Darwin: All right. Today we are going to be talking to Barry Moon who is a person who I first ran across, in his YouTube videos. He did a series of videos called the Baz Tutorials which were both phenomenally successful in terms of YouTube views, but also were really successful in the way that they presented the material. Hi Barry how's it going?
Barry Moon: It's going great.
Darwin: Barry is also an active speaker on the forums and Cycling '74, which is another place where I see him fairly often. Barry, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself, what you're doing and your background.
Barry: Yeah, what I started off with was a succession of of failed attempts to be grown up, which I think is probably everybody's story, but wanting to be a classical guitarist and then wanting to be an audio engineer and wanting to be all of these things that pretty much no one could get a real job in and just stayed in school long enough to get a PhD. Oh, well, I guess I kind of realized that academia was where I wanted to be just because I saw the professors when I was an undergraduate in Australia. Just how great their life seemed that they get to do their own thing and, get paid to do it pretty much. And then got a PhD in composition at SUNY Buffalo which I got in about '99, worked at Brown for a while.
Brown University with Todd Winkler there. Then went over and worked in Bath, Bath Spa University, England and then came back to the States because the States is so much easier to deal with on some levels for me. But what I do is primarily coming from a musical background. I'd say I still compose and do a lot of that stuff that I've been doing instrumental processing stuff that I started as a grad student in Buffalo, working with Cort Lippe there. So live performance with electronics composing works for that. I have a piece I just finished for two clarinets and percussion that was premiered at a clarinet festival in Assisi. But yeah, so doing that side of things, the music side of things, I'm doing quite an amount of installation work. At the moment I'm working mostly with an artist named Hilary Harp where we're doing public art installations, and various things. Our theme for the moment that we've got some grant funding to explore his happiness. So we're exploring along with some social science people figuring out how to use happiness as a motivating force for our public art installations.
Darwin: Well that seems a little crazy because every artist I know dresses in black and wears kind of a dour look most of the time. So, that's really interesting. So you say that you just kind of stuck around until you got your PhD. But it also sounds like you've had an opportunity to work with some of the stars of, certainly the, computation + music world. If you got a chance to study with Cort Lippe and working with Todd Winkler, that must've been pretty amazing.
Barry: Yeah, I mean, Cort was definitely at that time really the greatest influence on what I was doing. You know, I left, Peter Otto left a year after I started the program there and somehow managed to conscript Cort to come over from IRCAM. And so of course was introduced well before Cort even came there, introduced to Max/FTS and started with that whole scene really pretty early on. I mean '92 or '93 or so was when I started with that.
Darwin: Sure. Did you ever work on any of the real old hardware? I guess if you were working with FTS, you had a chance to, yes?
Barry: Yeah. So I was working with the ISPW - the IRCAM signal processing workstation. Most of you are probably too young to remember those. So working with that stuff - and I was supposedly the system administrator as part of my TA work I was supposedly the systems administration person for the NeXT computers that we were running and I swear I couldn't ever figure out the NeXT operating system. So that was a miserable failure.
Darwin: That seems to be a common story for people. That's funny. So let's talk about some of your work. First of all, I'd like to talk a little bit about these Baz Tutorials. It's a pretty phenomenal collection of video tutorials that you created and posted on YouTube. How did you decide to take that on?
Barry: It was primarily because I was working. As a matter of sort of everything that I do, I tend to work with software that I don't understand very well, a lot. And so I was working with Blender at that time. So my various pieces of software that I've learned, there's just too many of them. I found that the video tutorials for Blender that I was finding, were really helping me a lot and helping me understand how to work with the software in ways that I couldn't figure out by just looking at manuals and stuff. And some of these tutorials are given by 12 year olds and stuff. And it's, it's amazing to me the amount of useful information and how helpful they can be when they don't even have any teaching experience (as far as I know).
