Super happy to be made an Ableton Certified Trainer, and join a wonderful international community of artist-educator-technologists from 56 countries. Just 8 of us from the UK were selected since 2013, so it’s a real privilege. I am of course a technophile (=nerd), but I have a particular love for Ableton Live (and Push) which – now with Max for Live – is incredibly open, flexible, and linked to diverse forms of historical and contemporary music making in composition, performance, production, and programming. I genuinely love Live and Ableton and relate to their musical ethos deeply.
A live video presentation at the fantastic 21st Century Guitar Conference “in” Lisbon, March 2021, hosted by the wonderful Amy Brandon and Rita Torres. ‘Digital Self-Sabotage’ explores we guitarists’ deep and twisted engagement with the fretboard, and how technology can expand and disrupt this bond for learning and insight.
Happy to be involved in this fascinating New Scientist article on MIDI 2.0’s potential.
Lecture and Workshop for Ableton at Glasgow’s Question Session in the beautiful Lighthouse venue. Make music from anything.
Feb 8 2020 Free Entry – For all Info: https://www.questionsession.co.uk
For centuries. composers have been reaching out beyond the musical world into nature, science and other disciplines for inspiration. Pythagoras conceived of a harmony created by the orbiting planets (The Music of the Spheres), Newton attached 7 colours of the rainbow to the notes of a scale, composers like J.S. Bach encoded their names into musical motifs, and Villa Lobos wrote melodies tracing the New York skyline. This workshop enables musicians of all styles to tap into this vast and profound craft of ‘data-music’. This long-established but niche craft has now been given a profound renaissance with contemporary technology: Ableton Live with bespoke Max for Live devices (available to participants in the workshop and distributed online) allow a world of real-time music creativity beyond the limits of human imagination. We will demonstrate such techniques as the automatic translation of your name into melodies, works of art into rhythms, spider webs into virtual harps, live weather reports into MIDI controls and countless other possible translations. This approach provides a uniqueness and profound meaning to your music-making whatever your stylistic interest, allowing you to tap into the infinite and uncharted universe of musical creativity.
A max/msp/Ableton Live tool I’m building to aid my hidden music projects. So many possibilities, these are literally first-go unpolished demos. Images by Bridget Riley.
Glossary of Studio Neologi(ci)sms
- Zimmer Frame – Writing in a style entirely influenced by Hans Zimmer
- Pain Threshold – When you realize you’ve been carefully adjusting a compressor on the wrong track
- Undo – The Hindu God of Editing Forgiveness
- Cardioid Attack – Almost dropping an expensive microphone
- Shyverb – using too much reverb on your own vocals (aka shy/wet mix)
- Presettlement – Valiantly building a sound you are imagining and then compromising with a preset.
- Green Piece – When you just use Logic’s default region colours.
- Refinalising – the art of renaming a ‘Final Bounce Complete DONE_[fixed] MASTER.aif’ audio file
- Enoyance – a hung MIDI note
- Zoomba – The constant readjustment of zoom values
- MIDIval – The ancient reedy-ness of insensitive MIDI files
- DAWk – Someone who espouses the merits of one platform over another
- Portamental – Sibelius’s crazy glisses
- Missed take – Not recording the perfect performance
- Ex-file – A file bounced to a random folder which you are mysteriously unable to locate.
Phantom power- Disappearing kettle leads.
Q-jumping – Flitting either side of the frequency you need
Pandemonium – A mix with ridiculously complicated imaging
Rampage – working with a flagrant waste of computer resources
C4getting -Having to look up the MIDI note name for Middle C
Batchelor Pad – When the fucking keypad interface in Sibelius is lost somewhere on its own
ABBA – When you mix up which track you are listening to
Cry-cycle – The irritation caused when the playhead jumps to the beginning of the cycle
Hands Solo – Frantically scrolling around the screen looking for the soloed track
Sample rate: how good your sound library is.
Aux Return – the studio gremlins are back (credit A Pitts)
- Brick-wall limiter – picking a career that will keep you from home ownership. (credit J Willson)
- 50-cent – microtonal rapper
Trying to push my Push skills up a peg with Peg and Steely Dan’s gorgeous µ harmonies.
Here’s another classic process piece used as a ‘Push Etude’, Steve Reich’s Clapping. Even though it was written after Piano Phase, it is somewhat simpler (certainly to perform), relying on discrete rather than continuous phasing, so fits well into the discrete conceptual world of MIDI rhythm. The challenge here is to program the seminal pattern (which can be heard in triple or duple time like much of Reich’s Ewe-inspired phase pieces). You could of course play it in but I’m trying to roast my Push 2 programming chops. Duplicate the track and then shift it over in steps (you could also set global quantise appropriately and restart one clip at the appropriate metric point, but I wanted to make use of the lovely clip view now available). Unfortunately the push has little control over the fine control of offset, a shift move (as far as I can tell is always a semiquaver (1/16)) so I’ve set the Set to 6/8 rather than 6/4. I’m not sure of a more elegant way to reset the start offset other than how I did it, let me know if you can!
