Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Circles and Euclidian Rhythms

Circles and Euclidean Rhythms: Off the Grid, a Few Music Makers That Go Round and Round

Imagine an alternate universe in which Raymond Scott’s circle machine – a great, mechanical disc capable of sequencing sounds – became the dominant paradigm. We might have circles everywhere, in place of left-to-right timelines now common in media software. Regardless, it’s very likely Scott’s invention inspired Bob Moog’s own modular sequencers; it was almost certainly the young Moog’s exposure to the inventions in Scott’s basement that prompted that inventor to go into the electronic music business, thus setting the course for music technology as we know it.
This blog entry includes some nice software examples.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Horizontal Movements"

I composed these 2 pieces almost 2 years ago, but even though they are very autobiographical, I never really talked about the inspiration for them. So I've added a description on SoundCloud.
Like a lot of my music, these 2 pieces are autobiographical, at least in the sense that they were composed during and immediately in response to some significant events in my life - in this case my involvement in the Occupy Wall Street protests. They were composed in late December 2011 through early January 2012, while I was taking some time off from activism to recuperate after police chaos and setbacks of late November and December. The "Frozen Zone" of the titles refers to both the blockade that the NYPD set up in the Financial District in the middle of the night as they evicted protesters from Liberty Square, and more metaphorically to all systemic injustice.

Although the music doesn't convey any overt political messages, the act of writing it was kind of a meditation on the idea of leaderless organizing (the anarchist political philosophy of "Horizontalidad / Horizontalism"). I think of the sounds as being "horizontal" in the sense that there's no hierarchy working to organize them. The musical parts aren't divided into "instruments or "voices" - there's just a single algorithm generating clusters of sine waves. Those individual sine waves, which only differ in pitch and amplitude, converge temporarily to create harmonies, and then dissipate.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

MIDI in the web browser, 2013 style

My first homepage (on AOL) included a lengthly MIDI composition that auto-played upon loading the page.  Browsers don't support MIDI natively anymore but there are JS libraries that will load sound fonts and let you create midi compositions in JS.

midi.js is a good starting point.
Jasmid for reading MIDI files with JS.

Grimes "Genesis" extended remix

I haven't done one of these in a few years but I've been really into the song Genesis by Grimes lately so I decided to do an extended granular remix of it, similar to what I'd done with Aisler's Set and Joanna Newsom a few years ago.

This song works well for looping - the melodies are all in the high register, with lots of reverb so they won't sound choppy when overlapped, and there's not a lot of bass so it doesn't sound muddy.  The drum track is clean, with the one strong kick drum that adds just the right amount of bass when it's looped.

This is the first time I've really done anything with Garage Band.  The granular looping was done in Granulab as usual.  With both of these programs I feel like I've pushed them as far as I want to go - it's too bad that in going for simplicity of the user interface you loose a lot of precision in the settings.  In Garage Band I really wanted these loops to hit exactly on the beat, but you can only get resolution on the low end of around 0.1 BPM which makes for some noticeable grinding or stuttering.  Similar in Garage Band, the resolution when automating parameters is kind of a joke - it's a linear division of the frequency spectrum in Hz, so while I can get like 100 divisions of the octave between 10khz and 20khz, on the low end, settings jump right from 20hz to like 700 hz, with nothing in between.  Good luck getting a band pass filter to zero in on one sound.

This went through a bunch of phases where there were a lot more ideas at first - there was a timestretched track with doomy  overdrive + reverb, and other rhythmic layers, all fading in and out, but I ditched all of that for a simple one track of the song looped with a little bit of pitch shifting going on.

I'm looking forward to emulating enough of Granulab in SuperCollider that I can do mixes like these with the kind of precision you need eliminate artifacts (or make the artifacts musically significant by harmonizing them with the rest of the song).  I've been getting into using the TGrains ugen alot in the Backtrace Livestream project, so this should be a pretty straightforward thing to adapt.