dfscore 2.0 is here! dfscore 2.0 is a much improved and completely rewritten version of dfscore that I started working on a couple of years ago. The dfscore system is a realtime dynamic score system built to display a variety of musical material over a local computer network. The primary motivations for building the system were to allow for a middle ground between composition and improvisation.
But before I get into all of that, here is a video showing the latest version along with its premiere at the Manchester Jazz Festival:
This is what it looks like:
Some of the core ideas in the patch are based on sampling and processing modules I developed in The Party Van, another piece of software I’ve written. However, in Cut Glove I rebuilt everything completely from scratch, with tons of new features, more options, better overall sound, etc…. At the core of Cut Glove is karma~, a Max external I recently put out which can you read about in detail here.
Before I go into detail about what Cut Glove does, and more importantly, how the mappings are implemented, here is the first of three Cut Glove performance videos in this blog post:
The rest of this blog post will go into detail about the background, development, and technical implementation of Cut Glove.
Something that I’ve alluded to in various blog posts, and is present in the whole of my webpage, but I’ve never specifically talked about, are my thoughts on openness, sharing, money, and capitalism. Ever since Ray Evanoff prodded me to write something more about the ‘magic’ stuff that him and I have talked about, I’ve really gotten into the idea of doing these kind of blog posts, in between my generally technical/informative ones. So this is another one of these posts.
From a young age I always knew that music was not going to be something I made money from. Even then, as a teenager making slightly weird rock music, I knew nobody would want to pay money for it, much less listen to it. I guess it didn’t hurt that I grew up in a country where art is nearly valueless. But off the back of that I began fostering the idea of being financially and aesthetically independent. I saved up and bought a 4-track recorder and some microphones, I studied sound engineering, I took photography and design classes, and for many years I recorded and was involved in the artwork/packaging of everything I made. Although at the time this was more about being self-sufficiently practical than it was political/philosophical, it laid the groundwork for that possibility later in my life.
During this period of time I made several CDs. All of them were recorded/mixed myself (with occasional help from friends) and were packaged in DIY, often, one-of-a-kind, artwork/packaging. I thought that if someone was going to pay money for a CD, they should get a beautiful, hand-made, art object out of it. Something that was literally touched by me as it was being made. Further on, once in a relationship with Angela Guyton, she would make most of the artwork and I would handle the design/layout, and then we would both physically stamp/silk-screen/assemble everything. Looking back on this now, this was a transitional period. Not wanting to have commercially made CDs, but still wanting the thing being sold to mean something, or have artistic value.
Bach Prelude in F minor #12 from The Beatles White Album, a CD from this period:
Somewhat in parallel with this approach to music making I was getting further into DIY electronics and instrument making. I began Circuit-Bending and making my own guitar pedals. The communities around these activities were full of open and helpful people. I took part in many conversations on the mailing lists related to these over the years. That sense of community was very powerful, and although not everyone would be open with their bends or designs, most people were. I found some guitar pedal designs by a company called 4ms pedals (SoundShimmer back then). In particular, I was blown away by Dan Green’s (the guy behind 4ms) ‘paper circuits’. He created circuit designs which you were meant to print out, glue to a piece of cereal box, and then populate with components. The design was open-source, and super DIY. This resonated strongly with me. To this day I own a ‘paper circuit’ version of the Atoner pedal, and my Noise Swash, although long in the tooth, is one of the coolest pedals I own.
I later started learning and playing with Max/MSP, which you can read a detailed account of in my blog post about karma~, the external for Max that I was involved in making. I will summarize some of what I say in that blog post by saying that I was able to learn how to program because other people were generous and open with their own software and help. Software has some interesting qualities, not the least of which is that is not a physical thing. It is just information. It has no physical footprint, and as such, costs no resources to produce. There is something attractive about that that ties in to my view of making videos which I discuss later on.
