Let the Flow begin…

Here is something new – notes about the creation after the jump.

Finding Flow

So amongst all this babble about workflow i’ve maybe hinted at but not really explained what it is i’m trying to achieve.  Considering Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory is a good place to start.


Seemingly obvious when you think about it – the ratio of challenge to ability needs to be balanced in order to maintain continued interest, happiness and flow.

My time spent researching synthesis techniques highlighted a number of areas where ease did not equal satisfaction and likewise complexity produced anxiety not conducive to creativity.  With relation to this, the operation of a Nord Modular when compared to tools like Reaktor or Max/MSP fits much more comfortably (for me) in the “Flow Zone”.  I love these tools and certainly still use them – however when I find myself engineering more than creating I feel there is a problem.  There is enough flexibility with the Nord Modulars to allow for many different approaches and just enough complexity to make it a challenge without it being a chore.  Unlike my previous synths (Mopho, Blofeld, Venom) it requires work to get usable sounds but it seems like I’m more readily hitting on crazy interesting stuff (much of which you haven’t really heard from me yet) as opposed to shittier versions of the presets.  Though it has to be said, deconstructing the thousands of Nord Modular presets available is a time sapping distraction.   However the synth as a sound source by itself was not enough.

Placing it within a workflow that allows for both satisfying real-time engagement and flexible offline work without major transformational overhauls was the real challenge and it has been this that I’ve been exploring over the last few months.  I’m happy to present what I feel is the final stage in this evolution.


The setup explained

For those who haven’t been following along, the Nord Modular is patched via the tablet running the last release of the Clavia editor software.  A Logitech wireless keyboard/trackpad in the bottom of the case makes patching modules easier than with a stylus or stubby fingers.  If I need a bigger screen to edit with I can either output the video to a projector or run Splashtop.   I’m using all 4 slots with the “D” slot primarily taken over with filtering of an aux stereo bus (so… feedback possibilities!)  The Nord sends two audio channels out – one runs clean into the MOTU the other runs through the Korg AM-8000R unit.  All patches will have the ability to route through either channel.

The contraption on the right under the Macbook is an iStudio with a first gen iPad.  I’m currently running Samplr – in my opinion the most useful sample recording / looping / manipulation app in existence.  I also have the option of running TC-11 for added touch based synthesis and the Lemur software for extra MIDI output control (though not all at once – this is a 1st Gen after all!).  The iStudio feeds the MOTU and stereo input and receives input from an aux bus as well.  If I can upgrade the iPad to a 2nd gen I will be able to use apps like Turnado for live effects modulation and Audulus which seems like the most useful modular processor available on IOS.

The LaunchpadS is connected to the 2013 Macbook Air which is running Numerology.  As the unwanted Aux Bus feedback issue I was having has been resolved by Jim @ Five12 I can now work towards incorporating intricate step sequencing into my real-time work.  I have a MIDI output for each of the four slots and separate inputs for a Mic In / Clean Nord / Reverb and iStudio.  I’m currently using an instance of Valhalla UberMod on the Clean and iStudio channels as it is the best balance of quality and flexibility.  I’ve also been using Spectrumworx (newly 64bit!) and the Soundhack Delays

Removing the tyranny of display eye burn

One great thing about the way Numerology utilises the Launchpad is that I don’t need to look at the Macbook screen at all as the abilities to set and modulate note events, routing and mixing are readily available / clearly identifiable via the Launchpad.  While I’ve also had success with NativeKontrol’s LPC setup and Ableton Live it is much more reliant on the screen as the LPC interface provides no feedback (that i’ve noticed) on which track you are using.  I can see though how using a Push or even a Maschine would work as they have LEDs to provide that feedback.  While i’m interested in exploring what I can do with Numerology for now I think the LPC approach, while less immediate / more complex, does seem like it allows for deeper control and is more flexible.

I used this setup in the sonic example at the start of this post (with some minor edits and mixing in Logic X).  You may notice the MicroModular is no longer attached.  I’ve sold it to my friend Hetleveiker.  He has been doing amazing stuff with Raspberry Pi’s and Pure Data recently and i’m really looking forward to seeing how this can extend his work.

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