Space Robot Music

Sweet logo by Tanya Harrison
  • Significant advancement in creating generative music with Sonic Pi! I love making music, and I want to produce license-free background tracks for my videos. I got a bunch of help from Sam Aaron, the creator of Sonic Pi... #goals, honestly.
  • Getting to mind-meld with my bestie, Moheeb, whom I haven’t been able to hang out with for ages because of you-know-what… plus, catch up a bit with Tanya Harrison (who created that SWEET logo + gave Planet-related help) and Melissa Lamoreux.
  • My third piece of space music created in tandem with Planet — I love making art that builds on a body of work; it feels more deeply personal, tied in with my history.
  • Bonus: getting to play with some of my favorite chord progressions, and just listen to them forever 💙💙💙

(My) philosophy of data sonification

I value two things in this kind of project, and it’s hard to do both:

  1. Accurately represent the data, and
  2. Make it really sound like music. (And not just noise music ;) )

Sonic Pi

It’s a framework that’s really designed for live-coding, where someone (a code jockey? CJ?) codes sound and/or visuals in real-time for an audience. I’ve seen a few performances, and it’s AWESOME, but my aims are more for generative music that I can twiddle now and then as it runs in the background. Sonic Pi was created by Sam Aaron, and I was lucky enough to get direct input from him on this project!

Planet music collaborations

My first collab with Planet came while I was an Autodesk/Instructables artist in residence at Pier 9. Forrest Stearns and Emi Watanabe asked us to propose designs to laser-etch into the side panels on Doves (the Planet satellites). I wrote “Spinning Up” — a sort of reverse lullaby, a waking-up song narrated by the Doves — and invented an “iris notation” for writing down the melody and chords. “My” Dove, 2b-7, orbited the Earth for about a year before burning up on re-entry. It still brings up Big Feelings. 💙

My side panel, with soundwaves from a recording of the song.

Chord progressions

This is a big one for me! When I find a chord progression that I love, it is an endless delight, and I could eat it up for hours and hours on end. (Really, I’ve made Spotify playlists and mashup tracks for some of them…) Chord progressions have the power to evoke strong emotions, in a way that hits me deeply.

  • Chumbawamba’s soundtrack for Revengers Tragedy, which you should really watch if you like Eddie Izzard, Christopher Eccleston, Alex Cox films, or awesome things.
  • A nostalgic-feeling progression that can make anyone homesick, which features in “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, as well as “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show.
  • Its conceptual opposite, the piercing lament upon Gandalf’s fall in Moria — a gorgeous progression that you might know from “Zombie” by the Cranberries, or Eminem/Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie”. If the previous progression were 1–2–3–4, then this one would be written 3–4–1–2, swapping the pairs of chords, and they’re both very powerful.
  • A slight modification on that progression, which Philip Glass seems to like a lot — the final chord should be a B7, but I didn’t know how to put that in without making the code much more annoyingly complex.
  • The “purty” one is just some chords I threw in there while protoyping. They sound nice c:

Next steps

For now, I’m getting this onto an actual Raspberry Pi so I can add a hardware interface! Buttons, knobs, switches… looking forward to that.

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Alex Glow

Alex Glow

DIY robots, music, EEG, wearables, languages. FIRST alumna. Hardware Nerd @hacksterio. She/her