All posts by Daniel

Sound Extrusions: Interview – Power of the Sound with Michal Rataj

RATAJ_HEADER

After the Second Nature event at The Edge with Hans Tammen, I would like to follow up with an interview exploring acousmatic music.

Michal Rataj is a Czech music composer who steps out of traditional composing and experiments with sound and music composition on his own terms. Multi-channel installations, acousmatic music or orchestral music with realtime signal processing techniques in MAX/MSP are just a few areas he’s currently working on. We met at the music academy located in the Lesser Town, one of the central parts of Prague famous for its picturesque baroque architecture. Besides talking about technical nuances of his projects, another topic, central to Michael’s work, emerged as well: the power of sound.

Can you introduce us to your current project?

The most recent project is called Spacialis (2013) and involves live electronics and classical music ensemble. The space is amplified by an 8-channel audio setup and it becomes a music instrument of its own. The classical music ensemble instruments are processed live in MAX/MSP and they act as a sound source, contributing to the new music instrument, which is the space amplified by the audio processing. It was commissioned by Prague-based orchestra, Berg. I did also some final arrangements at CNMAT, UC Berkeley, California.

Have you always worked with classical orchestras?

Not always, of course, on the contrary. Usually it is the case that the acousmatic music makes you deal with the sound on its own as well as the classical composition techniques. My latest album called Spectral Shapes (2012) was all about the soundscapes of music instruments and live electronics. Also I have done various field recordings. For example I was recording old non-functional organs in abandoned churches. My latest composition called Small Imprints (2013) for Esther Lamneck, is actually a piece for clarinet and live electronics.

What’s the connection between the club electronic music and classical composition? I have gone through the book The Rest is Noise, which you have been editing for the recent Czech edition, and I have noticed surprising direct connections there.

The origin of electronic music experiments can be traced back to music concrète, there were lots of experiments in this field before it entered the pop culture domain.

What would be the contemporary examples of music composers using electronics and classical composition?

For example Philippe Leroux or Jasper Nordin, who is well known composer and author of the great Gestrument application. Gestrument allows for free improvisations in specified scales and rhythms, while using your favourite mobile device.

Could you explain what exactly the acousmatic music and multi-channel audio is about?

Acousmatic music traces back to the Pythagoras, the classic story goes that Pythagoras didn’t want to distract his pupils and was teaching them from behind a screen. The same approach comes from musique concrète, while acousmatic music defines the actual music performance as direct experience of listening to sound. From there, it’s just a small step to multichannel audio setups, which take the sound experience even further.

How to do you treat the compositions in space?

I usually use live spatial distribution controllers. It can be a Wii game controller for example. The spacial attribute becomes an expression on its own in the end. The multichannel sound creates the powerful images in sound.

How would you compare the multichannel and surround sound?

Surround sound is the term usually connected with cinematic sound. It’s more about creating narrative structures, but very few people can work creatively in that environment. Multichannel sound refers more to experimental music and wide verity of sound diffusion concepts, while establishing creative connection between music and specific spatial conditions. Space becomes an instrument itself – that’s the important difference from the so called “surround sound”, which works more as a technological tool.

Thank you Michael for your time!

RATAJ_2


Introducing Hans Tammen (Harvestworks, NYC)

Hans Tammen, Endangered Guitar

Hans Tammen, Endangered Guitar

In the lead up to the Second Nature talk in early December let me introduce you to Hans Tammen form New York. He will be presenting his project Endangered Guitar and of course his home-base in New York, the Harvestworks, where he acts as deputy director and sound artist. We will do a Skype session with him and also we will listen to showcase of his work on quadro audio setup. I have asked Hans few questions in an online interview to create a short teaser for the event!

Could you introduce us to Harvestworks in NYC?
We were founded in 1977, as a non-profit organisation, helping composers of electronic music. In those times you needed to have a lot of cash to buy a synthesizer, so having an organization buying equipment and renting it out for $3/hr was a great idea. That spirit is still alive at Harvestworks today – we help artists create their artwork. However, today we focus on programming for interactive applications.

Is there a way for Australian artists or any other international artists to get involved with Harvestworks?
We’re open to anyone, and we had numerous Australian artists in the past working on their projects at Harvestworks, or studying in our Certificate Program. We often helped with recommendation letters to acquire funding.

