Someone Else's Remains

This is my fourth Disquiet Junto piece.
The project was to remix Marcus Fischer’s Nearly There, with tracks lent by Marcus. Most of the original sounds were created with an ebow on a lap harp, which in turn made for some nice source material, if maybe a little close in feel and timbre to the whistles and glass of the previous two weeks.
I created a four-track Ableton project, and almost randomly assigned these stems of Marcus’ to three of the tracks, and then found a couple of small rhythmic parts to assign to the fourth track. I used a Novation Launchpad to sort it all out, and quickly decided that I’d “perform” this the same way that last week’s project was performed. That is, set it up, hit “record,” mess with knobs (via the Op-1 which makes a sweet MIDI controller), and then hit stop. Whatever happens is what happens. The main difference from last week is that this project would be processed entirely via software. The software I used was Uhbik’s Tremolo and Reverb, and Audio Damage’s Automaton on the percussive sounds (which is the source of the glitchy bzz and hiccups you can hear throughout). The Op-1 was assigned to control the four mixer faders, and again, the launchpad launched the clips. As I mentioned last week, live stuff (not Live stuff) is new to me, and I’m interested in finding a good workflow that will allow and encourage me to play live somewhere, someday.

The track is thus:

The project raised some interesting questions for me, regarding the nature of a remix. I don’t have the headspace to explore this thoroughly right now, but I’ll see if I can get some more down before the end of the weekend. The basic idea is that there are three ways to go with a remix:

• Limiting the remix to the original tracks and sounds only. No matter what you do with the track, the use of the original sounds will capture the spirit of the original track in some way, whether intentional or not.

• Using sounds from anywhere, including the original stems or not, but paying attention to the composition of the original in order to stay true. Otherwise, what is it that makes it a remix? On some tracks, you could keep just one representative part, like a unique vocal, with everything else new and from elsewhere, and it’s still recognizable as a remix.

• The third seems to be not worrying about any of this, and just making whatever it is you want, where you happen to have been given some source material. If one is remixing a pop song, or almost any song with vocals, this still seems inherently destined to capture the spirit of the original in some way. But on a piece like Marcus’, the sounds are, to me, less than the composition. That is, many of the stems sound like outtakes from previous Juntos, to be honest, and could possibly have come from anywhere. I’m not sure it’s the individual sounds that make Marcus work what it is. Maybe it is, but it’s not what I take from it. It’s not like a particular guitar part, or a vocal styliing…

Again, just thinking out loud here. I’m curious about others’ feelings on this (and on the tracks I’ve been posting in general). Hit the comment button.


I’m in the middle, or maybe the end, of a significant sell-off of my modular synth. I’ve unloaded about a third of the modules, most of them rarely used, designed for esoteric functions that at some point I thought I needed. I spent part of the proceeds on a Teenage Engineering OP-1 last week, and I now understand the hype. This is a terrific little machine. It samples, it loops, it’s a synth, it plays drums, it sends and received MIDI, it’s got some nice sequencers for creating that MIDI… It’s actually surprisingly closer in workflow to the modular than I expected, and to that end the first thing I made with it sounds more like it may have come from the modular gear than, say, something made it Ableton.
After last week’s Disquiet Junto project with the glass, I had the glass samples still living in the OP-1 as tape recording, and in the synth sampler. So before I erased these — I wanted to make something with the ukulele, which I’ll post later — I turned on the record player bit and “performed” this little piece. All in the box, using OP-1’s effects, the tape loops, sampler, and the “digital” synth.

I’ll write more about this device, I’m sure.

glass half empty, glass half full

music room tools

This is a process post about the third Disquiet Junto project, called “The Extended Glass Harp.” For this project, Marc wrote the following:

This project is in honor of Benjamin Franklin, after whose Junto Society our little group was named.

In an effort to expand and refine the glass harp, Franklin developed his own lathe-like glass harmonica, which he called the “armonica.” Marie Antoinette took lessons on it and Beethoven composed for it, but Franklin’s invention proved expensive and fragile, and it had a limited lifetime. And it may have given its frequent users lead poisoning.

You are *not* being asked to build a Franklin armonica. But like Franklin, we are going to expand on the glass harp. In our case, we are going to do so digitally.

You’re being asked to use the more common instrument, the glass harp. That involves the familiar “rubbing the top of a wine glass that has water in it” approach:

The Junto assignment is to record a live performance on the glass harp, and to employ live processing in the performance. There should be no post-production. And there is no length limit for the piece, though I would suggest that anything over 15 minutes may limit the size of your potential audience.

