The ExitEvent team spent four days capturing all the cool stuff going on in downtown Durham for Moogfest. Below is our recap of day three, but be sure to check out highlights from days one, two and four.
Thanks for following along!
(photo above, credit to Moogfest)
Recap: In Conversation with Flying Lotus
By Jon Mareane
“Uh, who’s on acid right now?”
Hannibal Buress, comedian and the night’s moderator, started off with a question that a non-negligible portion of the audience responded to in the affirmative.
It was a fitting introduction to the panel, one of the most meandering, bizarre and yet best attended talks of the festival.
Buress played host to the critically acclaimed and cult-favorite multi-genre experimental electronic artist Steven Ellison, better known as Flying Lotus or FlyLo, who arrived to the Carolina Theatre an hour after his initially scheduled time slot.
The duo, joined by Buress’ DJ Tony Trimm, set off into a conversation covering the merits of micro-dosing, handling the coffee shits while trying to write for the Emmy-winning 30 Rock and the shortcomings of Moog synthesizers.
The talk, recorded for Buress’ “Handsome Rambler” podcast, was interrupted by strange MeUndies plugs and outbursts of impromptu theremin and synthesizer music.
While it seems the talk was aimed at superfans and podcast listeners as opposed to Moogfest attendees, Flying Lotus was a presence on the stage, with or without the accompaniment of his synthesizer.
Recap: Pub Talk: Arrival of the Robot Car
By Jon Mareane
Duke Robotics’ Dr. Michael Clamann began this session with a short lesson on the six levels of automated vehicles, ranging from level zero with no computer controls whatsoever, to level three where humans are only needed in catastrophic circumstances to full-on hands-off vehicles with no steering wheel, pedals or form of driver input.
The senior research scientist and lead editor of robotics and AI at SciPol hoped to “clear the air” on autonomous vehicles with his talk, explaining that most people should be able to agree that autonomous vehicles are good. They’ll be more energy efficient, help lower traffic congestion and create a safer road system.
But while all this sounds great, he notes that the field is working on tackling a “small group of issues”—technical, infrastructural and moral‚that are holding us back from a driverless society.
Technological issues, based on Clamann’s explanations, seem the most troublesome of the bunch.
Certain systems like LiDAR—essentially radar that uses laser pulses instead of sonic ones—have a hard technical limit in rainy or snowy conditions; Clamann had set up a LiDar system facing the audience where we were able to see how raising or lowering our hands in front of it affected the system.
Normally used to detect fine details on cars, pedestrians and other objects, onboard camera and LiDAR systems are crippled by obstructions like rain and snow that completely block out these lasers.
Novel situations are another tecnological factor holding these systems back; driverless cars make decisions grounded in experience. Machine learning relies on learning by example in order to tackle obstacles—they don’t have instincts like we do. That means these computers can only make appropriate decisions when they’ve faced similar problems before.
Infrastructural issues are likely the most expensive roadblock, with potential solutions costing “billions”. This total includes things like autonomous vehicle-only lanes, or specialized road markings or other “stimuli” that could guide driverless cars along.
The most hotly debated, albeit “edge-case” scenario, is that of catastrophe.
In crisis situations, who does the car protect? What does a vehicle’s moral compass look like?
Researchers are working on this problem, and some organizations are crowd-funding the “correct” answers to these split second moral decisions. MIT has set up a game here where players are faced with a lose-lose traffic situation, and they input what they think is the lesser evil. Do you save your family from a head-on crash by running over a group of small children, or save the kids and sacrifice your family?
Clamann, however, has an interesting idea about these scenarios: “This almost never happens.”
He believes that “If your car is so out of control”, then you’ve clearly done something wrong. Driverless cars shouldn’t find themselves in these lose-lose scenarios, whether or not human drivers are on the road alongside an autonomous vehicle.
The talk, which was almost too cogent and well-planned for Moogfest, was one of the highlights thus far.
Recap: How the Immortality Bus Changed Transhumanism Forever
By Shannon Cuthrell
Amid the flood of near-constant news updates, live coverage and never-ending “new scoop” cover stories about the two 2016 presidential frontrunners, it was easy for the average media consumer to miss all the interesting third party candidates lower on the ticket than say the libertarian and green party candidates. (Of course, there’s always the exception of Vermin Supreme, who never fails to raise voters’ eyebrows nationwide, campaigning about zombie apocalypse awareness with a boot on his head and a toothbrush in hand.)
