Meet Your Makers: Cymata, 3D printing and Generative Coding with Music Analysis Data

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Cool is a word that, perhaps by definition, resists definition. Cymata focuses on this adjective by restoring our lost physical and social interactions with the medium of music. The software initially produces physical objects from music by leveraging 3D printing and generative coding in processing. Songs are then interpreted using a combination of user input and music analysis data.

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Music has lost many of the physical aspects of its experience. CDs, records and tapes all had a physical medium and album art that could be held and shared. But now, by experiencing music in its digital form, this appreciation has become fleeting. Our attention is spread thin in that space.

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Active on Art Not Ads and Facebook, I spoke with Tim Rolls, one of the creators of this open-source project, which is available on Github if you’d like to experiment with its latest build.

 

How did you get started with making/creating for Art Not Ads?

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It actually started as a street art project. I went to New York and witnessed the amazing/horrific site that is Times Square. I’d never really thought about how invasive advertising was in our lives. Public space is supposed to belong to everyone, so why is it illegal for most artists to use that space, while advertisers can use it for any message they choose? I have a history in graffiti and street art, so my initial concept was to engage local artists in a campaign to attack the ads directly, turning them into works of art that encouraged participation. At the same time, I realized this was all quite illegal, which was never a problem for me personally, but it starts to get sticky when you’re including others. Ultimately, I chose to go with more non-destructive routes that offset negative corporate messaging with positive, radically inclusive artistic ones.

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How did you get started developing Cymata?

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We went through at least a month of thrashing on ideas before Cymata started to take shape. Something we’ve wanted to explore more is generative code and data visualization. A lot of the work in that space takes place digitally, on screen so we knew early on that we wanted to bring those concepts to built objects. It wasn’t until a couple months later when we had a proof of concept working that music came into play. It was one of those rare “Eureka!” moments, and has been driving the project since.
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Walk us through some of your creative process.

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I’m a Designer, Artist, DJ, Producer and general technology nerd, plus I like to cook, ha ha. Those things probably seem unrelated, but it’s helped me realize that creative process is agnostic to what you’re creating.
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Typically, the phases look something like:

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  • IDEA/CONCEPT
    The main ingredient is always the concept. Having a central vision helps with making decisions and keeping focused as a project unfolds.
  • RESEARCH
    Seeing what’s already out there, and being done well. Just be careful not to compare your work to others…that’s a slippery slope.
  • SYNTHESIS
    Combining elements and ideas into something new, working towards the initial concept.
  • ITERATING TO REFINE
    Taking feedback or observations and applying them to the project to make the final product or next version better.

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The whole thing is fairly loose, and doesn’t always happen in that order. That’s part of why I love creative work…it keeps you on your toes.

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CYMATA
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Is there anyone specific that inspires you?

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So many people inspire me, and lots of them aren’t even artists, but I’ll try to keep this short.

  • Probably my favorite visual artist is Justin Maller. I’ve been following his work for years, and he never fails to make me feel like a beginner all over again.
  • Joshua Davis and Matt Pearson have both done a great job of practically applying generative art, and doing it well.
  • Daito Manabe is inspiring because he’s a tinkerer like me, and his Nike Music Shoe project is still one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

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Is there anyone specific that you would like to work with in the future?

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Anyone who has the imagination and motivation to make ideas happen. We’re working on opening up Art Not Ads to collaboration by detailing our process on the new blog, and offering our code on github for anyone what wants to play with it.

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In the future, we plan to organize creative meetups focused on constructive criticism and communication with like-minded people, which we crave but can be hard to come by in paid work. Combined, we hope those initiatives will help us build a community of passionate creators who are as excited as we are about creating positive change.

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Cymata will experiment with turning your music into a 3D printable sculpture today at Maker Faire, so come on by and check them out!

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