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.
Here it is. Finally…
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. 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 more 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 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 as is currently sitting at a mature 1.1 release. I learned many things along the way writing it, not the least of which was 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 this 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’ve found incredibly frustrating in Max was how difficult it is to do any kind of live sampling, or sampling of any kind. Declicking becomes a thankless, near endless chore, which gets increasingly difficult the moment you want to dynamically change the size of your loop, or jump around the loop arbitrarily, or to change the playback speed of your loop 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 it is also 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 it’s 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 it’s 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
Shortly after conceiving the idea for my series of compositions Everything. Everything at once. Once. I had realized that my compositional thinking was drifting away from composition specific gestures and further into pure improvisation. I decided that I would need a framework to think about, practice, and analyze this type of working process, particularly since this makes up a large part of my PhD research. I came up with the idea to analyze decisions just before filming the first Everything. Everything at once. Once. performance. The day after filming, I rewatched the videos over and over and started writing down what I thought from moment to moment. After analyzing each performance I began to break the decisions into discreet streams, which I felt encompassed all of my improvisational thinking. These are Material, Formal, Interface, and Interaction, and they are defined as follows:
Material – Decisions dealing with manipulations of local, sonic materials. This can come in the form of instrumental behaviours or general development, but is open to context and interpretation.
Formal – Decisions dealing with form and transitions.
Interface – Decisions dealing with instrument, ergonomics, technology, and performance modalities.
Interaction – Decisions dealing with how materials interact. This is primarily dealing with simultaneous materials (as opposed to Formal decisions), but is not exclusively so.
￼Each of three first versions of ‘Everything’ videos were analyzed in this manner. I felt that for the analysis to be meaningful, I would have to be brutally honest with my thinking, even if it was not flattering. Here is a segment of the raw, unedited analysis for Everything. Everything at once. Once. (1b):
0:05 – decide on ‘soft’ entry
0:08 – begin cymbal rubbing pattern/rhythm (in contrast to attack-based playing method of previous piece)
0:10 – pattern to regular – alter steady rhythmic pattern to create variety (slower/faster)
0:15 – formal brain calls for further breaking of pattern. adding interruption/pauses
0:20 – decide to use cymbal press/pauses to coax electronic changes
0:25 – shift to change of playing surface to engage electronic sounds – it does not happen
0:28 – formal brain calls for a gesture to return to rubbing pattern, now fused with rubbing gesture
0:35 – electronic sounds start changing and becoming more interesting – pause to listen
0:37 – return to playing with even more erratic gestures
0:39 – incorporate acoustic friction sound (from previous explorations/pieces)
0:42 – formal brain calls for shift. fade out amp
0:45 – return to rubbing gesture, but more erratically/quickly
0:47 – decide overall sound is too weak for energy level, decide to bring amp back in on smaller gesture
After coming up with the moment-by-moment list of decisions I separated them into individual streams. This was occasionally difficult, where some decisions could potentially fall into multiple categories. When this was the case, I just went with the most pertinent stream. Here is the same section of the analysis with the streams attached and the wording cleaned up slightly:
0:05 – Material : Decide on ‘soft’ entry.
0:08 – Material : Begin cymbal rubbing pattern/rhythm (in contrast to attack-based playing method of previous piece).
0:10 – Material : Pattern too regular – alter steady rhythmic pattern to create variety (slower/faster).
0:15 – Formal : Formal brain calls for further breaking of pattern. adding interruption/pauses.
0:20 – Interface : Decide to use cymbal press/pauses to coax electronic changes.
0:25 – Interface : Shift to change of playing surface to engage electronic sounds – it does not happen.
0:28 – Formal : Formal brain calls for a gesture to return to rubbing pattern, now fused with rubbing gesture.
0:35 – Interaction : Electronic sounds start changing and becoming more interesting – pause to listen.
0:37 – Material : Return to playing with even more erratic gestures.
0:39 – Material : Incorporate acoustic friction sound (from previous explorations/pieces).
0:42 – Formal : Formal brain calls for shift. Fade out amp.
0:45 – Material : Return to rubbing gesture, but more erratically/quickly.
0:47 – Interface : Decide overall sound is too weak for energy level, decide to bring amp back in on smaller gesture.
Feel free to follow along with the video. Everything. Everything at once. Once. (1b):
The decisions range from the treatment of local material, to practical instrumental housekeeping. This is the case for all of the analyses I’ve done so far. The general activity level is quite high as well. I have not generated enough analysis data yet to confirm this in my own playing, but I have a working theory that Material decisions happen roughly at the rate of language and speech.
