apexart performance

I played a live performance on November 27 in New York City. This was the first time I’ve performed with anything more than an accordion in a live and public setting, and as small and esoteric as it was, it was thrilling.
My performance was part of a Disquiet Junto set at apexart, an art gallery just below Canal Street in Manhattan. Six contributors to the Disquiet Junto were asked to perform two works: one being something we’re currently working on, and another being a piece based on an earlier Junto, in which field recordings from department stores were utilized “to create pieces that interrogate the atmosphere and sounds of a department store as described in an Émile Zola novel.”

For the first part, I continued my explorations of my baritone ukulele sampled and looped with the Phonogene and the Tyme Sefari. This segued into the second part, for which I mainly used the Teenage Engineering OP-1 and its four tracks on the tape player. I’d previously loaded four earlier Junto field recordings from other Junto members, and layered them to create the chaos and mechanically-inspired noise of the Zola department store.

There were six performances that evening, of which I was the second. I was preceded by Kenneth Kirschner, and followed by Arcka, Ethan Hein, Joon Oluchi Lee and Roddy Schrock, and Tom Moody.

apexart shot video of the event and posted in on their website. I reposted it to Vimeo, which is here.

If you would rather just the audio:

Videos from each of the performances are on the apexart site, and is worth the time. Each artist used different tools and created something quite different from one another. I hope to get to do this kind of thing again. A lot. In fact I think I need to write a post specifically about playing live with this kind of equipment. Thanks to Marc for having me out, and to Arcka for sharing the ride and for the photo at the top of this post.

Andrew Bird, dammit

I’ve been listening to Andrew Bird all day; on the bus to jury duty this morning, during the breaks that come with duty on a jury, on the bus ride home, walking the dog, and now here in the studio, late evening, as I get some work done that I need to get done even though I have jury duty. (Homicide trial, four days, fascinating if not exactly the best timing.)
In addition to today, I’ve been listening to Andrew Bird pretty closely for about eight years, ever since I bought the CD Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production Of Eggs while visiting San Francisco back in 2005. I thought it was his oddball literate lyrics and mysterious imagery that I liked. However I’ve been realizing over the last few months that, while the lyrics and songs are just terrific, I’ve been opening up my head to the next layer down and realizing just how much Bird uses various fun studio tricks and weirdo effects in getting that sound that I love so much, that saturated fuzzy plucky noise, the really interesting loops, and the long harmonic drones. It’s the idea that even though he uses all these loops and effects, rather than constraining Bird’s music to some grid or box like loops and technology can do, it opens up and makes it, to me, even more organic. Not to mention that he leaves in the stuff like the click of guitar pedals and stuff being knocked around at times.

I just dug up an internet thing from back in March that focuses on this studio geekery and I figured I’d share it with you here.

So, here.

So there’s something about it being un-fussy and intuitive. I mean, it’s just a click of a button with my foot. And the other key thing is it doesn’t save my ideas. If I want to get a new idea, the thing I am currently playing has to be erased. Something about that keeps it just ephemeral enough that you don’t get to precious about your ideas…and it just remains “on the fly”. -Andrew Bird

And a YouTube thing that shows all this at work.

bending and cranking the op-1

In the last few weeks I’ve gone through an OP-1 love phase again, where I start thinking about interesting things to do with it, read the manual again, try stuff that I hadn’t considered previously, and so on. For instance, I plugged the output from the Doepfer A119 module (which is an external input preamp, meant to take a mic or guitar signal and boost it to modular synth levels, but which has the “problem” of overdriving very easily and therefore creating fuzz) of my modular synth into the input of the OP-1, and recorded the fuzzy guitar just like if the OP-1 was a tape deck. This audio can then be sampled, looped, processed, rerecorded, and so on.

