[PD] MasterOfPrayer

Chris McCormick chris at mccormick.cx
Thu Jun 12 05:58:29 CEST 2008

On Wed, Jun 11, 2008 at 03:36:44PM +0100, Andy Farnell wrote:
> I suppose that question depends on whether they believe in silicon heaven.
> http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=silicon+heaven

Heheh, and whether they dream of electric sheep.

> Thought provoking though. Does that mean the installation
> is doing voice recog?

No, nothing so sophisticated. The 'Master of Prayer' is reading from a
textfile script and communicating with the others over a LAN using Pd's
netsend/netreceive. The artist, Rodney Glick, specifically chose blue
cables over wifi so that observers were aware that they were
communicating with eachother like that. One thing that he really pushed
for was for the voices to be synthesised each time, not just played back
wav files. So this means that the computers are actually translating the
text into speech on the fly more like humans would. I used Mbrola for
that because it was the only speech sythesiser I could find that would
do the Hebrew language. Moshe, the rabbi, had to spend many hours
transliterating the hebrew prayers into a pseudo-TTS textual language
which is then massaged into .pho files for Mbrola using a Python script
that I wrote. The hebrew text is scrolled along side the strange
transliteration language on the screen as the computers read their
prayers. Apparently the computers have a quite distinctive
French-Israeli accents due to the Mbrola database used. :)

The call and response thing, and the monotone of the computer voices
(which I arranged on the Phrygian Dominant scale) is really quite
spooky to witness. I'll try and get some video of it.



> On Wed, 11 Jun 2008 22:17:11 +0800
> Chris McCormick <chris at mccormick.cx> wrote:
> > Hi,
> > 
> > For the last few months I have been helping my friends Rodney Glick
> > (Artist) and Moshe Y Bernstein (Rabbi) with the technical aspects of one
> > of Rodney's artworks. The artwork, entitled "Master Of Prayer" will be
> > showing among many other fascinating works in Rodney's exhibition. It
> > opens tommorrow night (Thursday), 6pm at the [Lawrence Wilson Art
> > Gallery](http://lwgallery.uwa.edu.au/) at the University of Western
> > Australia. I'm really excited about this project. I got to use Pure
> > Data, voice synthesis (mbrola), and a network based pseudo-AI (Pd) to
> > help Rodney and Moshe create a really compelling and thought provoking
> > artwork. Here's the blurb that Moshe wrote about it:
> > 
> > "In the Jewish tradition the full prayer service can be performed only
> > in a quorum of ten adult males known in Hebrew as a minyan. The main
> > part of the service, which occurs three times daily, is the Shmona
> > Esrei, or Eighteen Benedictions. These blessings are first recited
> > silently by the entire congregation. Afterwards, during the morning and
> > afternoon liturgies, they are repeated aloud by the cantor, often
> > referred to as the Ba'al Tefillah or 'Master of Prayer'.  In orthodox
> > Judaism any male, whether layman or cleric, over the age of thirteen can
> > lead the prayers. During the repetition of the Shmona Esrei, also called
> > the Amidah, or 'standing prayer', the congregation answers responsively
> > to each of the benedictions recited. In this installation each computer
> > has been individually programmed to respond to the blessings recited by
> > the main computer, the 'Master of Prayer', leading the afternoon Mincha
> > service. Though the installation appears to parody the human condition
> > of prayer by rote, on a deeper level it asks a haunting question about
> > the inherent nature of artificial intelligence. The Jewish sages require
> > kavannah, or 'proper intent' for prayer to be truly acceptable. To the
> > extent that computers can be programmed to 'think', might they not be
> > programmed to this 'proper intent' as well? In a tentative answer to
> > that question, 'Master of Prayer' can be experienced as a high-tech,
> > Jewish version of the Tibetan prayer-wheel or Christian rosary beads."
> > 
> > Good night,
> > 
> > Chris.
> > 
> > -------------------
> > http://mccormick.cx
> > 
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