I’m still using the Macbook to run the Axoloti editor for now but hoping I won’t need it during gigs.
The Pad Kontrol is a great cheap Gumtree pickup that is perfect as a controller for the Axoloti as I can:
run it directly from the Axoloti USB port – no additional power supply or MIDI leads necessary;
edit MIDI CC and Note values on the fly for encoders and pads;
setup an X/Y controller for unique parameter morphing (X/Y also has an interesting roll function);
send program change values which curiously not many new MIDI controllers do (K-Mix included).
The fact that it sends PGM values means I can ditch the Macbook (or use it for visuals) once I work out a reliable way of creating patch-banks in the Axoloti (it’s there – just not 100% trustworthy yet).
At the moment the routing goes like this:
Inputs to K-Mix
1 = SM58
2 = System-1m
3/4 = Nord Modular
5/6 = Axoloti
7/8 = Aira FX
Outputs from K-Mix
1/2 = Main Outs to Desk
3/4 = to Aira FX
5/6 = to Nord Modular
7/8 = to Axoloti
So plenty of scope for interesting routing – and then there is the modulation routing with the Quad LFO and Sys-1m.
My current direction is towards a series of improvisations with the Axoloti environment as a reloadable patching frame-work sending MIDI to the other synths. These will be things I can setup and perform – producing multiple versions from the same template.
The first of these improvisations is at the start of this post.
Below is an improvisation with Joe using the setup (sans the K-Mix).
On hearing that Trumpy Mc Trump-face shot his load (of rockets) at a barren Syrian airfield I couldn’t help but feel that the world deserved another hour of comforting experimental music… so here it is… pay what you feel.
Using up all my CloudBounce credits I plopped this algorithmic monster out. I figured I’d rather rely on robots to master the sounds herein for reasons perhaps obvious when you listen to it. Analog warmth was certainly not a criteria. I’m moving away from a “hands-on” approach to one more akin to tweaking the machine and the end result is some very odd moments that at times sound like contact-mic or field recordings, yet all is synthesised.
Tracks were generated real time and subsequently processed with Melodyne and sundry granular manipulators. People expecting my usual chilled ambient drones may find some of it baffling but I haven’t gone full Hecker. Learn to Fight in particular sound like robot versions of Joel Stern and I making free improvisational outdoor skronk.
I’m pretty happy with it: it’s a kind of angsty fist shake at a world I spend less and less time with given my responsibilities caring for Griffin. My dad would have been 89 today. I don’t imagine he’d like this much but I’m pretty sure he’d prefer it to watching shit go downhill as fast and far as it has since he’s been gone.
Hopefully someone will find this album enjoyable or therapeutic as I do.
It’s coming to the usual online streamers and sales places soon.
The latest addition to my black box of synthesis is a small but powerful wonder.
It arrived on my birthday after taking only 5 days to travel from Belgium to Australia. I’ve had packages from Melbourne take longer.
The Axoloti Core is the brainchild of Johannes Taelman. It’s a PCB DSP with AUDIO I/O, USB and MIDI Ports, a power barrel and an SD card slot. It connects via microUSB to a Java based editor program on Mac, Win and Linux to allow for the construction of complex processing chains.
The initial kick-starter pitch was for a modern virtual modular inspired by the Clavia Nord Modular series with modern compatibility and nods towards DIY and Open Source. The end result is a cross between an Arduino board and Pure Data (which the editor strongly resembles).
As with all virtual modular environments there is a learning curve and you have to really want to work in a patch based environment. Similar to Reaktor there are a lot of lower level elements required to patch things together and like Max and PD, your time will be spent browsing the community forums a lot. While i’d suggest this board isn’t ideal for newbies, many of the modules come with PD like help patches accessible through the rt/clk context menu. There is also this beginners guide by Jan Vantomme; worth a look even for the well-versed synthesist as it elaborates on the unique syntax with some straightforward examples. The Shbobo Shnth could do with something similar.
The pay off to this learning curve is the ability to generate all kinds of unique patches combining synthesis techniques with sampling, wavetable and granular manipulation, algorithmic composition and MIDI processing. It seems to be the broadest system i’ve come across attached to moveable hardware with 700 factory modules and modules can be coded which is perhaps why there are an additional 1300+ community modules.
As with the Arduino, code is uploaded to the board which can then be disconnected, rebooted and transported anywhere. As the Axoloti Core is focused on DSP it already has enough elements for it to function as a synth, audio or MIDI processor without the need to solder additional elements though it also features numerous points to allow for the addition of encoders, switches, LEDs.
Over the last four years i’ve been on the look out for a Nord Modular G2 Engine to use as a “brain” for my setup. They show up only rarely on eBay and are always priced beyond the realm of impulse purchase. The Axoloti is a €65 bargain in active development offering more than the G2. I’ve integrated it into the Black Box as a central nervous system, taking USB control from a NanoKontrol for now and MIDI notes from the Novation Circuit. This MIDI will be parsed, augmented and sent on to the System-1m and Nord Modular. It’s already mostly working, I just need to move towards making it compelling and usable in a performance environment.
