Issue 1

︎Imitative Counterpoint Konrad Kaczmarek

Detail from Imitative Counterpoint, 2019. Spiral and grid-based pitch mappings in volumetric space using the VR environment.

Imitative Counterpoint
Konrad Kaczmarek

What I'm really excited about in terms of my current work at CCAM are the tools, technologies, and processes associated with VR—and the intersection of these with more rarified musical things: music theory, or sound design, or composing, or on a more fundamental level, sound.

Central to both teaching and my own work is thinking critically about the tools that we use and what decisions are made in the process of developing a tool. For example: in terms of coding, or the graphical interface—how do these decisions, consciously and subconsciously, or intentionally or unintentionally, influence the way I approach my craft or music-making?

I love the program Max. It gives you a window into the inner workings of some of these higher-level tools or processes, and allows you to experiment with them. We have a VR set up here in the Department of Music that gives us access to the raw data streams associated with the X, Y, Z position and orientation­,­ the head-mounted display, and gestural-based controllers. We can then do various things with the data in real time, and pipe into an existing sound synthesis program or digital audio workstation.

It’s not like we've downloaded a game from the Steam platform or we're programming something in Unity. We're mapping the VR data onto the existing way we think about creating or processing music, without doing any kind of immersive visuals. It is quite literally just the tracking. This is something that's really interesting to us.

Early on, I did some experiments around using volumetric space to control different aspects of sound synthesis, or music. An example would be: a triad is a three-note chord, like C Major or F Major. You can think about the triad as three notes on a piano keyboard, or as three notes written on a staff using traditional music notation. You can also think about the chord as a point in three-dimensional space: you have the X axis in one way on the floor, the Y axis another way on the floor, and then the Z, which is the height. In this way, a chord progression becomes a motion through space as opposed to a sequence of dots on a music staff or even a shape of chords moving on a piano keyboard.

Detail from Imitative Counterpoint, 2019. Spiral and grid-based pitch mappings in volumetric space using the VR environment.

This was a really exciting moment for us for several reasons. One, we're thinking about what it means to be a music major in the 21st century. We’re challenging questions such as: What is the role of music notation in the study of music or music-making? How can new technological tools interface and interact with these seemingly archaic musical forms or notation?

The project I did for IEEE is called “Imitative Counterpoint.” It's up at CCAM in the back of the hallway. Instead of using the X, Y, and Z axes to represent three notes of a chord, it uses another way of mapping volumetric space to pitches. In this case, it uses a circular mapping. Your angle is the pitch class, and then the height is the octave. One way to think about this is if you're standing in a room and you point towards cardinal north, that's always C on the piano; if you point north but down towards the floor, that's a low C; and you point north but towards the ceiling, that's a high C. As you spin around, you create these spiral helical-type gestures that correspond to scales.

It's really fun. We’re using the whole VR interface as a type of input, or controller. So instead of having a chord sound that you see light up, you move around in this space, and create notes, melodies, and chords. And it all comes from this spiral mapping.

What’s up there now is our first version. It’s a collaboration between myself and Jonah Warren, the game designer who teaches at Quinnipiac. He'd been playing around with this idea of generating these sketches in 3-D in a Tilt Brush style, where you draw tubes in space and then use your controller to retrace the path. Immediately I said, “Wait: I've been playing around with this idea of a spiral pitch map which is a volumetric way of representing pitch. What about what if we mash together that spiral pitch mapping thing with this beautiful tube rendering drawing path thing?”

Right now, it really is more exploratory and gestural, but we also intend to continue working on it and thinking about how to turn it into a multi-player game. You could apply all kinds of distortions to the tube shapes which would have interesting musical results such as inversion, transposition, or shifts in musical mode. As you interact with the piece in a multi-player setting, you really start to engage with aspects of musical counterpoint. What is really interesting to me is how these types of tools establish a more visceral, or gestural point of entry into high-level musical concepts such as tonality, harmony, melody, and musical scale. It's very exciting to think about.

Konrad Kaczmarek is a composer, musician, and programmer whose music incorporates live audio processing and improvisation, drawing freely from his diverse musical and technical background. As a soloist, he has performed at the Sonorities Festival at Queens University in Belfast, The SoundBytes Festival in Halifax NS, Bargemusic, The Stone, Joyce SoHo, the 92nd Street Y, The Chelsea Art Museum, The Flea Theater, and at the Princeton Composers Ensemble.  His compositions have been performed by an eclectic group of performers and ensembles including Cygnus, Crash Ensemble, Yarn/Wire, Dither, Janus, Psappha, PLOrk, Sideband, and the NOW Ensemble. He has been awarded residencies at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, The Banff Centre in Canada, and STEIM in The Netherlands. His freelance programming and performing have taken him to The River to River Festival in lower Manhattan (2013), Kunstnernes Hus in Olso, Norway (2009), The New Zealand International Arts Festival (2008), The 2008 Whitney Biennial Performance Series, the Next Wave festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (2006), “Works and Process” at the Guggenheim (2006), and The Strings of Autumn Festival at the Estate Theater in Prague (2006). He also developed a real-time audio processing program, ‘Tide’, for musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson. Konrad holds degrees from Yale University (B.A. in Music, 2002), University of London, Goldsmiths (M.Mus in Electroacoustic Composition, 2003), and Princeton University (Ph.D. in Music, 2015).  He has held teaching positions at Yale University, The New School University, The College of New Jersey, and Harvestworks Studio in New York.