What do machines sing of? from Martin Backes on Vimeo.

While Google has imagined how machines might dream, media artist and multi-disciplinary technologist Martin Backes has revealed how they sing.

And not just bad karaoke, either. Following in the footsteps of a legacy of machine vocals that originates with Max Mathews’ Daisy Bell, a computer rendition so ground-breaking it was featured in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, Mr. Backes has gone one step further. He wanted to produce an algorithm that would make a computer seem to emote. Grab a mic, and this is a sound art installation. A installation in my heart that is.

And… aw… I said I wouldn’t cry, damnit!

Okay, in case you’re wondering, the software behind the scenes is SuperCollider, the free and open-source multi-platform sound toolkit. And Backes cleverly hauls the machine out of the uncanny valley, but approximating the songs in an almost cartoonish, muffled machine voice. It’s the imperfections that make it work, in other words, steering clear of being too human. (See also Chipspeech, earlier this year, proving that sometimes the earlier, “flawed” synthesis algorithms are actually more desirable than more modern ones.)

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IDOW Gear 1 (Buchla)

The modular synthesizer, that wild animal covered in wires, has seen its once-endangered populations flourish and its revival in full swing. And now, it has its own movie.

Some years now in anticipation, and with limited screenings here and there at film festivals, I Dream of Wires gets a wide release.

The film is surely a landmark, but the launch is likely to be, too, bringing one of the modular synth’s greatest composers (Morton Subotnick) back to Berlin, Germany for a gala release performance, joined by video artist Lillevan. Mr. Subotnick is a rare figure, having made an impact not just one generation of electronic music, but several – he’s as vital to our understanding of the computer and alternative instruments and interactive software as to the modular. CDM will of course talk to the artists and to director Robert Fantinatto when they’re here in town.

So what can you expect from the movie, and how can you see it from wherever you are in the world?

These two will bring live performance to celebrate the opening. Lillevan and Morton Subotnick at Lincoln Center, New York 2011 © Lillevan.

These two will bring live performance to celebrate the opening. Lillevan and Morton Subotnick at Lincoln Center, New York 2011 © Lillevan.

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A guy I went to college with once swore there was a ghost in a practice room, tapping along as he played late one night. Augmenta might make that experience happen all the time.

Call it augmented drumming. An algorithm listens as you play, and adds wild IDM-style glitches and additions and more percussion. Simple patterns become complex – fast.

The work is the research project of CDM reader Alessandro Guerri, who completed it as the thesis for his Electronic Music Bachelor Degree at the Conservatory of Music G. Rossini in Pesaro, Italy. I’m not sure what Maestro Rossini would think, but I think it’s wild. He describes the concept:

Agumenta is a project born to discover the projectual [sic] strategies of an interactive system and the feedback relationship between musician and software.

The concept of an augmented instrument was the starting point of what has became my thesis … timbral and rhythmic features, unachievable by a human activity,could be created and managed by the interaction of the musician with the software.

Agumenta is a continuously- evolving project; its random nature gives a specific musical behaviour to the software and it opens up new possibilities of control ranging from a total randomness to sequential approach.

The system’s features can be applied to all electronic percussion instruments which are able to transmit Midi messages and Audio signal,and to all the acoustic percussions through microphones and triggers.

For more, you can reach Alessandro on Facebook.


Electro-Harmonix have a new looper out, introduced last week in Nashville, that I suspect could be a really big hit. The winners: dual stereo operation, loads of recording space, and then easy connection via USB so a looped improv today could be the beginning of a track tomorrow. Oh, and it’s not expensive, either.

When it comes to looping in live performance, most folks haven’t taken to the computer as much as the standalone looper, particularly BOSS’ LoopStation line. And that’s with good reason: you want dead-simple operation so you can focus on playing.

The heart of the idea is giving you access to two loops. And their implementation couldn’t be simpler. There are two footswitches, one for each loop, so you can record, play back, or overdub on each loop with your foot – tap once to start, tap twice to stop.

You can use those individually or link them together, with separate mix controls for each.

Around that, there’s a lot more power if you want it: Continue reading »

What’s the sound of one person performing Clapping Music? This.

Before there was Rock Band and Guitar Hero, there was Steve Reich. His 1972 work Clapping Music is a rhythmic etude, and like all compositional etudes, it’s also something you can think of as a “game.”

Any musical score is a graphical representation that’s meant to help you understand something that’s normally heard, not seen. You can use traditional notation – and Clapping Music works well as that.

As an iPhone app, Clapping Music the work has some new tricks. The “score” – the app – can judge your rhythm. Fail to tap accurately, and it’s “game over” – start over and try again. And whereas the composition requires two people, now you can play along with your iPhone. You can also see a different visual representation, one that’s, incidentally, close to those used in some forms of ethnomusicology and that presents time in a more proportional way than classical Western scores do. (That is, whereas engraved scores arrange things to make them look visually neat, but squeezes and expands the representation of time in the process, this form of graphical notation displays time and spacing as one and the same.)

The app also has some extras to learn more about Reich’s music.

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We’re really proud of our MeeBlip anode synthesizer. It’s gotten some great reviews, and you’ve made some terrific music with it in a bunch of genres. It’s fully open source hardware, but you can get it out and play it right away even if it’s your first synth – as far as we know, it’s the first widely-available synthesizer hardware that can say that.

So, to celebrate anode, we’re bringing out a special limited edition for summer. As you’ve no doubt noticed, it comes in a new creamy white case. But the controls have been updated, too. People liked the wavetable mode so much, we’ve made that the default, so you can dial in a wide range of sounds from the front panel. And to give you blindingly-quick access to envelopes, there’s one knob for amplitude and one knob for decay. Sound performance has also been fine-tuned, so it’s even more responsive.

We’re only making 250 of these, hand numbering them, so once they’re gone, they’re gone. (The original anode will remain available, both direct and at worldwide dealers.)

Get yours here (ships worldwide, free shipping for the limited edition launch in North America):
MeeBlip anode limited edition

Or in Europe, via our dealer network.

I got to jam on dual anodes with the legendary Andreas Schneider and had an obscene amount of fun. (Thanks to the ever-prolific Synthtopia for featuring this video.) That’s Andreas on Jomox Xbase09 drum machine. I used a Future Retro Zillion as sequencer, which worked delightfully well once I learned to let go and embrace the Zillion’s generative way of thinking. Here’s the result:

Meeblip at SchneidersBuero from Andreas Schneider on Vimeo.

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None other than Surgeon, going by his forum handle youknowiloveyou (we love you, too, man!), walks through his live set one module at a time on the Muff Wiggler forums. Image attached. And you can watch the full performance video via Boiler Room at the Netherlands’ lovely Dekmantel Festival. Read the full discussion here for details:

Surgeon Boiler Room x Dekmantel Festival DJ + Modular set

It’s a nice who’s who of creative modules, from Mutable’s innovative Braids to musical sound sculpting options from Make Noise.

And without taking a stand on modular itself, this is the sort of playing I like to see – far from getting, um, tangled in noodling, Surgeon’s sets are nimble, danceable, and visceral. And here’s Boiler Room performing a valid public service: this is one video you do actually want to watch. (I’ve been lucky to catch him in the flesh, but even there couldn’t look over his shoulder this easily.)

Thanks to Stephan Koller for the tip.

And if you’d like to share how you play, you don’t have to be a legend – or you don’t have to be a legend yet. Just get in touch.


Edited: This post somewhat embarrassingly suggested this thread was taking place “right now.” This being the Internet, of course, “now” can include archival content; the thread was concurrent with the video. And part of the beauty of modular is that the rig can change, though I believe I saw something close to this setup.