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.


Recently I’ve been thinking about getting into Max for Live. I know enough about it to know that I’ll never explore it depths to any reasonable extent, and I know that if I do I’ll likely not get much else done. In the past year I’ve dived into modular synths as well as teaching myself about electronics, both of which are pretty endless journeys. But it’s the very fact that I’ve learned so much about electronics and audio via the modular that M4L has become even more interesting to me.
So the other night I opened up Ableton in demo mode so that I could mess with M4L. I couldn’t edit anything, as I did the 30-day demo of Max last year and therefore Max won’t open on my laptop. Kind of silly, but maybe for the best. Since I was limited in what I could do with this demo, I decided to just play with some of the M4L content. I’ve always liked Pluggo, so I found an instrument called Vocalese in the Pluggo collection.
Vocalese is a weird little thing where various vowels, consonants and plosives are selected with various notes. So in theory one should be able to hit certain notes in certain orders and make the thing talk. That seems like it would be either tedious or fun. Instead of going that direction, I hooked that into the MIDI from the M4L step-sequencer, and pressed go. Immediately my headphones were full of aliens chattering away. I recorded two sequences. One is sixteenth-notes and no real thought over what was going on. The second one I slowed down the sequencer, skipped some steps, and changed the durations. This gives the output a much more, I don’t know, realistic (?) result. I then added Ableton’s frequency shifter for effect.

Looking around the internets a bit, I found this post from Audio Cookbook, a blog I read now and then, who uses the same device with the vocoder. That sounds great as well.

I have a pretty strong feeling that Max for Live is in my near future. Damn.