January 2, 2007

Let's Get It Started...

by Chris Randall

So, now that my "Chris Randall" record is done and about to go to the pressing plant, I've begun to think about my next Micronaut record. I have to take the Micronaut project seriously, because a not-insignificant portion of our income is realized via the placement of Micronaut songs in Xbox games and extreme sports television shows. In that vein, I've always written the Micronaut albums with a somewhat watered-down vision of what I thought made a good electronic album.

This time, in order to obviate that problem, I'm going to make a two-disk set, where the first disk is the straight-ahead traditional Micronaut stylings which have always proved to work, and the second disk will be all procedural stuff which is programmed rather than played, and will really allow me to explore some new territory. Problem solved.

So, I was spending the last couple weeks thinking about how I might approach doing an entire album of procedural music, and it seemed to me that Plogue Bidule has all the tools I need to get the job done. (Mainly it hosts VSTs, and since I can make VSTs, I don't have to sweat the details too much.) I'll freely admit that Bidule is still in its infancy, and is missing some key tools that would make the job easier, but nothing I can't live without.

So, I spent some time yesterday and today making a mixer group that will work for my general needs. You can see it above, and click for a detailed full-size view. The mixer objects already in Bidule are just this side of useless, so I had to make one that had effects sends, EQ, etc. As you can probably parse out, I have four stereo inputs, two stereo effects loops, and I've put URS A-series on the inputs, URS BLT on the effect returns, and URS 1980 comp/lim and Fulltec on the two-buss.

It occurred to me during a conversation with Adam today that one could use this layout, a 12 I/O FW audio interface, and a little computer and have a fairly capable digital mixer. But that's completely tertiary to the conversation.

Next step is procedural drum sounds. This should be entertaining. In a process like this, where you're setting up conditions so the music writes itself, much more time is spent in the planning than in the actual execution. So I figure four to six months of making layouts, then three hours of actually recording them. Funny. Anyone have any thoughts on techniques for procedural (aleatoric) music they want to share?



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Jan.02.2007 @ 9:37 PM
Numerology could be really convenient for generating the control structures. You would have to figure out some way to get your base input, or initial sequence settings for it, though.

Jan.02.2007 @ 10:07 PM
I've got to give the nod to Numerology, too. I like the mixer. You can take two or three midi signals and mix them by either adding or multiplying. Make a melody, add a slow LFO, quantize it into whatever key and mode you want with the note output module, and you get a shadow of your melody with a rising and falling superimposed on it. Make the LFO wavelength an odd number (assuming you're doing something in 4/4, which may be a broad assumption), and you get endless variations on your melody. Also, the faders on the midi mixer can be automated, making for more fun.

Jan.02.2007 @ 11:59 PM
Specifically, what will provide your signals? MIDI, a la Cycling 74's Max and M, Symbolic Composer and Atari applications, something more explicitly audio-based, like Max/MSP and Reaktor, or both?

More generally, process music's difficult to do rigorously and compellingly. I find that Stockhausen and Xenakis' electronic works, along with guys like Bernard Parmegiani, Tod Dockstader and Francoise Bayle, are excellent primers, and a lot can be learned from detailed listening to them. No need to reinvent the wheel, right? Don't get too into serialism...

In other media, John Cage's _Silence_ and _Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music_ are valuable resources. I don't know what your sonic ambitions are, but I find these all useful and informative, whether I'm using the Machinedrum or processing field recordings.


Jan.03.2007 @ 12:10 AM
Incidentally, an Echo Audiofire 12 would be just the ticket for your mixer idea. They're remarkably inexpensive for the sound quality.

Jan.03.2007 @ 1:53 AM
Chris Randall
I think I should also make clear that I'm not asking for suggestions for me, personally. I already know what I'm going to do, and am, in fact, doing it. I'll post tidbits along the way. I don't have any interest in Numerology which, despite its semi-modular nature, is basically a linear sequencer at heart. If I was looking for a linear sequencer, well, I already have Nuendo, so there's not much need for me to bother with something that adds an unnecessary layer of complexity.

My thought was that people could post how they go about creating generative music for those that might find it interesting, rather than a never-ending slew of "hey, you should try this, because it's better than what you're doing" type things.

While I'm on the subject, I was going to make a 12-in 6-out VST plugin that is a mixer to ease the DSP burden. Is this something that other people (and by "people" I mean Bidule users specifically) would find useful? If so, I'll pay more attention to detail as I make it. If it's just for me, it'll be pretty plain.



Jan.03.2007 @ 7:51 AM
Most of these answers can still be applied generally. The most general, and overlooked, technique is "use appropriate sounds." I have heard so many conceptually rigorous, mind-boggling musical processes that were executed with, like, DX 7 presets and Casio keyboards, some fairly recently in algorithmic circles. After all that compositional work, they must have been in a rush to get it out the door, Zamfir timbres be damned. It compromises the record, IMHO.

I can't really fault Charles Wuorinen's _Earth's Magnetic Field_ for its sound, but I wish he'd revisit it, using modern sound tools.


Jan.03.2007 @ 9:47 AM
"I was going to make a 12-in 6-out VST plugin that is a mixer to ease the DSP burden. Is this something that other people (and by "people" I mean Bidule users specifically) would find useful?"

I tend to use eXT (and Bidule as I'm learning it) a lot, and the quality of some of the more utilitarian components is just laughable.
And while we're on the subject of VST development, is it a part of the VST spec that prevents feeding a plugin's output back into the plugin? I used to do this all the time when mixing (put a delay on a send, and then send some of the return back to the delay), but it seems to be impossible when mixing ITB. Oh well, maybe I'll be able to do it in SCOPE once I have that set up.


Jan.03.2007 @ 9:58 AM
"is it a part of the VST spec that prevents feeding a plugin's output back into the plugin?" I can't specifically answer your question, however you can feed a plugin's about back into itself in audiomulch. You should find it easy enough to use if you are already familiar with eXT and Bidule.



Jan.03.2007 @ 9:59 AM
you can also feed a plugins _output_ back into itself....

Jan.03.2007 @ 12:04 PM
I'd be game for the advanced mixer with Bidule. I generally just drag wires all over the place now, might lead me to think about it differently.

I hadn't really made the distinction between procedural and generative music initially. Some questions:

As recorded output, what would distinguish one thing made procedurally versus something sequenced in the old-fashioned way?

Aren't procedural things often based around installations or software interfaces? Like what Trimpin does, where stepping on one part of the floor in a treated room triggers the mannequin legs hitting a drum and another part of the floor makes a bellows blow into a pipe? Would this project be software based, sort of a make your own Micronaut thing?


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