But still embedded in the news cycle were stories of reporter- and columnist-turned-politician Zoltan Istvan, who used his passion for philosophy and science to form an ideology loyal to the core beliefs of transhumanism—that innovations and technologies should be applied to the betterment of mankind.
Seeing no existing partisan system that would accurately label his worldview, Istvan created his own, the Transhumanist Party, and announced his ticket in the 2016 presidential election.
His policies aligned with the idea that health crises like organ failure and heart attacks wouldn’t have to happen if the government took time to research, understand and fund efforts toward life extension. Subsidies would be used to develop artificial hearts to be accessible by hospitals or to make robotic technology available as a treatment practice or to induce longevity.
Istvan’s party was all about “insisting that the government puts money into health, not just band-aid fixes,” he explained. “We shouldn’t be limiting ourselves to the fragility of the human body.”
So after his policies and platform were established, Istvan took on a campaign strategy that vastly contradicted that of his opponents. He bought a vintage bus, painted it light brown and added some wooden boards, all to create a giant coffin on wheels that he dubbed “The Immortality Bus.”
Istvan, his campaign team, and a few journalists from Vox and The Telegraph hopped aboard and rode the highways across the U.S. to spread the word about pushing science and technology into the forefront of Americans’ lives, especially when it comes to their health.
Soon enough, Istvan’s campaign earned national media and attention. He landed a segment on the controversial right-wing YouTube platform The Alex Jones Channel, and also had a debate with 2016 “Cyber Party” candidate John McAfee in Charlotte.
He and his team spread the message of his tour on social media, pushing out memes that read slogans like “A normal bus is too mainstream, we ride in a coffin bus.” He also held a campaign event on the virtual world, Second Life.
The four-month-long tour concluded in Washington D.C., where Istvan intended to post his “Transhumanist Bill of Rights,” to the Capitol Building in a historical reference to Martin Luther.
Of course, Capitol security didn’t take too kindly to his gesture. A senior guard eventually gave in and allowed him to place it there for the cameras, but the wind soon swept it off.
“For a second there, the job was done,” he chuckled.
Bystanders in Washington thought Istvan and his team were a religious cult but Istvan quickly denied that assumption, and went on to clarify: “No, no, no…We’re a science cult!”
I was incredibly compelled by this story, and wished I’d happened upon it sooner as it was unfolding in real time.
As he told of his experiences, Istvan’s tone reflected a level of optimism and general kindheartedness; a tone that separates itself from traditional candidate-to-voter communication tactics usually riddled with generic talking points and meaningless buzzwords.
And I think Istvan’s optimism today points back to his original decision to run for president under his own party and to launch a non-traditional campaign strategy in the first place.
Though he didn’t win enough votes to establish himself as a mainstream candidate, Istvan had hell of a good time campaigning on his own terms—introducing himself (and his coffin) to folks around the country who were unfamiliar with Transhumanism, all while sending (and exercising) a message that technology and futurism can prolong and enhance the quality of life and human existence.
Recap: Keynote: Exploration with the Large Hadron Collider
By Jon Mareane
Dr. Kate Shaw and Steven Goldfarb led a Moogfest audience through a blistering recap of modern imaging, the importance of particle physics research, and the social impacts of CERN and its brand of scientific collaboration.
Goldfarb, a physicist on the ATLAS Project at CERN, began the presentation with an impossibly compressed overview of microscopy, telescopic imaging and the origins of particle physics.
Much as cavemen broke rocks and sticks and fruits to see what’s inside them, the Large Hadron Collider is smashing together particles to see what they contain, albeit with greater energy than an early human cracking open a coconut.
CERN’s research, most notably its discovery of the Higgs-Boson (or God) Particle, has garnered over a billion views according to Goldfarb.
Shaw’s presentation primarily focused on the human aspects of CERN.
While her background is in particle physics, one of her pet projects has been Physics Without Frontiers. PWF is a project from the International Center for Particle Physics. Program staffers like Dr. Shaw travel to isolated or developing parts of the world to work with young post-college physicists to introduce them to the world of science beyond places like the Gaza Strip.
