The Nomadic Diaries of Onyx Ashanti (Parts I & 2)

During this whole phase of the trip out of Berlin and into the US, I had very little hard drive space for new footage.  I was very “precious” with the time I had to record with the new camera and as such, I don’t feel that I captured everything I wanted to.  besides that, I am now seeing that I need to create some camera mounts for my bike so I can get the truly cool stuff that happens while I am riding around.  I have plans in that regard and will report on them when I have a model to show/share.

Sitting in the bus on my way to Holland, I felt that stomach-dance of anticipation that I had missed for sooo long.  When being nomadic, there is a point at the beginning or even at some point during the adventure where you say to yourself, something to the effect of, “ well…here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into!”, preemptively. there was a bit of that.  but not much, surprisingly.  My inner dialog was very focused on “getting to the point” with “point” being significant steps on this iterative trajectory.  in other words, focusing on what’s next, leading to what’s next, next, and so on…in this case, Holland was home to two significant entities that I feel are crucial to the “nexts”…”nextsus?”(…hmmm, nextsus didn’t make any sense but I wanted to try it on anyway. )

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in the summer of last year, I was at Betahaus in Berlin, having a coffee and doing a bit of geek watching, when I was approached by a man named Keez Duyves.  he seemed to have a similar “vibrating-while-not-moving” energy to my own and we began chatting about a variety of topics relating to technology and berlin and our place in this “thing”.  he then proceeded to show me some of the work he does in virtual reality.  holy shit, it was amazing!  rather than approaching the concept from a game engine-“walk around and shoot things” perspective, he was creating what could only be described as “sculpture”, there.  and his work had many many dimensions, some involving motion capturing the input of entire theaters full of people, performance art overlays, total immersive constructs that made me begin to see the occulus rift as a necessary way to interface with data (if Facebook doesn’t fuck it up, but I digress on that point for now…).  we just happened to be playing at the same event in Wedding some time past this meeting and I got the chance to experience it myself and was completely blown away so when he graciously offered to house me, “if you ever decided to come to Amsterdam”, I made note of said offer, in INK, rather than my usually metaphorical pencil scribbling’s.

around the same time and for most of last year, I was conceptualizing ways of separating the expression of sound from the expression of data so I could experiment with how they were to be reassembled.  I find it criminal that venues and police should have the right to dictate whether or not music can be performed and/or shared, based on outdated propagation modalities, i.e.. speakers transmitting sound through the air.  I’ve felt that this was inefficient for quite some time.  I investigated various ways of transmitting sound over the years, going so far as to build up a 15 headphone listening station on the street in san Francisco back in the 90’s.  it worked…kinda.  It weighed less than a speaker system but it was too soon for such a concept at that time and once the novelty wore off, I went back to speakers.

now though, everyone carries some sort of network connected sonic prosthesis in the form of media players and smart devices.  so I set out to build a REALTIME media streaming system.  I capitalize real-time because I soon discovered that real-time in the media server world is measured in “seconds”, not milliseconds.  the lag time was too great and the overhead for running the servers I was discovering, offended my minimalist sensibilities.  I wanted the process to run in the back ground of the system I was already using, NOT on a separate, heavy, hot server.  if that was the case, I could simply stick with speakers.

it just so happened that out of all the servers I investigated, there was one that was low on cpu overhead and memory, blazingly fast, and, most importantly, open source, so I could share it once I got it to work (sonic fractal matrix 0.1 -alpha? Open-mouthed smile )  Its called Mistserver and it is made byDDVTECH who just happened to also be located in Holland!!

so, the crazy VR guy is in Holland, the super-media server guys are in Holland and being that Amsterdam was the first place I stepped foot into Europe, the first person I ever met in Europe, my friend Phillip, also lived in Holland, it seemed that all roads lead to Holland!!


I brought the boom box with me, just incase I wanted to busk with it.  I took the bus from Berlin to Amsterdam around 7:30pm, so I could get some sleep and be fresh for my meet up with the DDVTECH guys the next morning.  I had already had one amazingly productive online session with one of the head guys, Jaron Viëtor, a couple of months earlier.  he helped me get it basically working, but I was using windows at the time and I was migrating the system over to debian Linux, so they offered to help me setup an optimized system for that.

the ride to Holland was meditative.  I didn’t distract myself with music or excessive note taking.  I just sat and explored my memories of my time I berlin while creating new “future memories” of the things that needed to be done in the coming days and weeks. sleep came easily, as did awakening early the next morning, to retrieve my stuff from under the bus, assemble the trailer and bike and regroup inside the bahnhof (train station).  it was at this moment that I realized fully that I was no longer in berlin and that everything I needed in life was on that trailer.  no anxiety.  only the desire to peel away the day, efficiently, elegantly, and interestingly.20140312_175049

it still bugs me that I didn’t have enough space on the cameras SD card to take video of the trip from this station to the station in Leiden, where the DDVTECH offices were, nor did I get footage of biking to their offices.  it was a sunny morning and I always love Dutch bike paths, so that sucks, but shit happens.

