AE Interviews Max Neuhaus
January 3, 2005
The following interview describes Auracle from Neuhaus' perspective at the beginning of the project. And Neuhaus does not think small. Auracle represents nothing less than a global vision of improvisation in the form of an interactive sound-art work. It enables anyone anywhere to improvise with anyone else anywhere. As an introduction to Auracle, we suggest the following clicks:
AE What is Auracle?
MN Auracle is a networked sound instrument, controlled by the voice. It is played and heard over the internet. Anyone can use it by simply launching it in their web browser at www.auracle.org and creating sounds unaccompanied or with other participants in real time. Auracle is still new and growing. If you want to interact with others, pick a time, create an ensemble with your own name, and invite friends to join you there.
AE How did you come up with the idea?
MN It grew out of an interest of mine in the potential of music-making with the lay public over networks.
AE Have you done similar things before?
MN The first realization in this direction was Public Supply in 1966. It arrived whole, as a vision, to make a live sound collage with a general public telephoning in sounds to a New York radio station. Over the next decade I gradually developed this concept with other realizations and finally in 1977 realized Radio Net, a two-hour nationwide radio event where ten thousand people played a cross-country instrument with their voices.
AE How did you realize Auracle?
MN Ever since Radio Net I had been searching for a way to advance these network ideas from events into a permanent entity. I've had my eye on the internet for the last fifteen years, but at first it was not in the hands of the general public. Its use was limited to engineers and academics. Then, once it began to be generally used, it still had a fundamental flaw. It was too slow to transmit simultaneous streams of high-quality audio in real time.
In 2000 I realized that I could do it on the web if I didn't try to transmit audio - if, instead, the synthesis was done on each player's machine and only control signals for that synthesis were transmitted over the net. These control signals could easily be handled by the net in real time, and sound quality would be as good as each player's sound system would allow.
I defined the project in a 'constitution', put together a team with fellowships at the Akadamie Schloss Solitude, asked Phil Burk the author of the JSyn and Transjam software to be the technical director and away we went. Although I steered the project with a 'constitution', it was the team members themselves—Jason Freeman, Sekhar Ramakrishnan and Kristjan Varnick—who defined and created Auracle's components.
AE What are your plans for future development of Auracle?
MN We are now opening up the design of new Auracle sounds to others. Auracle is an instrument, a system, not a musical composition. We want it to adapt over time in response to how it is used by its players. Right now it is running a preliminary instrument designed by team member Kristjan Varnick. We are in the process of building a plug-in capability to allow outside developers to create new instruments for Auracle. There is a link on the home page where those interested in creating an instrument can sign up.
We want to add a variety of instruments and let players 'vote' which ones to keep by how much time they spend using each one. Incorporating instruments from different programmer/composers will expand the sonic palette of Auracle. Instrument developers will have more than twenty low and high level analysis parameters available in real time to drive their synthesis engines. And they may create any kinds of sounds they wish as long as the sounds fall within the guidelines of Auracle's constitution.