Barry: And so I just figured that with the amount of knowledge some of it's probably completely useless knowledge, but all of the amount of knowledge that I have in Max/MSP that I could give people I could give some of that to the community and people might like it. And I was kind of surprised, I suppose that the popularity mostly because coming from a background from teaching when I was teaching at Bath Spa, primarily teaching Max/MSP, the students really don't like it. And I suppose they don't like it in just about all the programs, for instance. And somehow, I don't know, there's something about, I suppose the video tutorial, maybe it's just impersonal enough and that I'm not dictating to anybody. That is just, it kind of makes it more relaxed and makes it easier for people to deal with and having meet my actual presence there. And having some kind of physical presence where people feel intimidated or just pissed off or whatever. I don't know what people feel when they sit in my class.
Darwin: Yeah. I know that's impossible to know. The other thing I'm always curious about, and I have to admit, I don't really have much of a clue about this, but I wonder how often video tutorials are treated sort of as passive viewing, almost like you're watching MaxMSP TV or something versus actually as an active teaching environment. I don't know how that works out.
Barry: Yeah. I mean, when I was doing my undergrad studies, this teacher in Melbourne at Latrobe University - David Hurst - I was doing a what's called an honors here, which they don't do in the States. And I was trying to read that sort of basic DSP tutorial thing, the Andy Maura thing, and just the math was not, I wasn't getting it at all and he just suggested, well, if you just keep reading it over and over and over again and just don't even try it to understand, but just let it sort of dwell - I mean, and I think maybe that's the way some people have used those video tutorials is just to hear someone saying these things and somehow this knowledge does initially start sinking in. I mean, again, it's really the weird thing is that it's hard to gauge when you're making this stuff, teaching in general is hard to gauge how much people understand or how well it's working when you obviously have nothing to gauge with what I mean? You can gauge with their feedback, but in the video or tutorial you don't even get that.
Darwin: That is, if anything, one of the real downsides is that there's no feedback to play off of when you're trying to improve your work. So you did, in all, I think 20 of the tutorials, right?
Barry: I don't know how many there are.
Darwin: And then you switched over to a patch-a-day format where you kind of took on little projects and sort of did them in front of the camera and it looks like you did like over 40 of those. Quite a body of work!
Barry: I think maybe it was Luke Dubois or someone was, was talking about doing a song a day that year that I started doing that. And, yeah, I just sort of through Christmas and new year's idea, that's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna do her a patch today for the whole entire year. And of course you can't - it was a little brutal. That was never, that was never really gonna happen.
Darwin: So in the end, how exhausting was it? I mean, did you come up with kind of a rhythm in how you would make it or was it sort of like a hand-ringing job to do each one?
Barry: I mean, doing the tutorials and the patch-a-day, it was kind of the same process where I would make a patch and then we'll just have it there made while I'm making the video so that I would remember what I'm doing. And sometimes the only things that got kind of painful was when I would make mistakes and have to go back and - just the same as playing music - it tends to be that if you make a mistake that you're going to keep making the same mistake over and over.
Darwin: Yeah, the key is to just do it in rhythm so that it sounds like it was on purpose. Right?
Barry: Yeah! And there's of course there's mistakes in the videos as well, and sometimes the viewers catch them and sometimes I caught them or whatever, but yeah, you're bound to make mistakes for sure.
Darwin: Right. So you've been a little bit quiet on that front for a while. Did you kind of exhaust that passion a little bit? Or did something else take over for you?
Barry: I guess I was going through a bit of a... I guess when I started the whole thing, I was going through something, I guess a swamp in my creative output. Then once that recovered I have just so much work to do in making stuff that I don't really have time to make those. But I have still thought to go back to them - mostly as a way of getting back to doing some workshops that I'm thinking about for the spring, spring of 2014, doing a series of workshops. So yeah, as a way of getting back into that and also as a way of advertising those workshops - I guess is [a reason] to get back into it. But I've been on sabbatical for this semester so far and just enjoying or just really remembering what it's like to not have to think about teaching and all that stuff. It's a bit too much of a temptation to actually get any serious work done. But eventually I'll get to work.
