Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Margin of Error
by Jackson-Weaver, Van, M.F.A., Mills College, 2020, 29; 27994955
Abstract (Summary)

This thesis is a technical analysis of the Max/MSP instrument I designed for “Margin of Error”, a twenty minute improvisation for laptop and effects chain I performed as part of the Signal Flow Music Festival at Mills College in March, 2020. It is a transcription of the automated and performer driven control mechanisms I designed for the piece.

The various algorithmic behaviors in the patch were designed not as conceptual or procedural exercises, but rather as solutions to aesthetic problems in pursuit of premeditated musical goals. In other words, processes evolved through many iterations in servitude to a sonic vision I had in mind for this piece. Throughout the process of composing the piece, as soon as a particular function began to make sound, my ear would guide me into questions about how to use it to accomplish a certain goal. These questions were usually oriented toward pushing a behavior in a particular direction. For example, how to make the sounds that resulted from the behaviors more organic, varied, human-sounding, mechanical, intricate, simple, intentional, or haphazard. Or, how to connect different sound sources in ways that were interesting, rewarding, and sonically unifying, but not overtly obvious.

One of the guiding principles of the design of this patch was to allow the system a certain amount of autonomy, but after experimenting with relinquishing more and more control over its behavior, I decided to leave a robust set of control mechanisms in the hands of the performer. The performance is controlled via an iPad app called TouchOSC that transmits data from interaction with its graphic user interface (GUI) wirelessly to the Max patch using the User Datagram Protocol (UDP). The three most important are the Wekinator XY interface, the Mixer section of the controller, the two toggle matrices that allow the performer to determine the set of potential pitches that can be output by the synth, and a group of four XY pads control the sound of one of the main percussive instruments, a Max external object developed by CNMAT called [resonators~]. The set of controls shown in the Mixer Section of Figure 3.1 (index 6-16) are assigned to gain levels for all layers and multiple auxiliary effects pathways.

The virtual Control Voltage (CV) generators form a web of information that connects the behavior of one layer to another. They are the main determining factor of the algorithmically generated behavior of the patch. This section of the patch begins as a set of separate continuous streams of numerical data that directly mimic the function of CV signals in analog systems. These virtual CVs are combined in threads that are designed and carefully tuned to produce a desired musical result at various destinations within the patch. Information gets transferred and shared between these processes at strategic points in order to tie their behavior together and create a rhythmic counterpoint between the instruments. In keeping with the objective to share control between the system and the performer, the controller has a set of mappings designed to give the performer deep access to sculpting the rhythmic phrasing generated by the algorithms, and the sonic character of the piece as a whole.

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Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bischoff, John
Commitee: Bernstein, David
School: Mills College
Department: Music - Electronic Music and Recording Media
School Location: United States -- California
Source: MAI 81/12(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Music, Computer science
Keywords: Computer music, Max/MSP
Publication Number: 27994955
ISBN: 9798641827612
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