and art critic of the early 20th century. 8. Francesco Cangiullo - Italian poet, writer and painter, he was active in the Futurist movement. 9. Mary E. Solt - American concrete poet. 10. Luigi Russolo - Italian composer, music theorist and painter, he was also a Futurist. He is regarded as the inventor of noise music as well as one of the first to theorize electronic music. 11. Francesco Pratella - Italian composer, musician and music theorist, he was one of the most preminent figures of Futurist music. 12. Ugo Piatti - Italian member of Futurism, he was Russolo’s assistant. 13. Pierre Schaeffer - ‘[French, he was] a radio engineer and announcer at Radiodiffusion Francaise (rf), becoming the research in sound and radio in the early 1940s. In 1948, he launched a new approach to music, which he called musique concrete.’ 14. Bruno Munari - Italian, he was a multifaceted artist and designer, particularly active in the fields of industrial design and graphics. For his versatile approach he is considered the Leonardo Da Vinci of the 20th century. 15. Eric F. Clarke - British, he is a musicologist and professor of music at the University of Sheffield. For twn years he was a member of the improvising string quartet The Lapis String Quartet. 16. James J. Gibson - American, he was a psychologist and one of the most outstanding figures of 20th century within the field of visual perception. 17. Marshall McLuhan - Canadian, he was a communication theorist and sociologist. As ‘high guru’ of media culture, he is especially known for his landmark books and predictive phrases ‘global village’ and ‘the medium Notes ◊ 91

is the message’.

Chapter 2 ◊ Research focusing and contextualisation 1. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer - ‘[Mexican, he is an] electronic artist, develops large-scale interactive installations in public space, usually deploying new technologies and custom-made physical interfaces. [He commonly uses]robotics, projections, sound, internet and cell-phone links, sensors and other devices [within his installations].’ 2. Affordance - A term coined by James J. Gibson. 3. Charles and Ray Eames - Americans, husband and wife, they are considered two of the most influential designers of 20th century. They operated whitin the fields of industrial design (mainly furniture), architecture, fine art, graphic design and film. 4. Old function - The term is used as intended by McLuhan in Understanding Media. 5. New function - The term is used as intended by McLuhan in Understanding Media. 6. Golan Levin - ‘[American, he is an] artist, composer, performer and engineer interested in developing artifacts and events which explore supple new modes of reactive expression. His work focuses on the design of systems for the creation, manipulation and performance of simultaneous image and sound, as part of a more general inquiry into the formal language of interactivity, and of non-verbal communications protocols in cybernetic systems. Levin’s work spans a variety of online, installation and performance media.’ 7. Ars Electronica - A festival on new media art which takes place in Linz (Austria) every year since 1979. It also hosts the Prix Ars Electronica, an internationally renowned award within the field. 8. PostScript - A page description language (pdl) developed by Adobe for optimized printing of graphics and text. 9. Paul Slocum - American hacker, artist and musician, he started experimenting with old computer, videogame consoles and in the early 1980s. 10. Firmware - Backbone program, characterised by low-level operations, which enables electronic devices to function properly.

Chapter 3 ◊ Sound and auditory perception 1. Hermann von Helmholtz - German physician and physicist of the 19th century.

Chapter 4 ◊ Concept definition and methodology 1. Bill Verplank - ‘American, is an interaction designer and human-factors engineer. Since 2000, he has been a part-time lecturer at ccrma, the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, at Stanford, teaching a course on designing input devices. He also served on the Steering Committee for the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea (2000-2005).’ 2. QBasic - Software application and interpreter of QuickBasic (Basic language). 3. Massimo Banzi - Italian, co-founder of the Arduino project, he has a fifteen years practice in designing and developing enterprise applications. After experience as the Chief Technology Officer (cto) for Seat Ventures 92 ◊ Performair: music for offices

incubator, he became an associate professor at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea for four years. He is now cto at!, a studio which engages with the fields of physical computing and digital design. 4. Enaip - Human Resources Centre, it is located in Pasian Di Prato (province of Udine) and offers a wide range of services in professional education, with the support and help of public and private institutions, both Italian and foreign. 5. Fabrizio Barbarino - Italian computer physician and engineer, he works in the department of Maths and Informatics at the University of Udine. 6. spp - Standard Parallel Port, it implementes the Centronics (lpt port) ‘handshake’. 7. epp - Enhanced Parallel Port, it has been designed in a joint venture between Intel, Xircom and Zenith Data Systems. epp has a typical transfer rate in the order of 500KB/S to 2MB/S. 8. Sampling - Typical DJ technique, it is the recording of a portion of a sound or audio track to be reused to compose a new piece of music. 9. Steinberg Cubase - Music software designed as a digital audio workstation for audio recording, arrangement, and editing. 10. Ableton Live - Loop-based software music sequencer and digital audio workstation, also designed as an instrument for live performances.

List of figures ◊ 93

Performair: music for offices  
Performair: music for offices  

Performair is an audio-visual interactive installation which 'misuses' traditional office devices - printers, modems, scanners etc. - origin...