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.19.2011 @ 2:49 PM
kid vs chemical
Willfully obtuse. Yes, I am at least half the time I write probably. Sometimes it's fighting with some obscure tracker and an 80s 8bit computer to use its sound chip. Other times it's my obsession with using old freeware/shareware garbage music creation programs, trackers, forgotten junk software floating about. I scour the net for hours to find this stuff out of boredom, just because I find it interesting.

Even though I have Ableton Live 8 suite, Renoise, Reason 5 etc, a couple thousand in plugins and several hardware pieces of kit. I find it fun to use some garbage from win 98 with a junky sounding synth built in and a terrible workflow.

I do the same thing with kids toys, junk keyboards, general midi, tape recorders, cheap samplers and romplers with lame sequencers, mobile platforms and consoles etc. I know it doesn't apply to Max Msp but self imposed restriction is something I really identify with. I end up spending hours doing 1 small part of song that I could knock out in Live in a few minutes because of this obsessive self-distraction and limitation, not sure why I do it, probably just boredom I suppose. If I got paid to do music I would probably just stick with what's efficient for me, but for now its all just for art and intellectual pursuit.

Apr.20.2011 @ 1:04 AM
@kidvschemical. Interesting comment. My own ongoing quest in discipline (TG r.i.p.) lies in forcing myself to slow down and choose a harder, sometimes technically confusing, way to get to ... somewhere. It's about how I feel at the end of the day. All respect to CR and AD, and I use AD stuff a lot, but there is no question that I get a bigger kick out of stringing for instance the Dark Energy, Kaossilator Pro and my voice through my new Monster Magic 2112 through the Analog Digital Associates Flanger through the EMS Synthi AKS and tweak for hours until my grin starts to hurt...just for that one useful sound or loop. I do this despite the fact that I do get paid to make noise... To me it should make no difference if I am working just for the art of it, or not, whether I take 'easy street'...

Apr.20.2011 @ 8:29 AM
beauty pill
I like songs.

- c

Apr.20.2011 @ 8:34 AM
Great Topic!

trying to get to Chris?level of detail of working with Reaktor & Bidule.
Common Plug-ins really interest me less an less.
...or unless they are a Reaktor Ensemble. Digging the Twisted Tools stuff right now.

But also found that I ONLY achieve any progress when self-inflicting really tight frames.

"What I've also found, though, is no matter how abstract and weird you think your compositional process may be, someone else has done something weirder."

This is just great! and so true...

Apr.20.2011 @ 11:02 AM
Wait a sec, csounders, those in recovery, and those who are just criticizing it based on cursory experience.
The 'r' statement in the score loops, albeit not indefinitely.
link [www4.hmc.edu]
I'd bet there's at least hundreds of ways to get similar functionality out of ftables and even just in the orchestra.

Apr.20.2011 @ 12:32 PM
I prefer the random generative output of my human drum machine.

link [www.youtube.com]

That's some slightly old footage from three years ago when we played on a local cable access TV show. The patch we play through has evolved quite a bit. But at its core it is a sampler plus FM/subtractive synthesis.

We do use some external hardware compression and effects now as it saves CPU cycles.

Apr.20.2011 @ 2:00 PM
Chris Randall
That's interesting. Last time I saw The The play, the drummer (who's name escapes me now) had a similar _sounding_ thing going on, but he did it all with a real drum kit and analog effects. Really quite cool. I like that sort of thing, though.


Apr.20.2011 @ 2:06 PM
@reverendgreg: Having an "r" statement in the score loop doesn't make up for the lack of a for() statement in the instrument language. In general, the syntax of Csound is far too reminiscent of the Music N languages that it stems from. Csound is closest to Music 11, which had a similar instrument/score syntax, but where the actual program was written in some assembly language for the PDP-11. I think that one of the C synthesis languages (cmusic, maybe? I forget the other one) had a more C-like syntax, but Csound is the language that got the most acceptance.

"Recovery" is the best way to describe my Csound experience. I wrote some unit generators for the language back in 1999 (hilbert, svf, some Julius Smith 2-pole resonators that i forget the name of, some allpass filters). Some of the code was OK, but some of it I wouldn't accept into any publicly distributed project today. I made some fairly big newbie mistakes, like confusing the sine and cosine outputs in hilbert, and these should have been caught before being integrated into the code base. At the time, the Csound administrators were very open to contributions, and a bunch of stuff got integrated into the language that was just WRONG. Moog filters shouldn't blow up when the input exceeds 1.0, biquads don't have divides in their render loop, that sort of thing.

This isn't a slam against Csound in general. Having a semi-obsolete language means that things are backwards compatible. It is nice to be able to compile my orchestras from 1998 - I sure can't do that with my Supercollider 2 work. Just saying that I think that Pd and SC3 might be better choices for work in 2011.

Apr.21.2011 @ 4:52 PM
Hang on, there are still local access cable shows? Seriously, I thought that went away 20 years ago, I was just thinking about it the other day.

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