One for the archives by Ernie Gerardo

Since my thesis has been completed (got that masters!), this documentation of the project is now archival.

The development of Better With You shall continue on, but can be found alongside my other thoughts and musings on the main blog page.

Thanks for tuning in here, and be on the lookout, in addition to this, I also have my work with Illegal Disco and Strings For Truth, as well as some cool robotics videos I'm making of the NYU K-12 STEM Graduate Fellows program.

Be good.

- Ernie

Week 13, THANXGIVINGZZZZ!!!1! by Ernie Gerardo

The thing is mostly made. The project, that is. All that's left to do is finish up the flourish (that is, get individual components to light up according to what key is pressed.

The other thing will be made tomorrow. That is, our turkey dinner.

As of now, I have confirmed that Kevin Irlen will be my external advisor, so all there is to do on that front is give him a copy of my paper next week and then figure out the best day for my defense.

As such, my focus has turned to writing. Sriya and I have agreed to an editing exchange, which makes her the third person to read my paper and the second to edit.

Here's the paper for now. By next week, it'll be completely done, but there's nothing wrong with showing your bones.

Enjoy the holiday. I believe this is what we call the home stretch.

Thesis progress roundup, Week 12 by Ernie Gerardo

This was a bit of a big week, as I'm inching toward a presentable project gold for the project, starting with the physical build.

After user feedback regarding the nature of my samples and the complexity of the compositions they generate, I've decided to keep the number of instruments at six and not worry about writing complex generation algorithms for this iteration of the project. In the event that a version is commissioned for such functionality, I do have another patch that I'm creating for my Max class, but when a consortium of music technologists and educators tell you that the samples make it enjoyable, I'm not about to get terribly contrary.

In other words, "build the thing" is now in its polishing stages, which means I can focus more attention toward finishing the paper.

For more about the most recent test of the project, including an awesome video of it in action, click here.

I once again met with my advisor, where we started to form a plan of attack vis-a-vis my external advisor, some other areas of focus and research on music technology/psychology, and what the potential life is for this thing after the thesis defense. Check it out.

Finally, I've spent the week adding bits and bobs to the paper, mainly focusing on the development of play research, since music is pretty robust and touch is getting more and more complex as I write it. My advisor and accountability partner have both had the opportunity to read and edit the paper, so now I'm about to hire a third reader to look at it with objective eyes. The latest version is right here.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention that I entered this installation into the Currents festival in New Mexico, so hopefully, the American Southwest will get to try this thing out.

I should really get on reserving a turkey, huh?

Arts Media Maker Hack by Ernie Gerardo

I must say, it feels quite good to get a big component of the physical work done on this project, and last Saturday, I was able to construct individual independent touch pad prototypes and test them at Steinhardt's Arts Media Maker Hack.

Here's what it currently looks like:

...and because I know you're all suckers for video, here's what it looks like in action.

The notable design difference between here and the final design is that the ground plate is currently not fixed, which allowed users to walk around the piece and experiment with the sounds. It's a cool little affordance, though I'm on the fence about whether or not I want that to be a part of the final design. Then again, it's been suggested more than once that multiple versions of this can be built to suit the needs of the specific user group.

One other contradictory finding compared to past user tests was the idea that the required touching mechanic would be a turn-off for some people. Once I explained how the piece was to be used to the panel, people were all too eager to touch each other to make the thing work, as seen in the video. maybe the audience for this isn't as single-focused as I thought? I'm entering this installation in multiple festivals around the country, and perhaps an adult audience isn't as apprehensive about the human contact aspect of the work.

I also met Steinhardt's Dr. John Gilbert, who gave me some great feedback and suggested that I submit this for the IMPACT Conference for 2016.

Three hours and a Maoz falafel later, I packed it up, but not without getting some valuable advice from professionals in the field, so I really couldn't have asked for a better result.

Third advisor meeting by Ernie Gerardo

Once again, Ethan and I met at the Leslie eLab, where I wore a tasteful turtleneck sweater.

This was a quick one, where we discussed commercial potential for my project, the idea of replicating it in multiple venues, and of course, who my external advisor would be. But we shall get more into that once I confirm it.

I also had the privilege of meeting Kevin Irlen, a software developer and musician who has worked in music education and could give me some great insight into what kids react to.

Although I intended the meeting to only be about thirty minutes since I had an assignment due that evening, we ended up spending an hour talking where this thing can live.

Next up, I will confirm and identify the external advisor. Just a week until Thanksgiving! Man, I am down to get my turkey on.

Thesis Progress, week 11 by Ernie Gerardo

To say I've had a busy week may be an understatement. The catch is, it was busy with outside work. Ah, life. The consequence to this is that the week was a little slow on the development front. But the following got done:

First off, I got to show Better With You at the MAGNET meetup on Monday, which gave me the opportunity to test the work with a few undergrads.  Here's a short video filmed by my friend LaJuné.

