generative art

Combine\\Rewind

I have eventually come to the realization that as technology advances and almost everything becomes as easy as the click of a button, what is really going to matter is our personal experience. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I believe technology will bring people closer as opposed to keeping them away. Think about it, in a world full of Facebook feeds and endless Tumblr reposts, Would you put apart six hours from your daily schedule to meet a random stranger? Or would you use it to have a meaningful encounter with someone you know really well and would rather spend your quality time on? I think these questions are essential to understanding what our future environment will be.

Here are a few examples, people exchanging mixtapes internationally via real mail is actually witnessing an increase, more and more people have been buying music on vinyl for the past decade now, Bandcamp is popular than ever. I think it's important to see the trend here, and extrapolate it to what this trend will eventually lead to.

Recently, I found out about a platform known as FanHub that helps artists tailor and create their own Facebook Messenger bots for their artist page. I found this fascinating primarily because it goes really well with the idea that more and more music consumers are now open to ditching traditional ways of interacting with artists and accessing exclusive material than ever before, and this speaks volumes about how there is a shift in thinking of the current generation. Being a video game enthusiast, I couldn't help wondering about what would happen if somebody created an ARG (alternate-reality game) using only a Facebook messenger bot. I am pretty sure at this point that choosing to let people and possible fans engage with you personally via Messenger could perhaps be lot better in terms of reach. Sadly, the service that FanHub offered seemed to be a lot more time and effort than I could afford. Hence, over the next month or two, I shall try and figure out the Facebook Messenger API, and try developing my own bot. If it works, cool. If not, I'll bury it.

Moving on, plenty of news this month on the music and audio front. For one, I just recently finished working on the music for the Life in a Kilt podcast, which consisted of a mixture of genres as wide as rock and folk to glitch-hop and synthpop. Fun stuff. Earlier this October, a movie, 'Figure A' that I mixed sound for premiered at Cinesonika 5, a reputed film festival and conference that focuses exclusively on sound design and music for films and visual media. It happened for the first time in the United States and I was super stoked to know that happened. You can check out the trailer here.

 
 

In the meanwhile, I am continuing to work on music for several games and a couple of short films, and it seems to be quite the testing task with work, slightly increasing in the music space, but not to be underwhelmed by that, I have taken some time off that to better update my website, portfolio and resume which also now contains plenty of examples of my software development work. I hope that you will go through the various new things added to my website and like what I've done with the limited resources available.

Coming back to something that is an extension of the idea of using bots to create narrative experiences, this month I decided to combine two rather disconnected fields to create something that is new and rather interesting. I curated a Spotify playlist and wrote a generative poem at the same time! Now, the Spotify API is known to have the ability to fragment sentences into words that can form tracks of a playlist. I decided to reverse engineer it's process in thought. Have a look below. What I eventually hope to do is create a tool that lets you generate a poem on any particular topic and then turn it into a Spotify playlist as well.

 
 

What's fascinating though, is there are always a number of words that can be songs from completely different genres, and simply the task of crafting this playlist led me to discover some interesting new music. There is also the fact multiple songs could have the same word as the song name, and in that case there could be a certain amount of chance thrown into the algorithm for it to be able to decide which of the tracks are suitable for the playlist. I am going to leave this here in itself, and hope that next time I shall be able to pick up on this.

Who says you can't write a poem and curate a playlist at the same time?

Platforms, Tech and the re-invention of audio

September is proving to be a month full of ideas and new work that has inexplicably found me. While the majority of the month seems to have been taken over by the herculean task of creating more music for a number of games, I have found myself increasingly trying to take out time to study more languages that could teach me more about software development from different  perspectives. Case in point, this webpage I worked on that lets you listen to some interesting sounds and look at visuals that seem very strobe-lighted to say the least. I believe even something as simple as a few oscillators can go really far in terms of sound design and help in designing some interesting sounds. I equate the sound you hear on that page, with something like a spaceship.

