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Curve - by Nathan M. Asman


This custom-built instrument is called Curve, and is named after the shape and contour of the interface itself. I wanted to create something that had a myriad of different sensors and ways of controlling different musical parameters, while also maintaining the functionality and traditional idioms of other controllers, interfaces, and instruments that are around today. It's kind of my take on a grid/keyboard/controller hybrid, or something along those lines, but that has far more options and possibilities for musical control and expression. I wanted it to be ergonomic as well, hence the final shape and layout.

I designed and fabricated Curve over the course of about 6 months, from the initial 3D model (done in Blender, https://www.blender.org) to the final version that you see now. The physical interface consists of one large laser-cut piece of clear 1/4″ acrylic to which I have adhered 20 FSR's (force sensitive resistors, aka pressure sensors, https://www.sparkfun.com/products/9376), two touch-potentiometers (faders, https://www.sparkfun.com/products/8679), a keypad (https://www.adafruit.com/product/419), and a 9-degrees of freedom motion sensor (https://www.sparkfun.com/products/13944). I have also affixed 60 RGB LED lights (DotStars, https://www.adafruit.com/product/2240) that are individually addressable and correspond to various inputs from the sensors for an added layer of visual feedback. The black cubes that cover each of the FSR's are made out of a semi-dense foam which when attached to its corresponding FSR allow me to have a far greater range of pressure and interaction than I otherwise would have had with just the FSR on its own. Each of the sensors, lights, and keypad are connected to an Arduino Mega microcontroller (https://www.arduino.cc/en/Guide/Introduction, https://store.arduino.cc/usa/arduino-mega-2560-rev3) that allowed me to completely customize the programming and functionality of each individual sensor and light.

Software-wise, I programmed all of the electronics using the Arduino IDE, which then connects via USB serial to Max/MSP where all of my data-mapping and data-processing happens. From Max/MSP, the data is then sent as MIDI data to Ableton Live, where all of my sound design and musical composition was done. I relied heavily on Max for Live instruments and devices for the majority of my sound design, leaning heavily towards a synth-based musical soundscape for my first piece with Curve.

It is important to note that while the hardware controller itself does not generate sound, Curve is nonetheless a comprehensive instrument in its own right when coupled with the customized software that I have designed in Arduino, Max/MSP, and Ableton Live. The individual components only form the complete instrument when they are all working together, similar to the way that a modular synthesizer operates. Curve (as an instrument) consists of the hardware, data-mapping, and sound design layers all functioning together as a complete package.

My Étude No.1, for Curve is the first of many pieces I hope to write for Curve. Being the first ever composition using this new interface, it imbued a unique set of qualities to the compositional process; accordingly, I am calling this piece an étude. To study and explore the control, performative possibilities, and affordances that this new interface offered me, I needed to study the options that Curve provided. However, I did not simply want to compose a study using the interface, but a substantial musical piece in its own right. To that end, the piece is broken up into four different sections, each highlighting a specific and unique performative technique that I developed for the instrument. Each section is denoted by a different method of physical interaction with the instrument, as well as a unique lighting mode designed to correspond and emphasize each performative technique.

For my biography and more of my works, please visit http://nathanasman.com

    Building & Designing Curve

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