For as long as I’ve been writing software, I’ve been sharing it freely. Since making the original version of The Party Van, I knew I wanted to share everything I made openly. I wanted to be part of that profound sharing feeling I felt when building or using a ciat-lonbarde/4ms/narrat1ve instrument.
I’ll share a side-story here. A couple of years ago I (freely) put out a piece of software (C-C-Combine) that was based around concatenative synthesis. The way the software worked is that you analyzed a pre-recorded body of samples, then you could play back that ‘corpus’ of samples using real-time audio input. In building this software I made several of my own corpuses (corpora) using some of the esoteric sound sources I was working with at the time. When I originally shared C-C-Combine, I did not include the my corpora with it. There was a practical reason for this; the samples and analysis data were quite large, and would make the download significantly bigger. There was also the fact that I wouldn’t imagine people would want to use the samples I had made, since the whole idea of the software was that people could easily input the sounds they wanted into it, to then use. But there was a tiny part of me that did not want to share the corpora for reasons of ego. The corpora I had put together very much sounded like “me”, and I didn’t necessarily want people to be able to do that so easily. I thought about this for a couple of days, and came to the conclusion that I needed to share them especially because of this reason. I have since put them up as independent downloads on the C-C-Combine page so people can download the ones that they are interested in. I needed to share especially when I didn’t want to. Especially when it was difficult. It would also force me to push what I did with the samples further, since everyone would have access to the same materials.
In addition to the practical aspects of sharing this way, I started to take on the philosophical thinking in to how I approached music making in general. I started shifting my ‘compositional’ thinking away from composing specific gestures and “telling people what to do” to creating contexts, situations, and behaviors that allowed performers (often myself) to work inside of. This was part of a general alignment with what I thought about the world, and how I made art in it. I not only wanted to change how my art interfaced with the world, but how I made that art in the first place.
Making videos is a big part of what I do. It’s also a big part of how I view art, and the world. I’ve come across so much interesting art and music via Youtube and Vimeo. If someone mentions a new artist or musician, I generally look at these pages first, to see what I can find. In many ways, this 2880×1800 area is my window to the world, and where I live a lot of my life. So it is natural that I should exist and create in that place as well.
In line with much of my philosophical thinking, I do not apply to calls for works, contests, commissions (as a performer or composer), or generally function within the world of ‘making a living’ from my creative output. There has been one exception to this. Several years ago, before becoming as hard-lined about funding as I am now, I applied to an ‘open commission’ for the Manchester Jazz Festival. I only applied because it was a specifically open commission where you pitched what you want and who you want to play it with. I pitched a project about a dynamic networked score system and although I was not successful, my application was earmarked. Later, when Jazz North got in touch with me I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take part in this as I had since solidified my views on art and money, but I decided I would meet with them anyways and only move forward with it if I could get behind the project 100%. Long story short, this became the dfscore System, which as well as being a tool for some of my creative output, ties strongly with improv education, which is something I feel very strongly about. Once this project is over, I do not plan on applying for any more funding.
One of the perks of growing up in a country/society where art is not valued is that I am free to make whatever I want, with whoever I want. I am not dependent on funding, or applications, or commissions, or anything to determine whether or not a project is viable. There is no filter to my creative output. Granted, I have little to no financial support in making art, but I have developed my general creative practice around being independent anyway. Again, this was not intentional, but it has certainly become useful.
Along these lines comes the idea of sharing the process, and the thinking behind things. It is why I make (increasingly!) long blog posts about my thinking behind each piece, or video, or bit of software. Not only are these things actually part of the art itself (ie a tutorial video for a piece of software that took Ang and I months to plan and make) but by showing my process and thinking, I am communicating what I think is important in the creation of the art. This can be as valuable as the art itself since it is transferable to what other people think. The ideas behind the art.
That is what this is. This is why I do these things. This is how I do these things. This is the part behind the art. This is why I am an open person. Why I share and give away everything I make. This is why I am a kind person. Why I am helpful. Why I am always smiling and laughing.
