two siblings

Two pieces I’ve posted recently on my Soundcloud account remind me a little bit of each other,and therefore present a coherent enough connection to post them here together. The first one, “The Strange Child,” was just two loops I had tucked away saved in my Infinity Looper a while back that I shoved against each other in an arrangement, messing with the starting points and letting them roll.
The second, “valse de pog,” was the result of only slightly more thought. I was playing with a Am to Dmajor7 thing. I’ve been playing and learning a lot of sea-shanty stuff lately and that 3/4 time signature was fun to mess with here. The EHX Pog 2 is behind the sound of the melody part.

A lot of guitar stuff lately. Tonight I’m showing off some of the modular as well as my OP-1 at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. I plan to record some of that output today as well as the show tonight so maybe I’ll have some synth stuff real soon.

live from manayunk

playing guitar at The Spiral Bookcase

I recently played my first “gig” in front of actual people at a place that is not the extra bedroom of my house. I was asked to play interstitial music for a salon organized by my favorite bookstore owner, Ann Tetreault, for her shop, The Spiral Bookcase, in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia. The idea of interstitials being in-between the authors who were reading from their books and talking about their work (full disclosure: I was one of those authors in my day-job role as a creator of children’s books). Of course, as I am a head case, I spent three weeks in deep anxiety about this. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to play some guitar, take in the modular synth, or learn some tunes on the accordion. In the end I decided to just pick some pedals, plug in the Jazzmaster, and improvise. And for the most part this is what I did.

This is audio recorded straight from the amp to a Zoom H4N recorder. All the extraneous and boring talky bits edited out.

I’d like to do this some more. I just need to work out the anxiety part.


I’ve recorded a whole lot of music over the last seven years or so, but either never connected enough of it together to make anything like an “album,” or never really have got around to it.

These pieces I’ve recorded this summer with the looping guitar kind of came together and I think they work. So if you’re so inclined, head over to Bandcamp and get the release. Don’t forget to download the “bonus” PDF as well.

It’s a free download with the option to pay something if you like. I’d love to get some feedback on this; the use of Bandcamp, the tracks, the music itself. I hope to start doing this more often, creating series of works that hold together in some way, rather than the fits, starts, and pieces of things that I currently have on my Soundcloud account.

Here are the liner notes from the accompanying PDF booklet:

Dance Robot, Dance was begun in 2007 as a forum on which to write about that which I love, which is making electronic music. Back then, everything was made with a sequencer of some kind, and typically a synthesizer. Hence, Dance Robot, Dance.

In 2011 I began taking guitar lessons and while sequencing and oscillators are still important to what I hear and do, my Jazzmaster has kind of become the other woman, as it were, with whom I spend more of my free time than maybe I should. It’s a bit ironic to me that this first “release” I am making under the name Dance Robot, Dance is strictly electric guitar.
The tracks that make up Ligneclair were created with a sparkly blue Fender Jazzmaster, a pretty white Rivera Venus 3 and a shiny Vox Night Train amp, a Pigtronix Infinity looper, a Strymon El Capistan looper/delay, and an Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai looper/delay. Several other stompboxes were employed as well. The recordings were made on June 27, 2013 and July 28, 2013 with a Electrovoice microphone and the line-out of the Rivera amp, recorded to Ableton Live via a Motu 828 mk3, and edited therein. Most of the tracks were left complete, front to back, with only a little EQ or somesuch added. A few of the tracks were originally 10-20 minutes of looping redundancy and were therefore edited in Ableton.

I know nada about mixing or mastering, so what you hear is what you get. Send suggestions my way.

These tracks were orginally posted on Soundcloud and I would like to thank the various Soundcloud users who “liked” and commented on them, thus encouraging this project.

The landscape photos on the tracks as well as this PDF were shot in June, 2013 along the highway north of Queenstown, New Zealand, at Landis Pass. It’s a lovely part of the world and you should try and visit if possible.

Brian Biggs
August 16, 2013

looping looping gnipool looping

return to ChCh

I’m getting boring.