I also ever-so-slightly adjusted the Max patch for this after bringing it to my programming professor, who suggested that I simplify the patch to avoid confusing different elements of the patch.

At this point, there are now six instruments with five sample loops each, giving users 7,776 possible combinations of sounds. According to feedback from my older users (that is, undergrads and my fellow grad students), that's probably enough. Although one comment from a classmate suggested that without some sort of rhythmic syncing, it all gets a little cacophonous,  for the most part, people are just having fun experimenting, which is my goal.

Finally, I took a step back from my paper and revised my outline.  It's still a work in progress, but it contains much more detail.

Since we're practicing the second drafts of our presentations, here are my current slides.

I'm also presenting this project in my music experience design class, so I'm including the slides from that here.

While I'm waiting for the schools I contacted last week to get back to me about conducting a second user test with kids, I've been able to test this thing out with undergrads, which at least gives me some great feedback.

Finally, I caught up with Donovan after two weeks of radio silence. The guy is hard at work on his project, and is mostly on his own since he lacks an advisor that specializes in his area of study. Having read his paper and seen the latest iterations of his work, I can say with confidence that he is making progress.

Progeso dy Proyecto, semana 10 by Ernie Gerardo

So check this out...

That's a picture of me activating the LEDs on my project.  But if that doesn't impress you, let's see if video does the trick.

So now I've got at least one light working.  I have to determine if I can get multiple strips up and working, or if I have to figure out another way to express visual feedback to users with these lights.  Oh Ellie Goulding, the lights won't stop me.  With lights in place, I can user test once more.

If you haven't noticed, I upgraded the wires to insulated ones to avoid the risk of crosstalk and accidentally triggering instruments when their exposed wires touch the ground wire.

Just for fun, I also added a sixth instrument (pads), and fifth options for each instrument.  In this picture of the programming, you'll also see the light trigger that Luke helped me build.

This has been a big "make the thing" week for me, but I still managed to make some progress on the paper as well.  So here's the links as always...




...and that's all she wrote for this week.  Hey, remember when I was at the beach last week?  I do!



Thesis Progress Roundup, week 9 by Ernie Gerardo

Sorry I can't be in class today, guys, I'm in Miami.  But I want you to know that I'm still hacking away at this thesis!

I swear I was actually typing something.

I swear I was actually typing something.

Still, I was able to make a little bit of progress this let's talk about that!

First off, I ordered some LEDs to play around with.  I went with a small amount at the moment, so that when I can verify that what I want to do can be done on the scale I want to do it at, I can expand the chain of love.  Visual feedback, HO!  I also got contact information for the kids from my first user test thanks to DeAngela, so that'll give me some user testing to do all throughout November.

The next thing I did was order this book.  After talking to my advisor last week, I looked at a lot of Turino's stuff, and his emphasis on research as regards participatory musical cultures speaks very much to the experience I want to create for my users.

While in the fabulous Wynwood Arts District, I came across this gem...

That's Play-In, and it's an indoor playground that specializes in encouraging kids to explore and experiment.  While I was only able to stop in for a quick chat with the people running it, I got some insight into the importance of music education and tactile feedback to childhood development.  In other words, it's a great case for the whole "play is good for kids" thing.  Perhaps this might also help Sandra in her thesis, but it was a happy little accident on a day when I admittedly planned to not do any homework.

As for deliverables, here's the latest draft of my paper.  Notice that it's not too different?

All the cool kids want to read my abstract and conclusion!

Finally, here are my thesis defense slides.

One more day left on this vacation, and it feels weird to not be in the ocean or a pool.

Thesis Progress Roundup, week 8 by Ernie Gerardo

So we'll get into the linkstorm in a second, but first, let me discuss the progress I've made this week.

Once upon a time, my homegirl Diana told me this...


If you're having trouble reading that, it says that form follows function.  Well now that I've figured out function nine times over, I'm turning my attention to form, namely, materials and execution.  To that end, I'm ordering the LEDs for visual feedback, as per the suggestion of literally everyone who has tested this.  Since I don't have them on hand, I had to modify the guts of my project...

So that when in presentation mode, I can give feedback.  I ultimately don't want a screen to be the provider of feedback, but until such time that I can affix some pulsing LEDs to the installation, this does the job just fine.

In terms of writing and research, as always, look here for my latest drafts of body and intro.

I'm working on my mock thesis defense slides, but you can click here to view them.

In other news, I met with my advisor on Friday.  If you haven't already, pop over here to check it out.

Finally, I met with Donovan today (yesterday?) to discuss our progress.  The meeting was documented on this posting.

