~Proceedings ICMCISMCI2014 14-20 September 2014, Athens, Greece
Berlin University of
the Arts, Berlin
t.bovermann @ udk-berlin.de
Alberto de Campo
Berlin University of
the Arts, Berlin
Sonic Arts Research
The Modality Project explores the idea of highly modal
performance instruments i.e., setups where a small set of
controllers can be used to play a wide variety of sound processes by changing control constellations on the fly.
The Modality Toolkit is a SuperCollider library which
simplifies the creation of such instruments. To this end,
a common code interface, MKtl, is used to connect controllers from various sources and protocols. Currently, HID
and MIDI are supported; GUI-based interfaces can be created on the fly from interface descriptions. Detailed use
cases demonstrate the concepts of working with modality
practically in code.
This paper gives an overview on the concept of modality
as seen by a group of sound artists and researchers, and describes one interdisciplinary approach to creating a toolkit
written for and by electronic musicians.
The Modality project 1 was initiated by Jeff Carey and Bjrnar
Habbestad, who, after several years of collaboration, realised that they, despite playing completely different setups, both had the need to easily switch between functionalities within performance. While both had custom implementations of this behaviour, it appeared to be not flexible
enough. Especially extending their setup felt cumbersome,
and original ideas got lost over the hassle of implementation of mapping rules.
Out of these observations arose the idea to gather a group
of experts in sound and music computing (and specifically
from the SuperCollider community) which eventually formed
the ModalityTeam. Starting with five people at the first
meeting, more people became involved. The group currently consists of 12 members.
The intention of this paper is two-fold: Firstly, after an
introduction on the concept of modality and related work
(Section 2), it gives insight on work in an interdisciplinary
team of loose collaboration. It is driven mostly by a shared
interest in, on the one hand, sound, music, and performance practice, and on the other hand software design and
Copyright: 2014 Marije Baalman et al. This is an open-access article distributed
under the terms of the u nrd s, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided
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development (Section 3). Secondly, it reports on the outcomes in both conceptual and concrete implementation details (Section 5 to 6). The paper concludes with a reflection
on the work done over the course of the last 5 years.
Figure 1. Impressions of the Modality meeting (left),
workshop (center), and concert (right) 2014 at STEIM,
2. THE MODALITY WAY
The Modality project is dedicated to modal interaction with
synthesis processes for physical control in performance and
musical practice. The name Modality arose from the idea
to investigate the creation and extensive use of modal interfaces. One particular strength of such modal interfaces
is that they allow fast changes and therefore a broader variety for sonic discovery. This can be of benefit when, for
example, improvising with musicians playing acoustic instruments. Out of this arouse the question on how HCI
interfaces can be conceptualised and with a small set of
physical controls assigned to a relatively large function set.
We contend that integration of such on-the-fly remapping
features helps to create flexible instruments that are powerful yet interesting and therefore rewarding to play and
The primary product of the Modality project is the Modality Toolkit, a software library that facilitates (a) access to
hardware and software controllers, (b) flexible routing of
control messages to generative processes, and (c) recording, filtering and further processing of controller signals.
The ModalityTeam, an international and transdisciplinary
group of people that see themselves as users and developers for SC meets at regular intervals to work on the library,
discuss issues around music making, and perform in selforganised concerts.
Modality, however, can also be understood as a social
descriptor for the ModalityTeam. The fact that a number
of programmers and artists from different (music)cultures
and nationalitirecoges meet up on a more or less regular basis does not necessarily imply that they share the same understanding, let alone opinion. It turned out that themes as
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