October 30, 2017

Flipping The Script...

by Chris Randall

Yesterday, I started writing a post about watershed moments in your creative lifestyle, when something (either external or internal) brings a change to how you make music (or, well, whatever it is you make.) Then I thought "meh, that probably doesn't really happen to anyone else, because everyone else seems totally together. I'm just a nut." I highlighted all the text and pressed DEL and got on with my day.

About 20 minutes ago, the above exchange took place on Twitter between Noisetheorem, myself, and DJ Empirical that made me realize that this sort of thing isn't uncommon at all, and in point of fact I'm totally norms.

For better or worse, your external environment greatly affects your creative output. Speaking strictly for myself, spending the last three years boxing and shipping Eurorack, talking about Eurorack, travelling for Eurorack, sleeping in piles of Eurorack, and generally devoting my entire existence to Eurorack, has left me in a creative nadir which was unparalleled in my 30+ year history of making music. Earlier this year, we came to the conclusion that we were devoting too much of the company resources to Euro, and decided to ease off and work on desktop and mobile ideas. Since the nature of the Euro market means the hockey stick is ludicrously strong, without a new Euro product we can't really justify remaking older Euro products. As a result, I got to spend the summer, which in Phoenix is like winter for the rest of the country, doing something I truly enjoy: making user interfaces, and not putting Eurorack modules in boxes.

Since confirmation bias is the name of the game these days, as you're reading this, you're going to only see the Zig Zigler Power Words and run off to say "Chris Randall's an asshole! He hates what I do!" or "GOD DAMN RIGHT, FUCK [insert creation method here]." I can't do anything about that, but let me relate a metaphor:

I was raised by divorced parents about 50/50 in rural Oregon and New York City. The rural Oregon half of my family are, for the most part, gun nuts. I was raised around guns, and am comfortable with their existence and use-cases. I own a gun, and know how to use it. My father (the New York half of my co-parenting lifestyle) was a general contractor, so I was also raised around power tools. I am comfortable with their existence and use-cases. I own power tools, and know how to use them. In my head, a gun is basically just another tool. There are people for whom guns are a religion. I am not one of those people. I do, however, understand the motivations and mentality that lead to worshipping guns, talking about guns, collecting guns, etc, and how guns become a lifestyle and not just another tool in the box.

Anyhow, you get the point. Lots of boxes and M3 screws, creative nadir, tedious metaphor, blah blah blah. Long story short, two things happened:

1. Due to our considered opinion that iOS was finally ready for pro (or at least semi-pro) music-making, we decided to make a run at the mobile side of things, and began porting our desktop products to iOS. This forced me to purchase and become comfortable with a state-of-the-art iOS creation environment.

2. Due to customer requests for MPE versions of our synths, we needed to investigate MPE, something of which I knew very little. After pondering things for a bit, I decided the Linnstrument was probably the best source of MPE data, and since I'm friends with Roger, I dropped him a line to see if I could borrow one of the small ones to develop some test cases.

I got the Linnstrument a couple weeks ago, and the first thing I did, to test how MPE worked, was to plug it in to the first synth in my collection that understands MPE. That happened to be Animoog, the polysynth that Moog made for iOS. I spent a few hours playing with this, and decided that MPE was worth exploring. So I moved the Linnstrument to my big computer and folded it in to my development process. Since I don't have a ton of room on my desk, I moved my normal controller, a Kontrol S49, out of the way. The much smaller Linnstrument sat in its place.

Since it was sitting there anyhow, I ended up using it to try to play melodies when I was testing other shit. And I suddenly found myself puzzling out scales and chords on it, and my testing other shit turned in to making songs. At some point that I can't exactly put my finger on, it clicked and I was able to play it. I'm not going to review the device itself because there are reams written about it. But yesterday morning, my wife pointed out that it was nice to see me making music again. I was like "huh?" And she goes "you haven't actually sat in your office and made a song in like 2 years, dude." That's when all this hit me, and I wrote Roger to tell him I'd be buying the Linnstrument off him.

It isn't, of course, as facile as that. There are other outside stimuli that are affecting things (new hobbies, the weather change, etc.) but putting in the time to get the Linnstrument to ease itself into my methodology was definitely the deciding factor in unwedging my creative block. Let's hear it, AI peoples. Do you have similar unblocking experiences?


