ideas, ramblings

Directions, skills and motivations

Here is a sample from the ongoing Black Mercury project.

I’ve managed to get a combination of the Nord / System-1m rack and Loopstation working pretty well in studio situations.

But i’m feeling like this setup is only going to stretch so far.

My current mood of self-reflection has been influenced by two amazing things I stumbled across this week.

Firstly this performance by the enigmatic Thighpaulsandra.

This is everything I love about electronic music referencing the experimental approaches of the European school without being overly stuffy or alienating.

Thighpaulsandra’s “The Golden Communion”  is an epic work that hasn’t quite met my expectations in comparison to his Double Vulgar works but it’s unquestionably in my top 10 audio releases for this year.  I’ve been happy to accept his glam rock leanings without entirely embracing them and the live performance has nothing that makes me shift uncomfortably.

In fact the above performance is something I would aspire to deliver.  Yet I’d be foolish to think I could compete with the decades of instrumental and compositional chops this gentleman demonstrates.  Still, it’s nice to have a hero.

The other influence was this great experimental engagement with the System-1m.

It alerted me to the fact that I could do much more with the System-1m than I have been.  However the unfortunately named Tidal (thanks to JayZ looks to be a codebase I can’t easily get my head around.

From these I get am reflecting that:

  1. my current musical outcomes are suffering from my approach which relies too much on instrumentalism I don’t adequately possess;
  2. the setup and technical process ensures interesting layering (horizontal) but the arrangement and development (horizontal) is lacking if not entirely absent;
  3. my interaction with the sound creators is only exploring them in a minimalist way with too much emphasis on destructive processing to hide instrumental inadequacies.

In jam situations i’ve been dealing with constant Ableton Live crashes and the Nord Editor dropping offline.

The latter seems to be somewhat reduced by picking the right USB hub – though it is still an issue (curiously only with the Macbook Air, not with the Mac Mini.)

The former is a result of the Air being tough but ultimately limited in CPU and Ram capabilities.  It’s almost always Crusher-X bringing Ableton down and so far i’ve not found a consistent way to predict it.  So while the jamming setup is pretty good – it’s not something I’d rely on for a performance setup.

Using the Zoom R8 to record Push/Ableton as Instrument jams works well with Joe – rather than hours of noise to pick through for the gold we get 8 tracks of semi-structured sound to more finely sculpt in a DAW.

In a studio situation the end result is much less compelling when it’s just iterations of me arbitrarily thumping the Push and Twiddling knobs to mangle the output.

So my goals are outstripping my means because my approach is relying on aspects of my musicality that are not optimal.

As a remedy to this i’ve been thinking about:

  1. leaving the push / mangling for the jam sessions;
  2. working on a comprovisational setup for live performance that does not push the boundaries of computing while remaining portable, accessible, musical (possibly Push with Falcon standalone using the PXT General)
  3. looking at non-realtime / rendered composition as an option for further exploring the hardware synths in my possession.

The issue with the latter is that none of the DAWs I own are accessible to do what I want, particularly with regard to algorithmic note composition and deep CC modulation.

The options are:

  • Logic X – whenever I try to do anything more than basic audio mixing or plugin usage it slows me right down.  I know it’s very powerful but it pisses me off so much;
  • Ableton Live 9 – now I have the Push I have been using it as an instrument, something the Push enables.  It also makes it even more difficult to use Live as a DAW.  I’ve never been a huge fan of the Arrange window and recording sections of audio in the session window makes for the kind of dull looping i’m trying to avoid;
  • Tracktion 6 – really like it for mixing audio – it’s very fast.  Haven’t had much luck composing with it however as it quickly gets unwieldy adding notation to multiple tracks with multiple CC for each.  I haven’t yet upgraded to Reaper 5 but my experience is it is much the same problem;
  • Usine Hollyhock 2 – I’m really waiting for the 64bit update at this stage.  This could well provide the happy medium between algorithmic composition and improvisation i’m looking for but it’s still somewhat flaky and unreliable and being 32bit it won’t run Falcon or Reaktor 6 😦
  • Renoise 3 – Curiously this über-tracker has so far yielded the best results.  Very good with QWERTY input of notes, very low latency hardware returns, impressive FX modulation which should be readily transferable to MIDI CC.  I’m not sure if it does Euclidean though.

My issues with the above lead me back towards a program called Opus Modus that I’ve eyeballed a few times over the last couple of years.  It doesn’t appear to have the depth of something like Extempore, but looks much more accessible with great tutorials and a curious Scrivener vibe.  Could this be my new amanuensis?

After watching the following video I’m pretty convinced I can effectively explore using Opus Modus to create interesting (and possibly Euclidean) patterns with CC modulation simultaneously for all synths.



Just a reality check.  It seems that I really need to spend more time with Logic – not just because I “should”.  My partner Stacey has started using Garageband on the iPad to record and arrange audio poems.  In helping her out with basic pre-mastering techniques before uploading to Soundcloud I’ve been thinking about my resistance to Logic and how it might be metaphorical and psychological – as in a reaction against logic.

My major issue is that ALL the material i’m currently making focuses on polishing of material generated with Ableton Push in real-time.  Surely the solution is to balance that out with some non-real-time and Logic has the largest set of tools for that.

I also found the Edgar Rothermich tutorials I bought in an attempt to learn LPX a year or so ago.  So I’m giving it another try for my offline composition.  Tools like Opus Modus, Sundog Scale Studio, Metasynth etc will extend this work in various ways.

Limitations are great when they can be effectively worked within but sometimes they feel like a prison.


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