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Musical Flocking Box

What will music sound like if you let nature take over?

There has been plenty of interest of late to simulate natural systems via mathematical and programming algorithms. Bird flocking algorithms in particular have began to pop up in some very innovative digital visual works.


Real birds and a still from "Swarm" by Dan Shiffman, an award winning interactive video installation that utilizes swarming algorithms to paint the camera input to the screen..

The aim of this Musical Flocking Box was to take the concept to the realm of music generation. The most interesting and pleasing aspect of these simulations is, of course, how they move within the boundaries of their space. This property was turned into a sound system by gridding out a 3D space and having each discreet area correspond to a particular sound or set of sounds.

As the birds travel throughout the enclosed 3D space, a pleasant musical soundtrack plays back. Whenever the flock travels to a new portion of the space, the area's border is highlighted and the music hints to that fact, softly playing back a portion of the upcoming chord. If the birds stick around in that area just long enough, the area's corresponding musical loop is played back in the main soundtrack.

With Dan Shiffman's assistance, Shiffman's C implementation of the flocking behavior (based on Craig Reynold's “Boids” model) was ported over to Shockwave 3D. The modeling was done in Discreet Plasma, and all the sounds were mixed and recorded into a Power Macintosh G3 running Digital Performer.

Most emergent musical systems are interesting conceptually and technically but often lack any sort of musical feeling, incoherently sounding like a random combination of notes. In this case, the music was recorded and laid out within the 3D space with a ear to follow the now familiar rules of harmony so that the listening experience is pleasing and musically fulfilling. This idea of using emergent systems not to create music but to create a unique musical experience out of a predefined and thoughtfully composed work of music is one of my aims with my work.

Thanks to Daniel Shiffman and James Tu.

Click here to view and listen to the work.(Shockwave Plugin required)

e-mail me at edtang at antiexperience.com

All Materials Copyright © 2004 Edward Tang. All materials on this site including interactive programs, images, videos, and text are the property of Edward Tang and is protected by copyright and are not to be reproduced without permission. All Rights Reserved.