Forming Thoughts

After a month of back and forth I’ve finally got the K-Mix working.  Kudos to Evan from K.M.I. for his technical support.  Go buy his awesome Max For Live device.

So now the box looks like this:

Axoloti driven synth box

I’m still using the Macbook to run the Axoloti editor for now but hoping I won’t need it during gigs.
The Pad Kontrol is a great cheap Gumtree pickup that is perfect as a controller for the Axoloti as I can:

  • run it directly from the Axoloti USB port – no additional power supply or MIDI leads necessary;
  • edit MIDI CC and Note values on the fly for encoders and pads;
  • setup an X/Y controller for unique parameter morphing (X/Y also has an interesting roll function);
  • send program change values which curiously not many new MIDI controllers do (K-Mix included).

The fact that it sends PGM values means I can ditch the Macbook (or use it for visuals) once I work out a reliable way of creating patch-banks in the Axoloti (it’s there – just not 100% trustworthy yet).

At the moment the routing goes like this:

Inputs to K-Mix

  • 1 = SM58
  • 2 = System-1m
  • 3/4 = Nord Modular
  • 5/6 = Axoloti
  • 7/8 = Aira FX

Outputs from K-Mix

  • 1/2 = Main Outs to Desk
  • 3/4 = to Aira FX
  • 5/6 = to Nord Modular
  • 7/8 = to Axoloti

So plenty of scope for interesting routing – and then there is the modulation routing with the Quad LFO and Sys-1m.

My current direction is towards a series of improvisations with the Axoloti environment as a reloadable patching frame-work sending MIDI to the other synths.  These will be things I can setup and perform – producing multiple versions from the same template.

The first of these improvisations is at the start of this post.

Below is an improvisation with Joe using the setup (sans the K-Mix).

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Axoloti Love

The latest addition to my black box of synthesis is a small but powerful wonder.

Axoloti Core
Axoloti Core

It arrived on my birthday after taking only 5 days to travel from Belgium to Australia.   I’ve had packages from Melbourne take longer.

The Axoloti Core is the brainchild of Johannes Taelman.  It’s a PCB DSP with AUDIO I/O, USB and MIDI Ports, a power barrel and an SD card slot.  It connects via microUSB to a Java based editor program on Mac, Win and Linux to allow for the construction of complex processing chains.

The initial kick-starter pitch was for a modern virtual modular inspired by the Clavia Nord Modular series with modern compatibility and nods towards DIY and Open Source.   The end result is a cross between an Arduino board and Pure Data (which the editor strongly resembles).

 

Scripted Midi Drama factory patch
Scripted Midi Drama factory patch

As with all virtual modular environments there is a learning curve and you have to really want to work in a patch based environment.  Similar to Reaktor there are a lot of lower level elements required to patch things together and like Max and PD, your time will be spent browsing the community forums a lot.  While i’d suggest this board isn’t ideal for newbies, many of the modules come with PD like help patches accessible through the rt/clk context menu.  There is also this beginners guide by Jan Vantomme; worth a look even for the well-versed synthesist as it elaborates on the unique syntax with some straightforward examples.  The Shbobo Shnth could do with something similar.

The pay off to this learning curve is the ability to generate all kinds of unique patches combining synthesis techniques with sampling, wavetable and granular manipulation, algorithmic composition and MIDI processing.  It seems to be the broadest system i’ve come across attached to moveable hardware with 700 factory modules and modules can be coded which is perhaps why there are an additional 1300+ community modules.

Module code
Module code

As with the Arduino, code is uploaded to the board which can then be disconnected, rebooted and transported anywhere.  As the Axoloti Core is focused on DSP it already has enough elements for it to function as a synth, audio or MIDI processor without the need to solder additional elements though it also features numerous points to allow for the addition of encoders, switches, LEDs.

