Entries tagged with “instrument building”.


Fully Connected Neural Network

Fully Connected Neural Network

The Network Instrument – a work in progress

This post summarizes my current thinking on the Network Instrument, a lot of which is in flux. It is derived from a document I’ve been writing where I have outlined these ideas and have been more or less working them out in practice.  As I continue to explore these ideas expect a lot of the material here to change and develop. I haven’t really done any sort of systematic analysis of other electronic setups (beyond what I reference below of David Tudors), this really is more of an attempt to generalize what I’ve been doing then an attempt to create a pedagogy of Live Electronics (as much as I think this needs to be done).  I think it would take real research to do that, something that would require the ability to work on it near full time. Alas not something I can do what with a demanding day job, musical practice and a wide amount of interests. I’ll keeping work on this  document as I go and perhaps occasionally updating this post or adding new ones.

There were really three major developments that led toward this conception of an electronic instrument. The first would of course be the musical practice I’ve been involved with for the past ten years or so. When I worked with electronics I almost always worked intuitively, connecting things together, experimenting basically until I would get a configuration that I found interesting.  I ‘ve long referred to this as state exploration which is more or less referencing finite state machines, which are also networks (see directed graphs for the mathematics behind a lot of these notions).   In that context a state was a particular network configuration and the exploration aspect was permuting it until it shifted states.  The electronics of David Tudor would be the next major influence on this way of thinking. His large tangles of devices, layers of feedback and cascading amplification would certainly be a form of network though without really getting a chance to examine particular setups it is hard to really classify them. But looking at the existing diagrams of his networks a number of them would fall into my category of a Feedforward Network. Of his work most importantly conceptually though was the Neural Network Synthesizer which would be an example of a highly connected network though a bit more literal then what I’m describing here.  When I was in college Artificial Intelligence was what I spent the bulk of my time studying and at that point in time Neural Networks were all the rage.  I’ve programmed more than my fair share of them, exploring the wide variety of networks and their various features and behaviors (of interest to perhaps some, I was actually studying these during the time the Neural Network Synthesizer was developed and while I didn’t end up stumbling onto Tudor at that time I do remember interest in those chips and hardware being made from them).   It was this experience combined with the above that really got me thinking of the electronics configurations in ways that I hadn’t before.

Neural Synthesis Nos. 6-9Tudor’s Neural Network Synthesizer is a direct application of neural networks to music making which is quite interesting and is something that should perhaps be explored further (see this) but the Network Instrument is more of an attempt to understand something, a metaphor a certain practice. Live Electronics really is almost folklore and there has been little attempt to codify concepts and ideas and what has been done is in scattered journals and often out of print books. A lot of wheels are being reinvented due to an increased interest in live electronics from a handmade/diy/maker/hacker perspective.  The noise, eai, underground comp and new live electronics scenes are rediscovering much of what has been done and thanks to the web it is at least being somewhat documented. Most of this is from the technological standpoint, how to make the tools (for instance, this great book) but the ideas behind it all have been rather neglected. So this is an attempt to put out there some of my thinking on this, though of course it is only my perspective and relatively narrow. It comes from as I said above both experience and paying attention to other sources, but aspects of it are certainly theoretical due to only working with a subset of what is out there. Furthermore there are notions here that arose out of my attempt to codify these ideas which are rather unexplored but will point out aspects of my own current endeavors.

The Network Instrument

The basic concept behind the network instrument is of a number of complete (or near complete) instruments that are networked together to form a greater whole. Beyond mere summing of inputs the network is interconnected and utilizes feedback (in a networking sense) to create instabilities and variation. The notion of the Network Instrument is not necessarily new, it is more of an attempt to codify existing practices.  Within the conceptual framework there is certainly avenues for exploration that could be considered new and there are a few notions here that I’ve rarely, if ever seen, employed.  Note that I’ve appropriated a lot of the notions and terminology from neural networks but the way in which they are applied to this notion of an electronic instrument is not meant to imply any sort of direct correlation.

Network Components

A network has three components:  nodes, connections and interfaces.

These are the sound sources which in most cases are a mini-network in and of themselves. That is they can be sound source(s) and various effectors setup in various formats (series, parallel, summed, etc.).  They can be electronic, acoustic or electro-acoustic as long as they can be integrated into the network.

These are the connections between the nodes. At the most simple this could be seen as the audio out from each node connected via a single mixer whose output is then made audible. Other setups though can include multiple sound outputs, connects between nodes, the lack of a central summing component and so on.