And here is a tutorial video showing some of what karma~ can do:
karma~, has been in somewhat active development since September 2014, when I first contacted raja to see if he would be interested in writing the C code for it. Thankfully, he was interested and able to. From that point we’ve exchanged hundreds of emails discussing the feature set, implementation, and bug fixery. I am eternally grateful for his programming wizardry and endless patience with me.
Before there was karma~, there was my desire to do any kind of live sampling in Max. I first started learning Max in 2003/2004, in the Max/MSP 4 era. Even back then, Max/MSP (as it was then known) was a mythical beast of a program. You could make it shit unicorn gold if you knew how to use it, and I desperately wanted to. Over the next few years I went through a cycle of drilling the tutorials hard, then getting frustrated because I couldn’t do anything with live audio, and then quitting. I did that 2-3 times.
Enter the Where’s The Party At 8-bit hardware sampler. I found this cool looking and sounding DIY hardware sampler, and it was intriguing as fuck. I’m a big fan of DIY stuff, and the lo-fi sound was right up my alley. I built a complex setup around the WTPA sampler, and used it in various contexts over the next couple of years. It was simple, it was streamlined, and it kicked ass. But I realized I wanted more. I wanted to be able to sample live audio, and not just the electronic instruments I was running through the sampler. So I started conceiving and planning a beast of a setup, originally based around the WTPA 2.0 sampler which was due to come out.
Here’s a page from my sketchbook showing the front/back/top/side panels of what I had in mind:
It was a brutally elaborate setup based around the idea of having an Arduino controlling the WTPA 2.0 via MIDI. It was ambitious as shit, as you can see from the sketch. It had an LCD screen, over a dozen buttons, and lots of audio I/O, including a built in condenser microphone.
Having something rigid to start building towards proved to be invaluable. It removed the “terror of the infinite” which can happen when working with an open programming environment. It also showed me that design was as much about what you don’t include as what you do. I designed with laser focused constraints, and made those work musically. What I built eventually turned into The Party Van, a monster of a program that I am very proud of, and endlessly humbled by seeing how, and how many, people use it. To this day, the main core modules of The Party Van are called the ‘WTPA modules’.
I initially released The Party Van at the end of 2011. It’s been through a dozen major updates and is currently sitting at a mature 1.1 release. I learned many things along the way while writing it, and developed a passionate belief in sharing things for free. I was only able to learn how to program because people would share their patches with me, so it was something I needed to do as well.
karma~ follows a long line: from initial experiments and frustrations with Max/MSP, through my hardware-based sampling days, to my rekindled passion for programming in Max. One of the things I found incredibly frustrating in Max was how difficult it was to do any kind of live sampling, or sampling of any kind. Declicking became a thankless, near endless chore, which got increasingly difficult the moment I wanted to dynamically change the size of a loop, or jump around the loop arbitrarily, or change the playback speed, etc…. Basically, looping is some of the hardest and unsexiest coding you can do in Max. A real shit show.
karma~ is born out of this really. This frustration. Why is it so fucking hard to create a looper in Max?! Well, not any-fucking-more. karma~ is incredibly easy to use. It is super streamlined, while at the same time deep, with a powerful and esoteric feature set. It is, without a doubt, my dream looper. The accompanying helpfile and reference doc are super detailed, presenting each aspect of its functionality thoroughly, and includes a whole set of real-world applications, so that you can be up and running in no time at all.
karma~ is at the center of a massive patch that has been in development since before karma itself was conceived. I will post that soon enough, as soon as it is ready to roll out. In time, I will also replace the core ‘WTPA modules’ in The Party Van with karma~ modules. I will be sad to see that homage to my hardware days go from The Party Van, but digital art grieves for no one (Do androids dream of electric sheep? The answer is NO). The 1s and 0s are boot kicks to the ass of the past.
