Creating Real-Time Visualizations With Pure Data

<p>Composer and multimedia artist André Damião talks about his project <i>em_bruto</i> that distorts PD software use.</p>

When André Damião used the audio and video graphic programming software Pure Data (Pd) to create em_bruto, he didn’t stop at using just its arrangement capabilities. Pd is also the only image source in the production, where elements of its interface—squares, circles, and crosses—visually compose the piece.

According to the artist, his intention is "to aestheticize the software's 'raw' interface in an interesting way, with some allusion to live coding aesthetics. So it would also be plausible to aggregate new values and meanings to abstract shapes. The sound is reminiscent of old synthesizers, computer glitches, and unsuccessful mash-ups."

We talked with Damião to learn more about the project, which was first introduced to the audience during the ®NOVA Contemporary Culture Festival at the São Paulo Museum of Image and Sound last month.

The Creators Project: Who are you and what do you do?
André Damião:
I work with chamber and electronic live music, video art, installations, and interactive systems for performances and installations. I'm a resident composer at Estúdio PANaroma, coordinated by Flô Menezes, and I'm part of MOBILE (USP) and CAT (UNESP) art and technology groups. In 2008 I founded Basavizi, an experimental electronic music trio. I look for narratives that go from chaos to linearity in abstract textures through movement, intensity, and appropriation of ordinary objects.

In the em_bruto performance, you talk about connecting new values and meanings to Pure Data’s interface shapes. Observing the results, what meaning do you derive from the performance's composition and rhythm?
The main premise of em_bruto's conceptual development is to give a new meaning to an interface by using it for something it was not programmed for. That gimmick is used in art in several ways such as ASCII art and some forms of web art. Pure Data software is really favorable for this kind of expression due to its visual programming language. This kind of distorted use of software causes an effect similar to a circuit glitch, as it can be seen in JODI works. It’s something that can be understood by both a specialized audience who knows Pd and the ordinary public because it generates an intriguing audiovisual aesthetic phenomenon.

Could you explain the dynamices of em_bruto? Do images respond to music in a preset way or is everything manipulated live?
Every technique used on em_bruto goes through Pure Data programming. Starting with the sound, FM synthesis, and granular patches were created to simulate synthesizers, as well as sampling and really low-rate sample processing patches. For the visual part, I defined patterns composed from PD programming objects, and physical modeling was applied to the movements. After those patches were defined, all commands were mapped through MIDI interface, which generated a really complex programming language. There are moments during the performance where each key from the keyboard activates a different patch, and everything is generated in real time. It's clear to the audience that the keyboard becomes an audiovisual instrument.

Why explore Pure Data?
Because the software allows positioning objects from the interface in any pattern, and the GUI (graphical user interface) elements receive a lot of methods that coordinate their organization dynamically. Also, the fact that I'm a Pd teacher and I'm very familiar with the programming part of it.

What feedback did you get from the audience?
The public's feedback was really good, especially because it uses elements that resemble pop music (apparently constant rhythm, keyboard timbre), but distorted by an electro-acoustic music paradigm. That generated some uneasiness among the crowd, but in a way that it brought different audiences closer together with the emulation of common marks of pop electronic music.