I’ve never recorded anything live, per se, in my music room before. I use my microphones to record sounds, of course, which then get processed and played at times. But the idea of no post-processing immediately created a bit of anxiety. This project was posted on Thursday evening last week, and I took the weekend to consider what I might do and how I might do it, and run my head through various audio chains. One limitation I knew I wanted was to keep the entire project limited to hardware tools I have. That is, effects pedals, the modular synth, and my (brand new!) OP-1 synth (of which I’ll post more about at a later date). The first two Junto projects were done almost entirely in the box. That is, with software, and I wanted to stay away from that for this assignment.

music room tools

I thought first about what I have that could record samples and, especially, loops. That would be my modified EHX Stereo Memory Man, My Boss RC-3 looper, the Tyme Sefari on the modular, and, after playing with it all weekend and being more than a little surprised at the capabilities of this thing, the OP-1. I decided that I’d take an hour or two on Monday, set everything up and cable it together, and press ‘record.’ I rehearsed a bit, recording the glass into the Tyme Sefari, testing the switches on the Stereo Memory Man, checking for feedback with the microphone (I ended up using headphones; if anyone knows some ways to record live without feedback problems, leave a comment!). I’d like to say when I was ready, I started recording, but part of this project was that, never having done anything like this, I knew “ready” was relative. There was no audience, unless you count my fiancée and our dog in the bedroom next door. Nevertheless, I was nervous. I had some idea of what was going to happen, but I also knew that I’d literally play it by ear, and make a lot of decisions on the fly. That’s one thing about these Junto projects, and this one in particular. I know my gear fairly well, especially the hardware (software is infinitely more complex and what with menus and MIDI, is often a mystery to me). But recording live like this really brings out the strengths and weaknesses, and uncovers possibilities that one might not have considered previously.

music room tools

What you hear here, then, is as follows. The microphone was connected to a mixer, with the Stereo Memory Man on an FX send channel. After beginning to record with Wave Editor on the laptop, I began by making the initial sound by rubbing the lip of the wine glass as I quietly switched on the looper of the Stereo Memory Man. The SMM records 30-seconds of audio, but I just took about five or six seconds, as it’s hard to play a wine glass with one hand while switching on a looper with another. You can hear the click of the looper switch on the audio, and then the loop begins. After a few seconds of this, I then played the second wine glass which had a higher pitch. This overdubs the first sound, so you can hear the changes on the loop (0:38).
At this point, I began sampling that loop to the Tyme Sefari on the modular synth. I had a button on a joystick module set up to start the recording with a gate signal. Concurrently, a four-step sequencer was affecting the sample-rate of the Tyme Sefari, which changed the effective pitch of the sample, and then also changed that pitch as it is played back. This creates a random-sounding sequence of bloops and digital whirrs, which you can hear beginning at 1:15. The Tyme Sefari playes back this sequence for some time, through the Pittsburgh Analog Delay module, and then through a Strymon BlueSky reverb before going into the audio interface and to Wave Editor. With slight changes to the delay times and the sample-rate of the playback, small changes are introduced to the sounds for the next several minutes.
As this played back, I removed the Stereo Memory Man from the chain and replaced it with the Teenage Engineering OP-1 synth. This thing is, again, brand new to me and I wasn’t at all sure that it would be appropriate for this project. As I spent time with it over the weekend, however, I realized that live sampling into its synth engine would work well, and if the line-in was active, it would pass the audio through to its outputs as well. The sampled audio could then be “played” via the keybaord or, more appropriate for these purposes, one of its four sequencers. It’s Pattern Sequencer was going to work best here, since it would create a very regular sequence that would repeat, and to which I could add notes as it repeated. It’s output was muted as I recorded the playing of the glass again (that makes three different pitches total). It needs six seconds to fill its sample memory, and as soon as it was done I began the sequence. Initially with just one note playing on the first downbeat, the volume was turned up as it went through the Tyme Sefari (but not sampled by the TS, merely passed along the dry channel). I cross-faded the random sequence from the TS with this regular sequence using the wet/dry mix on the Tyme Sefari to the point that all you hear for the last four or so minutes is the OP-1 sequence.
At around 9:45 I began removing notes from the sequence up to the point that it was done at 11:01. It’s funny, as I thought I’d recorded maybe six or seven minutes of audio, tops. I was pretty surprised when I saw it was 11:01. It’s easy to get carried away when things are going well.