I have a lot of neat-o gear. In fact, I have what I might say is too much. The only reason I don’t say I have too much is because I frequent internet forums dull of people who are way way deeper down the hole than I am. I’m lucky that I have teenagers, debt, and other hobbies or else I’d be in real trouble.
But I digress. I’m getting boring. All I want to do for the last many months, music-wise, is sit down with the sparkly blue Jazzmaster and make guitar loops. I’m perfectly happy to sit for hours with this guitar plugged into any one of the several looping devices that I have* and dig deep. Granted, before hitting the looping device in use at the time, the guitar first goes through any number of the other gear things that I have. But still. It’s just a guitar, right?

These are Jazzmaster through various pedals to the amp, a Rivera Venus 3. I think I recorded these with the built-in mic of a Zoom H4N recorder.

The good thing about this single-mindedness is that it allows me to kind of focus on learning about some stuff that I need to learn about. Like recording, on the technical side. Typically, before I sit down and hit record, I decide on a particular method of capturing whatever I’m doing. For example, I have this fantastic amp that is somewhat noisy. So I’ve been trying to figure out some method to record where this is less of an issue. Also, this amp has a line out from the power section and it’s interesting to record this output while at the same time micing the speaker (which by the way is really awesome — the line out that is. It’s nice and tight and clear. The next time I do this I’ll take just the line out, and then set up a microphone about ten feet from the amp to pick up this more distant room sound. Stay tuned.)

Another thing I do is work on the guitar/music stuff by hammering away on modes and scales. My guitar lessons move a little faster in my head than my fingers do on the fretboard. I’ve been diving into and understanding modes (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian etc.) lately, and we’ve been working on triads and arpeggios alongside. But I rarely ever seem to know when these fancy things would be useful while actually playing songs. So I typically start out these looping sessions by repeating a couple of notes or a chord, and then playing some improvised loop on top using these modes and scales. I actually learn a lot this way, but it’s still all pretty much abstract theory. If I was jamming with dudes I have no idea whether any of this would be useful. (In related news, I recently glommed on to Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl, and since I’m not the kind of guitar learner to want to learn to play, say, Jessie’s Girl exactly the way it was played on the record, Lou my guitar instructor is showing me how to use these modes and scales while working out my own rockin’ solo. Stay tuned for that too.)

The recordings below were made with the line out of the amp on the right and the mic’d amp (SM57) on the left.

Hope you like these. I like making them. Leave some comments, let me know what think you.

*Pigtronix Infinity Looper, Strymon El Capistan, Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man w/Hazarai, Korg Kaoss Pad, TC Electronics Ditto, The Harvestman Tyme Sefari mk2, Make Noise Phonogene, Teenage Engineering OP1, various software…)

dittoed, looped, grinded

130513_bw dog walk_001

Every now and then I have the notion to set up some recording gear and record whatever it is I make that day. Lately I’ve ben looping a lot. I recently acquired a Pigtronix Infinity and more recently a TC Electronics Ditto. Basically, the two extremes when it comes to loopers, and both equally up to the task.
I should write more about the Infinity, as it’s worthy of a post of its own what with it’s frequent firmware updates and the custom sidecar pedal I had made for it. The Ditto I bought so that I’d have something small at my studio and to take to lessons and elsewhere with me.

These three pieces were made a week or two apart. “Loopy McCoy” is the earliest, and was made with the Infinity (nothing fancy, however, so it’s not as if I used all its tricks) and my new Ebow. The other two tracks were made this past Saturday and use the Ditto. All three feature the sparkly blue Jazzmaster into the RMC3 Wah, then to my Rivera Venus 3 amp. On “Loopy McCoy” the amp has its boost stage on, which basically coats the sound in sticky syrup and makes it thick like a hot humid evening. It’s just great, but easy to lose control over as you can hear a couple of times when the Ebow gets a bit close to the pickup.

All three tracks are improvised playing over the loops that are set at the beginnings.