I won't be in class next week, so you'll just have to take a look at my writing from sunny Miami.  Try not to miss me too much, okay?

Accountability Time, USA by Ernie Gerardo

Since we both had our mid-semester progress meetings with DeAngela today, Donovan and I decided to just catch up on where we were at with our projects.  I won't get into my own views on my process in this posting since you'll most likely see it in this week's roundup, but here's the gist of what we talked about...

Donovan, doing his best Mileena from Mortal Kombat impression.

Donovan, doing his best Mileena from Mortal Kombat impression.

The biggest wins on his end included getting to talk to a real astronaut, who in turned put him in touch with other astronauts.  From there, he was able to determine that what astronauts really wanted during the long haul in space were pictures of the home world, which gives his virtual reality project a more practical measure.

Furthermore, he found a great book (it's in the picture, it's just really blurry) that specifically discusses the psychology of the space-bound.  It offers him some pretty great insight into the minds of those who spend months at a time in our final frontier, and explores what they may need for long-term space travel.

In my own discussion, I demoed some visual feedback from my Max patch.  Then we talked about Star Wars for like five minutes.  Productive meeting, and I'm glad he has some great new resources to use for his project.

Second Advisor Meeting by Ernie Gerardo

This week, I met with my advisor Ethan for the second time.  Well, in person, anyway.  We've been pretty consistently emailing on a weekly basis.

We talked for another solid 90 minutes, and he made a few suggestions as regarded the project itself...

  • Instead of a bunch of variable tempos, consider two or three "fast" or "slow" modes, which are basically half or double-time versions of each other, so that the rhythmic variation isn't so jarring.
  • Instead of a bunch of variable key signatures, establish a list of music modes (mixolydian, phrygian, etc) fixed on a key (I'm thinking C major), so that even with variations in major and minor, everything sounds like it could fit together, even if it's a little dissonant.
  • The bass should be the component that moves the most, which makes sense.

Once we got past those suggestions, we also discussed areas of research.  Ethan pointed me in the direction of ethnomusicologist Thomas Turino, who studied the social effects of music.  While in Western culture, we are typically consumers of music from a presentational (performed) or recorded context, Better With You is more reminiscent of a participatory musical experience, which goes back to most tribal traditions.

Looking at Dr. Turino's work definitely gives me a great angle from which to approach the social aspect of my piece.  Combined with David Linden's book Touch, I can make a good case for why people joining hands and making music is, you know...a good thing.

That's it for this one.  These meetings will become more consistent as we approach November, but for now, I have a lot to consider regarding the research portion of my paper.

Thesis Progress Roundup, week 7 by Ernie Gerardo

That's right, the roundup is back!  I have a 7AM call time at work tomorrow, so we're doing this early, yo!

This is my life.

This is my life.

Since I had sort of let the paper take a back seat to developing the beta of Better With You and getting it into testing, I figured I'd flip that this week, especially since I want to tweak the Max patch a little.  To see the latest version of the body and intro, look here.

I had my first user test last week!  To read about how it went and what I learned from it, click here.

Stay tuned next week, when I meet with my advisor again and discuss new books to look at and how to best engage my audience!

First user test by Ernie Gerardo

I believe that children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way.

Sing it, Whitney.

Children aren't just the future, they are also my target audience.  Imagine how thrilled I was to get a group of students from the Brooklyn Lab Charter School to come in and test my rough build of Better With You.

The age group was middle school-ranged (between 10 and 13), which is just about the target range.  After the kids had a blast exploring the interactions, I asked them two simple questions:

What did you like and not like about this thing?

If you had to change anything about it, what would it be?

The kids were very vocal about how they felt.  Here are, verbatim, some of their responses:

"Can I have one?"

"Do you sell them?"

"Is there an app for this?"

"How do you prevent it from electrocuting you?"

"I love everything!"

"I want one in my house."

A few key takeaways from this first test:

  • The piece needs to be physically flexible so kids of different heights can access the pads.  Perhaps I'll have to construct individual touch units that can be adjusted according to the user's height.
  • They were big on the concept of visual feedback, since the installation as it stands doesn't have a way of indicating that the interaction was successful except for the sound.  I'm now currently looking into LED strips to line the outside of touch pads, as well as potential use for the Arduino controller that's just sitting in my apartment.
  • I have to consider the possibility of making a version of this that I can sell, sort of a "make your own" kit.  However, since it relies on a piece of equipment that's already available in retail outlets, I think I'll have to talk to the maker of the Makey Makey about licensing the board to be included as part of the kit.  But that's a thought for the future depending on the success of the piece.

So that's it for now, but I'll have to reiterate, then test it again, so look out for version 5 (I think that's where we're at for now).