Darwin: Yeah, I hear that. So you're talking about your teaching. You teach at Arizona State University, right? You're an associate professor there?
Barry: Yeah, I'm an associate professor in a program called Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance, which is sort of nested within Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, which is nested inside a new College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. And the thing that was really attractive and that I still like, I mean when I came from the UK, I was teaching at Bath Spa, in CMT - Creative Music Technology, which exist all over the place in the UK. And as much as I liked that, the students came from a fairly narrow demographic - most of them were all wanting to be producers or DJs and people that they wanted to be kind of, they had this kind of fame thing that I couldn't really abide by.
They were all attaining to become famous. You know, they wanted to be Massive Attack or Portishead - any, one of the number of famous groups from around Bristol and Bath. But the thing that really attracted me to the Arizona State thing was that it's pretty rare to find a place that will have someone like me that's not a music department or a specific department, which I'm not really cut out for. It's not that there'll be an issue, but if I was in music, I might have to teach music theory and things that I really don't care to talk to people about.
Darwin: Yeah, I understand. And I'm kinda in the same place: I teach here in Denver at the University of Denver. And luckily the interdisciplinary part of it is kind of stuck into the art and humanities area as well, which is kind of a comfortable place to work actually.
Barry: Yeah. I mean I really just for the variety of teaching as well, even though sometimes I end up teaching things that I just - because I feel the students need it - I end up teaching things that I'm not entirely as comfortable with as I would like to be when teaching them. But in some ways I haven't noticed that that's a particularly bad thing to be not comfortable with what you're doing when you're teaching the students at least feel, I think it makes them comfortable to realize that it's not easy and even for someone like me or whatever, that it's not easy to do.
Darwin: Sure. Well, a question for you is, having a PhD in music, do you find that that's helpful or in some ways harmful when you're trying to work with people whose primary discipline is something else?
Barry: I think it's hard to say whether it's helpful or unhelpful. I would say probably given my teaching recently, I would say that I'd probably be better off with an MFA in some ways. Just from the sorts of things that I would have picked up in an MFA that I don't have that I should have: things like a much better understanding of art history and of the visual arts in general. Whereas all the knowledge and everything that they drummed into me through the PhD was all music, of course. So yeah, I mean definitely, broader areas of understanding would have been good. You know, my mom's way smarter than I am; she likes to say that there's no wasted education. I think that's true. And I think you can learn anything that's going to be a complete waste and still find some use for it somewhere along the way.
Darwin: Of course. So in your program, how does interdisciplinary work? Is it more performance work? Is it more of interactive and installation work? What kind of stuff do you tend to focus on?
Barry: Well, the program itself, the students are kind of forced to take part in performance-based stuff, movement, performance-based work. They have to do a certain amount of visual art work, whether that's digital or undigital, whatever that might mean. And they also have to do a certain amount of sound work, which, the area that I'm primarily involved in is sound. But of course I do do some work in interactive, sort of design with interaction design with a visual and sound because... Half of the program, I mean part of the other program that we provide to is an applied computing program. So I teach Max/MSP as a way or in that kind of interaction design as a way into it. I have used Processing to do the same kind of thing as well. Mostly because that text, the Processing book that the guy who wrote it, now I'm just like blanking out on all the names and everything, but, yeah, the documentation for Processing is in some ways a lot more, a lot better. And also many of the students in any applied computing come from a Java background or they at least proport to come from a Java background. They don't seem to do very well with it for, well, I shouldn't say anything.
Darwin: I hear what you're saying. But I agree. It's funny because sometimes in classes, I've seen where people come in with a pretty significant computing background, but that doesn't necessarily translate into quality programming. It's kind of curious.
Barry: Yeah. And for me, I think the Max/MSP paradigm is useful for programmers of any software because I think that it gives them a new way of looking at what they do. I mean a new way of thinking about what writing code is and of course it makes them realize that how easy it is they're using "for loops" and all that.
