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Astro Pi

Sonic Boom: Our Day with Sonic Pi creator Dr. Sam Aaron

By | Astro Pi, coding, Music, Raspberry Pi, Sonic Pi, young people | No Comments

In a world that is dominated by computers, software, apps and social media, coding is king. It is a skill that will only become more desirable, especially to employers around the world, whose businesses will continue to rely more and more on software and programming. And one man has created something that will inspire the coders of the future tenfold, and that man is Dr. Sam Aaron.

A relative unknown to those not submerged in the world of coding, Dr Sam Aaron has invented a means of teaching young people about coding through the most popular medium known to man, a medium that unites people and one which I haven’t met anyone yet in life that doesn’t enjoy, and that thing is music.

Sonic Pi is a piece of software that allows users to create live music using code, more specifically Ruby, for those of you aware of coding languages. Aaron is at the forefront of this new technology and as he personally invented the concept, we thought him the best person to deliver our Sonic Pi workshops that took place on Tuesday 5th April. Aaron spent the first eleven years of his life in Stoke-on-Trent, (yes, Stoke-on-Trent! Take that you Jason Mountford Stoke-on-Trent facebook post trollers) and now calls Cambridge home. Aaron has created Sonic Pi as an educational tool to encourage young people to become more involved in coding, it is also a funded project that is free to download online. Driving an underlying belief that children need to know why they are performing certain tasks within education and through using Sonic Pi, children get an immediate response to their code, this response being live music.

Here at Wavemaker, we were thrilled when Dr. Sam agreed to come into HQ at the Mitchell Arts Centre in Hanley and deliver not one but two amazing workshops. For coding and music enthusiasts, like ourselves, we had a celebrity in the world of coding coming to visit!

The first workshop that Sam delivered was to children and young people. It was a sell out session and gave the group an introduction to Sonic Pi and time to play in the software to create their very own composition, complete with with synths, effects and samples. The workshop highlighted some great coding and musical talent among the young people in the city. I wouldn’t be surprised, in time, if another Potter became an expert Sonic Pi DJ with world-wide fame, given the number of fantastic musical pieces that were created in that workshop.  

In essence, Dr. Sam is also a DJ and travels the world performing using Sonic Pi. Wavemaker were also introduced to Alga -Raves, dance nights across the country, that specifically play live coded music….it’s safe to say Wavemaker will be making an appearance at one of these in the near future!

The second workshop was aimed at adults, teachers and coding enthusiasts who wanted to know more about Sonic Pi at a more advanced level. The group included music technology lecturers from the local universities and colleges as well as those from a coding background. In this session Aaron demonstrated the lengths to which Sonic Pi can be used, how advanced the software is and just how amazing it is to listen to live coded music. With a small performance at the end of the session, Aaron really highlighted how mind-blowing this kind of music can be and also enjoyable.

In a lot of ways it is not only a skill but a true art form, a combination of something ancient in history, universal in enjoyment, combined with new technology that transcends the now common place turntable, apple mac DJ booth. To create live music in this way is truly a meeting of traditional and modern musical minds, and one which shows no sign of stopping in its popularity and growth. Sonic Pi is available to download for free for Microsoft and Mac, there is also learning resources available online for anyone who wants to give it a go. After such a fantastic experience, we are hoping to get Dr. Sam Aaron back to his homeland once more for a proper performance, a showcase for our already music loving and musically talented city of what the future holds. Watch this space.

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A Slice of Sonic Pi

By | Astro Pi, coding, digital, Music, Raspberry Pi, Sonic Pi, Technology, young people | No Comments

I’ve never thought of myself as particularly gifted when it comes to technology. For me, it conjures up images of old school workshops lined with heavy tools, the smell of sawdust and an aproned teacher, with a constant look of anxiety and exasperation etched across their face.

And Information Technology also left me scratching my head; unable to produce nothing more than a powerpoint or poster emblazoned with clipart. How times have changed.

Over the last ten years technology and our everyday interaction with it has grown beyond recognition. I have relatives under the age of seven that can operate a tablet better than I can, and whilst my parents generations keep up as best they can (my father has a hand-me-down iphone 1 which he would consider cutting edge) people of my generation have had no choice but to embrace it, if only to keep an eye on what the younger, cooler folk are doing.

Here at Wavemaker, technology and its evolution is something that drives everything that we try to do and offer. Gone are the tools and soldering irons (for now) and in their place stand laptops, a 3D printer and a laser cutter, which can do in minutes what would have taken you a whole term and multiple injuries to produce. And even though our end goal is provide a service that encourages creation through the more traditional, practical methods as well as digital technology,  it is with this digital technology that is our initial focus.

If you have never heard of Raspberry Pi or even Sonic Pi for that matter, don’t worry, you are not alone. In essence, Raspberry Pi is a credit card sized single board computer. It was developed in our very own UK (hoorah for us!) and is an affordable, innovative way for schools and young people to engage in computer science. You can write code, create programmes and even play Minecraft using one of these little Pi’s. Amazing! The thing that is truly brilliant though, is that this technology has been developed further and from this Sonic Pi evolved.

Sonic Pi has nothing to do with the hedgehog and everything to do with sound waves. Simply put Sonic Pi allows you to create music using live coding. It was created by Dr. Sam Aaron who….wait for it…..is actually from our very own Stoke-on-Trent! (Again another hoorah for us!)

With regards to computers, smartphones, apps, software, code controls it all. But this is code that has already been pre-written.  The difference with Sonic Pi, is that not only does it create sounds that can be composed into music, you create all of the code live, in that moment. There are options to use pre-produced samples, but these can then be used to accompany live coded music, just in the same way musicians sample songs to make new ones. Sonic Pi also includes countless synthesisers and FXs that can be used to make your creation even more interesting. Ameatur music production this is not, given time to master the various options available, anyone, even you, could become a Sonic Pi DJ extraordinaire.

Here at Wavemaker, we decided to run an Introduction to Sonic Pi session with some of the lovely young people at Unity School, who come to us every week to explore new technology. After talking through the basics using the fantastic resources available online, and having downloaded Sonic Pi to each laptop prior to the session (which is free and extremely easy to do) the guys were ready to go.

At the beginning of the session they had no idea what coding was or Sonic Pi for that matter, and after two hours of running through the very basics, they were experimenting with different sounds, producing short pieces of music and most importantly having fun, whilst learning a process that is behind every website, social media platform and smartphone application in the world.

Sonic Pi is definitely at the forefront of music technology, so much so, that it is leaving earth to explore the final frontier, actual space. The International Space Station to be exact, with our very own Tim Peake. Currently, schools all around the country are competing, to create a piece of Sonic Pi music, that will then be sent to space and played on the Astro Pi, a modified version of the Raspberry Pi and they only have until the 31st March to do so!

Although the music created by Unity won’t be going into space just yet, the morning was a still a brilliant success and we can’t wait to help improve the Sonic Pi skills of others (and ourselves) at our next Sonic Pi session. Ultimately, the Sonic Pi experience is just great fun and a million miles away from the computer science of old. If this is what the future holds for technology, we love it! Rave, House, Grime, Soul, Rock on!