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.03.2007 @ 12:26 PM
That mention of C Sound sure did bring back memories! Python didnt exist in 89 when I used C Sound but I did write some shell and Perl scripts to pseudo-randomly create some aspects of my scores and instruments. This was on a NeXT Cube, even with the DSP boards, it took about 36 hours to render that project.

Jan.03.2007 @ 2:38 PM

I have been using CSound since about 1993, when I was working on an old 486 PC (Of course, versions of the program have been around since 1969, so people like Risset or Chowning are crazy more old school!). Just so you know, the software has been updated since that time, and there are many realtime versions of CSound (even a couple VST versions). The same type of stuff that took 5 or 6 hours back in 93, takes a few seconds on a modest modern PC. Also, there have been steady additions of opcodes and lots of utilities since that time. The program is still far more powerful than Reaktor or Max when it comes to synthesis, if you are willing to deal with the user-hostile 1970s mainframe style interface.


Jan.03.2007 @ 3:37 PM
Hmmm. I'm curious Chris. What you've done so far hardly seems like something you'd need a modular environment for. A couple of sends, some inserts and a mixer bus. All possible in Nuendo, so what is it you feel that you can do in Bidule that you can't in Nuendo (or any other host for that matter) can't.

I'm also intruiged by the talk of avoiding the 'linear sequencer'. How does one sequence in Bidule? I tried it out a couple of weeks ago and whilst it seemed great (in the context of my setup) for creating customised midi/vst/audio setups, I couldn't see any sequencing modules. What am I missing here?


Jan.03.2007 @ 5:17 PM
chris, I really do understand what you describe, I?m trying to accomplish the same since some time... it is all about abstraction, about describing sounds, patterns, permutations and "flow" without actually writing one single "MIDI Note On" or choosing one single patch. Some kind of algorithm, formula, maybe the "universal formula" to describe all known theorems at once, macro- and microcosm (ok ok, this is going too far now, sorry...)

the only answer for me so far is max. I see no way one could do this in Bidule, sorry. And no, this process for me does not start by creating an audio mixer, and for sure not one with a quite traditional layout (I do not want to sound rude here, sorry, only trying to widen the scope of the discussion).
I started by abstracting nature: why can we recognize a grain of rice, but each grain is a little bit different? what about water, fire, grass, patterns in snow, ice, sand... I tried to find out how I would algorithmically describe a grain of rice, but give the algorithm enough "freedom" so it can recreate itself with subtle differences, sounding organic, but never replicating or boring, on the other hand not going too far away from the original idea.
I think about the graphic 3D-CGI artists who create hair, but the hair is not drawn individually, but they found a formula how the hair has to move in the wind, how the light has to reflect and the shadows should be showing... without drawing an actual pixel!
so, in max, i assemble algorithms with mathematical expressions, and feed them with number tables, but those tables themselfs are not static but created by other algorithms, I try to construct the "material" first, and than tell the "material" how to move and behave.

This all sounds a bit pathetic, I know, and unfortunately the results ar e not in any way as compelling as princess fionas moving hair in SHREK, or the fur of the MONSTERS+CO, or the autonomousely acting warriors in the mass scenes of LORD of the RINGS, but something in this direction is what I am dreaming about sonically.

phhh, feeling better now that I got this off my chest.. thanks for taking the time to read it!


Jan.03.2007 @ 6:20 PM
Chris Randall
I'm actually with you there. Obviously, I work a lot with 3DS Max, so my definition of "procedural" matches yours. That's actually a better description than I provided: not necessarily defining each hair, but a more general "this is the hair paradigm. Go." kind of thing.



Jan.03.2007 @ 11:55 PM
A bidule mixer would be great.

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