Generating these analyses has given me some insight into how my decision making apparatus works in time. I can see explicit patterns and tendencies in the way decisions are structured, but more importantly, tuning in to that decision framework has let me draw a conceptual circle around that creative plane, and let me articulate on it. This is very similar to how focusing on the curation of instruments let me articulate on that creative plane in the Everything. Everything at once. Once. pieces.
Additionally, this kind of analytical thinking led to the composition an amplifier a mirror an explosion an intention, though in that composition it is used as the conceptual and composition framework, and not an after the fact analysis tool.
After conceiving the analytical framework I decided that a visualisation of some manner would be helpful in understanding how my improvisatory thinking operated. I initial experimented with the SubRip file format (.srt), with the idea to use video subtitles as the main way to view the analyses. A fellow PhD candidate, Braxton Sherouse, helped me create a ruby script that would take my text files and convert them into suitably formatted .srt files. This approach proved to be problematic as anything beyond a low density of simultaneous events quickly becomes unreadable. It also did not allow for any statistical analysis of the analyses.
I created a spreadsheet using the analysis data shown above (time, stream, comment), and then began creating all kinds of graphs and charts from the data. The most useful one being the static “constellation” view, showing the streams on one axis, and time on the other. Here is the analysis for Everything. Everything at once. Once. (1a):
There are some remarkable things in this analysis. First being that Material decisions stop half way through the piece, when the sonic material shifts towards being more electronic. This comes along with an increase in activity in the Interface/Interaction streams. There are more similar insights coming from being able to visualize the analysis data this way.
I also produced activity rates within each stream, along with trend line showing the overall trajectory of activity in the piece (or within each stream).
In addition to the static, graph-based analyses, I did some generic number crunching, calculating the minimum, maximum and mean for each stream. As well as a co-occurance matrix, showing how often each stream went to each other stream (ie Material going to Formal 6 times in the piece). These static analyses proved insightful, and I imagine will provide even more insight once I have enough analysis data to correlate between individual analyses. This will allow me to notice tendencies that I may have on a subconscious, or even physiological level, if my language-based rate of Material decisions theory is correct.
So with these static-spreadsheet based analyses in hand, I decided I wanted something more interactive, and musically useful. Not to mention something easier to produce. Many of the metrics I produced (such as co-occurance) I had to calculate manually for each analysis I produced. Something that is both tedious and error prone.
I contacted Tom and asked him if he would be interested in putting together a better version of what I had built. Luckily he was. Tom, in addition to being a programmer is an improvising saxophonist, so he was able to not only understand the motivations and functionality of this kind of framework, but to contribute to how it could be best displayed.
Working back and forth over a few weeks Tom put together something interactive, compact, and significantly better than what I had cobbled together in a spreadsheet. On top of all of that it used all open source technologies. Fitting in well with the sharing ethos I have.
It is largely built around the D3 library, but uses some additional web technologies to allow linked audio playback, and dynamic recalculation of zoomed in data.
Here is the playback/zoom section, along with the no-longer-static “constellation” view.
You can hover over each point to see the comment. You can click on any point (or the waveform) to begin playback from there. You can zoom in to a specific section of the piece using the selection bars at the top. Everything dynamically adjusts when you resize the viewable area.
There is a large trend chart view which allows you to see the trends for the overall piece, or within any given stream. It looks like this.
Everything, including the trend lines, recalculate when a new selection is made in the top part of the window.
Finally are the static metrics of minimum/maximum/mean/standard deviation/co-occurance. All of these are calculated automatically, and they dynamically recalculate based on a new selection being made.
So far I have analyzed three performance. All three videos from my initial Everything (1) set of videos. In analyzing these videos I quickly learned that the ability to empathize with one’s own decision making, while watching a video, dissolves very quickly. I analyzed (1a) the day after the performance, then (1b) the day after that, and finally (1c) a day later. By the time I got to the third day, I found that I could only really infer what I was thinking, by observing the results of that thinking (ie what I was doing). As a result, the data for the 3rd analysis is quite different from the first two. I have kept it, and will likely use it as a control, showing what ‘bad analysis’ looks like.