Here’s the audio.

As I said earlier, these projects are leading to new workflows and results that I would not have otherwise come across. I like the results of all three so far, and I think they’re quite a departure from most of the sounds I make and post. Looking forward to number four.
Check out the entire Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud. There is a lot of really interesting work there.

the horn and the whistle

it was a seagull

A week ago I posted about the ice piece I did for the first Disquiet Junto assignment, and wrote that I’d post about the second assignment “tomorrow.” Tomorrow came and went and here we are. The second project for Marc Weidenbaum’s Disquiet Junto went like this:

Disquiet Junto Project #2: “Duet for Fog Horn & Train Whistle”

Create an original piece of music under five minutes in length utilizing just these two samples:
Fog Horn:
Train Whistle:
You can only use those two samples, and you can do whatever you want with them.

The horn is this:

And the whistle is this:

Unlike the previous assignment, the ice, which was like pulling teeth, this one fell together in minutes. I knew immediately I wanted to draw out that horn as a long drone. I cut a section out of the middle and looped it back to front several times, taking care that the crossing points don’t click (which didn’t matter, really, since the reverb hides artifacts like that so well). I duplicated this track and panned the two identical tracks hard left and hard right, and dropped them each several steps in pitch. As I listened to them together, I started playing with changing the pitch of sections intermittently and seeing how they’d sound. I liked very much. I wish now I’d had some method or rule for these pitch changes, but really it was just a matter of guessing and listening. It ends up sounding somewhat random, which is what I was looking for, I suppose. I thought it sounded rather orchestral, which a few commenters pointed out as well.
I then layered-in the whistle track, hoping the two tones would play nicely. I pitched the whistle down an octave, which was fine if a bit boring, until it got to the very end of the track, in which there are two small little bumps, as if the person recording the whistle touched the mic or recording device. After enjoying the percussion of the ice on the previous Disquiet piece so much, I kept driving down that road. I cut the little clicks out of the whistle and deleted the whistle. The bumps became percussion, played at various speeds and rhythms. One of my favorite plug-ins, which happens to be a free one, is the delay you can hear on the percussion track. It created the feedback that ends up becoming that high static squeal at the end, with the frequency being turned down on the fade out.
And that’s really all it took.

I completed the third Junto project last night, which was a “live” project. More on that soon. Maybe tomorrow, maybe not.

pedal heaven


From Chris Randall’s Flickr stream. Taken at NAMM out in Anaheim.

I plan to post some beauty shots of the pedals on my board pretty soon.
Here are some more from a Flickr search.

via mongchacha

my pedal collection
via konditorei

Boss'ed Nanoloop
via Chris_Carter_ (I go back to this one often to remind myself that cool things can be done with simple tools)

Malekko Heavy Industry Guitar Pedals
via Nova Musik

ice and fog

A break from guitars today. Back to electronic seizure music, as the fiancée describes it. This post starts out with a lot of talky talk (seizure-inducing possibly) but bear with me. It pays off.

along PA state hwy 903

Say you’re standing in the middle of a field, and you know you have to go somewhere, and you can actually go anywhere, any direction you want. It can be difficult to decide exactly what to do, right? However, if you know where you need to end up, your choices are narrowed somewhat. Furthermore, if there is a clear path drawn, or visible obstacles that would force you into choosing between two or maybe three directions, the decision is easier still. Starting a piece of music with the number of tools, techniques, and possibilities that are available (and I mean readily available, not to just those who have a pile of gear) actually ends up causing problems, more often than not.

An analogy here is drawing or painting pictures. I’ll use this analogy since it’s what I do for my day job. If I sit down and I know I have to crate a specific picture, my job is usually pretty simple. If I don’t know what I have to make, but I’m limited to making it with, say, one red and one blue pencil, then that limitation is itself a direction. If, on the other hand, I have unlimited tools and the freedom to draw anything I want to draw, any way I want to draw it, then I more or less freeze up and stare at walls. When I used to teach illustration and I’d introduce Photoshop to a student who’d previously been adept and making work with a small tackle-box of oil watercolors and pencil, that student would usually, suddenly, not know what to do. Why? Because with Photoshop, you have access to more colors, more tools, more possibilities than you can ever dream of previously. As an instructor, I found myself spending a lot of time with students creating limitations. Finding destinations that made it possible to begin the journey, as it were. Later on students graduate and limitations are forced upon them as illustrators by the particular client’s needs, by the purpose of the work being created, and by the deadline. And even now when I carve out a day to work on “personal” work, as an artist, I will usually sit at my table, staring at the proverbial blank canvas wondering what to do next.