Darwin: Right. Right. There are certain things that Max will make you run back to a text editor for. What are the kinds of software that you use in your teaching practice?
Barry: I've used, I mean, I teach Blender a fair bit, in both using it in conjunction with some of the interaction stuff and as a means of producing animation and modeling just as a way of producing art that way. Processing, like I said, Unity3D is something that I've been playing with a lot in the last couple of years. Max/MSP, I would like to get in more PD and evolve pure data, but, it's still - I don't know - people still have a fairly large problem with the interface on pure data, students. That is, they don't like the way it looks. So 1980s, but, yeah, that's pretty much it. I mean, I use Ableton Live and sort of teach it in my summer Introduction To Sound Design class and of course I use and teach Pro Tools, which is just like I think that everybody uses Pro Tools and doesn't like it, but that's just the nature of the beast.
Darwin: Well, I always felt like with Pro Tools there was a reason why we all hated tape recorders and we just picked up that hatred and brought it right over to Pro Tools when that came on. So it's just as hard to use for sure. So let's, talk a little bit about your own personal performance and installation work. You mentioned a few things that you were into. What are the most active things that you're doing right now?
Barry: In addition to the Happy Place project, which is the one I'm involved with Hilary Harp, that's probably the most, and along with that is The Pin Cushion is a duo that I have with Doug Nottingham. Doug is a professor in a school really close by to me at Glendale Community College and he's a phenomenal percussionist and pretty good with electronics himself. So yeah, we do a live performance thing, which I do, I suppose I'm primarily focused on the video, but I'd like to like the challenge of having to try and play music and to feel the same. It's just that it's like patting your head and rubbing your stomach, except maybe 10 times harder!
Darwin: Yeah, I have to admit that that's an impossibility. Every time I've tried, I either end up like focusing on the video and just realized I presented a 20 minute drone. Or conversely, I focus on the sound and music and I just realized the same image had been hovering over me for the last 20 minutes. So that's just the tough one.
Barry: I mean, I still do have some... I used to do a lot more solo stuff and I would kinda like to get back to that, but there's something about working in collaboration that I really would like to just keep working with other people
Darwin: I agree. Now you say that you primarily, in Pin Cushion, focus on visuals? Is that sort of a conscious choice? Are you trying to push yourself in that area particularly, or is that just how it naturally fell into place?
Barry: I guess it's mostly because Doug doesn't do that. And when we started the duo, I think it was, I don't know, I can't remember what year - 2008 or so, 2009 maybe. But when we started out, I mean that was kind of the whole thing as a BA, you're going to do the visuals and we're going to do the music together. So we sort of made that decision. And I, for me working with visuals is sort of largely a learning process. You know, I use, or most of the earliest works that we have a I used Touch Designer, which is a Windows-based thing. And Touch Designer. When I first started using it, I thought it was magic cause it was just like Max/MSP was object-and-connect-the-outlets and stuff. So it was pretty similar and I could figure how to use it fairly quickly. And it produced really amazing results without even thinking, too.
So I liked working with Touch and then that kind of, I suppose looking for alternatives to that kinda got me started with Unity 3D. Admittedly, some of the work that we do is in, Max/MSP/Jitter, but I sorta haven't... Maybe I shouldn't be probably talking to the wrong guys and complaining about Jitter, but...
Darwin: This is a great platform for it!
Barry: I'm just not real happy with the way Jitter looks. And especially you get anything even remotely complex going on, your frame rate is going down as low as 15 and some of those programs that are running much more efficiently on the GPU, which includes Touch Designer and Unity 3D. I just loved the performance, the frame rate pushing 60, even when things get really tough in Unity, is awesome.
Darwin: So in sort of the position you're in, working at a university and having interacted with a lot of people, you probably get a fair number of opportunities or offers to perform. How do you choose what you're going to do performance-wise or installation-wise?