I think working with generative art, in particular presents its own set of challenges - the least of which is trying to figure out and make sense of how it can be used in real-world applications. After a while, the novelty of something and the 'ease-of-use' that makes frameworks like Maximillian so popular, tends to fade and eventually people end up going back to things like C++ to better solve their problems. But I believe that creative thinking is generally not hampered by a framework like Maximillian, that if anything - pushes the person using it to experiment with sound and visuals. I think that's an important part of creating any art, and even more so, something that has to be kept in mind when creating tools for creators and artists alike. The bottom-line is - if it's not fun enough to experiment with, people tend to get quickly bored with the same tools and decide to find another avenue to better suit their creativity. This is precisely the reason that creating tools has found even more importance in this era than, perhaps even creating the art itself.

If there is anything millennial artists and generally every artist in this era continues to struggle with, it's with medium rather than content. Netflix is increasingly taking over the television market picking up TV shows that were otherwise struggling trying to find an audience with traditional television, Shazam seems to be making huge losses to the tune of millions of dollars and then, of course is the classic question of Twitter vs. Facebook Live. Would you rather live-tweet an event or live-stream it? Does it really matter?

 
 

More recently, I went to an interesting conference that happened right here in the back-pocket of Delhi, in Gurgaon. It was one of the first conferences on Virtual Reality in Delhi / NCR that went by the name of vamrr, and there were quite a few fascinating points that I seemed to have picked on. Having lived in Los Angeles for a few months, I had more than enough time to mingle with the VR and game development community there. Being back here and attending a conference on VR with quite a lot of chit-chat in-between artists, designers, entrepreneurs brought me to the important realization that while the ideas and the initiative to start many ventures that can tap into the yet-untapped market of VR is there, it still feels like VR in Delhi is at a very nascent stage where people are still trying to figure out what to do with it. As with most new tech, it seems that the focus is almost exclusively on generating revenue as opposed to creating meaningful art and immersive experiences. While there is no shortage of creative visual artists like Charuvi Agrawal constantly trying to innovate creating things as varying as kinetic sculptures to augmented reality mobile apps, clearly creative people need more platforms and many new ways to express themselves to create more opportunities for themselves. I think that is something that needs to be present in any creative ecosystem in the future.

The point I want to derive out of all of this is - there are a large number of platforms in the current day and age that give the opportunity for the musician to share their music with the world. It is perhaps, not going to be the only factor that decides which platform stays and which disappears, but instead. What I believe is that the larger number of different services and opportunities one single central hub will be able to provide an artist or a collective of artists, is perhaps the platform that is going to be able to stay as disruptions are going to follow and completely change how things are being approached in the music industry. Blockchain technology has been on the rise for a long time, and it will be only a matter of a few years before it changes things not just for the music industry, but every single field like hospitality, real estate and engineering. Large-scale disruptions tend to cause ripples and in that particular case, platforms that are too dependent on a single technology are inevitably going to have to either re-invent themselves or crumble, the same way that artists struggle today. This is all indeed exciting, but dangerous at the same time.

All being said and done, while I believe that streaming is helping artists get more of an audience than what was traditionally possible as far as reach goes, I also believe that there is some probability that in the next ten years, streaming could go extinct unless there is a drastic overhaul of the current system of how royalties are paid out and the entire revenue of the music industry still seems pretty biased towards an artist with a 100,000 fans as opposed to somebody with a few hundred even though in some cases, the difference lies everywhere but the music. I feel that eliminating that bias is important and any platforms that pushes things in that direction could do pretty well for itself.

Platforms like Patreon, Pledge Music and Tradiio come to mind as interesting 'hubs of activity', particularly because they offer the artist the opportunity to stay busy with their creative endeavors and heavily push towards letting people pay not for a singular album or single or product, but as fans that engage more up-front and regularly as opposed to the traditional methods of generating revenue via CD sales. An artist gets more independence in terms of what they want to do and how they can do it, at the same time also being given the opportunity to create value for their work. I believe the artist of the future is not going to make only records, or only remixes. They're going to dabble and experiment with multiple mediums and different approaches to music distribution. A platform that allows that is eventually going to win. And understanding more about how that would happen is essential to making it happen.