Teenage Engineering, the weird little Swedish conglomerate that produces the OP-1, keeps reminding me why I splurged on this little machine by releasing not just updates to the operating system, but entirely new reasons to want the OP-1 if I didn’t already have it. A week or so ago they announced a new operating system with a new filter effect, and some “accessories” which include some overpriced little plastic gadgets, a guitar strap (really?), and a very nice (if overpriced) case. The plastic gadgets are what caught my attention. There’s a little crank, for instance, and an odd-lloking device that, partnered with a rubber band (included) creates a “bender.” The crank and the bender attach to one of the four knobs on the OP-1, and the software update includes some bits that allow these devices to be used to, say, manually crank the tape recorder, or (my favorite) crank one of the sequencers, like a music box. This adds yet another tactile and rather funny method of working this device, and one that fits my aesthetic pretty much perfectly. The bender works with a new “LFO” setting, where various synth or effect parameters can be “bent.” Anything that could previously have been controlled with an LFO can be bent. For some of the synth engines, this suddenly makes them much more interesting. Playing around with this on Wednesday night, I found some stuff that I felt I should record. So here’s that.

I also picked up the case that Teenage Engineering is offering, which is what I’ve been needing since the recycled cardboard paper packaging that it came in has pretty much started disintegrating. On the OhPeeWon forums there are various threads of people building wooden cases and using alternate means (I have a silly-looking bag meant for a hair-curling-iron that I bought on Amazon), but it’s much nicer to have a case with a pocket for the accessories and cables.
As I said, these little parts are kind of stupid expensive. AC Gears in New York is selling them for $15.99 each, and the case for about $90. But if you already have an OP-1 then it’s really a no-brainer, unless you can somehow fabricate your own for less; in which case get in touch cause I’d like more.

pedal playing

A really nice video of Bill Frisell playing with a collection of stompboxes. The simplicity of the EHX Freeze really shines at the beginning. I’ve seen that thing around and wondered, creatively, what’s really possible with it. This makes it desirable, though I suppose I can cover it with a bit more work with a loop pedal or a delay. Though it won’t sound like Bill Frisell.

Another proponent of the stompbox is Nels Cline. He’s slightly more frantic about it than Bill Frisell.

As for me, I’ve finally got the music room and studio put back together. I’ve installed a patch bay, hooked up a nice mixer, obtained a Fender Jazzmaster (actually two, but only keeping one), and now it’s a breeze to stick a guitar into the modular, and run all that through, say, a looping pedal and into a Kaoss Pad, then record it all on the Mac. So, I hope this leads to me posting more of my own stuff along with these tv shows I’ve been watching. One of the first things I intend to do is write about my own collection of pedals. Let’s cross our fingers, right?

schizo

I’ve been away. I mean this in several senses of the word “away.” I’ve been traveling a lot in April. I’ve been away from making music for longer than that, even, as the day job has kind of taken precedence. And I’ve been away in that I stepped back from my gear as I think about how to reroute my studio. What I mean by this is alluded to in the previous post, but it’s more than that. When I get time to make music, I’ve more than likely been choosing to turn on the amp and play guitar. And also more than likely, I’ve not been bothering to record any of it. Partly because I’m a nice guy and I still pretty much suck at playing guitar, but also because going through and editing recordings and clips is super-boring. When I have the time to sit with the laptop and edit recordings, I’ve been instead choosing to read back issues of Tape-Op or, lately, about boats and ships (re: day job). So it’s just been the perfect storm of letting DRD sit stagnant.
An illustration of all of this creative schizophrenia could be these two videos. Used to be, my life playlist consisted only of music sort of like the first video, by Squarepusher.

But lately I’ve had music more like the second video on much more often. In fact, I’ve pretty much been listening to Califone exclusively for weeks.

So the studio repainting takes place this weekend and the rehookup next week. I hope this process facilitates the return to actually making sounds, recording them, and making them available here. Stay tuned.

modified Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai

Last summer a friend of mine gave me an old Boss DD3 digital delay pedal. I’d been looking to add a delay module to my modular synth and this guitar pedal fit the need pretty well. After playing with it for a few weeks I was wishing that it had some way to synchronize the delays with the beat of the synth. If you’ve ever used delay plug-ins with a DAW you know what I’m talking about. Most plugs that I’ve used allow one to choose delay times in milliseconds or in times related to the beat: quarters, eighths, dotted sixteenths, triplets, etc. Having some beat-synched delay taps hopping around the track really can add a lot in the way of syncopation. Having any delay, synched or not, is great. But that extra thing is what I was looking for.