Barry: I guess so, probablyif I had to, if this was a job interview, I'd say that's probably my biggest fault is that I don't choose very carefully so that I will tend to take projects when I've got too many projects already on. So yeah. I don't time choose well,
Darwin: I hear that.
Barry: Yeah. At some point learning how to say no is probably going to be the lifesaver.
Darwin: Sure, sure. I can hear that. So as sort of an extension on that discussion, I'd like to talk a little bit about the interaction between work and creativity. You're in a position where you do a lot, you work in the creative environment and you use creative tools as part of your work - the job that you do. But you also have a performance and production kind of projects going on all the time. How do you stay creative when art and technology is part of your everyday job?
Barry: Yeah, it's, I mean, it was harder when I was teaching more focused in the creative music technology program. Since I teach such a wide variety of things, I don't really cover anything in depth and sort of higher level in the software that I do enjoy. So if I had to teach graduate students in Max/MSP programming and some of the other, I'd probably wouldn't have as much energy for it. I mean, I definitely noticed that when I taught guitar - way back when, and this is going back to the eighties and nineties - I mean I just couldn't play guitar anymore. It was just totally sucking the joy.
But teaching the software thing and teaching people how to hear, which I think is primarily what I like to do anyway... I mean when are we teaching classes related to software? It's sort of easy enough, with the number of resources out there now, it's also easy enough to send them somewhat on their merry way to learn the software and focus in class on things that that would actually be - that I am kind of expert in - that they might not find easily somewhere else, which is basically critiquing and, and being able and learning to hear what they're doing, learning to see what they're doing. So yeah, I mean definitely the sort of 'art' side to it is a huge draw. I think that's why there is that tradition in teaching art that's not so quite so strong in teaching of music is that you have that sort of learning to see or learning to critique and learning to talk about what you're doing as opposed to learning the tools which we sort of have to do by ourselves. Outside of class time, I suppose, would be the approach I like to take anyway.
Darwin: Sure. That actually makes me curious about something. In teaching music, one of the things that you spend a lot of time working with students on is helping them learn how to practice and pushing them to practice effectively and efficiently and enough. Do you find that there's any kind of practice regimen that works for your students or even works for you? Do you have a practice regimen that you have for yourself?
Barry: I mean for myself, I definitely do the best in the morning. So I mean that's just a personality thing. Everybody has a different time and a bit different way that they work. That's good. And yeah, I mean if I'm working, I like to just shut myself away, which has become easier or harder based on what's going on around me. But, students, some of them are good too. I mean some of them get to know what that is, but I find that, I find that unless they're in a sort of, they kind of in the habit of doing, create a lot of creative work that they do find it difficult to complete work. You know, getting to F just getting to find out what their personal regimen should be I think is probably the greatest, one of the greatest challenges they face.
And again, we can't teach it to them. We can only let them find out through throwing a lot of work at them. Which is one thing that I do like to do for that is to give students a lot of small projects and so that they don't have the comfort of waiting till it's the week before that final is due to actually do something that they actually have to be working all semester long so that they actually have to be completing little things along the way so that there's no sort of let up on theon the attention for what they're doing.
Darwin: Yeah. I found that really effective too. If for no other reason, then it prevented getting a lot of phone calls on the Sunday night before.
Barry: That's pretty true. Yeah. And I don't answer those phone calls.
Darwin: Well, good for you. That's discipline. So part of sort of maintaining creativity for oneself kind of goes back to something that also happened at the very beginning when we got into things. People who influence you, people who stimulate you into either trying something new or getting back into the groove, who are some of the people or what are some of the projects that you've seen that either were influential to you early, are influential to you now or just generally stimulate you?
Barry: I have to admit that I don't really look at all, listen to a lot of what other people do now. I mean, there's been periods when I've listened to and looked at a lot more. I think initially I was very much influenced and I think that influence still runs through what I do by what I suppose most people would call modernists. You know, people, including Boulez and going back to Berg and all these people. We're finding new ways to create systems or new systems based on nothing but thin air. And so, the kind of ideal I think of - Stockhausen is another - but people who weren't concerned so much with the product that they were producing as much as they were worried about the ramifications of it and what it meant, I guess what it means to be doing what you're doing.
