Maxime Mantovani 4/4 : Interface

Artistic Residencies: The Blog

Maxime Mantovani's artistic research residency is structured around two aspects: one is software, around an AI for real-time audio synthesis, and the other is hardware, to design a control interface that allows for the true interpretation of said synthesis in a quasi-organological or at least kinesthetic way - like any musical instrument. It is this interface that we are interested in this last part of our series...

The first thing that strikes you about this interface is the four discs, which look as if they were a DJ's turntable or a telephone dial. The interface is designed to control a particular patch in the Max software, or at least certain parameters of the patch (chosen by the musician). "I designed this interface to be both custom and scalable," explains Maxime Mantovani. "I don't always need all the buttons all the time, but I've anticipated future developments. The idea is that someone else could take it over and remake it by hand: the Open Sound Control communication protocol is standard, and can send information to the computer. For me, this object is an inheritance from musique concrète, and its general philosophy is inspired by the methods of its pioneers, who manipulated magnetic tapes to have a concrete effect on sound."

Interface from above — description of each parts below

Upper part of the interface

Disks (1) and (2)

The two disks at the top of the interface control the playback heads of two MuBu Granulate synthesis modules (developed at IRCAM by the ISMM team) from sounds that can be generated by an AI engine.

"A MuBu module generates sound all the time, but you only hear it when I turn the disk. And the more energetically I spin it, the louder and more prominent the sound will be. So playing the disk controls the dynamics and prominence of the sound, as well as its duration. Combining several parameters in one control is particularly interesting, since the instrumental gestures gain in complexity and the generation of sound in richness. Exactly like a violin bow: the string's vibration seems simple, yet the playing modes are infinitely complex, depending on the weight, speed, length, and thickness of the strands... ".

Potentiometers (3) and (4)

The four potentiometers located above the disks are used to adjust the parameters of the granular synthesis of the Mubu module: duration of a grain, period, etc.

Potentiometers (5), (6), (7) and (8)

These two knobs allow you to adjust the increment of the playback heads: that is to say the speed of movement in a sound file for the same gesture, a bit like the gear ratios on a bicycle or a car.

Potentiometers on both sides of the discs (9) and (10)

Since Mubu modules generate sound without stopping and the rotation of the disc starts the playback, these potentiometers allow to manage the beginning and the end of the sound, the "envelope ramp" in the jargon. The attack and the disinence. Set to minimum, the attack is very clear (the volume goes from 0% to 100% in 10 ms and vice versa), set to maximum, the sound appears and disappears in 2 seconds.

"It allows me to play with phrasing and resonance" says Maxime Mantovani.

Lower part of the interface

Disks (11) and (12)

These disks control a CSound Looper module (which lets you create and play sound loops). One of them allows you to move around the sample to choose the beginning of the loop, and the second one controls the speed at which the loop is played.

"Exactly like on a REVOX, I can push the speed very high or slow it down to the extreme. In contrast to the REVOX, the speeds can be pushed to a form of digital saturation that becomes musical."

Potentiometers (13), (14), (15), (16), (17) and (18)

For the moment, only (16) has a function: to control the Looper playback window.
The others will probably have functions in the future.

The control screens

In their normal state, the four screens display the waveform generated by the corresponding disk. This display changes as soon as a parameter of the module concerned is changed (granulation parameters, period, etc.) to display the new value of the relevant parameter.

On either side of the displays are a rotary encoder module and a button. A "rotary encoder module" is a rotating knob notched on predetermined positions. Here, it is used to select the inputs or outputs for the disk concerned.

The small button on the other side is used to trigger recordings - to generate a loop, for example.

"In addition to the interface itself, I use an iCon M+ platform - a kind of mixer with various faders, which is usually used to control software like ProTools, but which I've hijacked so that it works with my Max patches. This is what I use to control my inputs and outputs, to mix sounds and to do some classic real-time processing - like a second layer of sound manipulation.

I preferred to separate the two so that I could adapt my device for a wide range of artistic projects. I adopted a modular way of thinking, which also comes from the way synthesizers work. In reality, this interface is not a creation ex nihilo; it is based on a heritage, that of the history of electroacoustic music and musique concrète, which I learned at the CNSMD in Lyon, but also on exchanges of ideas in the field and with musicians."

Images credits : © Maxime Mantovani