Monday, March 23, 2015

Creating Sounds from Scratch: Final Projects

One of my favorite classes to teach at UCI is called Drama 267: Creating Sounds from Scratch. It’s a class with a bit of breadth, starting out discussing modular synthesizers (oscillators, modulators, LFOs) and using software emulators to explore how the pieces fit together.  We spend about a third of the class on that topic, but the last two thirds of the class focuses on modular audio/control programming using a piece of software called Max/MSP. Max/MSP can do lots of things, but my focus tends to be on logic and control methods. Over the quarter, we learn how to get midi and OSC messages into the software, how to manipulate the information in useful ways, and how to use it to control sound and midi objects (both software and meatspace). We explore many methods of control, simple midi keyboards, including iphone/ipad devices (various software apps), Jazzmutant Lemurs, Wii Remotes, and (occasionally, but not this quarter), xbox Kinnect devices.

The students have two big projects to work on for the class, and the last one is to build a user-modifiable sonic event. Each project has to have some sort of narrative arc and needs to be controllable using a piece of hardware.  The final projects are always very interesting, but this year, they were truly exceptional.  Here’s a taste:

Jacques is one of our advanced undergraduate students, and he held his own in this graduate course quite well.  His final project used an iphone to simulate a computer keypad for defuse a bomb. He used Max/MSP to send a visual code to the iphone, which needed to be replicated by the user in order to successfully defuse the bomb.  At each successful code entry position, the user was rewarded with a snarky comment.  If the user made a mistake, she blew up.

Adam is our other advanced undergraduate student, and create a simple baseball game.  A pitcher threw a ball, and the user used the iphone to swing.  Based on the parameters of the swing, the user would miss or hit the ball in a certain direction. In the background, we can hear cars passing by, and if the direction that the user hits the ball matches the position of the cars during their pass, the baseball would hit the car, resulting in a very angry driver coming over to give you what-for.

Andrea and Ben (team first-year) used wii-remotes to execute samples and navigate through an EDM song. Buttons controlled snare sounds, shakes controlled kick sounds, and only a rapid-fire user-executed snare sequence would advance from one section to the next section.

Kelsi and Matt (team second-year) used eight wii-remotes to create a version of the Hunger Games ‘reaping’ sequence. Each student in the class was able to volunteer to be a tribute, and once the tributes were selected, they faced off using their remotes as both scythes and bow-and-arrows.  I, playing the part of Donald Sutherland, got to send various genetically-modified animals to pester them as they fought.

Brian and Mark (team third-year) created a four-person game using iphones that let the four players try to kill each other with different weapons.  Each weapon had a different negative or positive impact on the opponent, and as the game progressed, lovely 8-bit sound effects accompanied the destruction.

In general, I was really impressed by these projects.  I used to teach this class every year, but I’ve had to switch to teaching it every three years.  I can’t wait to see what turns up when I teach this class again in 2018!