The track at the top is my first attempt at loading a sample into the table for granulation.
To conclude I must confess to betting on the wrong horse initially. The Axoloti kickstarted around the same time as Patchblocks which i’d already bought into. I recall the Axo developer throwing some shade at the minimal specs of the PB and his very Euro arrogance was slightly off-putting. In hindsight he was right – the PB really utilise the ability to connect multiples together to create a functioning set of modules. With only one PB initially I found it underpowered for what I wanted to do and I was reluctant to “collect them all” when the later ones featured a different pin connection making them incompatible with my original.
While I’ve only had it one week my experience with the Axoloti has been the opposite – i’m still pretty much gaping at the near limitless potential, struggling to work out where to actually start. I absolutely recommend the Axoloti for anyone interested in modular DSP, electronic instrument building and alternate approaches to synthesis.
YouTube is full of different examples of its usage with the work of Matthew Tyas being particularly compelling. Here are two examples.
During the usual record-breaking heat of Brisbane summer it’s not easy to be productive but i’ve managed to work towards a few things.
I’ve joined the Electronic Music Philosophy FB group which is an interesting forum for stimulating ideas not stifled by an academic setting. The convenor Andrew Lloyd runs an excellent blog and occasionally posts challenges, the most recent being to compose a piece with only one item of gear as an audio source. I chose the Shbobo Shnth, working to make it sound like Richard Skelton in negative space. The full results are collected on this eclectic podcast.
Small Black Box returns on Feb 12, 2017 and Joe and I are honoured to be among the artist scheduled to perform. For those not around at the time, SBB was an essential monthly experimental series that ran from 2001 to 2005 in various venues throughout Brisbane. Here is one of the earlier ones…
So I’m working on a computer-less hardware setup for this performance. The following video demonstrates it all synced from the SQ-1. The K-Mix will allow me to disperse the sound to QUAD. It should be noted that I don’t plan to make squiggly doof-doof the entire performance – this is merely a test that it does all work.
RPM challenge is on again. As you may realise I’m typically not very good at completing this – I’ve managed to complete it once. Balancing work, parenting and creating is never easy but it’s often far worse in February due to preparation requirements for academia. That said a fair chunk of Black Mercury was developed during this time. So my plan this year is to not have a plan aside from focusing on Push 2 / Ableton sampling and software synths with a low-key ambient vibe. I just recently picked up a ROLI Block and plan to try out the MPE with compatible synths like UVI Falcon, Madrona Labs AAlto, Kaivo and Logic’s Structure. Also plan to try sending LUMEN visuals through it but so far that isn’t working.
Very sad to hear about the death of Mark Fisher. Having read occasional K-Punk articles as well as his books Capitalist Realism and Ghosts of My Life which most eloquently express a frustration with the political and economic aspects of modernity that encourage even less-poetic souls to recoil in horror, shrinking back into a nostalgic echo chamber.
I will read his latest with an additional ache. Finding a way to artistically manifest, discuss and express your depression doesn’t make it go away.
Here is an improvisation. It changes nothing but I appreciate the opportunity to do this.
If you open your eyes to social media it would seem that 2016 was an especially awful year. This could be believed if you managed to sleep through 2015 and plan to cryogenically freeze yourself for the next four years at least. Still – desperate times call for intense art so frankly i’m happy to not be in the real estate business.
From the perspective of my art it has been a better year than I’ve had for some time. I completed and released Black Mercury in June and for once I’m proud and satisfied that it features everything I represent in a manner acceptably advanced from Remnants and Mise En Scene. It features experimental aesthetics but doesn’t overload, references popular music occasionally and doesn’t sound like Tim Hecker or Autechre.
After 15 years of collaboration Joe Musgrove and I have settled into an electro-acoustic improv rhythm that summarises our influences well as can be heard at our Bandcamp. We seem to both be moving away from our elitist tendencies and even managed to make some ambient techno.
Likewise my collaboration with Paul Forbes-Mitchell is becoming more than the sum of noisy parts as we both develop our various hardware setups and improvisatory chops towards building levels of structure within the (necessary) chaos.
I also managed some interesting collaborations on the Ambient Online comps.
Midway through the year it became clear to me that the major work changes predicted were happening to Stacey rather than I.
Work as a sessional academic remains something I enjoy doing but the diminishing hours and lack of security is not great for family life. For this reason it is great that my partner is finding satisfying ways to re-enter the workplace to ensure we aren’t slipping into the new year with the possibility of homelessness. In 2017 I need to learn how to more effectively manage my home time split between family and art.
Major projects for 2017 continue to be financially unviable but hopefully include further development of the Thought Forms audio-visual performance project (and potentially a return to the thesis) and work on some more structured, perhaps even song-like material that will hopefully contribute, however minimally, to a balancing of the world’s axis.