Because, I mean, it's hard to admit that you don't listen to or look at a lot of new stuff is kind of, kind of probably not the sort of thing that most people who go to university want to hear. But I think that we kind of, there's a period that we're in now where having gone sort of post postmodern, I feel like we sorta still in that same kind of quandary as we were with the kind of postmodernism is that we're in this, sort of if you like it, do it sort of thing; in a "if it feels good, do it" kind of thing without thinking too much about what it really means to be doing what you're doing. So yeah, of course I listened to a lot of music and looked at a lot of stuff that I like, I come and go through periods - I liked Radiohead and I like, I don't listen to I guess that's something that students always want to ask you is like what sort of music you listen to.
Barry: And I swear I don't listen to anything that's considered classical anymore. I mean, so I listened to Autechre a lot. And all of the Warp Records scene So yeah, I mean the, the sorts of things that I look at and listen to tend to be kind of verging on that, sort of post modern sort of happy go lucky stuff, but there's something a little bit deeper I think in a lot of that work. You know, talking about Autechre there's something there that isn't just merely a kind of "this makes me feel good kind of thing". It's got got some meat to it. It's got something that's actually really deep. It's constantly deeper going on it.
Darwin: I totally agree with that. One question about something you just said, talking about some of the people whose work represented system creation, like Stockhausen, or I'm thinking of the many different approaches Cage took. Do you feel like tthere's still an opportunity for the development of these kinds of systems or do you think that too much stuff has been invented and we're just chasing shiny objects at this point?
Barry: No, I think that the, I mean, the, the interesting thing is that the systems that we can keep inventing and creating produce output and produce, artifacts that are most people can't accept as being good or worthwhile. So, I mean, I'm happier to create something that's not worthwhile and not necessarily aesthetically pleasing if it feels like it comes from genuine place, if it feels like it has that sort of substance to it and it's not just flipping, like pushing a button. I mean, that's kind of the thing that I suppose I was into for a long time. And one of the reasons I liked Max/MSP for so long is that it was so easy to come up with something completely new without trying.
Barry: I mean, you just play around connecting objects together and you'll end up with something new. And again, sort of not necessarily aesthetically pleasing. But once you take that approach one step further and actually start thinking about what it is that you want to make that might not exist, then I think that those sorts of programs or those approaches of inventing by inventing, by just like just making ... [I'm] always making cooking analogies but you can't really learn to make some of the greatest recipes you need to just play around with ingredients until you just happen upon this wonderful taste that you've never tasted before.
Darwin: Yeah. I get that there's almost, it does seem right now, like things are more interesting if you feel like the represented development rather than if they just represented execution in some way.
Barry: Yeah, I mean I think there's room for both. I mean, again, playing in Pin Cushion, I think that live performance thing always involves the execution of things, on a level where you can't necessarily create anything that well-developed, and people have always taken me to issue and I'm taken everybody who does anything interactive to issue on, "well, you guys aren't making anything that's polished." You know, what's wrong with you? You know, why can't you make something like that Dennis Smally guy? You know, it's like that's the best music ever, but because not all of us can be bothered sitting down with our Pro Tools rigs for the next three months, making one 10 minute piece of music. You know, I just don't feel that's how many of us operate - the way our brains operate.
Darwin: Well, Barry, thank you very much for your time. It was really great to talk to you and really great to kind of dive into some of these ideas and concepts. I always give people a chance to tell me if there's anything exciting out there that we should pay attention to.
Barry: Yeah, you should pay attention to whatever it is that you're not paying attention to. If this makes it on air before the Fall of 2014, get in touch and Pin Cushion and the whole Baz workshops will come to a town near you.
Darwin: Oh, that sounds, that sounds like a really great offer. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it and have a great day.
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