2016 – you bastard!

2016summary

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.

I’ve also played at some great gigs (particularly at the Lindsay Crawford curated Oscilloscapes) with some strong improvisatory turns that I will hopefully nurture and extend into 2017.  For one I’m excited about the impending return of Small Black Box under the curatorship of David Loose, the best engineer for experimental music i’ve ever worked with.

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.

Be well.

Lloyd W Barrett

2016

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Fun with Python, current build and distribution.

Managed to not record adequate video to convey the house gig / debut of “Thought-Forms” material from a couple of weekends back.  Here is all I got…

I felt the experience was positive and received some great feedback that set my mind into motion towards further refinement of the approach.  As always the balance of complexity, depth, playability and fun needs some tweaking.

This week an inspiring post from Tom Whitwell (creator of the Turing Machine modular sequencer) got me temporarily back into coding.  For those who’d rather not click – the gist of it is a python script that creates a Cagean set of directions for composition building.

I’ve modified Tom’s template to focus on descriptive text and Oblique Strategies for Audio and Video as this helps me build up an improvisatory framework for each “Thought Form”.   Here is my variation.screen-shot-2016-12-11-at-8-27-40-pm

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If you’re not familiar with Python (which i’m not overly) Tom provided some instructions which i’ve amended below:

To run the script on a Mac (or another computer with Python installed):
Click ‘Download .zip’ and copy the file ‘thtfrms.py’ into a folder somewhere.
Open Terminal, type ‘cd’ and a space. Then drag the folder containing ‘thtfrms.py’ into the Terminal window and hit return. You’re now in that folder.
Now type: ‘python thtfrms.py’
If you look in the folder, you’ll find a text file with a made up name like ‘Qoyatenu.txt’. This is the complete score for your new album, entitled Qoyatenu.

The current hardware build has changed a bit since I last posted.

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After much back and forth I sold the RC-505 to Hhaarrpp in order to open up for some new approaches.

Just prior to the aforementioned gig I picked up a K-Mix (bottom right) which I’m using to replace the MOTU Ultralite (which takes up the display port required for a projector adapter.)  One of the most impressive things about it is how flexible it can be for different setups.  While initially I thought i’d use it as an audio-interface it’s currently working as a mixer (with 3*stereo send channels!!) and MIDI controller allowing me to focus all of the computer CPU on visuals.1 It will also be useful for getting back to live surround processing (if I can find a situation that warrants it.)

The Kaoss Pad returns to my setup as a performative send FX (a bargain Gumtree find – I can’t believe how much they go for new these days).  It is synced to the Novation Circuit which will add sequencer arrangement “glue” to the more abstract droning from the other synths.  So far my experience with the Circuit has been good.  It can make some quirky bass and pad sounds and the ability to load samples on it will ultimately prove useful when I can get around to making interesting percussion sounds to replace the default lame ones.  I am most impressed with the ability to work with it in bed, on public transport or wherever due to the battery function.

Another thing to point out – the Lemur template pictured is cobbled together especially for Lumen.  It features all controls mapped with some automatable controls for the LFOs, Oscillator Skew and X/Y pad.  It can be downloaded from here.

Work on Thought-Forms will progress over the summer holidays here in Australia. Will hopefully have some material to release and gigs to do though i’m still struggling to find an appropriate case for the Nord / Sys1m / Aira rack.  It is too wide for any suitcases i’ve found so far.

Finally – my recent EP Syntagma is out digitally at the usual places for download and streaming.

1 I was finding the Push 2 setup becoming quite laggy while running Lumen

 

Project: Thought Forms / Artist: Makrotulpa

A quick browse to the beginnings of this blog will show that at one stage I was focused on researching AV performance approaches.

I stopped in part because I started to feel that my goal of a performance setup where sound and image could be synthesised simultaneously in real time was being limited by rising CPU/GPU requirements and a lack of money to pay for them.  It also seemed a little ludicrous chasing the high end when my musical inspiration is more around small scale abstraction where individual perception joins the dots.

Today i’m happy to say the dream is close and I’m back experimenting with AV.  Here is an early demonstration.