Interfaces are manner in which connections are made. These are generally either direct, indirect or a hybrid of these two. Direct interfaces are simply wires going from an output to an input.  Very simple but these are the backbone of the bulk of the connections.  Indirect interfaces, on the other hand, can be highly diverse but can be primarily thought of as an external input/output interface. That is a node has its own audio-output which is then connected to the network via sound capturing device. Indirect interfaces can be thought of as a layer of processing applied upon a node but done via its connection as opposed to an external device.  The use of a device between the output of a node and the input of another node could be thought of as a hybrid interface. That is to say a form of processing is applied upon the signal but the connections themselves utilize a direct interface.

Network Configurations

Determinate Configuration
A configuration that is more predictable, namely with a decreased amount of interconnections. You could think of a standard chain of guitar pedals as an example of this: the guitarist expects something played on the guitar to be modified in an expected way.

Indeterminate Configuration
A configuration that maximizes the unpredictability of the instrument, primarily though degree of interconnection. To continue with the guitar pedal example above, if you increase the the inter-connectivity, so as to not be in a standard linear configuration the transformation of that sound becomes increasing difficult to predict at least from a given input.

Note that Determinate/Indeterminate denotes a continuum upon which any given configuration lies

Network Types

Fully Connected Network
A configuration where every node is connected to every other node.

Partially Connected Network
A configuration where every node is not connected to every other node. This is the typical network case as a fully connected network is impracticable beyond a certain limited size.

Note that while the degree of connectivity lies upon a continuum a network is either fully connected or not.

Feedforward Network
A type of network where multiple elements are chained together and summed together prior to output. This configuration may contain loops in its various sub-elements but these too are always fed into the next element. The modular parts that make up a Fully or Partially Connected Network are almost always feedforward chains but it is the interconnections between those chains that create the distinction.


Electro-Acoustic Nodes
Using of an acoustic sound source that is tied into the network via various interfaces.  These can differ from other nodes in that they may allow for only certain types or degrees of interconnections

Electromechanical Interface
These interfaces are used to drive an Electro-Acoustic node in a mechanical method. These may offer limited degree of interconnectivity and may be only one way.  However they often can be extended for higher degrees of connection.


Clouds are the myriad states within a network. This is a more nuanced understanding of the State Exploration that I pursued in the early phases of the no-mind project. A given network has a large number of permutations that can be varied by altering inputs, adjusted various values (feedback, volumes, filtering, etc) that in and of themselves can be sufficient for a piece of music. Conceptually if you thought of each possible setting of a component as its own device that could only be connected in isolation you would have a vast array of networks within any given network. In the same way that a cloud is both the signifier of an individual as well as a constantly shifting collective of individuals, a network instrument is a single entity that is made up of myriad of states.

An Example Network Instrument

An Example Network Instrument

Sound Sources

1.1 – Chimera BC16 patchable synthesizer
1.2 – Sinewave/Squarewave generator
1.3 – Realistic Mixer with stereo feedback
1.4 – Berhinger 16 Channel Stereo mixer


2.1 – Realistic Reverb
2.2 – Spring Reverb
2.3 – Parallel Universe Oscillating Fuzz


3.1 – Berhinger 16 Channel Stereo mixer
3.2 – Direct connection from node 1.1
3.3 – Direct connection from node 1.2
3.4 – Indirect connection from Node 1.3
3.5 – Indirect connection from Node 1.3
3.6 – Indirect connection from Node 1.4


4.1 – Primary Output
4.2 – Secondary Output
4.3 – Mini-Speaker for Node 1.3
4.4 – Mini-Speaker for Node 1.3

This was an actual setup I used for a bit as I explored some of these notions, but I don’t think I ever recorded anything with it. I’ve listed the specific instruments, effects, etc used here but obviously they aren’t particularly essential.

In some sort of conclusion

While it was my own electronics work that got me started on this path and David Tudor’s that really got me thinking, these notions are like I said a metaphor and not really describing specifics.  You could use this terminology to describe any electronics setup, I’m sure discovering that there are gaps in the terminology perhaps even discovering a form of electronics that is not network based.  This document is certainly incomplete, my descriptions insufficient, probably even downright incoherent at time. But its a start and I’ll keep working on it. Feel free to start a dialog in the comments about any aspect of this. I would definitely like to flesh out a lot of these ideas and could certainly use feedback.

