New spaces

It’s been a while!

We’ve moved to a new location which means I have a new space.  I like this one much better than the previous.  Acoustically it is likely not as reliable but it’s certainly more comfortable and inspiring.

I have been busy with moving, setting up and teaching sound design, acoustics and academic research.  My partner has recently acquired a full-time job so my teaching hours will be replaced with parental responsibilities very soon.

Aside from some sessions with Joe and Paul i’ve been mostly setting up a comfortable space.  We have some material i’m in the process of polishing for a release some time in the next couple of months.  It will be extensions on material we debuted at Oscillo Scape VI as the Musgrove Barrett Hetleveiker Trio.   Here is a raw mix of one section.

Flipped some gear, acquired some new stuff.

The Creative Wing

System-1m and Aira stuff is gone as I was struggling with the tendency to sound like every other synth-wave artist in love with John Carpenter.

Have been using the V-Synth a lot more since mid-year, sampling stuff onto it and making weird layers of sound.  For such a big expensive synth it makes really shitty sounding noise but I’m loving the roughness.  I’ve mounted it with the Push and PadKontrol (for the Axoloti) onto a drafting board I found while moving which gives it a useful angle.

Volca FM came and went, replaced by the Yamaha Reface DX.  Now the price is more reasonable, it’s an absolute gem for droney pads and relatively easy to program.  The Volca was too fiddly for my frog fingers and the 3 note maximum is more suited to mono sequences and basses that i’m less into using.

Nord Modular and Axoloti are still very much part of the setup.  Also acquired a Nord Drum as I am trying to imbue my tracks with unique rhythmic qualities that don’t rely on samples so much.  It cuts through very nicely.

The Mixing Wing

The Nektar Panorama P1 is a control surface which i’m using with Reaper (and maybe Logic).  Makes the process of mixing more pleasurable though it takes a little while to get used to the functionality.  Aside from mixing and transport control I can work at the channel level controlling EQ and other Inserts, apply automation and control instrument parameters if need be.  A very handy addition and very flexible.

 

 

Advertisements

(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

 

Not all people like what I like and that’s just fine!

Here is a musical demo combining Push, Madrona Lab’s Kaivo and Zynaptiq’s new Adaptiverb which sounds like it could be an essential tool for us Ambient muso’s who use reverb as an instrument.

I haven’t been super productive over the last fortnight as I’ve been spending most of my spare time with No Man’s Sky, the latest implementation of a thing I very much like, exploring procedurally generated worlds.

NMS_Mania
My ugly mug in a NMS landscape via Pikazo

Noctis is probably the earliest obsession in this regard though i’ve always played flight simulators and open world RPGs for much the same reason.  While there is an overarching story to the universe it is mostly flavour to set atmosphere.

NoctisIV
Noctis IV

I showed NMS to Joe and he agreed it was “Noctis on ‘Roids”.

nms_example
No Man’s Sky – can’t capture screenshots without Steam – very tech-no-logic-al.

What has been slightly depressing is watching the online tantrums among those who were clearly expecting something more like Star Wars.   Game elements are minimal and repetitive but comparable to similar titles with a similar focus on exploration and procedural generation.  While it is certainly buggy and unoptimised, something that is more glaring is the apparent disparity between what was demonstrated during development, feeding the hype, and reality.  This amusing video summarises it quite well.

It’s quite clear to me the first one does not utilise substantial procedural generation as the creatures look realistic… and dull.

I recall the same negative response to Spore – and this excellent article by Soren Johnson thoughtfully explores the chasm between ground-breaking theories and hard truths about game design.  I certainly think that NMS is an interesting case.  While it didn’t suffer the same amount of interference with a much smaller development team it certainly seems to be copping a similar backlash.

Library of Babel
The Library of Babel

One thing with Procedural Generation is that you can end up with the “Library of Babel” effect – illustrated above by a generated page from one book, on one shelf, on one wall of the section in the virtual library generated by my birthdate in hexadecimal format.  A real page-turner!

If the player can bring some of their own imagination to NMS then I feel it is quite an engaging procedural sandbox but placing this in a commercial game is clearly problematic.  Noctis IV was a free game as is the more serious / less gamey Space Engine.   Artmatic Voyager (from the makers of Metasynth) is a payware title that generates Procedural Worlds but not real time environments; rather it renders attractive backdrops for you to populate with your own sci-fi assets.

artmaticExample
Artmatic Voyager

Perhaps the most promising procedural worlds generator on the horizon is Ultima Ratio Regum – but that appeals more to the rogue-like obsessed who also worship at the altar of Dwarf Fortress (nothing wrong with that!)

Anyway – that’s my two cents.  To return to the more music focused purpose of this blog – Ohmwrld is something I worked on with Joe that is inspired by virtual worlds and features cover art generated by Bryce, one of the earlier strands of Artmatic Voyager.

And here is something that sounds procedurally generated (but is actually improvised) that I made recently with Paul Forbes-Mitchell.