I plan on analyzing all of my upcoming videos/performances and feeding them into this system, and have asked some other performers to contribute their own analyses. Once I have enough data, I, with the help of Tom, will come up with some more graphs/metrics to correlate between the data sets, showing tendencies over time and between different performers. Eventually, this will expand to have a page where one can upload their own analysis (as a .csv file, an mp3, and an optional video file), and the system will add it to a database of existing analyses. The user will then be able to view their analysis, or any analysis in the database, and then view correlated data between a selection of these analyses.
In addition to the analysis and correlation of solo performances, I plan on analyzing duo and trio improvisations where each performer will analyze their own performance ‘blindly’ to then correlate data from each performance within the same performance. This will, undoubtedly, provide tremendous insight into the group dynamic and interplay happening between performers. This will, of course, require some completely different visualization tools.
You can follow the developments of this improvisation analysis framework on it’s static page here. As I add more analyses, and come up with new approaches on how to visualize the data, I will update the static page, and add any relevant links to it there.
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 to the curatorial act of choosing the instruments I will improvise with. This has now extended into the choosing of location, look, and visual approach used in each video. Each video in the series has had it’s own distinctive look, and has also come to include new collaborators along side 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. The original idea was to use some kind of outdoor location, but after seeing David Pocknee and Michael Baldwin‘s basement, I thought that 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 simply created a different context, giving the work a different character. One that didn’t seem so 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, 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 shorter than the other options, 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 pair 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, with how interesting the instruments sound, but I felt I found lots of new and fresh angles on them. All of 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, and 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, specifically, 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.
After over a year, I’m finally putting out a version of The Party Van, a free software system/instrument/environment that I built in Max. It’s also officially out of beta now and the version numbers will reflect that. It has gone from v09 to v1.0. It’s been about three years since I started working in Max again and started building what eventually became The Party Van. The software has changed radically since the last release, and has been ready to release for some months now. It was just a matter of making the time to finish updating the manual with all the new features/sections/etc….
And here are a couple of videos made using The Party Van.
The last few months have been both slow and busy at the same time. In that time I’ve been slowly working on multiple pieces/projects simultaneously. I figured it might be interesting to make a blog post about things in progress.
After finishing a piece for good friend Linda Jankowska and the end of last year I started working on two other pieces. The first one being a piece for skipping CD player and drumset. The working title is “Rhythm Wish”, but I’m not fully settled in on that. It looks/sounds something like this:
The piece, compositionally, will fall somewhere between two approaches I’ve been working on recently. First the kind of open/memory/improv structure of pieces like the .com pieces, and to a lesser extent ‘an amplifier‘, and the game/challenge/etude modes of interaction found in the ‘Battle Pieces‘ from a duo (strikethrough me & you) with another good friend Sam Andreae.
The piece will be constructed in a way that before the performance the performer (either myself or David Meier) has to improvised some material, given certain prompts. Those materials will then be burned onto a CD player (with the un-muted modification ala Nic Collins CD Hacking). The CD player will sit on the snare drum (as in the demo video I made above), which will cause the CD to skip around and act unpredictably. That glitchiness (along with the order of the tracks on the CD) will form the structure of the piece at a larger level. The more local interactions will be defined by challenge/interactions that the performer will have to engage with, along with the recorded version of themselves.
There will also be some real-time ‘nudging’ of the CD player via a footswitch that I hacked together from an old remote control for the CD player.
As evident in the video, the sound of the CD player blurs with the sound of the acoustic drumset, which is very much intentional. Some of the seedling ideas for the piece were of a sort of temporal duality. With a protagonist/antagonist fighting it out musically, one being live and one being recorded. I like the poetics of it being the same person/instrument with the conflict coming only via the displacement in time (then vs now, past vs present). I took these ideas and played around with a ‘3-act play’ structure, which is still somewhat present in the larger structural framework, but is less important than it originally was.
I will also play with illusion in terms of what is real and what is recorded. This kind of interaction was a mainstay in the performances of the performance art duo I have with Angela Guyton, Takahashi’s Shellfish Concern. During the era that relied on live painting + live sampling, the idea of hearing the sound of the lines being put down, then not hearing them (or hearing a different recording) when seeing it happen again proved to be very powerful. This was very much inspired by the ‘Club Silencio‘ scene from Mulholland Drive. (more on Takahashi’s Shellfish Concern below)
In addition to the ‘Rhythm Wish’ I am also working on a piece for tuning forks and computer hard drive. It looks/sounds something like this:
The piece will be for four performers all sitting around a table, with the computer hard drive in the middle. The piece is written for a new ensemble I’m performing in called bird rat centipede and will be called ‘the keys to everything that has ever existed’.
