RESHAPING THE SOUND OF MUSIC

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By Stephanie Marcus

In a cramped room on the top floor of Paul Pritchard’s townhouse, a desk is cluttered with speakers, computer monitors and electronic synthesizers. A stereo, piled high with textbooks, creates a makeshift table leg, propping up a turntable. A pink metallic perfume box that holds tangled wires and circuits is displayed on an adjoining table.

It’s here that the fourth-year new media student has spent the last few months working on his senior thesis, a project he describes as something that “creates a soundtrack to your life.”

Pritchard, 22, designed Malleable Music, a portable music-maker that creates a unique musical experience by processing the light, heart rate, noise levels and movement in its surrounding environment.

The unit is a backpack that contains a laptop rigged to a breadboard of circuits. There is a light sensor, microphone and a wireless heart monitor strapped to the participant. The monitor processes the surroundings and the circuits then send the collected data to the laptop, which configures the numbers to how the person wearing the backpack is feeling according to the variables. It then mixes the music and transfers it through headphones.

Malleable Music, which will be showcased at the AXIS 4th Year New Media Festival, has been a year-long endeavor. Pritchard, like his fellow classmates, has been tinkering, planning and labouring over his projects since September, and now has the chance to show off his product in a professional gallery setting.

The idea for his thesis developed out of a third-year group project that dealt with synchronizing music to heartbeats.

Pritchard, who is interested in composing scores for films and video games, designed the instrument so that the music changes with the atmosphere of the scene. “You’re surroundings are going to affect your mood,” Pritchard said. “So if it’s bright, the music is going to be happier and livelier. And if you move into a dark space, the music will change to maybe something more uncertain.”

Pritchard said there’s a lot of art out there that is similar to his invention, which creates music at random.

“There is something that creates music based on the fluctuation in the stock market. But the problem, I find, is that they are just taking random numbers and changing them into notes. Music isn’t just about putting random notes together. It has to sound good, too.”

Pritchard’s music is a mix of electronic and orchestral styles, producing a sound he compares to the scores used in the TV show, “CSI”. Weary of alienating users with strictly electronic music, the unit blends strings and synthesized sounds to create a happy medium for all listeners.

Although the quality of the music is his main focus, Pritchard admits that the technological aspect has proven to be his biggest challenge. “No one at school has done this before, so piecing it all together has been a real pain,” he said, adding that he has been working on the project for five hours a day for the past few weeks.

With the festival just days away, Pritchard is excited to be able to finally show off his creation. The show’s promotions coordinator Kevin Fung said the event is expected to attract more than 500 people, including prominent industry members.

The festival is at the Ryerson Image Arts Building, and is open to the public March 23 and 24 from noon to 4 p.m

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