Thesis progress, week 6 by Ernie Gerardo

Last week, DeAngela said something along the lines of "If you're struggling, good.  It means you're on your way to that big breakthrough."  Meanwhile, Han Solo famously told Luke Skywalker, "Don't get cocky, kid."  Well, there was a bit of a breakthrough, and it looks something like this.

Unrefined as it may seem, that is a shot of the giant ground plate and some wires meant to be connected to the Makey Makey.  DeAngela also said that we should really be focused on building the thing ("the thing" varying from person to person but referring to whatever form the project takes).  For me, a lot of that was getting down the interaction first, then letting that inform the physical form the project would take.  As such, take a look at the brain of the beta.

This is essentially a more sophisticated version of the Scratch patch I wrote for the IDM show, now expanded to five sound modules.  Although it's not the generative composition patch I want to eventually build for this, it does provide some excellent sounds for the first user test I'm doing tomorrow (or this afternoon, depending on when you're reading this).  The fun part was either making the samples or playing with it once I had all five modules running.  Who am I kidding?  The fun part was the playing!

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do as much writing as I wanted.  While I was able to source some great research material and at least plant the seeds of my concepts (I should really update that outline), this is the part that feels a little more disjointed.  Still, it will be fun to present my work to a big group of my target audience, that is, kids aged 8 to 12.

Here is the link to the next draft of the body as it currently stands.  The first draft of the intro, specified for today, is included at the top of the document.

Keep your eyes posted for the next entry, where I give a quick rundown of my meeting with Donovan and then proceed to play with this thing with some kids for an hour.

Accountiblity Buddy Meetup, Week 5 by Ernie Gerardo

So my homeboy Donovan and I agreed to be accountability partners, and every Wednesday around 1 PM, we would get together on the campus of NYU Poly and talk about progress.  There's some back-patting, but we mostly focus on how what we did this week can be better.

My paper, linked in the post below, has been marked with his notes, upon which I can expand.  I have a lot of ideas that need to be fleshed out.  Donovan, on the other hand, has the opposite problem.  The guy writes big, impressive chunks of well-thought-out research, so the challenge is consolidating his ideas in a manner that allows him to communicate his points without losing track of the relevant data.  And given how big his ideas are, this is indeed a challenge.

I suppose next week I can add a selfie.

Thesis Progress, week 5 by Ernie Gerardo

Looks like we're hitting that there wall.  I've taken to heart DeAngela's advice to cut back on TV for a while, which means come holiday break, Ernie's doing a binge watch.

However slowly, progress was still made.  For instance, I figured out a Max patch that makes a series of virtual lights activate with specific key presses, which means I can make Max play nice with the Makey Makey.

That is a preliminary version of the Max version of the Scratch file I used to make Better With You work during the IDM show back in May.  Also working on sourcing kids for audience testing, but I want to make sure my minimum product at least has some version of the interaction working properly.

Other than that, all I have are the first draft of the body of my paper and a revised version of my comparative analysis.  Here they are.

The paper

The analysis

This isn't a round up this week, but that's because it's a little less fun.  Let's see what next week brings.

Thesis Progress Roundup, week 4 by Ernie Gerardo

After my initial meeting with my advisor, I realized that as long as I had some of the practical physical aspects figured out, I could mainly just worry about the interaction of the piece itself and let that dictate the form it takes.

To that end, I met with Adam November for lunch, and we had a long discussion about microcontrollers, conductive materials, and the general user experience of Better With You.  I came away from there with a lot of ideas.  I also finally started making a Max patch that reacts to the Makey Makey.

Dojo on West 4th Street is probably my new favorite Izakaya.

Dojo on West 4th Street is probably my new favorite Izakaya.

In addition to this meeting, I spent a lot of this week just cranking out the deliverables, so here they are:

Comparative Analysis - the fruit of a lot of research on interactive installation pieces.  I have some travel coming up, so perhaps I can find some more out on the road.

Unschedule/Time Spent - It changes every day!

Outline, draft 2 - It's kind of like writing a paper!

On a final note, one task for another class involved finding the target audience for a given product and addressing their pain points, gains, and needs.  I made a little presentation on it, which I'll share here.  This happens to represent my first round of user testing, which took place in May at the IDM show.

See y'all next week!

Comparative Analysis by Ernie Gerardo

Part of my talk with my advisor involved taking a look at various interactive musical installation pieces, see where they were located, who the audience was, and the types of interactions involved.  Here's the embedded version...

...and you can get the whole sheet here.

Outline, draft 2 by Ernie Gerardo

I like the concept of doing my outline, since it's basically a how-to guide for the paper.  Bearing this in mind, please take note of draft 2.

If your little eyes can't handle all this red-hot embedded action, please feel free to click here.

On another note, if you want to see my personal Kanban for this project, click here.