The program aims to educate and inspire students through Masterclasses, and help with the admission process of working at CERN or PhD/Master’s programs in physics.
They also offer programming at some universities in places like Tunisia or Nepal to help students get access to high-level instruction in particle physics.
Aside from discoveries like the Higgs-Boson, what the two both seemed mutually excited about was the idea of “science of diplomacy”. CERN employs thousands of physicists from hundreds of different countries and cultures, and these different viewpoints and ways of thinking and living are one of the greatest assets for CERN, according to Dr. Goldfarb.
Other highlights include a deluge of dad-jokes from Goldfarb, an enlightening (but befuddling) discussion of dark matter or dark energy, and a frank admission that we don’t really know what gravity is.
While this year’s keynote series has lacked the nebulous post-modern, post-human moonshot attitude of last year’s keynote discussion by Martine Rothblatt, the two physicists made up for their lack of heady ideation with an entertaining and grounded discussion of groundbreaking science.
Recap: Joyful Noise of STEAM
By Kirsten Barber
— ExitEvent (@exitevent) May 20, 2017
If DJ Lance (Robertson) Rock’s infamous orange jumpsuit and accompanying orange fluffy hat weren’t enough to grab your attention, the myriad of high-tech audio sounds he and the rest of the crew at the Joyful Noise of STEAM concert on the American Tobacco Campus water tower stage would. Saturday’s clear sky was perfect for the family-friendly event that featured widely known actors, comedians and musicians. DJ Lance Rock of the Nick Jr. Show Yo Gabba Gabba returned to Moogfest this year to emcee the show.
Families laid out blankets, and children soaked their feet in the water tower’s river as they listened to creative—and sometimes odd—sound bites from the performers.
Michael Winslow was first up on the stage. The creator of Noise-A-Tivity lived up to his reputation of creating sounds to alter perceptions by crafting noises using his mouth and a synthesizer that ranged from beatboxing to a very accurate Pikachu impression. After creating a collection of beats and sound bites, Winslow invited audience members to the stage to share their sounds—which he added his own sound variations to. He concluded his time on the stage by wishing the audience well and shouting, “continue to always make noises.”
Next up was McQueen Adams, an impressionist, comedian and musician most known for his show San Pedro. With the help of his soundboard, Adams brought the voices of characters like Spongebob Squarepants, Scooby Doo and Mickey Mouse to life, while also creating audio stories involving characters from the movies Star Wars and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The highlight of his act was adding the Hokey Pokey lyrics to the rhythms of popular songs.
DJ Lance Rock joined Nanny Cantaloupe after Adams’ set concluded to create the electronic ABC’s with the audience. The pair added sounds and synthesized music to every letter, like dog barks for the letter “D;” an echoed “yay!” for the letter “K”, which stood for kids; and rain sounds for the letter “U,” which was for umbrella. They also educated the audience about different types of instruments, one of them being a tape band.
Modular on the Spot (Eric Cheslak and Bana Haffar), an LA based synth performance group, finished off the show with a round of sounds they called “Kid’s Modular Science.” The pair created unique rhythms, paired with an educational performance that they hoped would “get people up and dance.”
Recap: Music and Making Technology Demo
By Kirsten Barber
— ExitEvent (@exitevent) May 21, 2017
Tables in The Iron Yard’s workspace were covered with gadgets and machinery in the hands-on activity space open for families to experiment with. In partnership with NCSU Libraries, stations were set up with technology that they said showcased the “Library of the Future.”
Participants watched as the event’s facilitators showed them the various capabilities of 3D printers, circuit technology, creative robotics and synthesizers.
Popular stations included a musical fruit and veggie station that assigned different notes to the foods charged by a copper wire, a drawing machine that created a geometric image from an uploaded vector file and the Little Bits Circuits in Seconds station that allowed participants to create motorcycle rumbles to high pitched ringing sounds by piecing together different circuit parts.
Recap: Research at Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology (GTCMT)
By Kirsten Barber
The research shared by the group of professors and graduate students from Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology is a combination of music, technology and a bit of mad science. This team of researchers studies the future of music and experiment with new ways artists can create sound.
Focal points of the team’s research epitomizes the themes of Moogfest, which includes robotics and transhumanism, sound engineering, data sonification, neuroscience of the creative process and teaching computer science through an appreciation of music.
