56K- A sound design challenge.

At Mills College I help run a bi-weekly concert event called Thursday Night Special (TNS), which is a forum for graduate students (and a few brave undergrads) to share their art with the Mills community. This past TNS, my friend Moni decided to include a ‘sample of the week’ (which can be found HERE), and challenge any performer that was brave enough to include it as part of their piece. Well, I took this challenge seriously, and decided to make an entire track in 6 hours using just a 25 second sample of the dial up internet sound. Although I did cheat a little, using drum samples, and Operator to make the bass line. My friend Sean Price also took on the challenge, and did his a track live with his Octatrack sampling instrument, and it was DOPE.

I have been in the habit lately of documenting my musical work and thought I’d just spout for awhile about how I approached this.  I use Ableton Live, and Max/MSP for all of my sound creation, and these two tools are absolutely perfect for this kind of endeavor. As with any sample based composition, I always start by listening to the sound itself for a few minutes, and finding sections that I think would take well to some mangling. Then the fun begins. Time stretching with the idea of producing artifacts always works well for me and I find the aesthetic that it creates provides a good starting point for more ‘real’ sounding things. Live’s different warp modes are great for stretching convincingly, but can also be abused to produce some VERY nice effects.

So, after mucking about with some of the ‘tones’ from the sample I had a decent intro created, and it was time to move on to the actual tune.  I wanted to really reference the source material blatantly, so I got a phrase of the actual dialing sound the I lined up on eighth notes. I also wanted to get some convincing melodies, and Live’s Sampler instrument is an absolute beast for taking any source material and making something usable out of it.  It’s all about setting the proper loop points (at least for me) and finding interesting modulation routings to really bring the material to life, finally, making sure it is tuned properly. You can do this by ear, with a sine tone, or use a digital tuning plugin, if the sound is pretty weird. I have  few instances of some sample based synths running throughout, as well as some one-shot glitched out phrases made completely in Live’s arrange view.

I’ve decided to include the Live Pack, if anyone wants to have some fun with this.

Here’s the performance: 

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56K- A sound design challenge.

Composing with performance in mind

As I approach the end of my career at Mills, I have to begin formulating an idea of what my final “Magnum Opus” will be for my graduate recital.  Since becoming involved in Electronic Music a few years ago it has always been my goal and desire to make performing a big part of my studies. This desire has really fueled my progress as a producer/composer, but has also left me with two very distinct ways of writing music: For the studio, and for the stage. Of course these two aren’t mutually exclusive and I have found ways to take my studio work to the stage, but when writing a piece that is rooted in performance, the approach is most definitely different.

I have been working over the past few weeks on a performance strategy that involves a bass guitar, Ableton Live with M4L, and two launchpads.  This setup affords me a lot of freedom and, with that freedom comes decisions. Tough ones.  How much playing will I be doing with my instrument? Am I going to prepare loops and material before hand, or generate it all on the fly?  How much control do I want over sound parameter? Will there be improvisation, or do I want every performance to be identical? Getting these things out of the way early is extremely important to becoming comfortable performing within your system, and allows you to become proficient much more quickly. It also limits the musical freedom you have after you make these decisions.

When speaking to a professor of mine about the nature of ‘writing for performance’, he mentioned that it can sometimes be very helpful to play through the piece a few times and record these, then go back and listen carefully. Sometimes you can get stuck when working on a piece like this and critical examination of the performance after the fact can reveal where you need to go next.

Here is one of those recordings: 

In the coming days I will be discussing some of my compositional approaches, choices, and techniques used in this piece.

Composing with performance in mind

Ableton Live Performance Template

Here is what I used for my performance two weeks ago. It is set up to be used with a bcf2000 and a novation launchpad.

Split into 6 channels of instrument groups (drum, bass, lead, pad, other, perc) One for live input of MLR, then these seven are all routed to a sub master chanell for global effects, eq’ing and dummy clips. If you want to get started jsut drop some audio files down into the chanells and start playing and tweaking knobs. It is a clip firing based performance setup with most of the improv done by chopping up things in mlr and butchering the audio via effects chains.   It still needs to be cleaned up a lot, more labeling and so on. I know what everything does but others might not. Feel free experiment, adapt, or destroy it as you see fit.  Any questions or comments will be answered/taken into consideration.

Hopefully someone will find this useful and interesting. Enjoy!

Performance Template Download

Ableton Live Performance Template

Novation Launchpad

I recently bought a Launchpad, wanting to move my compositions from the studio to the stage.  It seemed like a good enough controller for launching clips and such, but I was looking to use it as a monome emulator. Through the excellent community over at monome.org I stumbled across nonome for the launchpad.

I am currently attempting on integrating mlrV with my Live sets to allow for some more free improvisation and excitement for me and my audience.

More to come as soon as I get my shit together.

Novation Launchpad