Physical Modeling for Musical Creation

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During the "Ambiant Creativity" and "Créativité Instrumentale" projects, a number of workshops were organized (see Teaching Events), including workshops dedicated to musical creation using physical modeling, with the GENESIS environment. Usually 3- to 5-day long, they were animated by employees and PhD students of ACROE and Laboratoire ICA, and by teachers and artists that were trained during past collaborations.

These workshops were open to students in Arts (coming from Art Schools or Music Conservatories), students in Sciences, and to any other person with a strong interest for sound synthesis and computer music. No specific artistic or scientific knowledge was required.

During the workshops, participants progress from the creation of basic instruments to the creation of composed instruments able to produce musical sequences. The understanding of physical principles comes through practice of GENESIS, which allows to discover how instruments work from experimenting in an adapted and ergonomical environment. Participants also have the opportunity to learn through the analysis of existing models, explained by their authors themselves.

GENESIS workshops usually consist of 5 phases:

  1. Preliminary talk about sound synthesis, physical modeling and interactive multisensory simulation of physical objects. This talk introduces the fundaments of the CORDIS-ANIMA language, then goes to the GENESIS environment, which allows to apply it to musical creation.
  2. First contact with GENESIS. Participants discover the user interface, the basic functions and create their first models, with the help of the teaching team.
  3. Modeling of simple sound structures. General explanations, presentation of examples, free practice.
  4. Advanced modeling for macro-temporal and macro-structural creation. Presentation of models illustrating the emerging principles, analysis of models used in musical pieces made with GENESIS.
  5. Micro-project. Participants are invited to create a short musical piece involving a complete creative process: initial goals statement, investigations, realization, finalization and presentation to the other participants.

During the phase where participants create sound material, they can discover by themselves the "natural" and "intuitive" aspects of the approach supported by physical modeling. Then, specific points are addressed during experimentations:

  • Mastering the meaning and values of physical parameters, especially concerning the temporal and spatial scaled of simulated phenomena. Notions such the position and velocity of an object, or the amplitude of a movement, are quickly and intuitively mastered when there is a direct correspondence between the virtual object and the scale of gestural and corporeal movements. They are much more difficult to apprehend when the scale of represented phenomena are further away from these references. Similarly, understanding the meaning of physical parameters such as inertia, elasticity and viscosity and their relation with the physical behavior of corresponding objects requires a significant amount of time.
  • Shifting from a mental representation of sounds based on the underlying concepts of classical sound synthesis (i.e. digital signal processing) methods to a representation based on causes of sounds.
  • Differentiating the local function of physical components from their contribution to the behavior of the whole network of interacting objects. There is a difficulty for many participants in apprehending instrumental musical systems in a holistic way, which is different from the analytical approach that prevails when the sound phenomena is the central concept.

Another aspect of these workshops is to show to participants that it is possible to work on the musical macro-structure with simulated physical systems. The "Micro-project" phase of the workshops is the occasion for participants to explore this principle, which usually gives birth to an abundance of ideas, radically different from usual operations such as copy/paste and looping. Moreover, even when a creative process is initially based on such "stereotypical" ideas, the result is generally acknowledged as interesting even if quite far away from what was expected at the beginning.

Thus, proposing to shift focus from the phenomena to their cause clearly seems to trigger new approaches to musical creation. In any case, GENESIS allows to address this question, to experiment it and to engage in a process of transformation.