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Nov.01.2017 @ 10:21 AM
I had a similar experience messing around with Novation's Circuit. Some things are much harder on the grid than a keyboard, which I play fairly well. But other things, like multi octave arpeggios are way easier. I made a bunch of tracks but decided to finish them up with my keyboard rig, and sure enough, the parts I wrote from playing the Circuit pad keyboard were quite different than what I typically do on the keyboard.

Ultimately I got tired of the diatonic restrictions on the Circuit (and the chromatic mode is awkward), which got me thinking the Linnstrument would be the answer. Which you just confirmed.

Nov.02.2017 @ 11:08 AM
(When I say 'real instruments' - I mean, something that doesn't require endless DAW configuration. Not anything acoustic; just something I can sit and play. That could be a modular + grid; a Linnstrument into a single patch; a guitar. Just something where the focus isn't recording, I guess.)

Nov.03.2017 @ 4:56 AM
Chris Randall
@infovore: Yeah. Most electronic music "writing" is actually sound design, not playing. Especially in a restrictive format like techno/house, which has elements that *must* be there for it to be called whatever it is at all. Then your control over those elements is strictly a shaping role, and not performance at all.

In that case, moving to something like piano or guitar, which effectively only makes one sound but can be played in infinite ways, is more or less the opposite, and can be very freeing.


Nov.28.2017 @ 12:10 PM
I got blocked by your hockey stick metaphor! There are a lot of hockey sticks that could apply to Eurorack: the hockey stick graph of effort vs musical output, the hockey stick graph of cash outlay for a useful Eururack system vs other music technology, wanting to smash a Eurorack system with a hockey stick after spending three years making little music with it (granted, you were designing, building, and marketing the things, which couldn't have possibly left much time for composing and performing ... I was duly impressed with how much you accomplished in the Eurorack realm so quickly.)

I actually find Korg Gadget to be reasonably productive, because it's so damn literal - here's a piano roll, here's the synth it controls. Probably works for me because I do most sequencing on a piano roll and need close coordination of sequencing note events and portamento events for the way I sequence monosynths. But it's not the greatest piano roll UI-wise.

But I'm sure I could probably get a creative boost from a Linnstrument. I'm always torn between "real instruments" or controllers, where it's hard to break out of the constraints of comfortable finger patterns, and sequencing, where I can render what I hear, but it's fiddly to get there. These days, given the low monetization of studio recordings for most people, it's arguably desirable to have a method that looks like "playing" to people, whether you present it on YouTube or in a concert hall. My current method of producing music would look to a spectator much like what typing in this comment box looks like.

Nov.29.2017 @ 7:26 AM
Chris Randall
@Roikat: all of your hockey stick references are applicable, but what I mean specifically in this case is something that is unique to the Euro market. The pull of the New Shiny is very strong in that context, and since people that use Euro tend to be on the more well-to-do side (it is, after all, one of the worst ROIs for musical endeavors on paper, so you need to be of a certain comfort level to develop a capable system) these tend to be the sorts of people that can indulge in whims.

As a result, what we've found is that there are a lot of initial sales of virtually every module, but this _rapidly_ tapers off to a trickle, as the people that are able to indulge the lure of the newness in turn sell their purchases when they discover that whatever isn't for them. (For proof of this, I present Exhibit A: the extremely robust and vibrant 2nd hand market for modules.)

So, basically, we end up in a situation where we aren't getting enough purchase orders to re-run a module we're out of, and the only solution is to release a new module. This results in a release rush in order to stay in business, and we end up putting out modules that maybe aren't great products, so the New Shiny crowd will subsidize filling tiny purchase orders for older stock.

The net result is that we're competing with ourselves (in the form of the 2nd hand market) and putting out products that maybe are a bit underdeveloped. Neither of these things are fun. Couple that with a support system that takes place at a remove... The shear number of times that someone has written our support email and started the conversation with "I posted this to Muff's and blah blah blah."

[rant off]


Nov.29.2017 @ 5:42 PM
CR - the above situation is what i think will lead some eurorack manufacturers finding another game or expanding their product lines to other devices.. be they stand alone or rack mount, pedals or whatever..

the euro market seems to keep expanding though. lot's of new people still getting into it all the time. it's wild.

working at modular8 i see it all the time.. also, lot's of people want a small synth/drum machine/looper/fx box or whatever and want to jam immediately and also be portable or easily mobile. in any city with a rent/housing crunch/young people.. i think the mobility aspect really comes into play. people don't put down long term roots in any one spot so they want to be able to move all their shit w/o too much drama.

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