RubyConf is only a little over 2 weeks away. Time flies!

I’ve been doing a series of interviews with speakers leading up to the conference.

This time is Ben Bleything. Ben is going to be speaking at RubyConf about Ruby and Music

What are you currently doing with Ruby and music?

This is going to be a recurring theme, so I’ll get it out of the way
here. I think of myself more as a toolsmith than an actual creator.
I’m not doing anything with Ruby and music per se… I’m trying to
create tools for other people to use.

My creativity manifests in such a way that I’m actually pretty bad at
creating “art”. I’m a semi-failed musician, and I don’t have any
illusions about programming being the path to making sweet, sweet music.
I just think it’s an interesting problem to solve.

I have this vision of showing up at RubyConf in 2010 and having people
using the stuff that Giles and Yossef and myself and others create to
make some rad music.

You spoke about Ruby and electronics last year. How did you get into electronics? What got you excited about it?

I’ve been into electronics since I was 12 or 13. I was the kid who
always took stuff apart. I started frequenting my neighborhood Radio
Shack around 14, building little lighty-uppy things and noisemakers and
the like. I grew bored of that pretty quickly, but I got back into it
after college around the time that the Arduino came out.

One of the things that draws me to programming in general is the feeling
of empowerment. It’s really cool to be able to make a computer do
your nefarious bidding. Now apply that feeling to a physical device
and you’re talking about a whole different level of that empowerment.

I’ve said before that I feel like I was born 40 years too late… that I
should have been hacking in the ’60s. Programming for microcontrollers
is, in a lot of ways, as close as I can get to that. Starting with bare
metal and building an application, even if it’s as simple as blinking a
light (the hello world of electronics) is deeply satisfying.

Being into electronics, have you ever tried to build your own electronic instrument or have the computer play a real instrument with motors?

Not yet, no. Both are interesting ideas but getting close to requiring
actual musical knowledge, and that’s where I start to get scared :)

I am playing around with hooking up video game instruments (think Rock
Band and Guitar Hero) to a computer. This sounds pretty mundane, and I
guess that it is… but the trick is that I’ll be passing those through
Ruby in order to provide the instruments with a bit more intelligence.

I guess the bottom line is that I’m much more interested in building
systems (hardware or software) that more experienced musicians can use
as tools… which brings us back to the toolsmith point above.

Can computers generate beautiful music? Dance beats seem easy. What about jazz improvisations? Classical music? Pop songs?

I’m sure that a computer can generate beautiful music, but I think it
would be mostly coincidental. I’m still undecided on whether you can
program a computer to always generate beautiful music. It surely
happens by chance sometimes, though.

I suspect that there’s interesting results waiting down the path of
doing things like markov chaining with music instead of text. Analyzing
and chaining music is a significantly more complex problem than doing it
with words, but my gut says with the right corpus, you could get some
pretty interesting stuff.

Fundamentally, though, I think music has to have soul to be truly great.
I want everyone to try to prove me wrong, though!

Ruby, electronics, and music is a lot of ground to cover. Are you passionate and excited about anything else in particular outside of these?

I’m passionate and excited about everything that catches my interest,
honestly. I’ve just chosen not to focus any energy on anything else
right now. I want to find ways to share my experience with others… to
get people excited about doing the things they thought were too hard.

My electronics presentation last year is a prime example of that. This
stuff isn’t difficult, it’s just intimidating. If I can lower the
barrier to entry, either by educating or providing tools, then I feel
like I’ve done my job. I’m really hoping that my talk this year will do
the same for the people interested in music.