When reinventing the wheel, don’t neglect the chassis.

last show
Nothing left but the bottle-caps

So i’ve made a decision that next Friday’s gig (April 4) at Vision Gallery will be the last solo gig I play… in the foreseeable future.  The reason behind this choice is not directly related to the hell-gig I had last week.  I say more after the jump…


I feel like I have hit a wall with the vision of live performance i’ve been chasing over the last few years. It’s not that I can’t use programs like Ableton Live, however i’m philosophically against the idea of clip triggering as live music, and am not interested in performing it as such.  This may sound overly fussy and I certainly enjoy performers like Coil who use(d)  backing tracks and clip triggering as an essential part of their live show.  It just isn’t how I would like to perform.

I feel like i’m primarily a producer of sound.  I generally explore performance aspects in two specific ways…

  • Generate material that I would otherwise not produce via typical arrangement methods.
  • Generate and explore a real-time process in a room with an audience.

The former is usually done as part of a jam session or in private as it would be presumptuous to assume a public audience at something reaching for a purpose without the benefit of hindsight and editing to direct it appropriately.  The other is based around a philosophy borne of years of electronic improvisatory performance (both as a participant and audient).  Just because i’m making synthy bloops – doesn’t mean it isn’t or shouldn’t be generated on the spot.

Makrotulpa live at Vision Gallery in 2013 - shot by Rin Charlton
Makrotulpa live at Vision Gallery in 2013 – shot by Rin Charlton

My dream is a performative framework that combines the kind of freeform ambient drone of Robert Fripp’s solo guitar work with the synthesized landscapes of Eno’s On Land.  Having thought about my engagement and interest in live performance I feel this will have to remain an oneiric haze with my current setup and abilities as I just don’t want to compromise on something I should have control over.   I also feel that my focus on generating material for live performance has stunted my compositional abilities.  Comparing worked material like Remnants with live blurts like the majority of my Soundcloud feed highlights for me the problem with my puritanical performance obsession.  I shall also be deleting large swathes of my Soundcloud account after next weekend as I would like to move forward… this will unfortunately mean many links on this blog will be lost but… what price progress eh?

So for now, while I’m still interested in the possibility of live collaborations, i’m going to focus on production and composition (and maybe going to see some other musicians play) rather than constantly trying to reinvent the wheel while neglecting the chassis.


So this isn’t just a downer post… some  micro reviews of audio software i’ve been demoing.
Native Instruments Molekular – is the missing link between PSP N20 and Little Endian’s Spectrumworx.  Contrary to my initial concerns, it doesn’t sound much like Turnado which is a very good thing.

Madrona Labs Kaivo has stolen many hearts with its friendly approach to Physical Modelling however i’m also very keen on Amaranth Audio Cycle.  I see it as a step beyond what PPG Wavegenerator does – waveform construction through additive processes heading towards physical modelling.  I think all the pretty spectral views make it seem needlessly complex and it could use a decent instruction manual for non-eggheads.  This interview with the developer sold me enough to try the demo.  I haven’t been able to make any great sounds from scratch yet but what i’ve done to the presets leaves me impressed enough to put it on my list.


3 thoughts on “When reinventing the wheel, don’t neglect the chassis.”

  1. I identify with a lot of what you’re going through, having ceased doing live performances a couple of years ago.

    I actually miss radio & DJing more than doing live experimental music / sound art gigs, as the former was usually more fun. There’s also a sense, after 20-odd years, of having been there & done that. Gigs are a young person’s game. Middle aged guys hanging around 20 year olds is a bit creepy.

    But I’m not even that interested in composing anymore, or at least not in turning it into a product. Just playing around with sound on my own is rewarding enough at the moment. For me, composition was largely about figuring stuff out (both musically and technically) which is less of a motivation now, or if it is, I don’t feel compelled to share it with anyone else.

    Perhaps it’d be a different story if I had an audience that was clamouring to hear what I’m up to, but I don’t. So now I’m falling into the comfortable, middle aged pattern of collecting more & more tools, and producing less than when I had nothing but an ASR-10.