Google maps led me directly to their offices and one of the guys was there to meet me at the obscenely early hour I decided to ride over there, which I thought was really nice of him.  this set the tone for the rest of the day.  and I do mean the ENTIRE rest of the day! 20140313_113654

they showed me some of the interesting ways they were evolving the code in mistserver, based on its extreme efficiency and modularity and even went so far as to incorporate unreleased code into the customized version they compiled for me.  through much trial and error, we were able to get mistserver to broadcast in a stable fashion, with 400ms latency!  it must be noted that this is to devices with no prior app download or optimizations.  the client smart device merely has to log into my local wireless network, by clicking on a qr code, then log into the stream by clicking a second qr code!  viola!  a dimensional bridge between my sonic fractal matrix to the client sonic prosthesis (smart phone).  this is what we are doing in the video and as you can hear, it is a surreal sound that I look forward to investigating and iterating.

later that night, they dropped me off at the airport, where I caught the train back into Amsterdam, before Jaron and his brother zoomed off to the band rehearsal they almost missed, helping me achieve a dream that I’ve had for over a year.  I cant wait to show it off next month in California!

I got back to Amsterdam kinda late but luckily

a. I had my bike

b. I know my way around Amsterdam and

c. I had only to take a ferry from central station to the area that put me within 10 minutes bike ride from pipslab.

the only way to describe PIPSLAB is that it is the place that you dream, as a kid, that you will have as an adult.  this was obviously the workspace of spatialized minds; tools, toys and tidbits, all within thought and physical reach, but with enough space for the mind to be able to imagine wider, deeper thoughts.  a perfect workshop…and I was going to be living in it for the next 4 days!  needless to say, I was feeling very confident that my need to leave berlin for a nomadic existence, was a good call so far.

pipslab is a collective of artists.  they seem to be highly professional in many fields of interest, which seem to gravitate around the artistic investigation of virtual realities using motion capture, but not limited to this modality.  I was exposed to theater, to pre and post production work, to concept development…there was a lot of energy in the place, even when I was alone there.  their process mirrored some of my own in that once I arrived, I was folded into construct almost instantly and since I came with the mindset of such an interaction, we just ramped right into doing shit.

most interesting were our jam sessions.  being that keez had designed his system himself, in open frameworks and I had designed mine entirely in pure data,  we were able to mesh our systems at multiple levels of abstraction.  I could play sound but also send  note, tempo and gestural data, in multiple formats, over multiple types of network connection.  he could translate that data into forms of expression I needed video to show because I don’t have the language to describe what is possible with his constructs.  I think the data IS the language because words don’t do it justice and could act as an impediment to where this type of thing can go.  I think if we had had to discuss it all first, it would have taken weeks, but since I knew my programming environment and he knew his and those could speak computer-speak, the low-resolution of spoken words, were only minimally necessary except to gawk at the results.  needless to say, there was very little in the way of sleep, for the days I was there. and since then, my mind is consumed with expressing a part of itself in virtual space.

the next day we biked over to the Lumasol studio.  there, two guys, Remco and Boris, had a crazy 3d capture rig for creating high resolution 3d models of people and things…of COURSE such a thing was a bike ride away…where else would it be?!  this is the same kind of stuff that was used to create the fight scenes in the original Matrix movie.  60 cameras go off in perfect synchronicity.  you can see the results of our session in the above video.

for the rest of the time, I got to hang out with old friends, like Phillip, who graciously modeled the mask so I could take notes on the adaptability of the design to different sized heads, and musician/artist/DJ’s rawdee lewing and Nobunaga Panic who came down and jammed with me/us in the lab, bringing some amazing vibes and sounds along to bless the space.

I also, finally, got a chance to drop by STEIM institute.  I’ve had so many people tell that I had to go by there, that I decided to bike over, with my stuff of course, and pay the place a visit.  just so happened that there were only two students there that day. unfortunately, I ran out of space, AGAIN, on the SD card of the cinema camera, before I could get the proper amount of footage this place deserves.  but I found the basement to be the most interesting of all.  so many stored projects in sound propagation.  I could feel the morphosonic field of generations of artists, expressing themselves in this space.  I had hoped there to be a possibility to see what many have described as an ancestor to my exo-voice-Michael Waisvitz’ “the Hands”, somewhere in the facility, since he was head of STEIM until his death in 2008, but unfortunately they weren’t on location.  maybe another trip for another time.

to say that the intensity and beauty of the 5 days I spent in Holland, “recharged” me, would insinuate that I wasn’t already charged up before arriving.  instead, I will say that my time in Holland, “reaffirmed” the idea that the “now” I am seeking to investigate, definitely doesn’t reside in a single place.  I know now that not only was it the right decision, but in a way, it was the only decision.  there was no way to get this experience without being part of it.  without going to it and partially creating it enroute.  like in video games where the treasure is hanging there in mid air, waiting for someone to grab it and no one had to be defeated to get it!  it is with said treasure in hand that I head back to the US to reconnect with my roots and grow some new branches…


“If Tony Stark played jazz and had a more creative superhero name, he would be Onyx Ashanti.”-WeAreReplicants “But best of all was an African American musician, Onyx Ashanti…a fusion of space and sound so evocative …you suddenly found yourself…swept up into an open place of art ‘in whose openness everything is other than usual.’ – Arthur Kroker, The Will to technology and the culture of Nihilism (2004) “He is not only an excellent musician and craftsmen on his instruments, but he is also exceedingly inventive. In my estimation, … he is one of the brightest lights and most inventive new musicians I’ve run into.” – Rick Walker, Y2K9 International Loop Festival (Sep 18, 2009) “There are no two ways to put it: Onyx Ashanti is an amazing digital musician… Check out this Grammy award winning sound-designer and we believe you’ll understand.” – editor, Indaba Music (Feb 15, 2009) “Looks like a scene from some science fiction movie where an ascended being comes to earth incognito and begins the transmission of love to a dirty, sad, sick world. FEEL THE VIBE!!!” – birchnbark, YouTube (Aug 13, 2008)

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