And it’s the same with music. When I get a few hours to hide in the little room at my house where I keep my music gear, I rarely have any direction in mind, but I do have a lot of possibilities. I could practice guitar, which I’ve been doing more than anything else lately, and try setting up a sequence of effects pedals that might set me off in some unexpected direction. I might try playing an old 45rpm record through my modular synth and see what happens. I might randomly dial in an eight-note phrase on one of my sequencers, and let it run with subtle changes to timbre or pitch, and hope it’s awesome. I might consider the amount of time I have, maybe an hour, maybe an afternoon, and think about what I can accomplish in that time. Anything that will take a lot of programming or re-patching might be off limits.

The point of all of this is that I’m creating arbitrary limitations. Building imaginary fences that allow me to focus on a smaller idea, a more manageable state of things, and maybe actually get something done. When I go back and look at my Soundcloud page, or at the work I’ve posted here on Dance Robot Dance, I can give a list, usually a long one, of limitations that were either forced upon me or I created myself that led to whatever it is that worked. (To that end, by the way, I put a huge chunk of my modular synth up for sale today hoping to narrow the possibilities down to the parts I like most and force me to work better with less, avoiding some wall-staring. If you’re in the market for a bunch of Eurorack synth modules, drop me a line or comment and I’ll let you know what I have.)

Two weeks ago Marc Weidenbaum emailed me about a really interesting project he’s calling Disquiet Junto. Disquiet being his website, and a “junto” being the name of a society that Benjamin Franklin formed here in Philadelphia during the early 1700s as “a structured forum of mutual improvement,” as Marc described in his initial email about the project. The idea here is that on Friday, Marc posts an idea for a piece of music. which is in fact a simple limitation, and gives until the next Monday at midnight to have the piece posted into the Disquiet Junto group on the music-sharing site Soundcloud.

I’ve done a few remix projects with Marc, which are sometimes difficult for the reasons I allude to above. Remixing a song is, to me, standing in a field and being able to go anywhere. I can do a lot of different things with a song, especially when I have several weeks in which to work on it. However, this new thing is right up my alley and I immediately signed up.

The first instructions/limitations came on January 5. “Please record the sound of an ice cube rattling in a glass, and make something of it.” The first part was easy enough. I took my little recorder down to the kitchen and recorded about six minutes of this.


This is when things could go awry, as the possibilities are somewhat endless with what I could do with this audio. I planned to record it through various hardware, but I only had time that Sunday night to plug the recorder into my modified EHX Stereo Memory Man w/Hazarai and see what might happen. The rest of the piece was done at my studio the next day, where I don’t have any music gear, so I was limited to software. This isn’t exactly a limitation, since between Max for Live, Reaktor, Reason, and any number of plug-ins anything can happen. I only gave myself about a half hour, so I opened up a few trusty Reaktor ensembles and went to work. Here is a tiny piece of the resulting audio. Left to right is the EHX Stereo Memory Man pedal, a Reaktor deal called Resynth, and another Reaktor ensemble called SyncSkipper.

It wasn’t too hard from here to pick out parts I liked and start sequencing them in Ableton Live. It wasn’t gluing itself together until I located a two-note guitar thing I’d made over the weekend through the WMD Geiger Counter. This created the loop that everything else could bounce off of. The percussion is made up of small and micro-small edits from these files I created, and once it was drowned in reverb (I’ve been really reverb-happy lately) I saved and exported. Here’s what I posted on the Disquiet Junto group.

Go to the group page and listen to the other entries if you can. There’s an incredible range of what people can do with the sound of ice in a glass.