Read more on the Network Instrument: Subnetworks

1) David Tudor Pages at EMF
2) Neural Synthesis Nos. 6-9, Lovely Music
3) Neural Network Synthesizer 1 by  Forrest Warthman
4) Neural Network Synthesizer 2 by Mark Holler
5) Neural Networks on Wikipedia

Among the great treasures of Seattle is sculpture, instrument inventor, composer, etc Trimpin. As with any installation artist, unless you are a jet setter, it is hard to see much of his work in person and in his case in particular it is quite difficult to gather much of a sense of the scope of his work.  This is because there are no catalogs, no recordings and little documentation in general of his work. That is until the release of a new documentary film Trimpin: The Sound of Invention, which is now making the rounds of the festival circuit.  Happily for me the Seattle International Film Festival is one of those festivals an they are showing the film several times throughout its three week run. 

I made the trek into Seattle Saturday May 23rd to catch the film, only realizing that morning that this coincided with Folk Life the epic four day free music festival in Seattle Center.  Seattle Center also houses the SIFF Theater where the film was being shown and the combination of Folk Life and SIFF meant it was going to be crazy. So I left extra early to insure that I’d make it there in time to get a good seat.  A backup on the freeway on the exit to the Seattle Center had me plenty concerned that it was going to be exceedingly difficult but it turned out to be the result of an accident at the exit ramp.  I was able to park right in a garage right across from the SIFF theater (at a fairly high parking cost) and was almost two hours early.  That was fine as Folk Life was a fine distraction and I also wanted to get lunch before the film.  This I did and I walked through Folk Life a bit which is always entertaining. You see they allow anyone to busk almost anywhere during the festival and as you walk around all varieties of sound intermingle and compete with each other and the sounds of thousands of people engaged in conversations, transactions and the like. Always sonically rewarding. I didn’t spend too much time there, I wanted to be certain of a good seat (they give precedence to SIFF members so sometimes the number of good seats for non-members is nearly non-existent (and yes I suppose I should be a member, but I find film festivals almost the worst way to see a film so I usually only see a couple per SIFF). 

I only waited around for about a half an hour before being let in, though I was in the wrong spot for a while and thus was not as far to the front of the line as I should have been. I got a good seat though, in the middle fourth row back. SIFF Cinema is not a huge screen so that is not too far forward. One or two rows back is probably the best seats in the house but this was within the good range.  The festival organizer introduced the festival and the film to us and then director, Peter Esmonde took the stage.  He only gave a few words before the film primarily admonishing us to listen as well as watch and to thank a lot of people. The lights dimmed, we were treated to about 7 minutes of trailers and finally the film.

Trimpin's perpetual motion machine

The film mainly devoted time to exploring the creative process and followed Trimpin through junkyards (shout out to the late, lamented Boeing Surplus!), galleries, concert halls and his workshop/studio.  It worked in historical material in service to this goal in that he mostly spoke of his upbringing in the Black Forest region of Germany in terms of musical, mechanical and important events that later influence his work and process. Woven throughout the film was the development process and finally a performance of a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet called 4 Cast: Unpredictable. Watching him work was among the best aspects of the film, observing him work out this completely original ideas of turning junk into machines that made sound. One moment that I particularly loved was the accidental discovery of this beautifully haunting glass armonica as he was polishing with a rag the glass tube from a television set. He had this hung and was using them as sound projectors for reed instruments that were in the tube like next of the glass.  As he was polishing one of these he pulled the rag out and it generated a sustained tone like running your finger on a wine glass. He was immediately captivated and iteratively worked out exactly how to replicate it. Then he tried running his finger on it ala a wine glass to similar though a bit duller results. Finally he dug around the copious piles of stuff in his studio and pulling out a bow proceeded to bow the glass device to beautiful results.  This is a a highly creative mind at play and discovering something that who knows how he’ll apply?  They showed the finished installation with the TV tubes and it did not utilize this effect.


