One Last Gasp is out just in time for W.W.III (v5.15beta)

On hearing that Trumpy Mc Trump-face shot his load (of rockets) at a barren Syrian airfield I couldn’t help but feel that the world deserved another hour of comforting experimental music… so here it is… pay what you feel.

Using up all my CloudBounce credits I plopped this algorithmic monster out.  I figured I’d rather rely on robots to master the sounds herein for reasons perhaps obvious when you listen to it.  Analog warmth was certainly not a criteria.  I’m moving away from a “hands-on” approach to one more akin to tweaking the machine and the end result is some very odd moments that at times sound like contact-mic or field recordings, yet all is synthesised.

Tracks were generated real time and subsequently processed with Melodyne and sundry granular manipulators.  People expecting my usual chilled ambient drones may find some of it baffling but I haven’t gone full Hecker.  Learn to Fight in particular sound like robot versions of Joel Stern and I making free improvisational outdoor skronk.

I’m pretty happy with it: it’s a kind of angsty fist shake at a world I spend less and less time with given my responsibilities caring for Griffin.  My dad would have been 89 today.  I don’t imagine he’d like this much but I’m pretty sure he’d prefer it to watching shit go downhill as fast and far as it has since he’s been gone.

Hopefully someone will find this album enjoyable or therapeutic as I do.

It’s coming to the usual online streamers and sales places soon.

 

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

 

Syntagmatic Relationships

I’ve just released something new to Bandcamp (coming soon to the usual online distribution centres.)

This is an EP of four ambient experimental tracks originating in multichannel improvisation recordings post-manipulated into structures.

Each track is a figure with an associated image as shown on the back cover.

back

To explain the glib attribution a burst water pipe flooded the studio in my house necessitating an urgent gear move and temporary setup.  So far it seems that nothing important has been damaged.

The “returning lights” comment refers to a return to audiovisual work after a number of years.  More details on that soon.

In recent times I also published a four track EP of improvised music with Paul Forbes Mitchell.  The primitivist aesthetic contrasts pretty well to Syntagma

 

Black Mercury unpacked

Origin Story

Most of my releases coalesce into a conceptual framework within development. While each track remains an island, in a less direct way than Archipelago, the sonic and thematic blueprints start with an audio-visual picture drawn from this article from the New York Times.  In particular the quote from Safi al-Safi:

‘Red mercury has a red color, and there is mercury that has the color of dark blood,’’ he said. ‘‘And there is green mercury, which is used for sexual enhancement, and silver mercury is used for medical purposes. The most expensive type is called Blood of the Slaves, which is the darkest type. Magicians use it to summon jinni.’’

I’m particularly drawn to the idea of an arms dealer weaving folklore into an up-sell for a mythical element, and the application of that element in the generation of an elemental.  At the same time I was spending a lot of time in the sound lab working towards a unique blend of sounds through morphing.  Not something new to my practice at all but something I’ve been focused on as a technique worth further development.  It was during this experimentation that I stumbled across the combination of Air Loom with the System-1m through Zynaptiq Morph 2.  The combination of variable additive partials and subtractive resonance lead to the arcing electrons of “Blood of the Slaves” and established a timbral direction for this release.

Experimentation Period

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Having a specific sonic blueprint required some time experimenting and a fair bit of patience.  I started this process in November 2015 and until April had no completed tracks.  I’ve released a number of other things in that time while this project remained in the background growing slowly.  The extra time was required to experiment with combinations of hardware / software in addition to striving for the particular vibe. Much of the material originated as experimental pieces, recorded with several variations then cut to pieces, resampled and arranged with Push2.  There’s also a lot more melodic and rhythmical material than perhaps usual with my stuff.  This is partly due to the nature of the Push interface making this style of composition much easier…  it’s also something I’ve grown into over the last year.  An appreciation for the sonic complexities and diversities of Musique Concrète alongside the electronic possibilities demonstrated by the likes of Rashad Becker or the last few years of Autechre has pushed me towards grafting something that isn’t content to sit smugly in a corner labelled “Experimental Sound Art”.

Mixing and Processing

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All of the pieces come from an improvised foundation.  Where possible I recorded multiple channels from the MOTU / Push2 setup to the Zoom R16 to be combined and manipulated later in Tracktion 7.   Most wave-shaping and glitch effects were part of the initial Push2 mixing leaving reverb and filtering for post-production.  Most of what I’m doing in T7 is arrangement however – juggling and reconstructing the parts – parallel busses with divergent EQ settings.

