this week at beatresearch, local artist and digital-media-master jackbackrack debuted his programmable percussion performance process, beatrix. inspired by the demands of west african drumming and the wonders of text-editor interfaces, jb created his own flexible, powerful program for laying down rhythmic patterns.
this is one of many projects for jb, who spends his days at MIT's AI lab and whose own artistic endeavors often embody many of the institution's crowning cornerstones: technical innovation, playfulness, elegance in form and function. the text view, as seen below, and the cyclic view above, both demonstrate this in their simplicity, comprehensibility, and quirky beauty.
what's more, jb picked good sounds for the program: crisp percussion and deep tones (including the recent addition of a sweet bass!). and beatrix is real-time playable, including the ability to create separate lines and sections and to layer them or play them alternately. jb's performance monday night demonstrated beatrix's range (and his own fluency with it), as he developed a gradually shifting groove and constantly varied the texture over the course of an hour or so.
i've written before on this blog about jackbackrack's work, and his video pieces are similarly striking in their originality, virtuosity, elegance, and playfulness. not surprisingly, jb's video stuff is also highly programmed/programmable--that is, it's not about applying effects in finalcutpro; it's about programming a video-playing language you can play with. i've seen several projects that he's created using a language he calls gooze, and they're almost uniformly breathtaking, often producing rich, complex effects through a combination of fairly simple manipulations.
frequently, jb displays his latest gooze-achieved effects at exhibits where one can watch oneself thusly effect-ed in realtime, which is, of course, entrancing. (never mind the idiot box, sit some kids--or adults--in front of one of these camera/screen combos and they'll dance themselves to sleep.) a couple weeks ago, jb took a bunch of bollywood films as his subjects and flanked the original footage with two screens of gorgeously filtered versions of it:
mark my words: the first person to make a music video using one--or better, several--of jb's gooze-produced effects will have a runaway hit on their hands.
i've only played around with beatrix a little bit, though i see its potential and i hope to spend more time with it soon. i suspect that for certain aspiring musicians among hardcore programmers out there, beatrix could be a kind of super sheep beats. but the program is intuitive and fun enough--and, of course, so well documented--that anyone with even a passing interest in beats will find it engaging and worth their time. finally, those who have used step-based sequencers such as fruityloops or reason's redrum or any number of others will find the interface here rather familiar, if less boxed-in.
check it out. and if you have any feedback, jb asks that you share it with him. (you can find his email in the manual.) as good as it is, he wants to make beatrix the best it can be.