Re-Finery

Updates

The following is the most recent addition to the Makrotulpa Soundcloud repository.  An experiment with processing input – in this case a looped fragment of my voice manipulated via Sampletoy, run through a ring-modulating vocoder patch.

I haven’t been posting so much music publicly of late as I’ve been holding onto stuff for further development.  There are a couple of projects on the go and I expect the official Makrotulpa debut will happen in the next month or so depending on how things go – I don’t want to rush it out the door.  It will be almost hermetically focused on the SKONlab system outlined in previous posts.  Below the jump are some of the latest refinements to the system.

Re-Finery

The basic setup isn’t changing much – but some of the software is.  I’m still using Ableton Live 9 which, despite attempts to diverge, remains the most useful DAW / Live performance tool that also runs svelte enough on the tablet.   I feel like it is overkill though as i’m still only using Live as a VST host yet neither Bidule or Audiomulch seem to be as well optimised to run all the plugins I need.  Max 6 is ridiculously slow and I’m also a very disappointed that Usine Hollyhock is unusably sluggish on the tablet due to some fairly complex physics emulations in the GUI (that really should be disable-able).  This is very annoying as it is one of the few music programs that provides actual support of multi-touch controls. It runs beautifully on the Windows 8 tank that the kids play games on and I’m sure it might be more acceptable on one of the higher-end Win8 tablets but at their current price point you’d be better off getting a Macbook Air and a second-hand iPad2.   It’s definitely an application to keep an eye on though, combining the flexible GUI creation of LEMUR with an intuitive patching system that remains as under the hood as you want it to be.

This is my current Live setup.

Ableton Live 9 setup
Ableton Live 9 setup

I’ve narrowed the plugins down to:

Thesys step sequencer
Thesys step sequencer

Sugar Bytes Thesys replaces the J74 stuff which was ultimately a little too sluggish on the tablet.  This one is very intuitive and easily as powerful, modulating notes, velocity, gating as well as up to 8 other CCs all in one screen.  Plus I can run multiple instances at the same time with little CPU hit.  The final benefit is that its design suits the tablet really well, allowing values to be drawn in.  The week after I bought this, they released an iPad version.

I run three of these.  Two of them send to A/C and B/D slots on the Nord Modular respectively.  The other one goes to the following…

New Sonic Arts Granite
New Sonic Arts Granite

I wanted to include some granular synthesis in my setup, but finding the right plugin proved very hard.  Firstly it needed to be useful in a live situation, which the other granular effects I like really aren’t suited to (Argot Lunar 2 and Melda MMultiBandGranular.)  Padshop Pro is too CPU hungry for the tablet (and has a pathetic one-install-only lock down – thanks Steinberg!)  The Bidule granular effects aren’t bad (and it runs as a VST) but the multiple windows makes it too clumsy to use live – i’m already dealing with too many windows on a small screen. Vaz Modular also has some granular stuff but it doesn’t sound particularly nice used purely as an effect – seems to be better as modulation source.  The Hadron and C-Sound stuff doesn’t play well with Ableton 9 and neither does the exemplary Density – which also doesn’t seem to like Windows 8 very much either.

New Sonic Arts Granite is a plug-in I clearly underestimated.  When compared to Padshop Pro it initially seemed quirky and irritating and the results were initially not as head shredding as with the Melda Granular.  But I tried the demo on the tablet and it runs really nicely most of the time (there are occasional CPU spikes which I think eminate from the GUI as they never happen otherwise.)  The ability to freeze and scan through a sound file smoothly was my initial requirement however Granite now has some amazing modulation possibilities coded into the interface that allow you to create some intricate craziness very quickly with finger, stylus or trackpad.  I’ve yet to see how well I can modulate parameters externally though and I remember that being one of the initial problems I had with it.

For now it has replaced the prepared audio channel – I throw samples at it and mess around until it mungs them out – works great.  Only thing I wish is that it would do buffer records of incoming audio as Density does.  Then I probably wouldn’t need…

Loomer Shift2
Loomer Shift2

Loomer is an effusively helpful plug-in developer also known as Colin.  They also created Cumulus which is free with Computer Music magazine – another interesting granular synth that occasionally tag-teams with Granite when I need a more deliberately rhythmic track.  Shift2 however is a little similar to a Lemur / Max combination I built last year that used some granular libraries along with Lemur’s multiball module.  It’s a granular-delay effect that goes a lot further than the one that comes native to live . Parameters are set on the left and manipulated in the X/Y panel on the right.  Really good for building up lots of feedback drones and comparatively low on the CPU.  It resides on the first send channel.

Turnado multifx
Turnado multifx

Turnado is on the second send.  This plugin was featured prominently on the last Secret Killer Of Names album and at the time I had something of a crisis over how dominant it was.  The thing I have come to realise is that, as with modular synthesis, you get better returns by spending time carefully tweaking.  If you randomise it, as is all too easy, you will get a chaotic squall and 1/10th of the time it will be interesting and useful.  That however is the path to an album full of sounds you ending feeling distance from.  As a multi-effect it works rather like a guitar rack… and each one of those effects opens up to a screen like this:

Filter screen
Filter screen

So i’ve started only adding one or two effects and fiddling with the modulation in here – and i’ve found not only the CPU is generally happier but it is much easier to produce innovative nuanced sounds that don’t take over.  This and Thesys are definately the flagship products from Sugar Bytes.