How would you describe your project “Endangered Guitar” (before we will have the chance to hear part of it at The Edge at Second Nature)?
It’s basically the “interactive guitar”. I don’t see “electronics” as a mere effect, I see it as a class of instruments next to string, percussion or other instrument classes. As such, I like when it is an independent voice in the context of the music, not just some icing on the cake. The guitar is the sound source, but the sounds are heavily processed and altered, creating a different sonic universe.

And it’s interactive, which means the processing is controlled by my guitar playing, in a way that the information from the audio analysis is driving the software routines. I also programmed some “freedom” into the way the algorithms behave, so that I’m often playing “with” the instrument, not “the” instrument.

Have any other exciting artistic projects caught your eye lately?
Interesting question. Probably the easiest is to remember what excited me most, when I saw other people at festivals and concerts. There was Elektro Guzzi from Austria, who play Techno with guitar/bass/drums, and bring a great improvisatory spirit to that music. There was the Nick Bärtsch Ensemble from Switzerland, who show what you can do in Jazz when you apply minimalist strategies – together with the total absence of the show-off solos that are so common in certain music styles it had a degree of subtlety you rarely find in any music. Then Kruzenstern y Parochod, a band from Israel that combined Klezmer and Punk in a great way. Ah!

What’s the best thing about being based in NYC and being able to surf on the multicultural mix of the Big Apple?
You have access to musicians, who are equally great across a wide range of genres and styles, can sight-read like crazy AND are amazing improvisers. And since they all have created or participated in all kinds of odd concepts, nobody says to you “you can’t do that” when you come up with a new idea. Plus, you pay the highest prices for the worst health care in the industrialized countries. Oh, I forgot, most of my musician friends do not have health care anyway.

To hear more from Hans join us on 6 December for the free Second Nature talk.


Sound Extrusions: Interview – Sculpting Sound With Milan Gustar – II

This is the second part of an interview with Milan Gustar. Read part 1 here.

What is going on in the current development of surround sound?

There are many new things going on right now that represent the cutting edge in surround audio nowadays. For example, the development of the wavefield synthesis, DOLBY Atmos sound system or a sophisticated multi-pattern microphone called Eigenmike which is discussed quite a lot now actually.

Gustar

What is special about the DOLBY Atmos system?

Compared to former surround systems, the particular sounds are rendered to their locations. This means that this technique is independent of the speaker configuration, like for example the well-known Ambisonics system. You are not carrying sounds on separate channels, you are basically dealing with the sounds as they are and their spatial information. You can say that individual sound objects-are projected or rendered in the space defined by the speakers. It is quite similar to my 92 channel audio system from 90’s, but of course much more sophisticated.

When such an experiments in spatially distributed sound originated anyway?

This is nothing new under the sun. There were many experiments with the positioning of musicians in concert halls to get space effects in music. In electronics first two channel stereo systems were created in the end of 19. century, multichannel sound systems were extensively developed from the 30’s. Most of them were interconnected with film technologies. Many spatial sound experiments appeared in the musique concrète, tape music and electroacoustic music. For example, the composer Pierre Schaeffer was dealing with such sound arrangements a lot in Studio d’Essai in Paris back in 40’s.

The technical background must have been quite limited back then I suppose!

It depends. It was mostly about the creation of multichannel tape recordings which were then distributed to speakers and reproduced in the concert halls. Some systems were quite large, the well known example was the Philips Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair with hundreds speakers for the reproduction of Poème électronique by Edgard Varèse. Sometimes the real-time systems were developed, like the Schaeffer’s potentiomètre d’espace from the early 50’s. Then the modular synthesizers in the 60’s brought many new possibilities. Some systems were very experimental from the beginning, like the Buchla modular for example.

Thank you for your time Milan – my last question is, what is your favourite music inspiration?

I definitely like to dive into baroque polyphony – J. S. Bach would be my most favourite. But I was strongly influenced by the minimalism in the 80’s, too. And I like contemporary music, ethnic music, rock and pop from 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and many many more.

 

 

 

 

 


Sound Extrusions: Interview – Sculpting Sound with Milan Gustar – I

Gustar

I have been quite lucky to catch up with Milan Gustar at his retrospective exhibition in DOX, Center for Contemporary Art in Prague. We met in a former industrial building turned into a large gallery of modern art. Mesmerising afternoon light chased by random autumn showers offered great atmosphere for an interview inside the big renovated gallery space. Milan Gustar, an experienced hardware wizard, who is mostly known for his electronic hardware design collaboration with many Czech artists (probably the most worldwide known one is David Cerny, who built controversial Entropa sculpture in Brussels or double decker bus doing push-ups for London Olympics in 2012) is currently here presenting his own sound art objects and compositions. We have talked about the way he works with sound hardware in his audio installations and dived into surround sound and synthesiser construction as well.