The main compositional material of the piece will be ‘privacy’. In the sense of ‘hitting the tuning fork on the table and pressing it to the table’ being a ‘public’ sound, and ‘hitting the tuning fork on your knee and holding it near your ear’ being a ‘private’ sound. I very much like the idea of multiple perspectives on the same piece, particularly since there is no ‘real’ perspective. Each performer hears a, literally, different version of the piece, and same goes for the audience and/or recording.
The computer hard drive is modified with an ‘analog HD’ by Gijs, which is essentially 3 oscillators and an amplifier driving the voice coil in the hard drive (so it acts like a speaker).
I’ve also started working on my dfscore system, which is a networked laptop score displaying software system I’ve been working on for a while (which has taken a bit of a back burner position for a bit). I used a very stripped down version of it in ialreadyforgotyourpussy.com with Richard Craig, which looks/sounds like this:
I had pitched the idea to the Manchester Jazz Festival last year, and although it was not accepted, I did continue talks with them. The project is now moving forward again and is, quite unusually for me, being financially supported by Jazz North. I’ll have more details on this soon, but it is very exciting to be working on the system again.
It will eventually be a software system that you can quickly install on any number of laptops which are connected up via ethernet cables (for minimal latency). This will allow for a more dynamic/adaptive type of composition which would work very well with the kind of music I’ve been writing as of late. I will also be openly sharing all of the code and try to make it as user friendly as possible.
I’ve also finished putting the finishing touches on this MIDI to relay system built for me by Circitfied (Dan Wilson). I commissioned Dan to build a box that would take MIDI messages and turn on/off relays which I would connect to a bunch of ciat-lonbarde instruments. The box on it’s own is pretty cool/exciting (not to mention great looking!) but it will be much more so once I pair it with some crafty programming.
I plan on building several modules to drive it, including an attack detection to random re-patching, and a much more challenging/exciting analysis-based system where I can analyze the audio descriptors (using Alex Harker‘s externals for Max) of each combination made by the box, then by analyzing incoming audio, create a resynthesis of that audio using repatching/reconfiguration! Very similar to the synthesis used in my CCCombine Max patch, but instead of using a bank of samples, it would use hardware synthesis/sounds.
Lastly (but not leastly) is a continued development with the next phase of Takahashi’s Shellfish Concern. We’ve moved away from an amplified canvas and towards a DMX lights based setup. That looks something like this (though not directly focused on Angie):
The trajectory of the work has been moving further and further away from an ‘art object’ in the last few years, so this is the final ‘jump’ away from physical stuff. Most of it is still based around an image, but now it’s smeared in time/space by using flashing lights as the only visual component. The sonic component is still being worked on, though it’s mainly been sampled voice/breathing.
Back in October of last year I came up with a new idea on how to approach some of the music I’ve been making. The basic idea was to put the creative or ‘compositional’ focus on the instrumentation part of the process of music making. This being a very important aspect of music making, and improvisation specifically. As obvious as this seems, and as much as it’s actually part of my creative process, I had never focused on it explicitly.
The series of pieces are called: “Everything. Everything at once. Once.” with each subsequent version increasing in number, and with letters added for each performance using that setup. In October I created versions 1a/1b/1c. Below are versions 2a/2b/2c/2d. All of them were filmed by Angela Guyton and close friend Linda Jankowska, who inspired the general musical approach.
Here is “Everything Everything at once. Once. (2a)”:
The way I’m approaching the pieces is that the videos themselves are the pieces. They aren’t instances of the piece. The ‘score’ for each piece is the point of departure to create the videos. I don’t intend on returning to any of the setups/approaches, as part of the series of pieces anyways. As mentioned above this is mainly to highlight that part of my creative process which is, increasingly, less focused on the false dichotomy of ‘improvisation vs composition’. I’ve used this framework for many years but it’s not well suited to how I actually approach music making. There is no ‘before’ (as in compositional pre-planning) or a ‘now’ (as in the immediacy of improvisation). There is a single stream that runs through all of this. There are just decisions, happening at all points of the process.
Everything. Everything at once. Once. (2b)
For this second (2) piece in the series I wanted to focus on percussive sounds in the context of skipping CD style glitching. A toy piano and various metal percussion are the main sounding bodies used in the piece. The glitching comes from software I’ve written. The Party Van is my all-in-one software that I use in nearly all my performances that involve a computer. A subset of that patch is The Chocolate Grinder which is built to emulate and behave like a skipping CD. I’ve used this kind of sound world in the past but wanted to be able to use it with real-time audio, so I built the Max patch to function and sound like a skipping CD.