Final thoughts – the death of Makrotulpa is exaggerated – something new is coming.

Level Up!

OK i’ve been playing lots of Fallout 4, Witcher 3 (and lately Grim Dawn) so I feel like giving myself some achievement points.

10 points to charisma for Synth-table setup with Push allowing (mostly*) screen-less Ableton Live usage.

Synth-Table
Synth-Table

10 points to cunning for getting Nord Modular Editor running on Macbook Air via Wine affording localised tweakage.

Nord Modular Editor on OSX Yosemite via Wine
Nord Modular Editor on OSX Yosemite via Wine

5 points to intelligence for reasoning (correctly) that Plogue Bidule could host the editors for System-1m and System-100 plug-out AND

5 points to luck for getting it working without either editors suffering from MIDI timeouts.

Plogue Bidule hosting Roland System-1 plug-outs
Plogue Bidule hosting Roland System-1 plug-outs

10 bonus points to spirit for unpredictable but awesome capabilities of Bidule’s Randomize and Mutate functions.  (Beware volume spike at 18sec mark!)

*I say mostly – it’s about 50/50 really.  The Push 2 looks to be a bit more self-contained.

2016 – getting past the melancholy cycles

2016 – getting past the melancholy cycles

The best thing I did in 2015 was complete (to me) the ultimate ambient track.  Here it is, released as part of the fifth iteration of Ambient Online.

2015 brought on a number of personal stresses, not least the death of my father, that hampered my ability to focus, network and evolve.

I grief-shopped my way towards a number of excellent musical setups but have so far found it a challenge to settle on a strategy.  Perhaps this waywardness is actually a feature but then I realise i’m spending more time setting and resetting my setup than making.

the Bell Bower studio
the Bell Bower studio

Taking December off Facebook seemed merely to highlight my isolation and my newfound spare time was mostly spent playing Fallout 4 and Witcher 3.

It seems as soon as I announce I’m doing something (even with a relatively clear direction) the motivation and ability to do that thing falls by the wayside.  I’m still determined to finish whatever Black Mercury is but it may need to shift form slightly.

Resolutions just remind me of government/political machinations and rather than attempt to trick my mind into believing something to be of relative importance I’m suggesting my primary intentions for 2016 are:

focus on the art not the tools – much of my recent approach is extending a technique – this has become frustrating as the results are often unpredictable so… focus on the end product more than the unreliable process;

really use what i’ve got – stop grief shopping – synthetic enhancements, both cyber and IRL, are not helping me be more creative or productive.  A Push 2 is arriving soon and i’m particularly looking forward to using the new sampling / conversion tools with the synths directly from the device.  Keeping the setup up simple and focused will hopefully allow the uniqueness of my work to unfold naturally while I level up my synthesis skills;

research and production are parallel not serial – much of my time is spent researching, contemplating and executing new approaches and technologies.  I love this but I think it needs to be made clear (to myself) that the research can run parallel and influence the work but it does not have to directly precede and/or lead to results for public consumption. Spending too much time conceptualising and not enough actually doing;

create socially – this may be the hardest ask but for so long music making has been a solitary pursuit (excepting the occasional jams with Paul and Joe).  I’d like to find another outlet for compositional and performative collaboration – be it virtual or IRL.  So if you read this and have an idea I might be able to contribute to let me know because I’m keen to get out a little more.

help others create –  as a teacher i’m already kinda doing this so maybe that should read “others that give a shit” ;-P  Recently Stacey started playing her flute again and with the aid of my old iPad 2 running LoopyHD has been putting together exceptionally well formed audio poems (see below).  Given that we have collaborated in the past (and my incredible valuable skillset #incrediblyobvioussarcasm) it might make sense to produce her stuff but given this world is full of women produced by men only because they aren’t allowed to touch the man toys I feel that it would be more productive to help her learn how to use Logic.

Favourite things of 2015

The Laundry Series by Charles Stross.  Imagine a hybrid of “The Thick Of It” style political satire with a more Lovecraft-leaning “The X-Files”.  My disinterest in literary serialisation was shattered by this series which manages to be both hilarious and gripping.

The Golden Communion by Thighpaulsandra.  For someone as immersed in creative synthesis as I currently am, this is a no-brainer.  There are loads of great Bandcamp albums made with synths this year but most, for better and sometimes worse, focus narrowly on particular aesthetics with less consideration for the arrangement over time. I’d include my own releases this year within in this criticism and need to credit Stacey for helping me identify this issue.  I’ve always found it difficult to recommend TPS albums as his eclecticism tends to alienate, but it is precisely this that makes this more than just another great synth album.

Dangerous Orbits by Bérangère Maximin.  Very glad to know that concréte approaches have a place in a time when everything is digitally possible.  Also happy that it isn’t just a boys club.

This year for visual treats has not been good at all.  While there have been a few things i’ve enjoyed, there is nothing new and essential that I can recommend.  This is partly down to time and focus.

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 et..al..) 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.

 

UPDATE:

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.