True to his word, Marc sent out a note yesterday with this week’s Junto limitation: He sent links to two samples on, and asked the Junto to create pieces under five minutes in length, using only these two samples, but allowing anything to be done with them. This one went much quicker, and I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.

it's just a guitar

I’m gonna talk about the guitar here dropping the analogy from the last post. Upon further reflection, I’m not having an affair, really, and I’m not breaking up with my synth. I suppose the closer example would be that I’m perfectly happy taking on multiple, um, lovers.
What brung me to the guitar and keeps me with it for a year now is the same thing that moved me from software to hardware in 2009. Playing an instrument is better than playing a computer. Certainly the computer is an instrument of sorts and that argument is an interesting one. But dude, it’s not the same. A relationship is a valid analogy, frankly. Programming software to make music is to a real human relationship what an online affair is to playing a real instrument. Simplified, easy, without the messiness, but ultimately far less satisfying as well. The modular synth hardware is, to me, somewhere in between. More tactile than a computer, obviously, but also closer to programming than playing an accordion or a guitar. I pick up a guitar and in about eleven seconds I’m playing. I turn on the modular and I consider what I plan to do, and start patching. Even with my relatively small synth, this takes some thought. It ain’t rock-n-roll.
It wasn’t too long after this guitar discovery of mine that I bought a Doepfer A119 for my synth, which is a preamp and envelope follower. With it, the modular basically becomes a large effects box and the guitar a versatile oscillator, and I can easily run the guitar through its ring modulator, filters, Fm the sound, and anything else I can do with the synth. The A119 produces gates as well, so events can be triggered with each string pluck or chord strum. I’ll definitely write more about this with examples.
I also now have a growing collection of pedals. These reproduce many functions of the modular, when it comes to driving the guitar through them. For instance, I can patch up an auto-wah with a filter, a VCA, and a Maths. But like with the guitar itself, just plugging into a pedal straight to the amp is just easier and more immediate. And since much of what I like about this route is the immediacy, I have pedals. Fuzz, tremelo, chorus, vibrato, delays of course… I love ’em and pretty soon I’ll write all about ’em.

What this is leading to is that the whole thing is coming around full-circle, see. Last week I was listening to some of the samples of Christopher Willits guitar on CDM and started thinking of tools to play with loops and samples in an interesting way. I have Max for Live and Reaktor and both of them provide a wealth of tools in which one can mangle and shuffle and wreck loops in fascinating ways, I decided it was a good time to spring for Audio Damage’s Automaton, mainly for the immediacy (natch) and for the pretty graphics. I’ve always loved Conway’s Game of Life ever since I saw Brian Eno talk about it at a tech conference in San Francisco in 1995. It blew my mind back then, and I love how software designers have used it as sequencers in different ways (in fact, I think it’s a good subject for a future post). Reaktor has a drum machine called Newscool, which is one of my favorite ensembles in that package. Audio Damage went another direction with it using it not to create notes and sounds, but to eat them.

It’s just a start, and a too-long one at that (more than four minutes), but below is a simple 16-note guitar loop (B-E-G#-B-E-G#-B-E, A-E-G#-A-E-G#-A-E) recorded into Ableton, and then attacked by robot monkeys. Along with Automaton, I used Max for Live’s Buffer Shuffler (trying to see how much overlapped with Audio Damage’s Replicant — the answer is a little) which is what is creating the backwards recording sounds and some of the misplaced parts of the phrase.

Marc Weidenbaum’s Disquiet picked this up this morning, which is always a bonus.

The unfortunate reality, now, is that today is Christmas Eve and the hour or so I’m taking this morning to write about this is the last hour or so I’ll have for the next week, at least, to do anything not resembling family adventures and holiday cheer. But my resolution for 2012 is twofold.
1. Make more sounds.
2. Write about it here.

Happy Holidays.

i've been having an affair

Baby, I have a confession.

I know you’ve been suspecting something like this for a while. And I’d like to say you’re wrong, that you’ve been imagining things. But you know I’d be lying, and I love you too much to lie to you, baby. So here it is.

I’ve been seeing someone else.

I know. Don’t think I don’t feel miserable about it. It started out simple enough. We met on the internet. I thought I could keep it under control. We were just supposed to see each other now and then. Every two weeks, actually. On fridays, for forty-five minutes. However, it quickly got out of hand. She demanded a lot of me, and I couldn’t say no. It was every week for a while, now almost every day. Sometimes for several hours at a time. I can’t keep away.
You two have a lot in common, you know. I’m sure if you met you’d be friends. She’s not as complicated as you, not as intellectual. Don’t take that the wrong way. You know what I mean. Yes, I suppose you could say it’s mostly physical. But that’s no small thing. You each satisfy a different part of me.

What does she look like? Well, here, I have a picture.

the other woman

That birds-eye maple and tortoise-shell just knocks me out.

What’s that? You think she’s cute too? Um… you want to what?

Is that French?