An article about CNMAT has been posted on's feature section: Made On A Mac - Artists that Depend on the Power of the Mac.

Who: Adrian Freed, Research Director
What: Center for New Music and Audio Technologies, UC Berkeley
Why: To research and develop tech tools musicians and artists can use to enhance live performances

Ensconced in a Spanish-style home on the northern border of the UC Berkeley campus, the researchers at the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies, CNMAT (, are working on a mind-boggling array of projects that crisscross multiple disciplines. On the day we visit CNMAT research director Adrian Freed, the two graduate students we run into on our tour happen to be working on advanced degrees in mathematics and history—and both use Mac laptops safeguarded from accidental pickup by fellow researchers with name tags created on a digital label maker.

In the small performance space on the building’s main floor, Freed slides back the curtain on a closet built into the wall to reveal a spherical loudspeaker—technically an icosahedron—that houses 120 separate speaker arrays and, when plugged into a MacBook Pro with a USB cable, registers ?as an audio device with 120 separate channels in OS X’s Sound System Preferences pane.

This “spherical” speaker is really an icosahedron. Click to enbiggen image
Trying to convey the magic of the spherical speaker, which was developed with funding from speaker maker Meyer Sound, “doesn’t make sense in words—you have to be there,” Freed says. But he can’t resist describing it anyway: “It will beam sounds around, like a lighthouse or a laser beam beams light. Most people have never experienced that because most sound sources spread sound from the source evenly outward in all directions. The spherical speaker lets you do all sorts of interesting things, including beam-forming narrow beams, multiple beams, moving the beams around in space, and so on.” Part of the motivation for developing the spherical speaker was to make electronic music sound as natural and “with presence” as live acoustic music, especially when the two are played together, Freed says.
“My boss has been traveling around, performing interactive computer music” in as portable a way as possible, Freed says of CNMAT codirector David Wessel, “but he notices when he plays in ensembles with acoustic instruments that he’s kind of a second-class citizen because his sound from a conventional loudspeaker doesn’t interact as well as the acoustic instruments. There’s a kind of physical presence that the acoustic instruments have that electronic instruments don’t. It’s because there’s only one loudspeaker, and loudspeakers totally smudge sound out evenly, whereas acoustic instruments send sound out in different frequencies and different directions.”
Freed recently finished a project in which he built a stringless cello out of acrylic for world-famous cellist Frances-Marie Uitti, who, after pioneering the simultaneous use of two bows to coax more and different sounds out of her traditional cello, turned to CNMAT to help her uncover still more ways to experiment with her instrument. “It’s played like a cello but doesn’t have strings,” says Freed of the cello he built for her. “It plugs in through the USB port to a Macintosh laptop, and the laptop makes all the sound. It was all made of acrylic and you bow brass rods instead of bowing strings, and then you touch multitouch sensors with one hand and press position- and pressure-sensing strips with the other.”

Adrian Freed shows how the stringless acrylic cello he built for acclaimed cellist Frances-Marie Uitti works. Click to enbiggen image Photo by: Mark Madeo
Much the way Kobe Bryant worked directly with Steve McDonald (see p28) of the Nike Innovation Kitchen to develop his eponymous line of basketball shoes, Uitti, who lives in Amsterdam, came to Berkeley and spent three weeks on the lower floors of the CNMAT facility to help perfect the acrylic cello, which she wanted to fit precisely between her knees. Seeking the right curve shape for the acrylic body of the instrument, Uitti discovered serendipitously that the diameter of a 10-gallon plastic water jug (the kind that sits atop Alhambra water coolers across the country) matched perfectly. So she and Freed took such a jug to the plastic-bending room at TechShop in Silicon Valley, where they laser-cut, etched, and heated the acrylic, then formed it around the jug.
“One of the kinds of things we do is take the existing ways people play instruments, and we take the bit that makes sound away from it, just leaving the bit that involves people’s gestures,” says Freed. “Then we capture as much of the gesture as we can, and we do the synthesis on the Macintosh so that people have more sounds than what the instrument makes.”
New sounds were exactly what Uitti was after, and what spurred her to pioneer the use of two bows at once on her cello.
“This line of research has a whole resonance with consumers these days because of games like Guitar Hero, and the Wii controller,” says Freed, who has six kids of his own. “The idea of a controller wasn’t in consumers’ consciousness. Musicians have been using them for a while, ever since MIDI keyboard controllers came out. But we’ve been trying to make controllers for the other instruments for decades now. The Guitar Hero controller is awful from any guitarist’s standpoint, but it’s certainly raised the consumer consciousness of that way of controlling things.”
Both Freed and Wessel have developed percussion controllers that plug into MacBook Pros. Freed has an odd-looking one he calls a Tablo, which is shaped like a flying saucer and fashioned from a circular embroidery frame, the round wooden base of a potter’s wheel, a central sensor he clearly built himself with electronic components, LEDs, and gobs of electrician’s tape—all covered with stretchy fabric that’s got a silver coating on it so that it can send signals to the sensor about the way the fabric is draped at a given moment. “It senses the amount of drape in the fabric, so your hand touches the fabric and changes the drape in the fabric,” Freed says. The Tablo was built to control hand drum sounds. “It works great with steel drum sounds, too,” he adds.
As far as developing products and ideas that might appear on the market commercially, Freed says, one piece of software CNMAT is known for is called Open Sound Control, or OSC.
“It’s the way we represent the information to the controller,” Freed says. “It’s won this battle of how to send gestural control information to computer programs doing sound, image, and motion synthesis. OSC replaces MIDI for a lot of people.”
The folks who contribute to the chaotic-but-organized-in-its-own-way research efforts at CNMAT are not all studying music, and there aren’t even as many tech geeks as you might expect.
Or perhaps we should rephrase: They don’t look like your typical tech geeks. But the more you hear about the serious work and the fun stuff that goes on at CNMAT, the more you start to see why Macs are the hardware of choice for CNMAT researchers.
“We use OS X for everything we can,” Freed says.

From [|Made On A Mac - Artists that Depend on the Power of the Mac]

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