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.

duo for ukulele and saxophone and tyme sefari

I’ve not been able to take part in Marc Weidenbaum’s Disquiet Junto assignments lately, but when this week’s edition came along I knew it was perfect timing. I played the saxophone in middle and high school, from 1979 to 1986. I haven’t seen my old alto sax since then, until my sister drove it up from Arkansas when she came to visit last week. It’s not in the best shape — the pads are pretty tough and the thing smells like a horrible dirty towel. But my sister had recently bought some reeds for it, and in the end it’s actually playable. Moreover, and more than slightly surprising, I still remember most of the fingerings.

So this week’s Junto is as follows:

Disquiet Junto Project 0042: Naive Melody

You will employ just two instruments in the production of this week’s track: (1) the instrument you have used for the longest period of time and (2) the instrument in your possession that is newest to you. You’ll record a backing track with the oldest instrument, and overlay on it a simple melody of your choosing performed on the newest instrument.

Definition: The term “instrument” can be interpreted as broadly as you’d like; ultimately this is a project about the restraints inherent in the gadgets, tools, and software that you have obtained or created.

Background: The inspiration for this project is the song “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” by the band Talking Heads off the album Speaking in Tongues. For that song, the band members traded instruments, each playing something they were significantly less familiar with than the instrument they normally performed on.

Restrictions: You can use any source material, any instrumentation, except the human voice.

It should now go without saying that this old sax is by far the the musical instrument I’ve had the longest. So this track started right there.

For the newest instrument, I have two that I came into possession of within a day of each other, and they work together extremely well. The first is the new version of the Harvestman Tyme Sefari. You may recall some previous posts about the Tyme Sefari. This new one deserves a post of its own, but the short version is that it’s got more memory, better sampling, a redesigned user interface, and, my favorite feature, a trigger output at the end of a loop (this feature alone deserves a blog post. It’s especially wonderful when working alongside the Makenoise Phonogene, which also has this output, and they basically play tag. Stop reading for a minute and think about this…). The second instrument recently acquired is this old Dixie Leader baritone ukulele that a good friend gave me as a wedding present last week. It’s a mystery uke, as neither of us have been able to find any information about the Dixie Leader brand. He had it strung funny, with typical re-entrant uke tuning (gCEA) rather than the baritone DGBE, and the third string is a big guitar string that won’t stay in tune. I’ve ordered proper strings for this uke, but in the meantime it presented itself perfectly for this Junto and the necessary “naive melody.”

The results are what follows. I played this sax to the best of my abilities, which is the very definition of “creative limitations.” Because of its issues with the pads and my not remembering a few things, I played every note I could. I’d even like to say that the vibrato was on purpose, but I’m not certain that it was. The best part is that I know a bit more about chords than I did when playing this thing back in the 80s, so I overdubbed a second part on the first which I’m quite happy with.

The uke was recorded just plucking as many notes in tune as I could into Ableton. I took this fifteen seconds or so of ploinky boinks and looped small parts into the Tyme Sefari, and then manipulated the loop points and sample rate, and bounced them back into Ableton. It was mixed together this morning.

Before I began this Junto project, I spent some time with the Tyme Sefari along with the Phonogene, manipulating and chewing on some similar plucks from a little concert-size ukulele. Here are the resulting three tracks from that. At the time I wasn’t sure that I was going to keep both the Phonogene and the Tyme Sefari. However, being able to play two separate parts independently but have them trigger each other with those end-of-loop outputs is very much awesome.

ring those bells

I obtained a new low frequency oscillator module for my modular synth a couple of weeks ago. It’s called the Vilfo, from Pittsburgh Modular. This isn’t your typical LFO. Vilfo is an acronym for “Voltage Influenced Low Frequency Oscillator” and by voltage influenced they mean that it responds to CV quite differently than the normal frequency control that one would expect. This thing has a chaos streak in it that pushes and pulls against whatever you’re feeding it in an odd kind of way. My favorite use for it so far is to use it as a clock source, and then send it some other clock or sine wave. Normally, a -+10v signal would speed up and slow down a LFO. In this case it kind of makes the Vilfo hesitate some, then shoves it around a bit, then speeds it up, then stops it altogether. But not always.

So I had it drive a little sequence of bell ringing, where the bells are made with the Hertz Donut. The different bell-like tones are created by having the Z8000 sequencer ring the second oscillator on the Donut a bit differently each time the main sequence of notes repeats itself. The timing is all Vilfo, with all the hesitations and speed ups and downs caused by the aforementioned influencing, in this case by a Malekko Oscillator in LFO mode. I run the triangle wave from the Vilfo back into the sync of the Oscillator, which toys with the timing a little more. A little like a feedback loop.

I thought the result was appropriate for this holiday season…

Another Time, Another Place

Several weeks ago I was asked by Marc Weidenbaum to take part in a remix project for Tablet Magazine, an online publication on Jewish art, life, and culture. The idea was to take Klezmer songs and remix them for Hanukkah. Originally he tried to get traditional public domain tunes, but when that proved too impossible, more recent songs were added to the mix. I was assigned a raucous number by The New Klezmer Trio entitled Thermoglyphics. I was curious by the choice, as my musical mind lies in a different place than this song goes, and since I work with a modular synth and a drum machine — a little less emotive than the great clarinet of Ben Goldberg in Thermoglyphics — I held my head in my hands for several minutes after taking a listen.
Going back a ways, I love Klezmer. Love. Klezmer. I took up the accordion back in 1999 specifically because I’m the gentile guy over there listening to Dave Tarras and the Klezmatics. If I’d had my wits about me and wasn’t so enthralled with robotic synthesizer noises right now, I might have picked out the melody on my accordion and messed with that as sampled audio. Alas, I instead programmed it all by ear using a sequencer in Ableton Live and making sounds with the synth (details below, if you’re into that sort of thing). I spent a few days climbing up the wrong tree, thinking could make things at sound at least somewhat organic. But it was one morning while walking the dog that I found myself whistling the main clarinet part of the original where I kind of had that Eureka moment. I switched on the sine wave in my oscillators, put the notes in through a slew-limiter, which controls the portamento, or slide between the notes, and hit “record.” The modular synth was also used for almost all the percussion sounds in my piece. The various tracks were mixed and arranged in Ableton Live, and after a couple of small revisions requested by Marc, it was finished. He describes it as “Eastern European android folk music” which I think is entirely accurate and slightly wonderful.

Here’s the track.

You can read more about it and listen to the entire album, plus an interview with Marc, on Tablet’s website.

For those with a more esoteric interest, the VCOs used are the uLFO and the Malekko Oscillator for the melody, detuned a few steps on the chorus parts. The percussion is almost all Hertz Donut noises, with one clickity coming from the Microtonic plug-in. Volta handled the procedure of converting the MIDI notes from Ableton to voltage to the modular. The slew-limiter is the Livewire Dual Bissell Generator.