And with that I leave you with karma~. It is currently in its initial 1.0 release. There are 32/64bit versions for Mac and Windows (thanks to Barbara Cassatopo for compiling it for 32bit Windows and Alfonso Santimone for compiling it for 64bit Windows). karma~ was lovingly coded by raja, and I can’t thank him enough! And the linear interpolation used in the recording stage of karma~ is based on ipoke~ by Pierre Alexandre Tremblay.
Title as prophecy. The art and muck that you are involved with bends around you, is bigger than you, is smarter than you. It points in a direction that you could not conceive. That you could not imagine. It becomes the truth, out from under you. It is an arrow. It is a line.
<as point on line>
You’ve named a thing. It becomes your future.
You name the thing. It becomes a fictional present.
You have to name a thing. Do you give, to become the art?
Which future does the arrow point towards?
You are the single point at which the Universe will crease.
</as point on line>
Title as bound poetry. You become the filament. The rod. You are honest. And you touch god, the bottom. You can see everything. Naked, you channel truth into a list of things.
You extend yourself. All of the way.
Nothing is more important than this moment.
Title as arc. There is a beginning, with its end built in. It starts before you are paying attention, and finishes after you’re ashes. It is made up of everything around you. It is a resonance through multiple points of time, folded over each other.
<righting, writing rites>
You become aware of it happening. You make a note.
You live the life required of you.
You are becoming the art.
Your life and the art, are folding together.
It makes sense.
The end is here. The end was always (t)here.
</righting, writing rites>
pǝʇsᴉxǝ ɹǝʌǝ sɐɥ ʇɐɥʇ ƃuᴉɥʇʎɹǝʌǝ oʇ sʎǝʞ ǝɥʇ ˙III ‘uoᴉʇuǝʇuᴉ uɐ ‘uoᴉsoldxǝ uɐ ‘ɹoɹɹᴉɯ ɐ ‘ɹǝᴉɟᴉldɯɐ uɐ ˙II ‘ɯoɔ˙(pǝɯɐuun)/ɯoɔ˙ʎssndɹnoʎʇoƃɹoɟʎpɐǝɹlɐᴉ/ɯoɔ˙lɹᴉƃɹǝɥʇouɐɥʇᴉʍǝʌoluᴉɯᴉ ˙I
Table of Contents
It started with a simple question: “Why compose at all?”
At the time I was working on what would later become iminlovewithanothergirl.com and was trying to figure out how to deal with composing for myself as an improvising solo performer using a new/invented instrument which is difficult to reproducibly control. This marked a big shift in my compositional thinking. I began moving away from precomposing discrete gestures and started focusing on pure improvisation. I carried on this line of thinking through multiple compositions and projects over the next three years and eventually produced a framework for thinking about improvisation – making decisions in time.
Before I gib gab about it, here is “Everything Everything at once. Once. (3a)”:
The idea for these pieces is to focus my creative process and energy on the curatorial act of choosing the instruments I will improvise with. This has now extended into the choosing of the location, look, and visual approach used in each video. Each video in the series has had its own distinctive look, and has also come to include new collaborators alongside my long-time collaborator Angela Guyton.
Going into this third video, I knew I could try something different, because of the acoustic (and battery powered) nature of the instruments chosen. A melodica (which I bought over 15 years ago at a flea market for $5!), and my trusty ciat-lonbarde Old Mr. Grassi. I first thought about using some kind of outdoor location, but after seeing David Pocknee and Michael Baldwin‘s basement, I thought that it would be a wonderful place to film.
The original idea was to use some dripping paint, with David and Michael each having a squirt bottle, and then adding some vertical glitching artifacts similar to the language Angela had explored in her latest video. But after doing a take with the paint, and seeing how amazing the lighting by David and Michael was, the paint/glitch idea was scrapped altogether. Angie thought that with David and Michael enacting two tasks, what their role meant within the work changed. It created a different context and gave the work a different character, but one that didn’t seem as complete as when they were focused completely on their dispassionate navigation of the space as they sensitively manipulated the lighting.