Gil Weinberg presented demos of GTCMT’s inspiring Shimon, the four-handed marimba playing robot that not only plays notes that it is given, but can accompany another human musician by responding to pacing, changing tempos and even social cues—Shimon’s head will nod to a beat and will follow a conductor’s baton. Weinberg says this gives the robot character, which can allow it to interact positively with other musicians and actually immerse itself into a group.
Jason Freeman and Alexander Lerch focused on their research on musical education. Freeman’s Earsketch program works to teach kids to learn computer science through musical production and coding. Children are taught to use popular coding programs and are then challenged to create music through writing code. Currently 30 high schools in Georgia with participants spanning through K-12 are participating. Freeman was enthusiastic about the amount of female participants that had shown interest during the program and were continually engaged after they graduated. Lerch’s Music Informatics group focuses on the engineering behind music by examining drum transcription, automatic declipping, chord recognition and more.
Takahiko Tsuchiya did a live data sonification demo for the audience, allowing us to visualize a collection of data through sound. He pulled Durham’s humidity records to use as the test data. As he wrote and manipulated the code, the data produced various sound bites—some pleasing, some not. It was interesting to see how a simple set of data could be turned to sound waves and to see those waves play out on a screen in front of us.
Mike Winters concluded the session with a discussion on the neuroscience of music and how the brain responds differently during the creative process, musical composition and when listening to music. He explained that the brain’s motor area is activated in the creative process, which is not where most people would expect. Knowing which parts of the brain activate at different times of the musical process is important, especially in their development of the third-arm robotic hand, which is controlled by the wearer’s head.
Recap: Harnessing Thought
By Jon Mareane
— ExitEvent (@exitevent) May 20, 2017
Artist and musician Chris Ianuzzi’s workshop “Harnessing Thought” lived up to the strangeness of the tagged theme, “techno-shamanism”.
With no introductions and no greetings, Ianuzzi invited audience members to the stage to try on his B1 Brain Interface device, which records and transmits brain waves and neural activity into a giant, mad-scientist-esque synthesizer and soundboard. The resulting audio-visual data was then blasted through the loud speaker and projected onto the screen behind the crowd that had lined up to visualize and hear their minds thinking.
The mad-scientist aesthetic continued into conversation with Ianuzzi.
When asked what in particular the earlobe clip did on the headset, Ianuzzi was just about as confused as the rest of us.
“Uh, I don’t really know. It’s all part of the brain scanner. I just know it’s better with it on.”
Ianuzzi was perplexed and excited as the scanner gurgled and spat and whispered and popped out noise, different with each participant to put on the headgear.
“I haven’t heard anything like this”, he had to say after a few particularly strange audience-created soundscapes.
When asked whether he had done any psuedo-scientific testing, i.e. observing output before and after stressful or frightening activities, he said it was something he was looking into.
It seems the utilization and understanding of interfacing brain activity and musical instruments is still in its embryonic stage, but Ianuzzi is certainly excited about it.
— ExitEvent (@exitevent) May 20, 2017
Recap: Open Music Initiative
By Jon Mareane
IDEO Executive Design Director and Berkley ICE Advisor Michael Hendrix is one of the founders of the Open Music Initiative, a collective with the goal of “creating an open-source protocol for the uniform identification of music rights holders and creators”.
The group based, out of Berklee College of Music’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship, consists of a coalition of 193 members including companies like Spotify, Viacom, Youtube, and Warner Music group, and a working group with members like MIT Media Lab and IDEO. While membership is free, interested parties must agree to keep with a certain set of values set out by OMI.
While the non-profit works year round on its mission to navigate and simplify the digital music copyright ecosystem, most of the work is done in spurts with students from institutions like Harvard doing week-long hackathon-esque sessions to brainstorm ideas and identify use cases.
The main highlight from the most recent summer session included projects like OnRecord, which conceptualized the idea of placing hidden and inaudible frequencies in audio tracks to act as a sort of “tag” or fingerprint which can help with artist identification and copyright claims. Programs could sort through databases of songs, identify the chosen frequency, group the tracks including the frequency and create a playlist of a specific artist or songs to which they contribute.
While the project is still in its infancy, the quality of concepts like OnRecord hint that music and tech enthusiasts should be on the lookout for interesting things from Open Music Initiative in the future.