Over the last four years i’ve been on the look out for a Nord Modular G2 Engine to use as a “brain” for my setup.  They show up only rarely on eBay and are always priced beyond the realm of impulse purchase.  The Axoloti is a €65 bargain in active development offering more than the G2.  I’ve integrated it into the Black Box as a central nervous system, taking USB control from a NanoKontrol for now and MIDI notes from the Novation Circuit.  This MIDI will be parsed, augmented and sent on to the System-1m and Nord Modular.  It’s already mostly working, I just need to move towards making it compelling and usable in a performance environment.

The track at the top is my first attempt at loading a sample into the table for granulation.

To conclude I must confess to betting on the wrong horse initially.  The Axoloti kickstarted around the same time as Patchblocks which i’d already bought into.  I recall the Axo developer throwing some shade at the minimal specs of the PB and his very Euro arrogance was slightly off-putting.  In hindsight he was right – the PB really utilise the ability to connect multiples together to create a functioning set of modules.  With only one PB initially I found it underpowered for what I wanted to do and I was reluctant to “collect them all” when the later ones featured a different pin connection making them incompatible with my original.

While I’ve only had it one week my experience with the Axoloti has been the opposite – i’m still pretty much gaping at the near limitless potential, struggling to work out where to actually start.  I absolutely recommend the Axoloti for anyone interested in modular DSP, electronic instrument building and alternate approaches to synthesis.

YouTube is full of different examples of its usage with the work of Matthew Tyas being particularly compelling.  Here are two examples.

 

Relatively small black box

ancientummo

Musgrove Barrett are playing at the first Small Black Box in the returning series.

This happening will eventuate at:

East Brisbane Bowls Club – 38 Lytton Rd, East Brisbane QLD 4169

4pm – 9pm (Acts start at 6pm)

$10 entry

Here is a sampling of what to expect from one of our recent rehearsals.

I’ve been reworking my setup with the introduction of a moderately sized black box.

February '17 setup

(Trying to) K.I.S.S.

"I make the best doomsday. It's true."
“I make the best doomsday. It’s true.”

Hey, we’re not dead yet!

During the usual record-breaking heat of Brisbane summer it’s not easy to be productive but i’ve managed to work towards a few things.

  1. I’ve joined the Electronic Music Philosophy FB group which is an interesting forum for stimulating ideas not stifled by an academic setting.  The convenor Andrew Lloyd runs an excellent blog and occasionally posts challenges, the most recent being to compose a piece with only one item of gear as an audio source.  I chose the Shbobo Shnth, working to make it sound like Richard Skelton in negative space.  The full results are collected on this eclectic podcast.

    Feb 12, 2017. East Brisbane Bowls Club.
    Feb 12, 2017. East Brisbane Bowls Club.
  2. Small Black Box returns on Feb 12, 2017 and Joe and I are honoured to be among the artist scheduled to perform.  For those not around at the time, SBB was an essential monthly experimental series that ran from 2001 to 2005 in various venues throughout Brisbane.  Here is one of the earlier ones…

    So I’m working on a computer-less hardware setup for this performance.  The following video demonstrates it all synced from the SQ-1. The K-Mix will allow me to disperse the sound to QUAD. It should be noted that I don’t plan to make squiggly doof-doof the entire performance – this is merely a test that it does all work.
  3. RPM challenge is on again.  As you may realise I’m typically not very good at completing this – I’ve managed to complete it once.  Balancing work, parenting and creating is never easy but it’s often far worse in February due to preparation requirements for academia.  That said a fair chunk of Black Mercury was developed during this time.  So my plan this year is to not have a plan aside from focusing on Push 2 / Ableton sampling and software synths with a low-key ambient vibe.  I just recently picked up a ROLI Block and plan to try out the MPE with compatible synths like UVI Falcon, Madrona Labs AAlto, Kaivo and Logic’s Structure.  Also plan to try sending LUMEN visuals through it but so far that isn’t working.

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

newyearblah

 

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

screen-shot-2016-12-11-at-8-30-33-pm

screen-shot-2016-12-11-at-8-30-50-pm

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.

img_1385

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.