Episode 0.0.2: Sam Aaron and Overtone at Clojure Conj 2011Posted: November 18, 2011
Recorded November 12th, 2011, first in a series of conversations from Clojure Conj 2011.
I had the great pleasure of hanging out with Sam Aaron both before and after his presentation at the Conj. In that presentation, he delivered a brief survey of the history and state of affairs in computer music and an overview of Overtone — an “open source audio environment” built with Clojure — with live, interactive musical performances interspersed throughout to demonstrate some of its capabilities.
This was the last talk of the Conj, and Sam and I recorded this very shortly afterwards. I don’t know if the organizers were being purposeful about it, but that positioning was brilliant: I (and, I suspect, many others) were so completely blown away by what Sam and the rest of the Overtone team had achieved and by his palpable, absolutely riveting delivery and performance, that I’m not sure the conference could have carried on effectively had he been scheduled midway through. The reaction of the crowd was jubilant throughout, helping Sam off the stage with a rousing standing ovation of the sort that you hear more often in concert halls and theatres and ballparks than at technical conferences.
For my part, I was stunned. Totally beyond the cerebral appreciation for the application of Clojure and its powers of abstraction to a domain like music (something that many programmers likely view as “untouchable” in various ways), I always love seeing someone so clearly consumed with passion for their craft. The sight is inspiring and humbling and I was on a high for the rest of the night.
So, if I sound more enthused than usual through the course of my conversation with Sam…that’s why.
We talked a bit about his explorations with producing music using Ruby, his path to helping to combine Clojure and SuperCollider into Overtone, the connections between programming, musicality, creativity, and fearlessness, and what he has in mind to help us all make some music, have some fun doing it, and help our friends do the same.
“Sam, you’re badass!”
— Rich Hickey, after Sam’s Overtone presentation
(Note: while we were recording, we had a number of people stumble into the room we were recording in, so there are some hard stops and odd audio transitions here and there each time we restarted.)
Discrete topics mentioned:
- The monome, which Sam used to control Overtone on stage
- Max Matthews
- Other tools
- ugen (unit generator)
- Jeff Rose, Sam’s primary co-conspirator (along with a pile of other contributors listed on the Overtone site)
- Dan Stowell
- “You can trade your programming skills in for musicality.” — Sam Aaron (a hypothesis)
- overtone.music.pitch — a formalization of music theory, codified into Clojure
- Cambridge University
- Garry Kasparov: “Weak human + machine + better process was superior to a strong computer alone and, more remarkably, superior to a strong human + machine + inferior process.”
- freesound— Creative Commons-licensed samples
- to be integrated with a forthcoming dedicated asset management system for Overtone
- Overtone mailing list
Source code for this episode’s bumpers, produced by Sam Aaron in Overtone:
- “Wubdub” intro, produced entirely programmatically
- “Satie” finale, played by Sam using the Monome device