First of all, how did you come across this exciting mix of art and hi-tech?
I have always been searching for unusual sounds, with a great desire to develop new music devices. Electronics happened to be the platform for me, as it allows me to creatively work with sounds. It was also about helping my friends in visual arts to make things happen.

I can imagine that the synthesiser scene was quite limited some years ago when you started. How has it changed?
In the second half of seventies I started building my own analogue synthesisers, electronic organs, effect processors and other sound devices. It was very hard to get such instruments at the time and even the documentation and necessary electronic parts were almost inaccessible. Thinking about sounds and possible ways to create them and then building the electronics from the scratch was a good training for me.

Talking about synthesizers and new technologies, there was quite big interest in neural networks some time ago – did they make it into realm of sound?
I do not know much about the neural network applications in the sound synthesis but I think the excitement was a bit premature. From my own experience, there could always be found more efficient algorithms. But as research and experimental tools the neural networks definitely have some potential. The idea of mutually interconnected and communicating individual blocks can be useful for a complex sound and rhythmical structures creation. There’s one synth coming to my mind now – Resonator Neuronium. But I’m not really sure what it has inside and whether it is a neural network at all – we would have to hack into that one.

There is a great portable application available at modulargrid.net, where you can design your dream synth while riding on a bus – have you heard about this one?
I just came across something quite similar – I’m reading a book by Neil Young called Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream. He mentioned that he was designing his imaginary guitar gears with paper and pencil when he was young kid.

Can you please tell us about your multichannel installations in early 90’s?
Yes, that was a project for Federico Diaz from 1993. It was called Dehibernation and I created a 92 channel audio system. It was pretty unusual setup at the time.

That sounds quite extraordinary, what approach did you take to design such an installation?
The sound distribution was a hardware-based, digitally-controlled, analogue system. I used a simple triangulation technique in polar coordinates which positioned the specific sound to any given place around the listener in the room. The sound coordinates were sent from an early PC machine through the serial port into the hardware section. Very simple, but effective.

This project sounds really exciting, can you compare it with similar projects in Europe at the time?
Maybe no one else was building such an extensive spatial sound systems back then. I’m afraid that this project got unfortunately largely unnoticed. My sound distributing device was only one part of a larger art piece and was rather hidden in it.

End of part I. Read part two here.


Sound Extrusions: The Ambisonic Engine

Ambisonic

Ambisonic

Let’s explore the heart of spatial sound distribution! Before we go on through another interview in the next blog post (and this one will be focused on sound installations with Czech hardware wizard Milan Gustar), let’s have a close look at Ambisonic Engine, which can be run in MAX/MSP. Some of the inspiration in this article will be discussed in the following interview as well.

Ambisonic is a spatial audio representation system developed by Michael Gerzon in the late 70’s. It’s often used in experimental and electro-acoustic music and offers a creative alternative to cinematic surround distribution systems. One of its advantages is it uses only four channels for spacial sound representation (and includes the height dimension of the sound source). This is a big difference compared to regular surround systems 5.1 or 7.1, which are using 6 or 8 audio channel respectively (including the subwoofer submix channel).

Within the Ambisonic world itself, the most used format is called B-Format (.amb format), which is the so called first-order Ambisonic. The soundfield is encoded into four channels in the encode-decode Ambisonic section. The main difference from conventional 5.1 or any other surround setup is, that Ambisonic engine creates virtual sound sources moving in spherical space. This means you can change the number of speakers any time, because it all comes down to representation of sound in spherical space and not within defined sound channels itself as in surround setups.

Ambisonic monitor

Ambisonic monitor

Dedicated soundfiled microphones (SFM) have been around since 70’s. But don’t be mistaken, Ambisonic is also ready for creative use, not just for dealing with captured authentic soundfield recordings or cinematic sound only. And that’s the way I use Ambisonic in my Sound Extrusions project. Basically you can take mono signal sources and position them in space – anywhere! 🙂 The position can be set or dynamically controlled by your own code in MAX. Once you define the speaker positions, the sound sources can be placed where desired. The Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology in Zurich offers MAX/MSP Ambisonic externals for download.