I’m using Lumen, an exceptionally capable real-time visual synthesiser, that just recently received MIDI control capabilities.   I designed the Max For Live controller so that I can manipulate it from the Push, record automation and most importantly save parameters with PPTC which can store settings for any device on a per-channel basis.  So I can improvise and save the more interesting combinations.

I’m also using the Encoder Audio Max For Live sequencers quite extensively here.  Particularly the Source and Turing Machines going to the Synths and Polyrandom to Microtonic for percussion.  The Encoder Audio stuff is great to control from the Push 2 (with some fiddling) and sends mapping data to other controls which is where the AV connection will ultimately arise:  rather than doing the usual (and to me boring) envelope to opacity trick i’m more keen for sequenced modulation mapping from different elements to different elements.

All of this is early days.  It seems to be fine to play with so long as I smooth the modulations before hitting Lumen.  So far recording with Syphon has lead to a crash everytime so it’s not stable.  There is a gig in a month or so to work to and maybe some AV recordings.

Cloudbounce Blind Test Results

 

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My mixing/mastering DAW of choice, Tracktion, has just added CloudBounce as a feature.  This is one of those online mastering services like Landr, centered around a machine-learning algorithm.  The results of the blind test are below.

 

I tested Landr also when it launched and the results indicated it was expecting a more conventional kind of track – not the variable dynamics and lack of consistent transients common to electroacoustic improvisation (or “noise” if you’d prefer!) While i’m happy to explore procedural generation as a creative tool for visual art and sound design i’m not entirely convinced it has a place in finalisation of tracks as these choices seem to me to be highly personal.

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Having said all the above – while I’ve studied some of the approaches to mastering – I have no specific qualifications.  So I thought i’d do a blind test.  The playlist below features a track mixed by Joe from an session we did a month ago.  I’ve uploaded his raw stereo file to Cloudbounce to see what it could make of it.  I’ve also done my own mastered version in the box using only the software I have regular access to.  The results can be streamed or downloaded.

My questions to listeners:

  1. Which is the Cloudbounce master and which is my version?
  2. Which do you prefer?

RESULTS (including poll data and PMs)

Note very few people who PM’d me chose to guess which was the CloudBounce master however of those that did, and including the poll results, 60% of the vote guessed the second track was mastered through CloudBounce.

The reality is that the CloudBounce master was track 1.

The response was pretty unanimous that track 1 was the preferred track with greater definition.  It was also considered to be “louder”.  One user responded that they thought the second track was “dull” whereas another, while suggesting track 1 was a better mix, liked the softer focus of track 2.

Personally I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the CloudBounce master. Of particular interest to me was the increased sonic space it brought out, situating the spiky transients more effectively amongst the deep / distant reverberant sounds.

One caveat is that my mastering attempt was not thorough.  I was working with a pre-mixed stereo track and merely applied Airwindows Console4(Buss and Console) with Melda Spectral Dynamics and TurboComp flattening the overall sound somewhat which perhaps accounts for the dull / unfocused result.  Clearly I have some learning to do.

I’m certainly keen to use CloudBounce services again.  If you are reading this and would like to test it out please click this referral link and let me know how you go.

 

 

Catching up with Chronos

It’s been a while… managed to shift some piles of work into the “Out” tray just in time for…

NIME + Unconference

The New Interfaces for Musical Expression conference is on in Brisbane this year.

Some very exciting stuff to see / hear / talk about and I’ve been tasked with organising the Unconference at The Edge.  Amongst the guests we are blessed with DJ Sniff and the Sonic Manipulator demonstrating their approaches to performance and composition.

The Sonic Manipulator will also be performing at the showcase gig in the evening with fab local innovators, Feet Teeth, Hetleveiker and LopezDonado.

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Noise Wall

Joe Musgrove, Adam Sussman and I provide audiovisual support to the closing night party of Ali Bezer’s Noise Wall.  Was pretty chaotic and we ended up losing the audience war to a nearby coast music band (think somewhere between RHCP and Led Zeppelin) but overall a fun night and some unique sounds.  Here is an excerpt.