I was initially hesitant about this change, since I was quite excited about the paint/glitch idea, but I trusted Angie’s judgement on the matter. And in the end, the videos came out better.
The choice of instruments for this particular version of the piece is far smaller than the other versions, with just two instruments:
1 x ciat-lonbarde Old Mr. Grassi
1 x Artist Ltd. Pianica
That being said, this particular combination of instruments is one of my longest standing ‘pairings’, going to back to when I initially started performing solo improv. In that sense, it served as an almost proto version of this creative thinking. Some of the language in the third video (3c), particularly the near-unison sustained pitches, diatonic-y material (Gminor?!?!), is something I strongly associate with this particular combination of instruments.
Even though the combination of instruments is quite old for me, I wanted to incorporate that specific pairing into this compositional framework, where the choice of instruments defines the piece.
I am still, however, surprised at the endless source of inspiration these instruments provide. It almost feels like cheating, at this point, given how interesting the instruments sound, but I felt I found lots of new and fresh angles on them. My work on the Battle Pieces, .com pieces, and dfscore system has given me such a fluid understanding of form, gesture, and pacing, that I can really focus on multiple formal levels while attending to the micro/developmental nature of the sounding materials themselves.
The visual identity of these pieces is becoming something that is increasingly important, which in this case specifically involved dynamic manipulation of light. This tendency has been apparent in all of my work over the last few years, but each one of these videos, particularly, has a very considered visual identity and approach. I am curious to see where this will go, and if the general idea of these pieces (to draw a metaphoric circle around the part of the creative act I want to focus on) will explicitly be extended to the entire ‘art object’.
When asked, after filming the videos, to describe what we thought was important using only three words (Michael had asked David this question before), Angela and I shared two of the three words: creativity and love. We disagreed on sharing vs freedom for the third word, but what can you do. I am comforted by the fact that I’m right and she’s wrong.
Very happy to post this full-length version of iminlovewithanothergirl.com. Even though I’ve talked about the piece several times, and have posted multiple versions of it, I didn’t have a full-length ‘studio’ version of it. Until now.
It was an interesting experience coming back to a studio version of the piece. The very first version of it (that existed before the idea fully coming together as a composition) was really just a document of the snare/friction/feedback ideas I had been playing with. The lights only really joined in for that document, and then were incorporated into the actual piece, once it started congealing.
Since that video, I’ve performed the piece live numerous times, and each time I discover new facets to the feedback playing, and general language/syntax of the piece, but these generally happen as one-off events. Leading up to the initial composition and studio version I did a boot-camp type working process, where each day I would compose new material, record myself performing it (and previous days materials), improvise freely, and finally listen back to everything. That really helped me refine the language and discover new playing techniques. When I’ve performed the piece live, I did not have that luxury of a long period of prep (at the venue), so I would draw on my existing knowledge, as well as exploring the sonic characteristics of that venue and space. The most recently live performance (at Kammerklang) had some very unique and interesting feedback properties that I hadn’t experienced in other venues before. You can see/hear that video here.
Leading up to this studio version, I prepared by doing daily boot-camp like practice of the materials. In doing some I developed and explored some new sounds and syntax which bring a fresh life now to this now nearly 2-year old composition.
Seeing what came before, and what came after, this piece definitely marks a massive shift in my creative thinking, and still stands as one of the best things I’ve done creatively. (this is still the best)
The dfscore system is a dynamic score display system built to function over a local network to display a variety of musical material. The primary motivations for building the system were to allow for a middle ground between composition and improvisation, and to be able to dynamically restructure and reorchestrate material on any given instrumentation.
The first performance utilizing the system will be on the 18th of September at The Noise Upstairs.
You can read more about the project here:
I’ve been working on a relay-based hardware repatching instrument for quite a while. The idea being that I could use my computer (running Max) to control a bunch of my weird (ciat-lonbarde) hardware synths.
Here is a video using attack-based random repatching of an Old Mr. Grassi using my drumset.