Everything ends up going through U-He Presswerk with an -18dB Preset and then a Melda Limiter at 2.5:1.  I’m normalising everything to -18dB RMS on this release to maintain some amplitude consistency and also due to it being a slightly noisier album than I usually make.  These choices may not be for the best but I do what my ears tell me to do.  I should note that T7 crashed to desktop so many times during the mixdown process this week that I wondered if I was running Windows XP.  Much as I love the flexibility and approach it is frustratingly unstable at times.

Track by Track

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Blood of the Slaves

This is the origin of the vibe of Black Mercury.  Air Loom and Roland System-1m through Zynaptiq Morph.  I’m playing both instruments via the Push in realtime and also twisting the X/Y of the morph index to create sudden timbral disturbances.  The second half is the same process with Nord Modular and some unintelligible vocal samples to represent the “jinni”.

Prefer the Company of Machines

Initial track  jammed out on the V-Synth with a super-banal E-Piano patch running through AH Effekthascher with its settings modulated by K-Devices Tip.  I took the original jam and attempted to chop some structure into it.  With the addition of effected drum ‘n bass rhythms it skews oddly towards a style of jazz-lite infused glitch that was somewhat popular in the early ’00s.  The title is empathetic towards my son whose vocalisations are bit-crushed into the fabric of this work.  I regularly empathise with his preference for screens and gadgets over human interaction.

Imposter Syndrome

A layered improvisation with the Push 2 running Nord Modular through Madrona Labs Virta, and some Micro Modular percussion through AH Effekthascher.  Joe has the MM at the moment – looks like it could be taking him in an interesting direction.  This is arguably the rawest moment on the album.  “This is me now” – pretending to be a musician.  Wondering why people listen, why I get jobs teaching when all the electronic musicians I’ve met create more palatable sound than I do. Hence the title.

Memorium

The essential follow-up to the previous track – this is my “Avant-Classical” moment. It’s essentially two tracks of Shbobo Shnth – resampled and played from the Push and run through FX.  The Timpani / Bass is filtered low and put through some Melda Saturation.  The other “Viola” track is going through Fog Convolver with a snare brush impulse and then through 2CB2 reverb for the lush space.  The original Shnth sound is more like a “Squeezebox” accordian.  The theme of the track: nostalgia is a form of depression – thinking back to how much better things used to be…

at Play in the Fields of Borges

Another track focusing on Shnth sampling – this track is built mostly by chopping up a jam into slices and improvising to the Zoom R16.  I wanted something more overtly “Concrète” so my focus was primarily on simple manipulations and juxtapositions rather than processing.  The sound of what I believe are Masked Lapwings is a recording I made at 2am one morning a year or so ago.  The title is self-indulgent reference to made-up landscapes – i’m pretentious to a fault.

Cloud Refuge

Starts with the amazing sound of a synthesised flute being overblown – courtesy of the amazing Nord Modular.  In many ways this sound is destined to refer to the Lapwings from the previous track.  The rhythm and bass backing is classic Roland System-100 courtesy of the Plug-Out (run through the Sys-1m hardware though).  Then we have the quite epic Dulcimer, a patch from one of my V-Synth banks run through Magnetic (a fab Space Echo emulation for Live.)  Various parts of the track are put through Crusher-X for maximum aggression and B2 for dragon wings.  I’m thinking of Permutation City here. So much music has been sucked up into the iCloud – how soon before our physical manifestations yearn to join our data?

the Church of Enlightened Disinterest

Another smart-arsed title that doesn’t quite do the music justice – though the pattern does avoid commitment and resolution.  I used J74 Progressive to make the initial pattern a clear(ly fake) guitar patch on the V-Synth which I then iterated on through multiple tracks of Ircam real-time audio to MIDI conversion triggering a series of Kaivo sounds.  I don’t remember where the rhythm came from – I suspect the DM-1 iPad app – in my head I hear John Balance chanting to it.

Agbogbloshie

Look it up some time.   It’s one of the most toxic places in the world (and also an eco-tourism destination!)  The source of the toxicity is e-waste.  When I started thinking about this project I thought about where the “blood of slaves” might come from in modern times.  Is it the slaves in the sweatshops that build circuitry for Apple and Samsung?  Is it the mindless masses chained eternally to their smartphones?  Is it the tens of thousands of Ghanians guaranteed respiratory problems from lead poisoning at the end of this production chain?  This lament is an extended sigh from the Shnth with a combination of B2 and Kaleidoscope processing to bring out the ghosts.