There’s also a great online SOS article You Are Surrounded explaining all the details of Ambisonic engine and its advantages over surround systems and why it didn’t make into commercial success at the time, when it originated.

Just to tease you for the next blog post, we will be discussing with Milan Gustar new DOLBY Atmos sound system under current development, which is also platform independent as the Ambisonic engine.


Sound Extrusions: Interview – Between Sound & Light with Jiri Suchanek

Sonic Garden

After the previous quick introduction to MAX/MSP I have catched up for an interview with Jiri Suchanek, who builds sound & light installations in the Czech Republic. Just to give you little taste of what he’s after with this exciting technology. We have met up with his girlfriend Karolina in their little home garden filled with collection of bonsai trees, tomatoes and his latest sound objects called altogether Turbulence: seven shiny round objects with a wind capturing propellers seemed as landing squad of miniature flying saucers into peaceful garden lit by late summer sun in Brno outskirts, the second largest city in the country.

Before diving into the details of Jiri’s projects, he also shared with me some of links to his favorite artists for example: Bartholomäus Traubeck with his project Voice of Trees – which is an experimental turntable making music based on reading sliced tree sections and use of MAX/MSP. The other artist to mention was Calum Scott with his project Guitar Glitch – three classical guitars turned into surprisingly vivid mechanical trio.

Let’s have a look on what kind of approaches Jiri took in wide variety of his projects we discussed in the following interview.

Can you tell us about your beginnings with art installations?
During my study at Faculty of Fine arts VUT I was standing quite between music and visual art ( and still I am…). I have built several electronic music instruments. After I finished my study I got a great chance to realise my old idea to sonify a big cave dome with multichannel sound and also solve some interesting synchronised light effects for the cave. The important breakthrough was when I got into the orientation workshop in STEIM. It was for the first time I saw dedicated people taking interface development seriously. I actually felt quite lonely in my city until I attended this workshop.

What is STEIM exactly about, can you mention other places for electronic artists in Europe?
STEIM (the STudio for Electro-Instrumental Music) in Amsterdam is an unique place for development in electronic music instruments and specially is focused for live electronic music performance. At the time I was there I met many interesting people, for example Daniel Shrno and Takuro Mizuta Lippit, who uses MAX/MSP patches along his turntable and unique hardware. There are few other places around Europe, for example Institute of Electronic Music in Graz and Ars Electronica in Linz, both in Austria and of course IRCAM in Paris.

How did you come accross MAX/MSP first of all?
I came across it quite a long time ago during my school courses, but it seemed so complex and intimidating, so I wanted to use way more simple tools than that. It took me a while before I discovered it’s power for sound installations, especially with my synesthetic controller called Meduse.

Meduse

Meduse

What exactly is the Meduse about?
It’s a (non)touch controller for my light & sound installation „Sonicave“ I mentioned above. It is filled with various sensors that controls music and light spread in the cave dome. There’s a bass line sequencer, samplers, synthesiser, synced delays along with another features that I’ve built all in MAX/MSP. The whole hardware is based on Arduino boards and software libraries, but specifically adapted and completely rebuilt by a collaborating electronic specialist. There is an another project of mine called Pulse, which is also exploring the synesthesia element. It’s a LED system following specific algorithmic structure. One light is connected to one tone, while the setup creates various rhythms and transmits them as light as well.

The use of MAX/MSP takes me to your another project called Cluster
This one is about connecting architectural aspects with sound and light installation. It’s a LED array sitting on top of the entrance of Planetarium and observatory of city Brno. There is a MIDI sheet composition being constantly transformed into the light. While it is altered it’s visually “replayed” on the LED system as well. In other words you could describe it as futuristic organism living on the walls of the planetarium.

Sounds like E.T. the extraterrestrial pointing his pulsating finger to the outer universe! What would be your interpretation?
For me it’s more about dealing with clusters or flows of elements and energies – kind of „astronomic“ feeling 🙂 and also the question of time in music. The building of Planetarium itself evokes the right association and mood for this installation. There are also two modes, which create a surprise element in the installation. The first one being the precise algorithmic mode, while every minute there’s triggered special sound and short animation, which are more emotional. I also want to upgrade it with a camera input interaction in the near future and change the behaviour of the whole system. I like to constantly develop my installations and change them from time to time.

