AdrianFreed's blog

Routing the FingerPhone


I am studying how IC routing is done in large chips. I am following advice I often give people that it is helpful to learn how to do something by hand before using an automation tool. I was skeptical about this for chip routing because the scale of the problem these routers solve (trillions of gates) is outside what can be done by hand. As it turns out a few of the things I know about routing PCBs helped prepare me for learning some of the conceptual and strategic aspects of what these tools do.

Unfinished Business: Salience and the Pandemic

The mid-1980s was a good time to be in Paris. A highlight for me was experiencing some of the earliest concerts involving computer-aided musical improvisation: George Lewis brought his Voyager system to IRCAM and was around developing new work for a premiere in 1986. David Wessel worked up his first system for his enduring, “catch and throw” paradigm. I saw the premiere of that too in the Centre Pompidou.

Unfinished Business: The Elusive Guitar Synthesizer

When I left for Paris after my undergraduate degree in Australia, I brought the beginnings of a guitar synthesizer along to develop. My modest progress at that time to the challenge was a hexaphonic optical pickup and the unfortunate discovery that Phase Lock Loop (PLL) chips of the day would not reliably track any slightly interesting guitar playing I could come up with. Forty years later the situation is not much better.

Machine Learning and AI at CNMAT

This is the first of a set of thematic overviews of CNMATs work I am writing that cover the period since our inception to the closing in 2017 of the research sector after David Wessel’s death. The activities themselves are more completely understood with concurrent perspectives of many themes so this serialization is more a reflection of the cursed sequentiality of language than any suggestion that a particular theme might be more important than an other. Future themes may include Spatial Audio, Musical Programming Tools, Musical control Structuring, Instrument Building, etc.

My first publication - an electronic doorbell

Thanks to anonymous scanners who upload to and other archives: Today I found a long-lost publication - my first from 1975.

Celebrating Valérie Lamontagne

Last week the world of wearables lost the light of one our shining stars, Valérie Lamontagne.

I invite you to celebrate her life by reading, citing and responding in your own way to one of her major life’s works: her 2017 dissertation: “Performative Wearables: Bodies, Fashion, and Technology”.

You can find it here:

She covers some examples used in her dissertation here:

Valérie’s dissertation contributes to the field of wearables by carefully and clearly looking at our field with a combination of two powerful lenses: performativity and non-human agency. Performativity is a well-established lens articulated by Austin for speech acts, made popular by its use for gender by Judith Butler, for power by Jean-François Lyotard, and Karen Barad for cultural and feminist studies of science. Explorations of non-human agency have taken on a recent urgency from the extinction and climate crises. Both these lenses have a long, interesting, convoluted intellectual history so I especially appreciate Valérie’s approach of using extensive case studies of applications familiar to us as a “soft” way into learning the conceptual underpinnings.

What might you be able to do with the deeper understanding that comes from reading this work? It can give you a grasp on the thorny problem of cultural uptake- which designs will have lasting impact? Why do we see the same designs (tropes) being recycled in the field, e.g., cellphone/music player controlling backpacks? It can deepen understanding and appreciation of recent exploratory work in the field. For example, Hannah Perner-Wilson, has been exploring and celebrating the humble pin. She has moved from from pin as a tool, to pin as a material and in her recent whimsical work to pin as an active agent with its own agendas.

I was using performativity, non-human agency and related lenses in my studies of the history of electronic musical instruments while I was in the same program as Valérie at Concordia (INDI). As I surveyed images of the labs. where these musical instruments were created in the last 100 years, I saw one piece of apparatus “photobombing” every picture: the oscilloscope. I no longer see this as a prop or minor tool of the trade. As a non-neutral visualizer of certain sounds it has huge agency over what these electronic musical instruments did. It delayed the adoption of “noisy” and “chaotic” sounds because they don’t visualize well on the traditional oscilloscope. And so it is with the battery of wearable technology. The battery’s promise to deliver power is underwritten by our promise to recharge them. This agency of entrainment has induced “range anxiety” ever since the wearables of the nineteenth century to modern electric vehicles.

As Melissa Coleman and Troy Nachtigall just pointed out, Valérie Lamontagne, did not have a chance to expand and broadly diffuse the fruits of her Ph. D. labor. Dissertation work can easily get lost in libraries and obscure university web sites because it isn’t indexed as well as conference/journal/book publications. It has only 4 citations in as I write this.

Even as we struggle with our shock and sorrow, let’s read and share her deep and valuable work.

Tablo: teardown of the first Tablo Prototype

It has only two base pressure sensors and uses a pre-Arduino era microcontroller

Tablo Demonstration at the San Francisco Exploratorium

This overview of e-textile music controllers includes a brief demo of the Tablo 8 minutes in.

Tablo Textile Sensing Description

Position is sensed by measuring the resistance of each ring of 16 conductive plastic strips around the bowl. The resistance is lowered as the draped conductive fabric shorts out more of a section of the strip. Pressure is sensed using the piezoresistive fabric strips around the annulus surrounding the bowl. Each piezoresistive strip sits on a segment of conductive fabric taped to the acrylic base. The resistance between this conductor and the ground potential is established by the conductive draped fabric in contact with the conductive gold tape at the top of the bowl.

I almost killed Bob Moog

The 1989 International Computer Music Conference was a standout event in my career that almost turned into a disaster. My name was on three papers, CNMAT was beginning to function well, I met two of my childhood heroes there, Bob Moog and Wendy Carlos, and I was demonstrating an ambitious product in the trade show, the Reson8 DSP multiprocessor designed and built by myself and Marie-Dominique Baudot.
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