One Frozen Moment

“… when everyone sees what is on the end of the fork.”  For me it is our struggle to live creative middle class lives in late stage capitalism, while continuously looking over our shoulder at the black dog of climate change.  It genuinely surprises me that I can align the prose and ideas of William S Burroughs to left-leaning environmentalism.  In spite of his sexual preferences, his perspective, however arch, always seemed to the right of libertarianism.  At any rate… this is the machine running by itself with limited human intervention.  Mainly pops and clicks from System-1m running through the Scooper and Demora delay.  The ending lacks the fireballs of the intro – it’s a ghostly abandonment.

Artwork

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The artwork had an equally important influence on this release.  As the sonic and thematic concepts reiterate the combination of different elements to create a mythical whole – so the develop of deep-dream, neural-network analysis art has inspired my visual aesthetic… ably supported by the Pikazo app which generates morphs in around 10mins.

The cover image was a lucky combination of my face and the circuitry of a Roland RE-20 Space Echo.  With some touching up via the (now free) Nik Collection in Photoshop it reminded me of Peter Gabriel’s initial solo album cover art (produced by Peter Christopherson for Hipgnosis.) I reiterated this concept in different guises for the interior panels.

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While it has been suggested that this is a narcissistic approach I disagree for the following reasons:

1) I’m “owning” my music/organised sound by putting my face to it.  This is one of the more accomplished things I’ve done (in my opinion) and I’m prepared to back it up with my face – for better or worse.  My psych would be proud of me i’m sure.

2) As minimalist music requires a simple central feature to illuminate the process here my face is the dull constant manipulated to greater surrealistic potential.

3) Is it really narcissistic to wanna make my face look weird?

tHE eneMY wIThin

Cleaning out my hard-drive the other day I found a lost Makrotulpa album.

I polished it up a bit and present it to you here.

Listening back i’m not entirely surprised I forgot about it. Not that it’s bad so much as it being profoundly negative.  Perhaps it’s my Pornography?

The title originally came from something I was reading about US anti-terrorism laws but it applies equally to the bouts of depression i’ve been battling on and off over the last few years.  If you need a soundtrack for pondering your insignificance while capitalism is slowly replaced by desperate feudalism…

Chronologically it follows Radio Atlantis, there are a few “bangers”, but mostly it mutters and sulks in the corner.  Some tracks have already appeared on SoundCloud in slightly different guises.

This is most likely the last Makrotulpa release (though there is a track on the latest Ambient Online compilation) as it is much easier to manage, distribute (and owe tax) on stuff using my own name.

Listen for free – pay if you want.

The answer to life, the universe and everything.

Apologies this is from the (not dreadful but less hip) movie rather than the TV show.  Stephen Fry gives good monologue however.

42

That’s how long i’ve been alive (though are we ever “truly” alive?)  I won’t pretend to have discovered the answer to life, the universe and everything however I do know that my life heavily relies on the ability to synthesise sonic environments.

Joe Musgrove has been a co-pilot on this journey for over 15 years and as it is my birthday I feel it is my prerogative to draw your attention towards two collaborative releases that are at this time the most vital fruits of our voyage.

Originally intended for release on vinyl in 2015 the rapidly deflating Australian dollar made it financially inadvisable.  Culled from a set of electroacoustic improvisations in 2014 this is, in my opinion, our most effective ambient work emphasising spatial depth and subtle modulations.  We’re using Concréte techniques with a mix of microphonic manipulation, turntables, analogue and digital hardware.  Perhaps the soundtrack to an imaginary Bela Tarr film set in a dystopian future.

Some of the most accessible work we’ve done, these pieces were constructed via a layered system of improvisation.  Recording to the Zoom R8 we improvised a foundation track and then filled each additional track out with subtle colour and divergences.  For all but two of the tracks I’m using Ableton Push 2 as a semi-live sampler reworking Joe’s turntable manipulations into structural components.  The resultant separate tracks were taken into Tracktion where EQ and spatialisation was applied.  In some cases I used Melodyne 4 to remove irritating noises and embellish certain elements.  It really is a magical tool – especially in a DAW that supports ARA which allows for direct interaction with the audio material.   Compared to the previous release you can see a similar emphasis on tactility, texture and spatialisation being applied to a more populist framework with references to break-core and ambient house.