THE BUREAU: Part Ten, "Your Death" — with a Turing Machine, Bouncing Ball Envelope, and Other Randomized Voltage

THE BUREAU by Ethan Persoff

Welcome back to The Bureau. It’s the tenth installment, with two remaining installments until your day is complete. You've found your way to a bar, and it's a comfortable view of the train. You may have just died.

Greetings – It's 2019! Let's hope this new set of twelve months is one of good random events to offset the odd occurrences of 2018.

Two installments remain in your day at The Bureau, and today you end on Death.

This is a random event, though explainable, based on the narrative path of the last few hours.

An ending is just one of two possible variables, the other being a continuation. In computer terms, this is a binary decision between ones and zeroes, which often means true or false, or yes or no.

Much of the music of The Bureau is based on randomized variables, and one of the best tools for this is a musical adaptation of Alan Turing's work. Turing is one of our century's great geniuses, establishing much of the principles of Computer Science, among other equally fascinating and significant ideas. In his short lifetime before being attacked by the British government for being gay, Turing is also credited with the first recorded piece of computerized music, which was played by the Manchester MK1. Hear it below:

More on this recording, read: Restoring the first recording of computer music

A Turing Machine

Turing Machines are fascinating. A useful description is provided below, note the application of "Awareness" and "Behavior defined by symbols instead of mechanisms":

Further Fun Reading:

In 1950, Turing published "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" in the Philosophic Journal Mind. In it, he proposed a method by which we might answer the question 'Can Machines Think?' His idea — which he calls the 'imitation game' — is really quite simple.

The Imitation Game is played by three participants: the interrogator, a human subject, and an artificially intelligent machine. The three are in separate rooms, and can only communicate via teletype. The goal of the interrogator is to determine which participant is the machine.

Turing Test and Machine Intelligence

Applying this to music:

At around five minutes of the video above, "Stages" and "Steps" are described, indicating how a series of single digits are determined. If taken musically, this decision for a number can be paired with a step to be considered a "Note" and a stage can be a moment of time, or a beat.

Modular music has its own marvelous minds. In previous Bureau posts, we've highlighted the work of Vlad Kreimer, Eric Barbour, Doug Slocum, among others, and this week we're pleased to mention Tom Whitwell, who has created (among other things) two fantastic devices, Radio Music and a eurorack interpretation of a Turing Machine for music sequencing.

Here's Tom describing the development of his work at the 2018 Brighton Modular Meet:

Basically, a Turing Machine module plays a random string of notes. It will continue to randomize notes until you lock the current string of notes by a spin of the dial.

This locking is variable; the closer you are to "Lock" will retain more of the notes, while a dial set to the center will be completely random. The operating idea is to find a good string of notes, then lock them, and slowly reveal new notes by dial placement.

A Turing Machine is the sound of Light Rain at 2:07pm

A Turing Machine asks you to Hold It Together at 3:48pm

Finally, while randomization is one possible path to alter our decisions, a complete reprogramming of something's intended purpose into something altogether different can be quite satisfying, as well.

Digital modules offer an unlimited variety of options with music. So much so that there are now mega-modules that deliver ridiculous amounts of utility in a small circuit board with a few dials. There's the Disting MK4 which provides an astounding 80+ modules in one half-inch wide module. (Its inventor Andrew Osler is another wonderful music mind worth your attention) – and the ubiquitous MATHS module from Make Noise is its own multi-use module, offering a classic set of tools.

While there's a huge variety of these multi-function tools, my favorite is one is a freely downloadable set of tools titled Dead Man's Catch, or DMC for short.

DMC reprograms the existing firmware of a classic Mutable Instruments module titled Peaks. Peaks was itself a multi-use module, offering three primary tools: Envelopes, LFOs, and sampled drums. In 2016, Tim Churches released his DMC firmware for Peaks, however, which retains all the functions of the original Peaks but adds gobs of expensive (free) goodies to the module. Just a few of these:

  • a Bouncing Ball envelope generator. The Bouncing Ball envelope emulates a ball which is thrown into the air and then allowed to fall back to earth and bounce several times. You can use this to affect the volume of a sound, its pitch, or other sound parameter.
  • Dual "byte beat" noise generators, with clock rate and two other parameters settable via the front panel pots. (think Atari Punk Console)
  • Handfuls of envelopes, oscillators, tones, CV processing, and even a sequencer
  • And lastly, DMC includes a dual Turing Machine (yes! wonderful) based on the original Tom Whitwell open source code.

A modified Peaks with Dead Man's Catch adds a Turing Machine, a vast array of CV options and this lovely new variety of internally modulated wave shapes

A note to those of you interested in using Dead Man's Catch: Due to a change in hardware design, certain versions of Peaks will not work. You need to find a version that has two blue trimpots on the back of the Peaks module. This is described by Tim Churches:

Hardware version 3 or later of the Peaks module uses firmware calibration of the null point output voltage, rather than two physical trimpots as used in earlier versions. None of the firmware code required to support firmware calibration has been incorporated into the current version Dead Man's Catch. Therefore installation of Dead Man's Catch on versions of the Peaks module which does not have a trimpot (on the back of the PCB) is NOT recommended.

If time allows, I'll post a photo of Peaks' trimpot version in the comments.

A Turing Machine leads off this week's soundtrack. Press play at 4:54pm.

Thank you and have a nice New Year.

The Bureau will return January 9, 2019 at 5:46pm PST.

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