130406_tape delay ableton_004

So I’ve some catching up to do. My hand is healed and I’ve been making up for lost time. I’ve got a lot to account for. New workflow ideas, new gear, not enough actual music-making, and even less thinking about what I’ve made and what to do with it. It’s that last part that usually leads to posts here, and I just haven’t been contemplative with my work much this year.

For now, I wanted to post a simple thing that came from a happy accident, that actually came from a lot of thinking and working out kinks. This began several weeks ago when I was looking for a good way to replicate the wonderful degrading delay feedback of the Strymon El Capistan, but with software. Basically, searching for a way to emulate a tape delay in plug-ins. There are a lot of plug-ins that purport to do this, and some of them do it well. But it was a post on the Muffwiggler forum from Andreas Wetterberg that got things moving where he suggested a string of Ableton’s built-in effects. I slapped my forehead and scolded myself for not thinking modularly in the first place. There’s so much that can be done with the stuff I already have. Why throw money at a VST solution, especially when these things come with iLoks and other limitations?

The chain I ended up with, Ping Pong Delay > Utility > Saturator > EQ Eight, is pretty similar to the one he suggested, with a few tweaks.

bb tape delay

The EQ Eight, in particular, really brings some game to the rack. It’s like a tone knob on a delay pedal, but much more powerful. In fact it’s made me wonder how I might replicate this with hardware. I know the answer is to have a dedicated EQ pedal or, better yet, a 500 series rack unit. One thing I would like to spend some time doing is rearranging the effects in the rack. For example, running the EQ before the delay, or before the saturator. In addition, any number of effects could replace the Saturator with interesting results. Try Erosion, Redux, Dynamic Tube, Amp or even something not built into Live, like Uhbik’s Runciter.

Now the trick with this effects chain is to put it on a return track in Ableton, not as an insert effect. Then you control-click the send of the return track in order to utilize the feedback that this creates. You still get the delay without this last step, but it’s a nice safe delay. With the ‘send’ of the return enabled, it feedbacks on itself. (You’ll see what I mean when you listen to the track below.)

So fast forward a couple of weeks. I was going through some files that I’d saved off of my guitar looper. (Do you have this problem? Where you keep saving loops and copying them to your hard drive but rarely ever actually end up using them?) I had one file that was made one day when I had the looper on and tested to make sure my pedal chain was working. It’s just a single pluck of each of the A, D, and B strings. This was put on a track with a ‘send’ to the tape delay enabled. I controlled the various parameters of the effect chain as well as the return track’s feedback via the ‘send’ knob, and I got something surprisingly good.

It’s an easy rack to put together, but if you like you can download it here. Have fun.

fractured and screwed


A few weeks ago I found myself in an actual record store with an unexpected hour to kill, and I had a jolly time shopping for music the same way I shop for wine. I look at the label and take a chance. In this case, I ended up with a half-dozen CDs* (remember CDs? I’ve bought more vinyl over the last three years than I have compact discs).
One cover caught my eye that I ended up not buying? It was Nils Frahm’s CD “Screws.” I liked the cover and the description of the music — apparently Frahm, a pianist, had messed up his thumb pretty bad and was relegated to playing the piano with only nine of his ten fingers. The title of the album refers to the hardware in his thumb to help with the healing. However, a quick google of the album informed me that the entire thing is available for free on Frahm’s Soundcloud account. So I went that route. It’s some lovely music, and much more appreciated for the intimacy of the recording. One can hear him shift around on the piano bench as he plays, even. Having recently broken my hand and dealing with the limitations that this injury forced upon my own musical output, I appreciated this idea even more.

As a result, it was exciting when, a few weeks later, the Thursday night Disquiet Junto came along and I realized that it was a remix project for this Nils Frahm album. Frahm himself is hosting this particular project, and Marc Weidenbaum latched on to this for the 55th Junto project. The idea was as follows:

This week’s project involves a shared set of source material. The source audio is the free solo piano album ‘Screws’ by Nils Frahm.

Frahm, who’s based in Germany, posted the nine-track album of short solo works for free download while he was recuperating from busting one of his thumbs. He subsequently created a site to house all the remixed/reworked versions that admirers sent to him, as well as the videos and other responses that he received.