I noticed that the several pedals have a tap tempo switch, which gets close but isn’t quite right for the synth. Tapping tempo is perfect for a guitar player who can subtly change speed to keep time with tapping a pedal. But the timing of a synth is much more machine-like in nature and would work best with the same clock as what’s timing the entire patch. If you’re running a sequencer, LFO, and envelope from a clock trigger, that same trigger could drive the taps of a delay and keep everything in time.

In an email to Navs, a musician in Germany, I happened to mention that a pedal with a trigger input would be a great thing. He replied with a link to a post he’d made on his own site about a year earlier. In this post, he writes about a musician, Rechner7, also in Germany, who had modified an Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai (Hazarai is a Yiddish term meaning something along the lines of “everything and the kitchen sink”). Rechner7 had not just added a trigger jack, but he’d added three of them with a switch to choose between the 2nd and 3rd inputs, as well as a on/off switch for the loop button which would make that particular function much easier. I’d never soldered a thing in my life but onto Craigslist I went and a week or two later had a SMMH pedal.

Aftr studying Rechner7’s photos and a few emails back and forth, I understood a bit more of what was going on. Trigger/Gate input C on his plans is always on, and there’s an on/off/on switch that chooses to add input B or A to the signal at C. This allows a steady beat into C with odd or random beats into the other two inputs, which can add a lot of fun/chaos to the delay signal. The SMMH doesn’t repitch when the delay is sped up or slowed down (its only weak link in my opinion) so having these two inputs is terrific for quickly adding new taps or off-beat taps. He also added a little high-pass filter circuit (found about a third of the way down on Doepfer’s website here) which keeps a slow gate from inadvertently engaging the loop function. On the SMMH, the tap-tempo switch engages the loop if pushed for more than a half-second. What this means is that a long gate (half second or more) would do the same. So the high-pass filter only allows gates that are shorter. The exact length is decided by a capacitor and some math. (I apparently didn’t do the math correctly because mine still slips into loop mode now and then. I need to fix this.) There’s a switch that bypasses this filter for inputs B and A in case one wants to throw the thing into loop mode. Lastly, Rechner7 also suggested I add a transistor to the input circuits, which keeps unwanted voltage from traveling back to the trigger source on the modular.

I wired this all up on a breadboard before doing any permanent damage to my new pedal, and was quite surprised when it worked. Confidence flowing, I took the step of drilling six new holes into the aluminum case of the SMMH. This was rather thrilling in a DIY sort of way. There was no going back now.

101114_smmh mod_022

It took the better part of the next day to get the wiring done and everything in place, and I’ll be the first to admit that my electronics work isn’t the prettiest. But the results are exactly what I wanted. The only change from Rechner7’s design was that I designanted the always-on jack as input ‘A’ rather than ‘C’ which just made more sense to me.

101115_smmh mod_035

Here’s a short track where the different delay timings are really apparent.

One thing I’d not considered was that when the delay lands exactly on the beat, it’s not that interesting. So I find that using the Rotating Clock Divider from 4ms is necessary. A typical patch would be using the /3 output from the RCD as the main clock, and running the /1 and /2 into the inputs of the SMMH gives me triggers on the eighth-notes and triplets. Then I might have something more unusual running to my input C for some chaos tossed in.

Edit: I should probably mention that on the video up there, the same rather boring eight-step sequence is spit out by the synth throughout the entire video. All the syncopations and funny beats and extra rhythms are created entirely by the Stereo Memory Man being clocked by the µStep, a little trigger sequencer from Intellijel. The dry signal is on the left channel and the wet is on the right, so you can listen to just one or the other and hear the differences.

Since completing this mod, I noticed that Rechner 7 had done a similar modification to an EHX Deluxe Memory Boy as well. I’d been thinking about adding an analog delay pedal to my arsenal, and found a used one a few weeks ago. About the same time, Pittsburgh Modular announced an analog delay module for Eurorack that may end up being more what I’m looking for, even without tap tempo, so I’m holding off drilling the holes into the DMMB in case I need to let it go.