Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Means of Production (Part 2)

Sorry I didn't post Monday or Tuesday - cluster headaches got in the way. Nevertheless...

Featured above is a picture I took of the performance rig during setup. You can see the metal plates that were used for reproduction, and the "back to the audience" setting of the environment.

Today's post is all about the front end of the performance system - the modular synthesizer. Since this performance featured the modular (and me patching the modular), it was an important part of both the sound and the performance experience.

My modular is a two cabinet system, featuring a mix of modules and other modular (by Moon, Encore and MegaOhmAudio). I started with a blank slate (no patch cords inserted, no settings in place); from there, I created patches for each of the five movements in the piece. My modular is built in two "voices", with each voice filling a cabinet. Here is a closer view of the modular:

You'll notice a "Kentucky spitting gap" in the cabinet on the left - this is the place where the Grove Audio VCLFO will eventually go, as well as an Instrument interface that wasn't in the house at the time of the performance. In any case, the flow of the concert went as follows:

Movement 1: Set up a noise-based sound on the right-hand cabinet, start patching a melodic sound on the left.

Movement 2: Play the melodic sound on the left-hand cabinet, start patching a dual-oscillator feedback sound on the right.

Movement 3: Play the feedback sound on the right-hand cabinet, start patching a dueling counter-melody on the left.

Movement 4: Play the counter-melody on the left-hand cabinet, set up the noise-based finale on the right.

Movement 5: Play the noise sound on the right-hand cabinet.

Since I was jacking and knob-twisting the whole time, it gave the audience something to key into. There were a lot of questions afterward about the use of the modular, the differentiation of the sound from the effects, and how much was pre-recorded (! - NONE OF IT!!!). I got to introduce a lot of people to a new sort of music-making machine, and give them a little glimpse into the efforts required for some people - mad people like me - to make some noise.

It really did go great, even through Movement 4 sort of failed (it had gotten dark, and I think I mis-plugged the quantizer outputs somehow). In any case, success was felt, and I got to do a fairly heavy-duty modular gig for an art crowd that seemed intrigued.

More tomorrow (or so) on the output section and effects.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Means of Production (Pt. 1)

So Thursday was the Big Gig at Object+Thought in Denver. My first public solo performance with the modular+laptop rig, and it couldn't have gone better. The place was filled, I had an interesting reproduction system (amplified steel plates - think plate reverb and you'll be close) and everything was well-rehearsed.

The name of the piece was "The Means of Production", and I flipped the normal performance setup around: I sat with my back to the audience, and had them watch me work both the modular and the laptop to create the sound they heard. It was a bit unnerving, since it meant that I couldn't have any pre-recording backups or anything; I either got the patches running and active or it was going to be really quiet (and embarrassing).

In this entry I'll talk about the basic process, with more info (and photos) in upcoming posts.

The piece was written in five parts. I had set up my 2-cabinet modular so that each cabinet was a specific "voice". While one side was creating the current sound, I could be patching the other side - giving me space to work, and meaning that it was unlikely that I would unplug any active sounds. The final module used was a cross-fader, allowing me to fade between the two cabinets as the new sound became ready.

The output of the modular went into a Max/MSP patch (interface shown above) that I build specifically for this performance. It features four channels of loop capture, a master delay line, a loop shuffler (basically, the guts from the MFL Buffer Shuffler) and an 8-frequency morphing resonant filter. The filter was there for a specific reason: to occasionally "ring" the metal plates as a nod to the performance setup.

Now I know what some of you are saying: "If the analog modular is running through a Max patch, it isn't analog anymore!". That's true, but the point of the modular wasn't to create the phattest sound possible, it was to provide an interesting (and extremely variable) sound creation process that I could capture and manipulate.

The result was great, and certain parts (especially the end of the second movement) went better than it even had in rehearsal. Many people came up to talk to me, and were amazed that this wasn't a pre-recorded section; when I told them that even I was surprised, they lit up with a realization of what they had just seen. It was great fun, and I hope to do it again soon.

After my set, I had a chance to talk to a lot of friends and acquaintances that had made the trip out - including my old friend Ron Bucknam, a phenomenal guitarist and experimental musician. He and I had played and recorded together 30 years prior, so it was a shock to see him standing by the watering hole. Meeting new people, re-meeting old - a gig just doesn't go any better than that.

OK, so I'll provide more tweaky details tomorrow, but thanks for watching for now!