Number Games

May has been quite the oxymoron as months go - Busy and not-so-busy at the same time. I have found myself drifting back and forth from my music composition work and shifting more towards the black art of programming. And so, like Foucault's Pendulum, it continues. I have been diving through more and more conspiracy theories when I get the time. Being in Delhi, perhaps gives me that luxury - to really delve into where my interests lie. It is a difficult game. To try and figure yourself out. Life is so much easier when you have it all mapped out for you - a 9 to 5 or maybe a year in school. But perhaps, that is not where my future lies.

Once in a while you need a kickstart to really snap out of a period of low creativity. Watching this, perhaps did that for me. But clearly that didn't last long either. Seeing that I am stuck somewhere between doing creative things like making music and writing code, I decided to make light of my situation and start a Github. Follow me there, to find some pretty interesting code that I'll be working on in the few coming months. Of all things, perhaps that is the only thing I have to show for now. There is a lot of code I've been working on, and work on that will probably continue. Some of it might make it there, some of it might not.

I've always been skeptical about things that are fairly open source in nature. It's one of those things where it contradicts so hard with your inner belief system, it becomes pretty hard to reconcile. You think about questions like 'what about copyright?' and 'is it safe?' among other fairly darker questions. Some of my apprehensions were fuelled when I stumbled upon this article. But seeing how things are, I figured there was no other way to perhaps demonstrate my coding chops.

Having finished working on a WAV format audio player using C++ right before June came knocking, I feel that I have embarked reasonably well on my journey through coding and audio and all the wonderful, interesting and headache-inducing goodness of it all. The question is, there are so many formats and approaches to implementing audio with code, one really is spoilt for choice. Having first started by taking a jab using SFML and trying to implement audio, I had several problematic things going on. But I'm getting way ahead of myself here, you would probably ask 'why work with audio and code in the first place?!'

Well, that is probably because, these days I have found this slight itch. An itch to 'solve problems' so to speak. There really are no two other ways about it. What do you do if you don't have a problem to solve? Well, you create one. But even before that, perhaps you seek problems. It is that pursuit that actually proved to be fruitful. After a fair amount of tweeting, DM'ing and Facebook'ing people, I came across a developer that wanted to build a cross-platform game that could play audio. It was not supposed to be something very complicated or complex. But it turned out to be quite the same. Seeing that things were not working that well with implementing audio using SFML, my initial approach was to try and seek out a fairly simple framework dependent on C++ that could play audio.

Methodically and carefully, I have been chipping at Processing the past few months, and I quite saw similarities between using something like Processing that already had a lot of functionality built-in and creating a simple audio player. My next obvious response was to seek out a framework that could provide all this functionality and then delve into how it managed to work. A reverse-engineering process so to speak. The first framework that seemed to be usable (from what I could see) was openFrameworks. However, I eventually gave up on using that, owing to its huge size. What I needed was something smaller and simple. Which is how I ended up at using SDL for my audio player. And that's pretty much what it still uses. The next question to dabble with is whether I should try other frameworks or continue forward developing more functionality into the current audio player. I've found that the latter would perhaps be the best way to move forward.

Moving on to creative things, work continues on music for a video game as well as short film. There should probably be a demo for the game by the end of the month, while I am yet to start on music for the film. There are another couple of tracks in the works as well. While the current situation means that I have my hands full, financially perhaps - maybe things could have been better. But I suppose that is something you have to sacrifice trying to build a career on your own. One of the major issues going forward seems to be, more people asking for work and lesser people willing to afford the cost. This is a sad situation for any creative person. But, perhaps there is a silver lining in all of this - I just don't totally see it yet. Sadly, this also sometimes leads to projects unfinished or abandoned in pursuit of greener pastures so to speak. Staying in a creative field can become quite the challenge as years pass by and things get progressively harder. All the numbers - they add up or they don't. But I always told myself I would never abandon my creative pursuits - and so that remains.

Back to my cup of coffee and looking at planes for now.