The setup looks like this:
Everything. Everything at once. Once. (2c)
The visual look of these piece is quite important as the video IS the art object, not merely documentation of it. Given my long-standing collaboration with Angela Guyton, she is responsible for all of the filming of these. A new collaborator in this context is Linda Jankowska. During these performances Linda is operating the lighting, but she is also responsible for some of the framing, placement and approach used in each video. Her lighting work during the video is beautiful, particularly since she has such ‘performer’ sensitivity, she is able to follow my thinking while performing and complement the musical material visually. With Angie’s filming and Linda’s lighting I think the videos came out beautifully.
Everything. Everything at once. Once. (2d)
Here is the ‘score’ for version (2).
1 x Schoenhut 379B Toy Piano
1 x 6.5″ Cast iron pot lid
1 x 6.75” Cast iron pot lid
1 x 7.5” Cast iron pot lid
1 x 9” Cast iron pot lid
2 x Singing bowls (with tin foil)
2 x Bell chimes
1 x Crotale
1 x Bell from bell tree
2 x Knitting needles
2 x Peter Erskine drum sticks
1 x Shortened Cello bow
1 x The Party Van 1.0beta
1 x monome 64
1 x monome arc2
1 x MacBook Pro
1 x MOTU Microbook II
1 x Mackie SRM350v2
me & you action, this time live. Oddly enough, even though we’ve been at this for a while, this was our first live performance. The set went really well, to a full house at The Noise Upstairs.
Still working on the mixes from the recording session at the end of last year and will release all the tracks for free once they are ready. For now here are a few of the performances from our first gig.
I’ve been working on a duet project (
me & you) with Sam Andreae for well over a year now. We started shortly after he moved back to the UK after spending a couple of years in Scandinavia. It started off innocently enough, just as drum/sax free improv. That later blossomed into the idea for Battle Pieces. The idea is simple enough, a kind of challenge/battle/etude where we perform (often) against each other.
In content it is very similar to what I’ve been doing with other recent compositions (.com pieces, Everything., an amplifier) where I compose interaction, behavior, and relationships, instead of ‘content’. In the Battle Pieces the challenges are much more difficult and intense and have forced Sam and I to change/adapt/improve as improvisers drastically.
In December 2013 we decided we had enough of these pieces to go into the studio.
Before I run at the gob some more, here is Glitch Beat from the recording session:
We recorded 8 pieces total, with alternative takes being filmed by Angela Guyton on the second day in the studio.
I’ve become less interested in the idea of “releases” over the years, particularly since I hate getting CDs from people. I do like the art object of a release, which is why many of my releases over the years have been hand-made in one way or another, but even that idea has been waning. This has coincided with my increased video output, not so much as a kind of documentation, but as the thing itself. I do think that
me & you is a live band, and we will play many gigs together, but as far as this recording goes, the current idea is to release each track individually, and for free. We’ve talked about eventually putting together a deck of cards with each piece written on each card, so at gigs we can pull out random cards and have our set determined that way, but we need to write many more pieces before we are at that point.
If the background looks familiar, it is because it is in the same studio where I recorded a follow up album with PA Tremblay in 2012. Due to PAs busy schedule, the recording is still in post, but it’s a doozy, and should hopefully be out in 2014.
My setup is equally stripped down, just being a 3-piece acoustic kit with 2 cymbals (1hat, 1ride), but after moving down to just a 2 piece setup, I’ve decided to add a single small (tiny) tom to complement the setup. I find that with
me & you in particular, the alternate color of the tom works really well.
Here is one of our newer pieces, Flurries:
This piece is quite a departure for us in terms of sound world, but we’re both very happy with it. It was composed a couple of weeks before going into the studio, and the interactions were only finalized in the last rehearsal before the studio.
We have not finished ‘notating’ most of the pieces, which requires careful consideration of the wording, but here are 5 of the scores.
Early in 2013 a close friend of mine, Linda Jankowska, asked me to write her a violin piece. Despite her being an amazing and dedicated violinist, I told her no. I added “I don’t believe in violin”. I don’t think she had ever heard those words before….
Fast forward to now, the end of 2013. I still don’t believe in violin, but I wrote her a piece. The piece does not specify instrumentation. The instrumentation is simply “for Linda”.