And what would be the main motto behind your installations?
The machines are here for our freedom and creativity. Be careful of the technological traps. Never forget the nature and simple things! That’s why I try to make fusion of electronic art and nature. Behind that I like to deal with something I call „emotional electronic art“ and I always like moment of surprise – the way the whole experiment will end up.

Thank you Jiri, for your time and inspiration!


Connect Everything! (Introduction to MAX/MSP)

Record Player

It’s time to think about the programming bit of the Sound Extrusions project — that will be the other quite adventurous part of the whole project! While I’m away for some weeks to Europe, during great late summer time in Moravia, with all sorts of fruits and berries getting ripe in front of your eyes for later local brandy production … anyway, I’m diving into the programming part right now! The code will create the sound installation behaviour and online data interaction behind the visible porcelain speakers which were discussed previously. Let’s leave the plaster moulds drying out in The Edge basement for now and let’s have a look at the possible solutions of how to put a multichannel audio installation together. The first tool of choice nowadays will be the MAX/MSP or alternatively Pure Data (called Pd) environment.

It’s not so long ago when such a sound installation project would have to be hard-wired and made of specifically designed hardware parts and sound cards. I will discuss this approach with Milan Gustar from Music Academy in Prague soon as he’s one of the very experienced hardware wizards. Also I would like to take advantage of my trip to Europe and introduce a couple of exciting sound artists, using the MAX/MSP environment from the Czech Republic, to The Edge community as well. That’s one more reason to follow up some of the next posts! 🙂

MAX/MSP and Pd environment both originated with research into signal processing by Miller S. Puckette at IRCAM in the late 80s (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique in Paris, which is worth checking out anyway). MAX/MSP was developed into a commercial package later on by a San Francisco based software company called Cycling ’74, founded by David Zicarelli. Recent development saw MAX/MSP (MSP stands for Max Signal Processing) evolving into Max For Live — you guessed right, it became part of the Live Ableton Suite package. This incredibly creative mix of technologies becomes a very cool tool for sound and music production, with heaps of Max For Live effects and instrument presets available right now!

To find out, how such an environment can become a  creative trademark or even change the way we think about music making, please check out some great interviews at the Cycling ’74 website. There’s one interview with Matthew Ostrowski, who’s introducing his interactive sample based live performance technique with a glove controller, while the the second is with Damian Taylor (sound engineer of Bjőrk), who uses MAX/MSP for live stage applications and innovative composition techniques.

We still haven’t mentioned how such an environment works — the whole idea is to use objects in an easy-to-set-up graphic interface, which deliver realtime signal processing. In other words this is incredibly exciting, and a huge leap in instrument development and music performance alone. This approach of connecting specific objects is generally called visual programming (the objects are written in C programming language under the hood, but we are reconnecting them with audio and message virtual cables, so don’t stress out!). The most important objects, and the ones which make you understand how to use MAX/MSP anyway, are the basic objects connecting you to the sound card input and output (adc~ and dac~; the tilde “~” character denotes objects working with audio signals). The important thing is to make a difference between an audio signal connection and a “bang” trigger path, which helps to create specific logic in the code and sends messages instead.

How to structure such an application and how to treat a multichannel setup in MAX/MSP will be covered in some other posts to come, but for now… Thanks for reading!


Sound Extrusions: Porcelain Reloaded

Plaster molds for the porcelain speakers


Plaster molds for the porcelain speakers
Plaster molds for the porcelain speakers

The “hero shot” in this post (above) is a picture of clay models of the porcelain shapes. They were used to create actual plaster moulds. This is one of the first steps towards the final porcelain speaker shells  the main features of the project. The idea behind creating a porcelain object is very straight forward: once we finish a model in clay, we are ready to cast a plaster mould and use it as a negative shape for later porcelain slip casting. This is the most common approach. The beauty of plaster mould is in the fact that we can replicate the objects many times afterwards (3D printing is also pretty good in that regard, as we saw in the last post!), and that we are able to refine our object to finer detail while editing the plaster mould too. But the biggest advantage compared to a direct modelling approach, is the far greater chance of fault free product in the end, thanks to the process of slip casting.

The intriguing story of the Meissen porcelain manufacture workshop, from the beginning of 18th Century, was covered in one of the previous posts. It gave us an unusual introduction to this exciting material. But let’s leave the mystery of European manufacturing behind us for now, and let’s have a look at the process of porcelain making itself!

