Perhaps part of what you need for laptop music to evolve into an appreciated live performance art medium is simply time.
Finnish artist Sasu Ripatti is a good candidate for mastery of the form. Honing his production and performance skills since the late 90s, he’s become a maestro of digital music. Moments in his music stretch out into shadowy industrial landscapes, as if painting the mysterious worlds that lie between the beats. Others crank the machinery of the dance floor back into mystical frenzy.
Now, I believe the best way to experience a live performance is in the same room as the artist – whether they’re armed with a laptop or a mandolin. But the next best thing is proper documentation, and surely as scholars of music practice, we should sometimes review the tape. In this nearly one-hour HD capture, you can see him tease out a recent live show, armed with mixer and Faderfox controller. This is waveforms and mix as instrument, stuttering journeys through architectural realms of sound. There’s not any noticeable virtuoso performance to look at, necessarily, but in some sense I think you get an impression of him feeling his way through the music, and travel along that walk with him.
URSSS.com has done a series of these live performances — too many to mention. Enter only at the risk of getting nothing else done for a bit. I love their brilliant moniker: “mistake television.” Hey, that’s why it makes sense to record live shows.
Make no mistake. The slightly-impossible-to-pronounce acronym CCRMA (“karma”), standing for the not-terribly-sexy “Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics,” is one of the world’s hotbeds for innovation in electronic music. From the lowest-level DSP code to the craziest live performances, this northern California research center nesting at Stanford is where a lot is going on. So, when they put on a concert, this isn’t just another dry exposition of “tape” pieces, academics scratching their chins and trying not to nod off. (Trust me: I’ve … on occasion darned nearly rubbed my chin raw in that scene.)
No, this is a sampling of the state of the art in live music. CCRMA is currently hosting Robert Henke aka Monolake; it’s the school where Holly Herndon is finishing her studies while simultaneously upending the dance music scene, it’s a place where people learn the nitty gritty of sound and then re-imagine how to play with laptops.
And it’s also where another musician is doing extraordinary work – CDM contributor Gina Collecchia. Naturally, we asked Gina to give us a peek so we could live vicariously through her. It’s striking to see that the technologies here run the gamut from simple transducers to vivid generative software structures. People aren’t really so concerned about whether they’re working in low or high fidelity, tens of thousands of lines of code or old-fashioned mic technique; its on to the sound.
And Herr Monolake has been kind enough to let us share ten minutes of that live performance. I heard this duo in Berlin, and it’s stunning in person, but you can get a feel for Robert working live even in the stream. See also Tarik Barri talking about how he does visuals and works with Jitter, at top, courtesy the fine folks of Cycling ’74. Have a listen, have a look, and then get your Google ready for all the artists Gina scopes out below. -PK
Once the stuff of noise art oddity — isolated electronic experiments staying mostly on the test table — the DIY instrument is starting to find friends and form ensembles. And so it is that Czech instrument design mad scientists Standuino have assembled a clever little suite of open boards, happily chirping and glitching and droning together in musical harmony.
So, before we start delving into the esoteric number theory of the new “π” drone synth, behold as their three creations play together in the video at top. There’s even sync. And a groove. An exceptionally odd groove, but a groove nonetheless. This is what KORG’s Volcas are like in a really strange alternate universe. (In that universe, KORG doesn’t worry about exposing raw circuit boards on the outside of the case. And maybe everyone wears their underwear on the outside of their pants, like superheroes.)
Back to π, though. It has a manifesto worthy of the illuminati. And it makes sounds that resemble someone on the hidden Rebel base tuning in their radar. Or maybe of a rave with the Borg. (Yes, I’m mixing Trek and Wars. Blame J.J. Abrams and Barack Obama.)
In a tweet to CDM, Moog Music reflected, “The more creative tools artists have the more music the world will have.”
