3 years post-doc – SuperCollider, Grids, Modality and a Passion for Controllers

23 November 2013

This article is part of the series 3 years of freedom — a report on my stay as a post-doctoral researcher at the Media Lab of Aalto Universiy.


My involvement with the SuperCollider language started with programming the code for my diploma thesis. I soon got hooked and, as SuperCollider is an open source language, found myself developing and contributing to the language. Being part of the developer community, I was involved in writing various chapters for The SuperCollider Book (together with such great people as Alberto de Campo, Julian Rohrhuber, Marije Baalman, Stefan Kersten and Christopher Frauenberger) which was published by MIT press in 2011.


But computer science was not the only thing I was interested in. Being raised by parents with such divers interests as music, graphic design and visual art but also mathematics and computer science, I was keen to explore creation and research for the sake of art; I wanted to (and still want to) find out, how I can possibly integrate artistic practice into my work with tangible and auditory interaction.

Luckily, almost at the same time I started working at the Media Lab, I was invited to join the Modality group, formed by an international group of people that see themselves as both software developers and artists, mainly using the SuperCollider programming language. With the help of the media lab, I had the pleasure to be part of two one-week-long meetings, one at STEIM in Amsterdam and one at BEK in Bergen. These meetings were filled with intense hacking sessions to implement the base of what will eventually be a unifying service to integrate hardware controllers into SuperCollider. At the same time the meetings allowed us to perform our musical pieces at these internationally knowns places. I had the pleasure to perform a live version of Verber and Greyball in Bergen.

I am very happy that funding for several Modality meetings in northern countries is secured. This will help me to keep the connection to the modalityTeam and help setting up the ambitious software environment we envision. It is simply great to be with such inspired people and come up with things like controller type semantics.


For a long time, I was obsessed with hardware controllers (for musical purposes) of any kind. I collected GamePads, Drum controller, MPC-like devices, keyboards and strips. It was kind of frustrating that I never got around to actually use them; I have to admit that got caught up in the programming part, trying to make them work on every level. Being involved in the Modality effort (and also learning about design methods), however, I realised that I was tackling the problem from the wrong side; unlike for professional mass-produced products, a performance system that I design and build for myself is a highly subjective system that does not need to be self-explanatory. The only person who needs to understand what it does is me.

Rather than coding every possibility into a controller, I needed to look at it as a device with possibilities; features I can assign to certain functionalities of my performance software. For this, I found quick sketching and outlining of mapping strategies to be essential. I created the Controller Booklet, a set of PDFs that graphically outline the physiognomy of each of my controllers. They are quickly printed out and can then be used to sketch out mapping ideas.


In my affection to controllers, one device truly sticked out: the Manta by Jeff Snyder. It features a beautiful hexagonal grid surface-sensitive pads and made me look at grids as structuring elements. Over the last years, I learned a lot about grid layouts in music and graphic design, how to describe them mathematically and what specific benefits each of them features.

It is valuable knowledge that influences my artistic work, however, was never explicitly featured in any of my works. Maybe I will change that at some point in the future. At least, I made the variety of regular grids a second element in my Controller Booklet.