    I dunno, this might be a phase, through which I’ll emerge more productive than ever, but right now, I really don’t care. Part of my recent gear accumulation is with the intention of eventually getting back into jamming with friends (including you!) so we’ll see…

    Molekular looks like my kinda plugin, but I’ll wait until the next Komplete.

    1. Thanks for commenting. There are a number of things here I would like to respond to… some of it beyond the scope of a public blog comment. Just wait until you read the blog i’m currently editing. I think the main difference for me is that i’m still working in music tech academia and since i’m not writing papers I feel the pressure to be working on a skill that i’m being hired for. What i’m not sure about is where my skill is… at the moment I think it isn’t in performance and i’m wasting time and money focusing on that. If I think about what I enjoy about music… it is in the creation of works and the sharing of musical moments with people. The latter is mostly lacking from the live performances i’ve experienced lately either as a participant or an audient. The former I hope will always be there… the question is… what point is there in sharing when no-one wants to listen? When I listen to music from an artist I actually know – i’m not just listening for the sounds – i’m also aware that i’m listening as a social thing. I’m listening because they are sharing something personal in much the same way that i’m reading your comment and responding to it. Yet i’ve found myself making more and listening less. I wonder if it is like this for all the artists I know, who link me to their music that I don’t listen to because i’m to busy making it?

  2. Creative industries (including the arts & academia nexus) are also destructive industries. The main things they produce are anxiety and competitive politics. Some people manage to thrive in that environment. Sheer naive enthusiasm kept me going for several years, but eventually wore out. Personal circumstances meant that I was able to leave before becoming too damaged, but I’d been planning my escape for some time, certainly after finding http://earlyretirementextreme.com

    I think you have a lot to contribute to live electronic music performance, both as an artist and educator. I have always been interested in following the exploratory yet rigorous evolution of your live setups and processes.

    However I also agree with you that live performance in our experimental music scene can actually detract from compositional practice. I think that’s due to the strong influence of improvisation. The expectation became that every performance should be an entirely new work (unlike performance in most other musical genres). I performed solo several times a year over a period of several years and effectively came up with a half-finished new composition for each event, which would be tweaked or developed live on the night for the ‘performance’.

    [Mind you, I disagree with you about clip triggering, which is really just sample triggering, and doesn’t have to be done in a simplistic, join-the-dots way. For me it was usually the starting point for further manipulation of the sound.]

    This means that I now have several albums worth of unfinished (or leftover) material sitting on my hard drive, nagging at the periphery of my conscious/conscience. Without the enthusiasm of an audience or label or curator, that material may never be heard again, even though some of it is worthy.

    And you’re right that the abundance, or glut of new music is problematic. I now have literally years worth of music files on my hard drive which I’ll never listen to. The best I can do is put the collection in shuffle play from time to time and see what emerges, then use a ratings system to try to avoid losing the things I like. These days I don’t feel motivated to add to that glut with my own recordings.

    It’s also true that the flattening of culture thanks to the march of technology means that the underground isn’t underground anymore. When I was starting out, just being interested in electronic music made me an outsider, and frankly that was a big part of the appeal. Over the years I went from being an average sized fish in a tiny pond to an average sized fish in a vast ocean – one with plenty of sharks.

    Changing fashion/culture is also significant. I’ve done many different kinds of gigs over the years and had good and bad experiences across the board. While an engaged audience is ideal, the repressive, almost religious atmosphere of some ‘sound art’ gigs wasn’t necessarily superior to, say, the chillout room at a rave.

    Now experimental music seems to mean indie rock bands with synths. And again I feel like an outsider. But let the kids have their fun. I don’t need to be involved.

    You’re one of the few people I know who is musically on a similar wavelength to me, which is why I have and will always enjoy listening to your stuff. Without wanting to be prescriptive, I think the combination of post-industrial electroacoustics, absurdist collage and exploratory synthesis is still one of the most fertile areas for musical practice, even if it does seem to be completely out of fashion right now, at least in Australia (and probably always has been).

    In recent years, I’ve found site-specific installations to be my most creatively rewarding activity, but that’s another topic.

    Anyway, those are my rambling Sunday morning thoughts. You’re right that this topic is beyond the scope of blog comments, so I hope we can catch up properly sometime..

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