February 18, 2006

Chaos And Music...

by Chris Randall

I've been thinking a lot about chaos lately, as it relates to music creation. Watching the Olympics nightly, I've noticed one thing in particular about the speed events, such as downhill, combined, luge, skeleton: the guy that wins is the one that is willing to go right to the edge, and maybe stick a toe over. In the men's downhill in particular, the fastest times were turned in not by the guys that skied a perfect line, but by the ones that exhibited more of a (barely) controlled fall down the side of the mountain.

This, of course, results in a lot of wrecks, but being careful and controlled aren't necessarily desireable traits in someone that wants to go faster than everyone else. The same is true of music. Making safe music, or music that adheres to strict rules, is akin to making boring music. The most exiting music ever made is by musicians that stuck a toe over the edge. The Beatles may sound banal today, but that's only due to the fact that their best records were oldies before most of us were born. Strawberry Fields is simply out of hand, and much more "alternative" and experimental than anything Coldplay has ever done. (Then again, most anything is, so maybe that's a bad example.)

Anyways, to get back to the subject, I make no secret of the fact that I often use aleatoric generators to come up with melodies and rhythms. My favorite programs are M and UpBeat, both written by David Zicarelli before he founded Cycling '74. I've released several songs that are almost entirely generated by those two programs. What I like about them, and aleatoric generators in general, is the fact that I can set the initial conditions, but the timing and order of notes is left up to the ghost in the machine, and while it takes patience to get something that people will find listenable, once I do, the result is never something I would have thought of on my own.

I've been pondering how to take pieces of these programs I like and put them in the (somewhat stricter) framework of the VST/AU environment. My thinking is that the more control one has over the source material and initial conditions, the more likely something interesting is going to come out. So imagine this: a synth/sequencer combination (think 303) except it has Buchla's Arbitrary Function Generator (pictured above) instead of the typical Roland step-time fiasco, and a somewhat more sophisticated synth section. What would this need? What would it not need? 2 VCOs, for sure, and a multi-mode filter, all of which could be controlled by the sequencer. A randomizing section for the various bits. I like Buchla's circular design above rather than the more linear x0x style. Something to think about, anyways.



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Feb.19.2006 @ 4:34 PM
The biggest trouble with MIDI VST plugins is that they work effectively in so few hosts. On Windows, really only energyXT and Bidule handle them properly, since they treat MIDI as just one more signal to route. So the market for them is limited.

Take a look at some of the threads about Chordspace at KVR to get an idea of the world of hurt coming your way on the support front from Fruity Loop users alone.

I like the layout of the Buchla module though, so if you could get a VST with that kind of interface to perform the complexity of something like Algorithmic Arts' Musicwonk with less fuss, then there's no question it would be cool.



Feb.19.2006 @ 4:38 PM
Chris Randall
"...to get an idea of the world of hurt coming your way on the support front from Fruity Loop users alone."

Heh. I get that any damned ways. ;-) Might as well make something fun in the deal.



Feb.19.2006 @ 5:44 PM
Yeah, no doubt. If they really start getting to you, I find it effective to only refer to FL as Fruity. Drives the diehards crazy every time.

Feb.19.2006 @ 6:21 PM
hmm..the midi only version could pretty easily get done in Zacarelli's main-squeeze MAX/MSP, in fact I'm pretty sure there are hundreds of similar implementations out there in MAX source code, well maybe not hundreds, but I've seen a few. Check out: link [www.maxobjects.co...]">link [www.maxobjects.co...]

to see what building bocks are available....

So two things: 1. it'd be easy to proto-type in MAX, and 2. I f you were successful it'd be pretty easy, for a MAX-type-person such as myself to copy in MAX and undercut you...


Feb.19.2006 @ 7:17 PM
What about a VST plugin that load a VST plugin for its synth engine?

So you load this on a track, then load a synth inside and have it spit out all sorts of control information to the synth. That way, it would be somewhat unique and you wouldn't have to deal with the MIDI limitations of some hosts.