4 Cast: Unpredictable

4 Cast: Unpredictable


The film also spent time covering Trimpin’s lack of interest in many of the trappings (or traps?) of the art world: he has no representation, or an agent nor as I alluded to earlier has he spent much effort on documentation.  He wants to do his work and move on to the next thing.  But his installations are permanent, durable, completely hand made and interactive. Getting to see a bunch of these, which you’d have to travel all over to see was fantastic.  As was the bits we got to see of this performance with Kronos which only happened once and has not been documented beyond this film. (though see the pictures here an some video footage here).  The first Trimpin piece I ever saw was the huge fountain of guitars in the EMP and the process behind putting this together was also covered in the film.  Trimpin, who tells a good anecdote, detailed his meeting with EMP founder and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen as not a traditional public art pitch. The guitars at the top of this mammoth fountain of guitars would play music via these robotic devices that Trimpin constructed and Paul Allen inquired who would get up there to tune these guitars. Trimpin, flustered on the spot replied that they’d tune themselves.  Paul Allen, who heretofore had failed to even look him in the eye, looked up from his dossiers and uttered an awed “Wow”.




Trimpin had come to Seattle from his clearly beloved Black Forest because he said he had better junk.  The stuff you can find in Boeing Surplus and the other junkyards that feature castoffs from Seattle’s aerospace, shipyards and other high tech industries certainly provide that (though sadly most of these resources are now gone).  His experiences in the Black Forest, home of the cuckoo clock industry and where every beerhall, shop and coffee house would have a unique music making devices (usually based on music box type technologies) clearly set him on this track.  The bespoke nature of those instruments, their mechanical nature with their exposed mechanisms and memories etched in physical objects clearly directly anticipate his sculptures. But his move from the pure pragmatic aspects of those machines, to the abstractions of his, plus his embrace of the Cagean notions of sound as music makes his the tremendous artworks that they are.  These machines are really compositions that play themselves, or are instruments that the audience is vital for it to actually sound.  Trimpin heard the great player piano composer Nancarrow on the radio and his world opened up.



He hadn’t heard music of that density and complexity, music that was acoustic and yet required mechanical means to exist.  It was like the music machines of Bavaria being put to use on modern, creative and wholly originally music.  Trimpin eventually would meet Nancarrow and work with him, transcribing Nancarrows deteriorating piano rolls into midi and saving the music for all of us.  Kyle Gann’s great article for American Mavericks series on builder composers covers this territory a lot better then I can.  It is important to note that Trimpin’s restless imagination never stayed stuck with antiquated technology, an issue that actually hindered Nancarrow from realizing some of his more ambitious later projects.  The film showed him working with mechanical and pneumatic instruments, reading punch cards and the like in his earlier works. But his later works are all controlled by Apple laptops, use Midi and custom control software and his assistants include computer programmers, roboticists along with sculptures and machinists.

This film is right up there with Rivers & Tides as one of the best art documentaries that I have seen. In many cases it is because of the subject matter, Trimpin, like Goldsworthy, is about process and there is an ephemerality to their work that lends itself to film.  But beyond that it is the artistry of the filmmakers to not try to force their own narrative, to create a “story” but to focus explicit on the creative process.  This film was being projected right off of a dvd which is fully setup with menus and extras and everything. I think that after its time on the festival circuit it will certainly be made available on dvd. I urge you to see it if it plays near you, but otherwise definitely plan on picking up this dvd.

After the film there was a brief Q&A with the filmmaker and Trimpin moderated by the SIFF organizer. I folded in bits from that into the above but the most interesting questions were on his reluctance of documentation.  To which Trimpin replied it was the issue of reproduction, that since his sculptures acoustically generated the sounds they were inherently spatial and that stereophonic recording couldn’t capture that. Once 5.1 systems were everyday he said he felt that a better reproductions could be made.  He was then asked why he allowed the film to be made which didn’t really get a direct answer but they talked about the rules they put in place for the project. These namely involved the lack of forcing any sort of agenda from the filmmaker on Trimpin. He’d be allowed to film and tape whatever but nothing would be done to accommodate that and there would be no artificial scenes, retakes and the like.  This I think was pretty essential to the film.  

Anyway they wrapped this up fairly shortly and told us there would be a reception and panel discussion at 4pm the Lawrimore Project a local gallery about 5 miles away.  They also mentioned that they’d be showing outtakes from the film and had some of his scores there to view.  Well all of the sudden my plans of wandering around Folk Life for the rest of the afternoon changed and I had to make my way to this. Christopher DeLaurenti local musician, writer of whom I’ve written before gave me directions to this rather out of the way gallery and I was off.  Took some time to make my way across town but made it I did about ten minutes or so before the panel discussion.  I acquired a much needed pale ale (it was very hot on this May weekend) and checked out the art hanging in the gallery.  Their current exhibition is on Scores a top near and dear to my heart. There were some interesting things hanging but I’d need more time with them to say much.