Here enters : an amplifier, a mirror, an explosion, an intention
This piece is very different from the kinds of things I’ve been working on lately. One massive difference is that I’m not playing at all. The trajectory of my work, as of late, has been to compose/perform/improvise myself, or with very close collaborations in which I am also a performer.
The intellectual framework of the piece is also new. The .com pieces, Battle pieces, and Everything. Everything at once. Once., dealt with memory, challenge/etude, and instrumentation respectively. In ‘an amplifier’ I shift the focus from ‘composition’ to ‘improvisation’ in terms of where the brain juice is poured.
Here are the performance notes from the score:
Thinking about decisions in time
Decision making, in time, is separated into four streams. These all happen at once, with your active brain shifting between them. Throughout the piece you will be asked to privilege one kind of decision over the other.
There is an amount of overlap between these decision streams, which is intentional. The decision streams are not meant to be codified or exhaustive, but rather meant to draw emphasis to a certain area.
Material – Decisions dealing with manipulations of local material. This can come in the form of instrumental behaviours or general development, but is open to context and interpretation.
Formal – Decisions dealing with form and transitions.
Interface – Decisions dealing with instrument, ergonomics, technology, and performance modalities.
Interaction – Decisions dealing with how materials interact. This is primarily dealing with simultaneous materials (as opposed to Formal decisions), but is not exclusively so.
The idea for decision streams came after creating the Everything. Everything at once. Once. videos (filmed, as always, by Angela Guyton). I began analyzing my improvisations in those videos in terms of the actual (honest) decisions I make in time. This is central to what I actually do in a performance. Make decisions, in time. The categories came from analyzing the types of decisions I noticed myself making, and trying to make them general enough to apply to other performances.
This is the first piece in which I apply this idea.
Another new idea is that of time resonances. The term is borrowed from Terence McKenna, though I do not use it in the same way he does. For me it is also central to what I do as an improviser. Occasionally things happen in improvisation, things beyond myself, beyond my ability, and understanding. The things that can happen when you become an antenna. These cause a rift in the universe and create a drawing about the future/past…oh wait.. I digress.
I got the idea for time resonances from realizing that all the snare/feedback stuff (.com pieces) that I had been doing had been born in a 30second bit of improvisation from a tour I did a couple of summers ago. That idea resonated into each of the .com pieces, as a ‘harmonic’ of that idea ‘fundamental’.
All of that makes up the intellectual framework, but that is not the piece. The piece is for Linda.
Following on from the compositional ideas I had been developing in my .com pieces (form as content) and Battle pieces (challenge as content), I’m working on a new set of pieces where the choice of instruments is the composition.
Instrumentation as content.
This is how I approach most of my improv stuff, particularly coming from a multi-instrumentalist/DIY place. The choice of the instruments/devices is very much part of the creative process. I hadn’t formally considered this as part of my process before, but it was definitely there. It zooms out on the scope of my compositional thinking from being about interaction/form/memory to happening before any formal elements take place at all.
Before I talk more, here is composition 1a from the series:
The seedling for this way of thinking was some recent collaborative experiments with honest and able violinist Linda Jankowska. She had me dust off my stringed-drum bits and was playing with that for a while. It got me thinking about how much an instrument/setup, particularly an esoteric one, lends itself to a certain kind of playing. What you did in context is, to an extent, articulating what you had in mind when you put those instruments together.
Shortly after Angela Guyton filmed her videos, I decided that I would make some videos of my own. I decided on the following setup:
1 x 12″ Pork Pie snare drum
1 x 13″ Pearl snare drum
1 x 12″ Rancan chinese cymbal
1 x 6.5″ toy cymbal
1 x 6.5″ Cast iron pot lid
1 x 4″ Coin dish
1 x Beaker t-shirt
1 x ciat-lonbarde Fourses (Electric Whisks)
1 x Fender Deluxe amplifier
1 x Ernie Ball volume pedal
At the point of making the decision, I hadn’t yet come up with this idea forming a compositional approach. It was just part of my regular creative process.
The title of the series of pieces is “Everything. Everything at once. Once.”.
I think it really suits this way of thinking about composition. I don’t know where this compositional approach begins and my normal creative process ends, and as such, I don’t think I will compose a gigantic amount of these pieces. But for now it is something I am exploring.
-makes music and art
-lives in Manchester, England
-is a crazy person