Making plaster moulds is in fact an art in itself. The reason for this claim is that complicated shapes require plaster moulds to be “assembled” out of many interlocking pieces. The reason for that is that you have to be able to take the mould apart once the object is casted. The only way to achieve this is to divide the clay model into virtual plains and cast the mould step by step, creating separate interlocking pieces as you go. Even some of the finest porcelain makers and designers leave this process to experienced mould makers.

Another step in the production is the magic of porcelain slip casting — in fact it’s fairly simple, but you wouldn’t know unless you knew what to ask for! By pouring liquid porcelain into the plaster mould we create the porcelain slip. But the real secret is in the plaster itself — more specifically, in the porosity of the material. Plaster in fact, is made of a maze of little tunnels and microscopic cavities, which are ready to absorb water. And here the magic starts. By pouring the liquid porcelain into plaster mould, the water in the porcelain gets absorbed into plaster and we are left with thin sediment crust. (Yes, this is already your favorite translucent coffee cup with a dragon!) After a few minutes we are left with a few millimetres thickness of porcelain wall. The rest of the liquid is poured away and the casted slip starts to shrink and pops easily out of the mould.

Sounds simple, but we are not done yet! The secrets of kiln and glaze firing are the most intriguing and guarded secrets. Porcelain firing temperatures reach up to 1280C, while the whole process is divided into two steps — the bisque firing (makes the whole object hard and reveals any material impurities like micro-cracks — oh no!) and the final glaze firing, which gives the porcelain body the glass like qualities and creates the sleek look of the porcelain objects.

In such a short introduction to the material, there was already lots of information. But let’s have a look, for a change, at how the old fashion decorative porcelain concept turns into a challenging adventure in contemporary design!

vid-img

There’s one more “detail” to porcelain production. While watching a short documentary on Bugatti Veyron L’Or Blanc and the use of unusual porcelain interior decorations, be aware, that porcelain shrinks by 14-16% throughout the whole production. In other words, matching precisely crafted interior car parts with porcelain custom shapes must have been an adventure of its own!


Sound Extrusions: Interview – 3D Printing, Prototyping & Muffins with Mick Byrne

I have come across another obstacle in the proposed porcelain speaker design recently — how to actually attach an inductive speaker onto the interior surface of the proposed porcelain shape … Mick Byrne from The Edge came up with a great idea to use a 3D printer at The Edge to do the job. We found out that it probably won’t print the final piece for the installation (it’s quite fragile and wouldn’t hold the weight properly), but it would be great for making a prototype and help with latex mould creation for later resin casting of the part itself!

After the bold introduction to porcelain making in the last blog post, here’s another topic, yet again very much connected with object design and modelling. This technique, completely new to the creative tool box, is based on recreation of digital models through printing, using various materials.

I have caught up with Mick Byrne for a short interview on 3D printing, just to give you a quick glimpse into this new emerging creative hi-tech universe, mixing computer graphics and design into one. Thank you Mick, for also sharing with us a great document covering the sintering experiment by Markus Kayse. Powered by the sun and using sand as printing material in the Sahara desert, it looks like a great adventure!

How far away are we from printing our muffins for breakfast in the morning, Mick?

In fact the technology is already out there, it just wouldn’t make sense to do it money-wise I would say!

Being in Australia right now makes me think about printing even surfboards on demand!

Yeah, you are right, the scale of 3D printers changed quite a lot recently. There are already some building companies using it for computer controlled injection of materials  which is pretty much the same thing as a filament printing process we do use here at The Edge.

It feels somehow, that 3D printing has a bit too much hype  being this new and seductive an element is an almost fetish approach to technology, don’t you think?!

I would say it’s more about narrowing the technology divide and allowing pretty much everybody to try it out. Not just the big companies with research parks behind them. In a way it’s democratizing the creative industry right now (on-line jewellery boutique shops, etc.). It’s a bit similar to what happened in the movie production some years ago.

This brings me to a tricky question, which has arisen quite recently  the publication of a 3D printed gun on the internet. What’s your point of view on that?

It’s not a real issue from my point of view. It was just a single use gun. It still has to be loaded with regular and controlled ammunition anyway …

Anyway, what is the most intriguing object you have come across concerning 3D printing?