Expert Sleepers Augustus Loop
Expert Sleepers Augustus Loop

On the final send track is Augustus Loop which I deploy as an alternative to the useful but rigid loopers in Ableton.    I’m still trying to work out the best way to use this plugin as it is insanely powerful (and scriptable!) but essentially the idea is to build up a non-static loop that will cover for when I change patches on the Nord, as there is a noticeable jump in sound when this happens.  I’m also aiming for a Frippertronics style effect that I can use to build creative soundscapes where needed.

So each of the sends can feed into each other – and all of the tracks are toggled on and off with arguably the most useful controller i’ve ever bought:

Logitech Wireless Keyboard
Logitech Wireless Keyboard

With this setup i’m averaging around 50% CPU with rare jumps to 70%.  There is an occasional issue with the ASIO4ALL driver cutting out that I haven’t experienced since the last update so hopefully that is gone.

More Cool Stuff

Also cool – i’ve found Renoise tracker works well on the tablet.  Since I choose to work live at the moment it is not as immediately useful as Ableton Live but there is some fetishistic fascination I have with numbers racing past the playhead and the fact that I can use it to sequence the Nord Modular I think is super cool.  For composition i’m thinking of going there…  and I think if I ever got a modular setup together I would have to run it with something like this:

The future of step sequencers
The future of step sequencers

Speaking of trackers… SunVox is something i’ve had on my iPhone for a while that i’ve never really played with.  It came up in conversation as a decent modern alternative to Jeskola Buzz and I decided to have a quick play.  After watching some Youtube tutorial videos to help work out the initially impenetrable GUI I found it very easy to create some little ditties on the tablet.  While it isn’t without its quirks, I can’t think of a more focused stand-alone system to recommend for anyone wanting to make chip-tunes style electronic music.  It is mostly free to use (donationware) and on a ridiculous amount of low-end platforms so it is clearly catering to people like me who don’t actually want to have to update their computer every fucking year.  When the oil runs out and the power gets cut… i’m pretty sure this app will find a way of running.

Web Shortwave
Web Shortwave

The image above was taken in my browser from this site.  WebSDR is a crazy combination of Software / Hardware and the Internet that I barely understand.  Suffice it to say, I’m no longer feeling sad about not being in the Ham Radio club.  I have been seriously considering shortwave radio as an input component for the Nord.   In fact I still am but i’m not convinced that a $100 Shortwave is going to provide me with the kind of material I can get just fiddling with that site.  I did read on Muff Wiggler that someone is building a shortwave module – which would definately be great depending on how it works – but the trouble as I understand it is providing the antenna to get the results.  Anyway – I won’t confirm or deny that recordings from WebSDR will or won’t end up on the debut Makrotulpa album.

Assimilate by Alexander Reed
Assimilate by Alexander Reed

I’m currently alternating between reading a book on Madam Blavatsky and the Assimilate book pictured above.  I read a kindle preview with skepticism however it has won me over by:

  • Talking about Cabaret Voltaire as much, if not more than Throbbing Gristle.  Theirs is a history i’m somewhat ignorant about so this is good.
  • Establishing a very credible argument for tape trading being the essential foundation of a lot of music I really love now – not just industrial but that post-industrial ambient music and improvisation as well.  And providing food for thought in considering the different cultural capital of cassettes and trading in this day and age.
  • Coherently tying the Futurists, Dada, Burroughs and the Situationists together in a way that makes sense of my historical interest in these areas despite never studying politics or art history (though I will confess to a semester of Beat literature).  The author creates a compelling loophole for himself by suggesting from the outset that the nature of many musicians in this field is to deny any connection with the word “Industrial” or with any pre-existing artists or social movements… a requirement of those working in what could easily be consider a post-modernist form (given the simultaneous embracing and critique of mechanisation / technology / corporations etc…) Whether obvious references are unintentionally replayed, ignorantly reinvented or warily denied, he points out that when you have numerous musicians using similar source material, in similar ways, with similar imagery and titling, similar approaches, similar manifestos… it’s difficult not to make the connection.

Highly recommended.

Also recommended, two Bandcamp releases.

My AV buddy and collaborator Abres Ojos, who gave me solid advice and assistance building the SKONlab, has released this great EP demonstrating his now entirely computer-less setup.  I never thought I’d hear modular synthesis as sludgy and evil sounding as this – somewhere between Lustmord and Painkiller stands Abres Ojos and the light is going out…

This album by Browning Mummery manages to remind me of the old school industrial from the Assimilate book – yet it features a number of the more interesting Brisbane performers in guest spots (and the always unmissable Michael Norris… who needs to release some things soon!)  If you’ve read any of my recent posts BM lost his computers in the kind of debacle that just shouldn’t happen in this day + age.  A purchase will help him rebuild.

I’d post embeds but tonight wordpress is not cooperating so please visit the hyperlinks.

Finally…

What is up with Myspace?  Seriously check out their landing page.  Does that “Welcome to the Neighbourhood” video remind you of anything?

I’m thinking…

I’m going to have to update my Myspace image – think this one will work really well.

myspace?
myspace?
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