Sunday, September 6, 2015

New instruments with old interfaces

The title might give a feeling that this blog post is more about invention than about innovation. In fact, in the context of interfaces for musical expression, both invention and innovation have an offbeat sense.

Unlike consciously 'designed' user interfaces, the tangible interfaces of musical instruments (a guitar's being the fret board) are neither meant to accomplish a task, nor meant to reduce a 'learning curve'. While artists take years to master them, most musical interfaces have remained unchanged for centuries, allowing cultures to grow around them. An entirely new musical interface which is devoid of predecessors could have a tough time getting widespread adaptation as the interface of choice for artists, thus hampering the possibility of adding substantial musical value to the society.

I keep revisiting the history of the electric guitar to understand what led to its birth and popularity. It was in the early twentieth century when orchestras increased in size that the need to amplify the sound of the traditional guitar became apparent. After initial attempts to attach vibration pickups to the hollow body and the bridge of the guitar, the first fully electrically amplified solid body guitars that overcame the feedback problem associated with hollow-bodied guitars were introduced. The electric guitar has since then been redefining how a guitar sounds.

The electric guitar is a classic example of a redesigned instrument with an old interface. By adding 'colour' to the sound of the traditional guitar, it has helped develop genres such as electric blues, rock and roll, rock music and many more. The electric guitar was 'invented' with an attempt to 'innovate' on the traditional guitar without disturbing its 'interface'.

There are numerous old musical instruments that have stood the test of time. It would be exciting to see, and hear, their interfaces in the form of new instruments that not only add versatility to the playing style, but also make the old desirable.

Here's a quick video in which I've used Pure Data to create new sounds with existing musical instruments.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Music

There is no limit to how much we could try and attempt to decode nature's mysteries. The more we uncover, the more baffling it gets. Yet curiosity drives us to seek the ultimate truth, be it a universal law that governs everything, or a realization of what life is all about. Let alone the ultimate, even something as mere as vibration of air is too 'complex' for our 'imagination'. Perhaps, curiosity is meant to teach us that knowledge, if at all, lies in the process of discovering, not in the discovery.

The thought of how music profoundly affects our emotions used to intrigue me as a kid. Music, practiced in diverse genres around the world for millennia, instantly connects listeners across all cultural boundaries. Its mysterious magic has long been a topic of contemplation, and many, including Pythagoras, have associated mathematics to its beauty. Reginald Smith Brindle calls mathematics as the basis of sound.

The golden ratio was applied to music by Heinz Bohlen to create the '833 cents scale' based on the Fibonacci sequence, while Pythagorean tuning defines the perfect fifth and the perfect fourth as ratios of small numbers. Yet it's strange that when we listen to music in these setups, it doesn't sound quite melodious. Either our ears are so used to the makeshift equal temperament tuning employed by all of today's instruments that we've lost the sense of true harmony, or harmony in nature can't possibly be quantified.

Intuition, which is at the heart of music, perhaps deserves to be exempted from unnecessary justification and theorization. As JJ Abrams says, sometimes mystery is more important than knowledge.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Love

What is love? Since time immemorial it has intrigued and mystified lovers and philosophers alike. It has regularly driven them to delve deep into its countless alluring facets with the hope of seeking truth. Yet, there still is, as ever, a scope to further explore and get inspired by the entrancing phenomenon of love!

Contrary to conventional wisdom, love, as I see it, is not quite synonymous with attraction and attachment. In fact, I consider them too frivolous to indicate love. Attraction is like a mirage that unveils reality only gradually. It draws us closer to someone and gives an insight into their virtues as well as vices. Attraction is a momentary feeling and its influence is short-lived. In contrast, love is of permanent nature. It’s a result of deep reverence.

Likewise, attachment is inherently restrictive in that it keeps us bounded and involved. Roused by desire and impelled by obsession, attachment can even result in discrimination. Religious extremism is the perfect testimony of such a condition. Love on the other hand dissolves dogmas and liberates us from unnecessary possessiveness. It’s a feeling of euphoria in which feverishness is grounded and ecstasy sores sky-high.

Having the privilege to experience love in its true sense is considered a rare delight. It will remain rare until we detest our own suspicions and doubts. The one conscious step that can perhaps alter this state is accepting the fact that love is omnipresent. That’s when love will be nothing short of magic.

Needless to say, love can never be fully expressed in words. But when you experience it, you know that it has set you free!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Jugaad and innovation

Jugaad, or frugal innovation (as pointed out by Jaideep Prabhu in his book Jugaad Innovation), is believed to have the potential to fix some of the most perennial issues that mankind has been facing (abysmal poverty, energy scarcity in rural areas, unemployment, wasteful use of available resources, and pollution, to name a few). By targeting the very dynamics of their cause effect, a jugaad solution superbly alters the parameters that define these issues in the first place.

More often than not, a problem doesn't become a permanent condition merely because there is no easy solution. Jugaad innovators have proven it time and again. Generally, an issue isn't foreseen or heeded enough during the formulation of the system that encompasses it. A typical jugaad innovator notoriously transcends the system as it ceases to show any sign whatsoever of a step forward, let alone a quantum leap, towards attempting to address and resolve such an issue.

Jugaad alone can possibly serve rapid betterment at the roots of a compound system by transforming sufferers into active partakers without demanding extravagance. It entrusts them with tools to improve their own and thus their society’s lifestyle. Jugaad mindset empowers a common man with the hope to create a change and bring about a revolution.

Yet, jugaad innovation can’t be systematized, as the innovator senses an opportunity only amid an adversity. A jugaad idea may occur to even the remotest village dweller with meager means. Fostering the essence of jugaad by setting up enlightening examples is vital to its respectable recognition.

Given the present well networked world, the spirit of jugaad is expected to flourish at a massive scale.