Feb.19.2006 @ 7:27 PM
Chris Randall
Regarding Max, surprise! Both Adam and I worked for Cycling 74, which is how we met. He's one of the architects of Pluggo, and I'm one of the designers of the MODE package (not my best work), among other things. The reason we started making VST/AU plugins is that the Max environment is too limiting, and a resource hog, to boot.

Long story short, yes, it would take about 15 minutes to make what I want in Max. In fact, I have dozens of patchers that already do similar things. However, releasing a commercial plugin that was made with Max/Pluggo is so entirely out of the question as to be almost comical. Double the CPU load for half the features. Just what I always wanted.

Regarding hosting another plug, another trick that's easy in Max or Synthedit, but not so easy in true VST. Ain't gonna happen; too many variables.



Feb.19.2006 @ 11:07 PM
I thought AD had a strict no instrument policy... now get back to cloning that DOD envelope filter :)

Feb.19.2006 @ 11:37 PM
Adam Schabtach
Shamann's idea is great in theory and kind of nasty in practice. Pluggo does exactly what he's talking about: there is one plug-in in its collection which hosts VST effects and synths, exposing their parameters for modulation by the various Pluggo modulator plug-ins. However, I still remember how much hair-pulling David Z. did over getting the VST hosting in MSP (which is what Pluggo is based on) to work right. Basically when you take on VST hosting, you dive into a hell-hole of figuring out how to work around all of the bugs in poorly written VSTs. I really can't see that it would be worth the effort, sadly.

Personally I'd rather build a sequencer in hardware and give it lots of aleatoric features, but I'm sort of weird that way.



Feb.20.2006 @ 12:13 PM
Muff Wiggler
i dislike disagreeing with Shamann, however Cubase SX (and I'm assuming Nuendo) deal with Midi-Out plugins quite easily.

The common word on the street seemed to be that you needed a 'sub host' like EnergyXT to get your Midi-Out plugins working in Cubase, and indeed this 'solution' got thrown around so frequently, I wrote a little guide for Xoxos on how to use the plugins (like 'Talent', which is great imo) in Cubase SX without any additional plugs.

And it's very easy to do.

1) Create a midi track.

2) Load the plugin which shits midi.

3) For the midi track you created, select your input (controller keyboard or whatever) as the MIDI IN assignment in the Track Inspector. Select your midi-shitting plugin as the track's MIDI OUT.

4) Create a second midi track.

5) For this new midi track, use the track inspector to set MIDI IN to your midi shitting plugin (yes it will appear as an option if it really shits midi, it simply needs to be loaded first), and point MIDI OUT to whatever VSTi or external midi hardware that you want to control with your midi-shitting plugin.

6) Make sure monitoring is turned on for both tracks.

7) Yay.

I've used this procedure with the xoxos algo plugins (Arp4midi, Talent, etc.), as well as the cool pedantic tool, Chordspace, which also emits midi. I'm sure it would work for others. It would be nice to see people hand-code some plugins that emit midi, as I've only seen it performed in the much maligned SynthEdit so far. C'mon, if SE is such a toy, lets see some of the hand-coders raise the bar with some midi plugins please. I do indeed have certain gripes with SE plugins.


Feb.20.2006 @ 2:52 PM
nice things to see in a package like this:

for a sequencing plugin, slides between values {a la elektron's parameter locks; i'm a big fan}.

a clock multiplier/divider.

a very simple transposer with variable time {duration}, periodicity and maybe strength. could be lfo driven, but have you ever used the reaktor ensemble, "krypt"? it has a killer, user-defined probability/density function that i'd love to see elsewhere, esp in midi.

well, and some giant object in which you could drop a number of sequitur-style processors} and put on a midi track. drop as many as you need on as many midi tracks as you need, then let the daw route the streams from track to track.

but that's me in pie in the sky mode.


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