April 17, 2011

Purity Of Procedure...

by Chris Randall

Ever since I switched from Pd to Max and didn't have to deal with incessant Problems, I've spent a lot more time working on my own music in this environment, rather than just using it for product development and such.

Lately, I've taken to making songs that run with little input from me, and contain no samples whatsoever. These tracks are built entirely from Max rudiments, and my only concession to convenience is in using reverb and compression plug-ins. (The main reason is that I'm not really able to make a compressor or reverb sub-patcher that is anywhere near the quality of Eos, ValhallaRoom, or DMG's upcoming Compassion compressor.)

These tracks use no external hardware of any sort (which sets them apart from, say, Procedure 1 off the most recent Micronaut EP, which uses external effects units) and, as I mentioned, no samples or pre-recorded material of any kind. They are, other than the 3 VSTs I'm using, entirely Max synthesis.

Now, the reason I'm bringing this up isn't really about the musical result, which is subjective, of course. As you all full well know, one of my foibles is placing strict limits on my creative process, and this is about the furthest I've taken that particular course of action. It is fundamentally the same as drawing a single Oblique Strategies card at the start of a session, one that says "Make Things Hard On Yourself." I mean, on the track from the screenshot above (which isn't even close to done) I spent about 5 hours coming up with the first sound, the kick drum. Working in a DAW, I'd have spent maybe 5 minutes in the Kick Drum Samples folder (called, in my case, Foot Samples, of course, since I'm funny like that) to find something that worked, then carving it for a bit with some EQ and compression and calling it done, and moving on to the next thing.

Anyhow, the net result of this process, aside from the music itself, is that I have a fundamental understanding, at the physical level, of each and every sound in the track. This makes the creative process quite odd, I find, being so close to the sound generation. Obviously, none of us are strangers to these general techniques, but we usually deal with them at a much more abstracted level (e.g. the front panel of a synthesizer). Whether I could heartily recommend this course of action is open to question as well, but it is an interesting thing, being so close to the sound generation. I think the closest analog would be building a track sound by sound using a modular synth, but even then, once the track has been laid down, you've unpatched it and moved on. Here, the entire song is a living, breathing sculpture with all of its parameters bare for tweaking.

But it ain't what I'd call a Streamlined Digital Workflow, I'll say that much.

Anyhow, has any other AI reader done something similar, so willfully obtuse? Obviously, making wrawk music or jazz with traditional instrumentation is a nearly identical process, but embracing physics instead of pure math. Or at least I think it is. I'm willing to be dissuaded from that viewpoint.


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Apr.17.2011 @ 2:48 PM
What you're talking about sounds more like building the actual instruments, then writing a song with them, than it does just playing rock or jazz.

I've been tempted on several occasions to try to write an entire song in Matlab. Luckily, I have a wife whose mere presence reminds me that there are better ways to spend my time.

Apr.17.2011 @ 3:19 PM
Met a Supercollider guy the other day who complained that Max was just "too visual" for him.

I don't know if you call that willfully obtuse. But it made me go home and hit the Glitchmytunes button a couple times.

Apr.17.2011 @ 3:31 PM
Chris Randall
Don't get me wrong. As a purveyor of several flavors of Glitchmytunes buttons, I'm a strong proponent of that sort of habit.

That said, I guess DGillespie is probably right.


Apr.17.2011 @ 4:49 PM
I think I am the complete opposite of this line of working. The creative process is difficult enough for me as it is, I don't benefit from intentionally making it more so. Spending 5 hours chiseling out a kick drum would drive me to the point of insanity. I wish I had that kind of patience.

Apr.17.2011 @ 5:34 PM
Perhaps if you continue to spend a lot of time working that way you'll feel differently? I spend most of my Maxing time building instruments, but I find the algorithmic approach fairly natural so think that it doesn't necessarily have to seem obtuse. However, that could also be due to differences in musical style. The kind of music you're trying to put together might not lend itself to that type of construction as easily as another.

Apr.17.2011 @ 6:11 PM
Oops, That should be "...also find the algorithmic approach" to be clear that it's a contrast with the instrument building.

Apr.17.2011 @ 6:13 PM
"DMG's upcoming Compassion compressor"

Umm...hello, WOT?!?!?!? Info, please!

Apr.17.2011 @ 10:10 PM
I tried this *years* ago...back when computers were hardly able to handle it. I tried it using csound and a bunch of synths I found online. None of these were real time processes - everyone involved setting up parameters, setting it to run audio to disk and going out for a beer or 7 while the CPU chugged away at 75mhz and streamed it to disk. About 80% of the time, I came back into the studio and my hangover was not helped by the ungodly awful sound which I had set to render the night before (and my room mates wondered why I was so unpleasant with a hangover).

These days, I have tried similar things in reaktor and also done work using my Nord G2 modular. It can be very interesting to create a signal path and set a series of initial conditions and let the machine completely take over and show me where that set of variables take me (kinda like my own ego stroking big bang). I still get about the same hit ratio.

Since I got my euro setup, the odds have improved slightly, but thats only, I thin, because I am dealing with outboard stuff and physically getting involved with the track. It may seem stupid (or maybe not) but I'd take a limited 9u x 90hp euro setup + a really good outboard processor any day. If I want to crunch numbers in front of a computer, Ill put in extra hours at work.

I've considered getting max a million times, and using Live as I do, there would be some added benefits, but...nah. I can't go back to mouse waking after getting physical again.

Apr.17.2011 @ 11:12 PM
I use Max largely within Ableton now, but for entirely different reasons (to filter & transform incoming data & midi data exiting ableton tracks.)

Like noisetheorem I used csound in the mid 90's (even bought the book) and while it was instructional to be that aware of FFT/FIR/STFT analysis & resynthesis options as well as the fact that many 'stock fx are simply delay line based, it was a very slow & cumbersome workflow. I've tried realtime versions since, and the Scope guys have said that the early AD (sharc) based version of csound became the Scope cards that I still use for Scope mod + flexor + red dwarf (bowen's modules). The only potential use for csound now in my studio would be to access some of the more interesting soundscapes that I used to make that I can't make as easily with the gear I have.

Apr.17.2011 @ 11:22 PM
I'm eager to hear the result if you finish. As I said, I've often been tempted to try something similar.

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