For this project you will take two of the source tracks — “Do” and “Re” — and create a new track from them, in the process creating a work for two pianos.

Source Audio: You can download the files as sets of MP3 or AIF audio:

You can only use those two Frahm tracks as audio source material for your track, and you cannot add anything other sounds, but you can transform the two Frahm tracks as you please. In the end, though, the sound of a piano should be evident.

I was away for the weekend with friends, in New Haven, so I decided to attempt this project using only the OP-1. I recorded large parts of the two pieces into the tape recorder on the OP-1 and quickly found this to be a much more difficult thing to do than I expected. I wanted to keep the piano-ness of the pieces to a large extent, so merely sampling a small part and sequencing it wasn’t going to work. So I began cutting sections and looping them in the tape machines. I got some interesting parts, but creating an entire work from this was going to make me a bit insane.
When I got back home and was with laptop, I dumped a lot of what I’d done into Ableton, and put it all together there. The results are a mix of straight Frahm, and my mechanical whirring from the OP-1 loops.

*The CDs I bought are as follows
Bob Dylan: The Basement Tapes. I can’t believe I bought a Bob Dylan album. I also found all the bootlegs related to the basement tapes and have them now as well. Great stuff.
Modest Mouse: Good News for People Who Love Bad News. So good. Califone led me to Ugly Casanova, led me to Modest Mouse.
Land Observations: Roman Roads IV-XI. Felt ambivalent about this after a few lessons. But I now realize it has affected my guitar-playing in a lot of ways. I’ve become a little obsessed with looping, which is a post in itself.
The Notwist: The Devil, You + Me. I burned out on Mrs. John Soda and Lali Puna back about five years ago. This is good, but it is a lot like those other Weilheim bands.
Fruit Bats: Spelled in Bones. I got it because Brian Deck of Califone produced some Fruits Bats. Apparently not this one, but I still like it.
Dntel: Something Always Goes Wrong / Early Works for Me If It Works for You. Highly recommended. I love Dntel and this early work is fascinating. It was sitting on my coffee table and my kid Wilson sees it and says “Oh cool, Jimmy Tamborello, can I borrow that?”

it's broken

broken hand

So on Christmas morning I broke my hand. I’ve ridden bicycles off of hillsides, I’ve jumped out of an airplane, and I’ve crashed cars. Never have I broken a bone. However, on Christmas morning on the way back from the convenience store where i picked up milk, I broke my hand. I draw pictures for a living, and if this were my right hand that i broke, this would be a much more precarious situation. But since it’s my left hand, the worst part about the whole deal is that I can’t play the guitar for six weeks. If you know me at all, you know that that’s still a pretty bad worst part. I’m sitting right here in my extra bedroom full of music gear and I’m just really bummed about this.
In fact, I first suspected that i’d broken the hand when, after injuring the hand, I was testing the damage to try to figure out what i’d done. I thought maybe I’d dislocated a finger or bruised something. But the fact that I could move the fingers enough to fret some strings and even play some painful pentatonic scales told me that this wasn’t the fingers. And the fact that the pain went from about a 2 to an 11 when I tried to fret a barre chord told me that this was probably worse than a bruise. Something was definitely wrong.

A few X-rays later and it was official. Because of the nature of the fracture, I didn’t need surgery, but I got a nice black cast.

it's broke

The upside to all of this is interesting. I’ve been meaning to find time to do some much-needed housecleaning with the hundreds of recordings I’ve made over the last year or two. Samples, phrases, pieces of songs… When the guitars are calling, it’s hard to take the time to listen to and catalog and edit that which one has already done. But with this forced time off, it’s a perfect time to see what’s there and maybe even do something with it. The other good thing is that I’ll be spending more time with the synthesizers and samplers, which I spent a good deal of time neglecting in 2012. Just last night I recorded an hour or so of modular sample-playing with the Tyme Sefari and Phonogene and some oscillators. So not all is lost.

But damn, six weeks seems like a long time right now.