Left to Right: Charles Amirkhanian, Trimpin, Christopher DeLaurenti, Jacob McMurray and  Scott Lawrimore

Trimpin, Christopher DeLaurenti, Jacob McMurray and Scott Lawrimore


The panel was made up of Charles Amirkhanian,  composer and producer of Other Minds fame, the aforementioned Christopher DeLaurenti, Jacob McMurray a Curator at the EMP, Beth Sellars – Curator, Suyama Space who put on many a Trimpin exhibition and of course Trimpin himself.  It was moderated by Scott Lawrimore of the Lawrimore Project. The panel was quite interesting, it began with discussion on the relationship between Trimpin’s art and composition with digressions into Nancarrow, Cage Antheil and the like.  As I’ve mentioned before Trimpin tells a good anecdote and we got several of those. He talked about seeing a concert (I’ve spaced on the composers name) in Amsterdam which featured multiple orchestras on barges in the canals, bells from the churches and sounds basically coming from all over the city. The density of sounds and the extreme spatialization of them highly impressed Trimpin. But it was hearing Nancarrow on the radio that he felt that that density, complexity and layered structure could be captured in a more finite system. This was instrumental on Trimpin’s moving into the more abstract musics that his sculptures would make.  He also talked of attending a music conference (In Denver IIRC) with Cage and others where he finally got to really talk with other composers (which he said just didn’t happen).

There was really too much covered in the panel to really go into, but one thing that brought up some serious regret was talking about the Year of Trimpin in 2005. This year+ long showing of Trimpins works in 11 galleries all around the NW (extending as far as Montana) was probably the best opportunity to see a lot of his works. Something I missed back in the day. After much discussion it was opened up to audience questions and proving the rule that in open Q&A you are always going to get some idiotic question the very first one was asked about how much he was influenced by urban culture. Specifically how much “crunk, beatboxing, rapping” and the like influenced his work. Anyone who had seen the film knew that he followed his own muse and while his stuff is not disconnected to the world around him there is no Crunk involved.  The second aspect of this dude’s question though on engagement with the world was taken into an interesting direction and Trimpin talked about the political nature of his works. In this regard many of his works are political but not always overtly so. As always I find that a lot more effective then in your face political art which has small impact and even less longevity.  One of Trimpins more overtly political projects involved 24 bobbing chickens used as a random number generator to create new random speeches using words culled from 8 years of GW Bush’s Saturday radio addresses.  Chris DeLaurenti pointed out three urban/political connections in Trimpins work: reuse/repurposing of the detritus of modern society, the non-commercial aspect of it which, as Kyle Gann has pointed out, is inherently a political act and the inherent accessibility of his art some of which demands interaction with the audience to work at all.

Overall a great panel with tons of good information. After this they showed some outtakes from the film in one room while there was a reception with food and drink in another.  The later attracted the MFA’s in throngs but it was the scores hung on the wall that got my attention. I couldn’t find many images of them on the net (the best at this Henry Gallery page) but they were fascinating.  A mixture of subverted traditional notation, midi/mechanical notation, colors, images all colleged together some in an almost Rauschenberg level of complexity. Real artworks as well as being scores.  To this graphical score geek I was entranced by these.

But I did also watch all of the outtakes (which were clearly “bonus features” on the dvd) the most interesting was of a visit to the Instrumentarium where Harry Partch’s instruments are stored.  There was a great segment of Trimpin in the back room of the museum with the curator as he played and demonstrated all of Partch’s unique creations. Trimpin was clearly enthralled and like a kid in a candy store.

Anyway this was a great afternoon of art and film and talking with interesting people about interesting things. I learned a lot and was highly inspired by a lot of what I saw and heard.  I definitely want to see more of Trimpin’s art and will seek it out whenever I travel.

See all of my pictures from the panel here.

Further explorations:
1) Trimpin: The Sound of Inventionmovie blogimdb page, SIFF Page
2) Trimpin on Wikipedia
3) Trimpin page at Other Minds
4) American Mavericks series on builder composers, Kyle Gann
5) Trimpin installation at the EMP
6) Trimpin installation at SeaTac
9) Kronos Quartet
10) Trimpin on Youtube
11) Conlon Nancarrow on Wikipedia
12) Lawrimore Project
13) Christopher DeLaurenti
14) Other Minds
15)  EMP
16) Instrumentarium