I feel the need to verbalize this. Every day, I’ve been nothing but thankful that I am able to share these hallowed halls with thinkers and makers of the most innovative order, travellers and explorers of the unknown who relish every moment with child-like delight.
Every moment here in The New School, Parsons and DT is like an affirmation of all the hard knocks that I’ve had in all my creative endeavors. Those who supported me were few and precious far between, and suddenly, I am amongst my tribe, where everything they do resonates so completely with me. I find it so hard to believe that I am here, learning something powerfully new, every day.
I’ve been fortunate to receive the feedback from Richard, who works extensively with data and visuals, and is intimately familiar with presenting abstract concepts in ways that are thought provoking and satisfyingly visual. What impressed me most when I first visited his portfolio some months ago was the range of his work, and how adept he is at using different vehicles for expressing those abstract concepts. I recall being curious as to his processes and how he asks the questions that lead to these discoveries.
Sven, of course, has decades of intense experience in music, design and technology, and has first-hand knowledge of the processes of countless of DT grads. Without a doubt, countless DT grads would have attempted to address music visualization, or to divine the meanings and mappings in music, and each approach is unique to their understanding of the world, and how it relates to who they are as unique individuals. From lectures and inadvertently eavesdropping on his advice to DT students, I am curious as to the fount of his inspiration and enthusiasm.
I get the sense that the guest crits are able to understand the issues I’m trying to explore, and the reasons as to why I’m pursuing them. From their feedback, I have gotten suggestions on my framework of thinking, relationships between math and music, music and math visualizations/explanations, physiological/psychological responses to music, and live coding as a potential approach. Fundamentally, they understood that I was trying to address explanations of abstract math concepts through visual and experiential means.
Richard agreed that math needs to be made accessible. He mentioned that math may not always be evident or applied in music, citing jazz as an example. Some abstract math concepts may not be adequately expressed through music. He suggested some work which tries to give form to abstract concepts, like the subreddit r/physicsgifs, and Alexander Chen’s work on music and visuals.
Sven suggested relatively dated work by Jim Blinn, which must have left quite an impression, as he called Blinn’s abstractions beautiful, addressing one of my design values. He also echoed my desire for joy and fun, urging me to progress in ways that make me joyful, aware of the fact that if not done with this mindset, math can turn academic and devoid of context fast.
I think one of the sources of inspiration can come through better understanding math and music. In particular, I would relish diving into the patterns and concepts that have piqued collective interest throughout history. Defining with greater granularity helps me appreciate the multifacetedness and nuances of each particular concept. I typically try to come up with analogies to help me understand concepts, and I derive a lot of enjoyment matching two disparate bodies of knowledge, searching for the links and differences between the models.
I have followed up on some of the resources suggested. I spoke to Kyle recently, where he shared his Quest 2 Learn experiences. I had been a fan of the Quest 2 Learn framework, as well as Katie Salen’s Institute of Play. I interned at Quest 2 Learn last year, and had almost attended a workshop in San Francisco back in 2016, where it was cancelled, possibly due to poor response. In talking to Kyle, I was particularly interested in how he translated the math concepts into game-like experiences. I am also fascinated how Kyle is constantly enthusiastic and acutely attuned to what makes experiences fun.
I did some cursory explorations on Jim Blinn’s animations, and I appreciate his use of analogies in his animations, like a transforming ray gun for the topic of geometric transformations. What amazed me about this particular analogy was how he changed a traditionally 2D visualization (done on graph paper using triangles) into a 3D one, with a slight change in perspective. Blinn and his team tapped effectively into the dominant metaphors and narratives during the era and utilized the visual vocabulary that enabled instantaneous comprehension of the context.
Math is the language of the cosmos. Through an understanding of math language we learn to describe the cosmos and its various subsystems.
Humanity understands more of the cosmos through discoveries in math. Discoveries in math can be difficult to understand because their discoveries were difficult to begin with. Discoveries in math were made through patterns, and patterns of patterns (abstractions).
How does math manifest itself in our world? How does math make itself available to the senses in our environments?
How has humanity leveraged math to understand and control our environment? How has humanity leveraged math to create beautiful things? Why do we have an inherent appreciation of the beauty of math, ie golden ratio?
Why did I choose music as an interface? Other than its ability to evoke emotions through pitch, tone and rhythm, there is a sense that it is approachable, and intuitive enough to pick up, experiment, and potentially share. As with the case of the theremin, it does not need to be inherently visual (sheet music), but can be embodied, with greater reliance on our auditory facilities.
Patterns are abound in music, and I attempt to follow along by humming, tapping, singing. I try to predict what happens, and by following along, I surrender myself to the music (a common remark). I can tell when a pattern of music is different from others, and I try to recognize artistes and their set of patterns. I can hear the patterns, or I can see the patterns when I look at sheet music. Jazz has an acquired taste because I can’t always see the patterns, but within short segments of a piece, I can hear certain short patterns emerging, or upon listening to a longer piece, I can hear recurring patterns unique to each performer.
How can I express patterns or facilitate discovery of patterns inherent in music? What patterns would be satisfying and intriguing to explore?
Inevitably, my thoughts go back to the tactile and the embodiment. Tools become an extension of the self once properly integrated into the tasks they are suited for. I have noted before about how the visuals tend to be the primary sense in which we understand our environment and register feedback, but I also know that our senses work in concert, and often it is difficult for us to realize when they do.
How does embodiment appear in music making? It appears to be intrinsic to every music making activity. Having a fair amount of musical vocal training, I know this to be true. I pay closer attention to the resonant parts of my body when I sing. The feelings attached to vibration in the body during music making occur naturally, as a result of the music passing through my body as a medium. I would like to try bone-conduction headphones.
Pressing a button or a touch screen tends to be far too generalized in our society. The feeling of glass on finger is a tactile experience devoid of uniqueness. Buttons tend to be more expressive, like elevator buttons, phone buttons, MTA machine buttons, ATM buttons, traffic light buttons; each has its unique texture, resistance and spring. While it is possible to recall the feel of a button, its function is nonetheless generalized in their individual contexts (same button for press to start, press to confirm, etc).
Could this be a mapping issue, then? That gestures are mapped onto certain tasks, and we perform these little dance routines in order to achieve our goals. The swipe and pushing against the turnstile happens like clockwork for me now, just the right, minimal amount of pressure for each, each action vital towards the final goal, nothing extraneous. The intention is realized through a precise set of trained actions. How can I facilitate and enable mapped actions?
I have been thinking about discoveries and serendipity. Allowing for discovery is powerful: the discoverers have an immense feeling of accomplishment and realisation, one that is addictive and empowering. Serendipity, as though by chance, allows pieces of a puzzle to fall into place naturally, and whilst I do not credit myself for serendipitous moments, they are also immensely satisfying and potentially life-changing.
Both discoveries and serendipity cannot be forced or the satisfaction would be diminished, and the experience deemed fake, manufactured, and devoid of its unique, personalized circumstances. What conditions preserve the strong feelings associated with discovery? How can I provide the pieces that facilitate discovery?