I couldn’t agree more. But platforms have posed some serious hurdles to making development pay off for independent music software makers, with technical hurdles that can make performance a challenge. If BB10 is something different, that’s good news. Continue reading »
What if patching, as on screen, involved physical unit generators you could connect with cables? KK Chau sends this project that answers that question. It’s modular at the lowest possible level – each box with one or two knobs, doing just one thing. And the sound? The sound is … uh, awful, actually. In a fun way.
Not much info, but there’s not too much to say – this is analog patchable insanity. As the creator puts it, it’s intended to “let people to make MSP/Pure Data-type synthesising logic in analog world.”
Out today, Arpeggionome is the iPhone follow-up to an iPad grid instrument, making lovely, elegant cascades of notes from a screen full of circles. The work of San Francisco-based electrical engineer Alexander Randon, it’s especially nice to see not just the app itself, but the music the developer makes with his own tool.
Watch the video, and you’ll get a feel for how he makes his creation musically expressive.
Evidently inspired by both the Tenori-On and the community of monome apps, Arpeggionome has a number of features that set it apart from other tools. It’s tough to find iPhone apps that are as handy as iPad apps, given its smaller size. But here, there are some clever touches.
Parameter changes are quantized – a move Alexander says was inspired by Ableton Live. That makes the app well-suited to beat-driven music, but also more practical to handheld idea sketching.
MIDI support (available via a $4.99 in-app upgrade) is robust, with MIDI clock sync and external MIDI triggering. You can even trigger whole patterns via MIDI, a nice addition for live performance. That makes this usable in larger rigs in a way some apps (cough, iMaschine) still aren’t, and extends the playability of even the pocket-able iPhone version.
Parameter view knobs have a smart touch adaptation: Alexander notes that you can “drag-down and release” and “reset the knob to its stored value with the pattern.”
X-Y matrix triggers patterns across pitches and speeds, hence the dizzying streams of notes you hear in the demo.
Accelerometer/tilt for pitch band and volume.
15 touch knobs.
Lots of included presets, or build from scratch.
240 notes per second in the Performance Matrix, with adjustments for start note and rate.
MIDI (via in-app purchase) for everything: Virtual MIDI (between apps), CoreMIDI hardware interfaces, MIDI over Bluetooth, and MIDI over WiFi.
CDM and yours truly team up with Berlin arts collective Mindpirates next week for a learning event we hope will be a little different than most. The idea behind the gathering is to combine learning in some new ways. The evenings begin with more traditional instruction, as I cover, step-by-step, how you’d assemble beat machines, instruments, effects, and video mixers using free software (Pure Data and Processing).
But, we’ll go a little further, opening up sessions to hacking and jamming, finally using the event space at Mindpirates to try out ideas on the PA and projectors. By the last night, we’ll all get to play together for the public before opening things up to a party at night. I know when I’ve personally gotten to do this, I’ve gotten more out of a learning experience. Getting to do it with the aim of creating useful instruments and beats and visuals here, then, I think makes perfect sense.
Working with free software in this case means that anyone can participate, without the need for special software or even the latest computers. (What we’re doing will work on Raspberry Pi, for instance, or old netbooks, perfect for turning small and inexpensive hardware into a drum machine.) No previous experience is required: everyone will get to brush up on the basics, with beginning users getting the essentials and more advanced users able to try out other possibilities in the hack sessions.
If you’re in easyJet distance of Berlin, of course, we’d love to see you and jam with you. In trying to keep this affordable for Berliners, we’ve made this 40 € total for three nights including a meal each evening and a guest list spot on the Saturday night party.
But I hope this is the sort of format we can try out elsewhere, too. If you have ideas of what you’d like to see in this kind of instruction – in-person events being ideal, but also perhaps in online tutorials – let us know.
Create Digital Music + Mindpirates present: Laptops on Acid Facebook event
(fellow European residents, I’m as annoyed at the absence of bank transfer/EC payment at Eventbrite as you are – we’re working on an alternative, so you should email elisabeth (at) mindpirates [dot] org to register if you don’t want to use that credit card system!)