It’s actually a sintering machine powered only by solar heat using mirrors and lenses. That is quite cool!

What’s the sintering process anyway? We have been talking about filament printing, which makes use of liquefied plastic cords what’s the difference then?

It’s a very different printing process: consecutively laid layers of powder on top of each other (which could be anything from plastic to titanium!) are heated in a very precise way with a laser to form the object. The beauty in that is that each layer of the actual powder adds a supportive structure to the originating element. In the end you just blow off the dust & away you go!

Is it very different to traditional production methods, such as mould casting or block subtractive manufacturing?

Sure, big time! You are able to build quite complex even interlocking structures, which are not possible to achieve with traditional industrial design approaches.

What are the current trends in 3D printing?

I know about amazing medical applications  basically you would print a shape of an organ, as an ear for example, out of cellulose. Then you “invite” the cells to grow onto it to form the actual organ, great idea!

Let’s finish off the interview with connection to my actual Sound Extrusion project! What are the workflow ideas in this case for me?!

It’s pretty straight forward  first of all you have to clean your model (we use Tinker CAD, but any other 3D or CAD software will do), export it to 3D printer and print the prototype. The next step would be to cover the printed object in a release agent (to prevent it from sticking to the actual mould) and use a two part latex putty to create a casting mould. Then you can use regular resin to produce the object for real life use.

Thank you Mick, for your time and the workflow ideas!

solar sinster video
Markus Kayser – Solar Sinter Project from Markus Kayser on Vimeo


Sound Extrusions: Oh Deer! (Introduction to Porcelain)

Porcelain ceramic casting workshop in Brisbane sound experimental ceramic speakers

Porcelain Casting Workshop Brisbane

In the last blog post we went through the overall idea of the Sound Extrusions project at The Edge. Before we dive deeper into some of the more technical issues, such as MAX/MSP programming, this post is dedicated to the introduction of porcelain as an exciting material to work with. All the visible parts inspired by the organic shape of avocados and beans — the actual individual components you saw in the visualisation in the last post — will be casted in porcelain.

Anyway, how cool is that? Crafting your own porcelain shapes! But it wasn’t always as easy as that… European porcelain is a fairly young phenomenon, emerging as late as the beginning of the 18th Century in Meissen, Germany. Before that, porcelain was solely imported from China and bought by European aristocracy at the weight price of gold at times. This is the reason why the creation of porcelain was such sought after technology. The Chinese had long known the secret to making porcelain, with modern style porcelain emerging around the 12th century, thanks to a specific mix of clay readily available in China. The actual research in Europe into recreating white translucent Chinese porcelain would have been a high-tech, top secret enterprise back in 1708 (just like The Edge today!), and only few people would have known about it.

The later Meissen porcelain production was in a self contained workshop with very strict regulations from 1710, when a team lead by Johann Friedrich Böttger made the final discovery. The second wave of porcelain making in Europe started only after a few workshop members “exported” the very secret knowledge to Vienna and started to operate their own businesses.

There’s one irony in the whole search for the real porcelain in Europe — one of the main porcelain material components, the kaolin clay, was always at the fingertips of the aristocracy who were importing the pottery from China at extraordinary prices. And I mean literally — kaolin was mostly used as a facial perfecting white powder back then, in the pale make-up of aristocratic beauties, who were sipping hot drinks from expensive Chinese porcelain — imagine that!

Besides kaolin clay, the other main component is silica. That’s why after the firing, porcelain is closer in consistency to glass than to regular pottery, the most sought after feature being the translucency in the thin walls or edges. This attribute is explored in contemporary design as well — taking the technology to its limits from translucent coffee cups to innovative variations on lamp shades for example. Porcelain is also an inert and very dense material, which makes it ideal to work with sound as well. This feature hasn’t been explored to any greater extent yet and that’s also one of the surprise elements in the Sound Extrusions project at The Edge — the porcelain and sound interaction project feature!

Please stay tuned for other posts to come. The announced interview with Mick on 3D printing is ready as well (Thanks Mick!), but we’ll probably cover the actual porcelain production process next — let’s see how we go anyway. The good news is that porcelain is not a top secret, guarded behind the medieval walls of Meissen any more! We’ll get into an introduction of clay modelling, plaster casting & porcelain slip casting later. Maybe we’ll get even into the process where the porcelain magic actually happens — the kiln firing and glazing. Let the porcelain deer be with you!