Reaktor 6

In my period of catching up I’ve been getting back to Reaktor 6, particularly messing with the Blocks now that the user library is presenting some very mature options.  Michael Hetrick’s Euro Reakt Blocks are essential as is the Instrument Browser for drag / drop time saving.

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One thing I have found kinda irritating is the Push knobs not being available for Blocks.  Despite PrEditor making them available for most ensembles the controls aren’t always consistently added which makes sense when you consider these are discrete modules to be connected as you wish in a more temporary fashion.

The best solution i’ve found is to add a M4L CC sender patch like ControlChange8 from Robert Henke and use Reaktor’s MIDI learn.  Saves the messing around for making crazy sounds.

Loopstation

Last bit of news – a surprise firmware update for the RC505 which has been crying quietly in my cupboard for the last few months.  The key changes for me are the ability to have up to three simultaneous effects on both in and out though I’d like it more if there was a way to route certain tracks through certain effects.  There are also a bunch of additional CCs to allow external assignment (which makes the guitar players happy) and a useful ALL CLEAR function.

Most disappointing addition has to be the monitoring function.  The phone jack used to just output headphone sounds – now you can choose which track to hear but sadly it is post-gain for each looper which makes it kinda useless for monitoring in my opinion.  Would be nice to have the phones monitor the input or pre on individual tracks before making them live.  Oh well – a missed opportunity. Overall there’s enough goodness to get it out again though – I bashed out a track with it in celebration of Roland’s surprise continuing support of a device I’d assumed they’d forgotten about.

 

How to be a sound artist?

It seems to me that nothing encourages me to work on my sound art less than having an arbitrary motivator.  I said I would make some Weekly Beats and gave up after 2 weeks.  I said I’d rise to the RPM challenge and so far i’ve got a lot of short weird sketches with no clear connection to each other.  I’ve promised a “Black Mercury” by the end of Feb and it’s really not looking promising.  Still… I’ve been busy.

Push 2 screen

I’ve always been into sampling, from messing with varispeed tape dubbing through Aureal Vortex and Audigy soundcards with replaceable sample memory to Korg Microsampler & Roland SP404 arrangements.  From my childhood listening to stuff like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and later… Coil, I’ve always been interested in the Fairlight.  A monolith sampler workstation and the closest thing to what the Push 2 has become in my workflow.  This is great for opening my creativity and enthusiasm but getting used to the new paradigm has slowed my ability to produce work that I want to share.  I feel like the end results are in many ways less overtly experimental as I actually feel like I have more control.

A basic track might start by me recording something from YouTube, a record or a synth.  From the Push I can then convert this to a sample that can be edited, pitched, filtered, warped and effected.  If I choose to slice it into short clips I can convert it further into a drum-rack where each slice is its own discrete sample with completely different setting and a different FX path.  The possibilities seem endless but there is a clear workflow where sonic tangents are discovered and actioned immediately.

Melodyne in Tracktion 6

Lately I’ve been editing some multitracks culled from live jams where I have utilised this approach alongside Joe Musgrove’s electronics and turntablisms.  Below is an example.  The original session ended up with three mono-tracks which i’ve extracted to Tracktion 6 as I find it easier to use than Ableton’s arrangement view.  From there I used Melodyne 4 (which expertly slots into Tracktion – see above image) to polyphonically edit some of the more annoying sounds out, shaping the overall frequency and stereo fields with Melda Linear EQ and Stereo Generator and a touch of Sparkverb.  There is also an instance of Kaleidoscope processing one track into a metallic drone.  I think it works pretty nicely.

Onwards and upwards!

 

Skye from Terminal Sound System happens to be the prior owner of the fantabulous Nord Modular Rack.  The other day he seemed rather curious as to why the Nord Modular was not appearing in my setup photos.

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So after a friendly suggestion from Nick G I find myself able to present in a manner fitting to my current level of geekery.

Behold the vertical…

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*EDIT:  I guess I should expand upon this.  The V-Synth, Nord Modular, System-1m and LoopStation are all synced off Ableton through my MOTU interface and a MIDI Quadra splitter.  I can also plug the splitter into the V-Synth to sequence off that.

Up next is something pretty from my new friend Walter Stone.  It makes me think of Brian Eno playing through a broken radio – perfect ambient music.