Being an 8×8 grid (we do generally reside in the normative binary default rhythmic world like it or not), the Push represents the 12 slots over a row and a half (I’d like to be able to move the rows into 6s for example) so imagine it like this:
You can then apply the pattern to melodic material as I’ve shown later in the video. Enjoy, njoye, joyen, oyenj, yenjo, enjoy.
Ableton Push 2 and Live 10 are incredible devices, both progressive and able to integrate seminal electronic, process and generative creative practices. In order to start exploring their potential I’ve been experimenting with recreating classic works as succinctly and fluently as possible. Here’s Steve Reich’s Piano Phase using just one track and Live 10 and Push’s new melodic sequencer layout which I find hugely valuable.
In essence you can break down the classic theme into its component pitches, and reform them by pitch rather than rhythmic placement.
Here’s the video and Live Set to explore. Piano Phase Push 2 Project
Quick overview: Set scale on Push to E Dorian and form the patterns from above on teh 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th and 7th degree of the scale respectively. Once you can do this it can be fun to enter them in diferent orders, add chords to each of them and of course use in your own improvisational/compositional practice.
The phasing is super simple (naive really) each dial completes a rotation so you can settle on each semiquaver confidently before moving to the next rotation. This could all be done in microtemporal MIDI (creating fewer artefacts) with M4L devices but I like the ‘in-the-box’ constraint, maximising pre-existing tools.
Piano Phase Push Project (change the MIDI instrument to whatever you like)
Bridget and I will be performing at 1.30pm Sunday March 30th (University of Surrey) at the launch of the International Guitar Research Centre (IGRC) run by Steve Goss and me. We’ll be performing 7 new works for classical guitar and electronics. Not the usual guitar rep. Tickets are £2 for students and £10 for the rest of us. Would be lovely to have some friends (of ours and new music) there.
I have a little place in Greece, on a lesser known corner of the Peloponnese, on a little beach with a derelict and rarely visited acropolis from which the islands of Ψιλι, Πλατεια and (just about) Σπετσεσ are visible.
It’s a magical (and for me painfully nostalgic) place where even when we eventually installed a phone (1996), modem (2006) and wi-fi (2013) seems eerily frozen (well baked) in time. This part of the world is home to some odd creatures: deafening cicada, scorpions, flying fish, swordfish and a plant with fruit that explode on the lightest touch.
One such unusual animal I have yet to (knowingly) see but I’ve been fasciated by its sound for years. It’s some kind of bird that emits a short tweet at intervals so regular that we use it as a metronome. (It sounds particularly good on beat 4 & in a bossa).
Here’s an unedited audio sample recorded on Tuesday, 7 July 2009 19:32
Notice how (separated by an unmeasured pause) there is a decent metronomic tempo established. Logic Pro X’s transient detector and beat mapping tools reveal that once a pulse is established it tends to stay within a couple of bpm. I’ve played with far worse time-keepers of the human species. Here are the numbers:
To get a feel for it, listen to the same unedited clip with a click track.
(non-flash) Metrobird with Click
Not bad at all. Here’s how it sounds (again completely unedited) in the context of a percussion groove.
(non-flash) Metrobird Groove
Does anyone know what type of bird it is, an what evolutionary pressures gave it such tight timing?
It’s wonderful to be involved in classical guitar virtuoso John Williams’ latest recording project. Details to follow, but the energy, enthusiasm and skill he continues to deliver after 200 CDs, all the accolades and well over a half-century of professional musicianship is astonishing and inspiring in equal measure.
For Part 2 of the Beatless series lets look at a Beatles rework by one Joe Connor.
Here the motivic and harmonic elements of the piece are extracted and examined through repetition with gentle timbral variation – techniques borrowed from minimalist and process music.
This, together with non-quantisation rhythmic elements creates a compelling atmosphere. Electronic music has been refreshed of late with such artists as Mount Kimbie rejecting the dominance that strict grid-based (‘quantized’) time has had on the genre. ‘Loose’ (but not sloppy) timing has a huge effect on musical expression, and this latest trend in IDM is heartening.
Monday 23rd January 8pm, King’s Place. The fabulous Living Room In London Ensemble with Manu Delago of Björk fame, perform a great concert – including a London Premiere of new piece ‘The Escher Café’ blending classical, jazz and live electronics. http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on-book-tickets/music/manu-delago-living-room-in-london?tid=16
Here’s a short video of my (gorgeous) cousin Maria-Christina (Winner of the Wales International Harp Competition) on harp and electronics.
In the midst of the chaos, mania and staggering bolshiness of the World Cup is an instrument that is chaotic, manic and bolshy. The marmite of the horn family, the dreaded vuvuzela.
The vuvuzela (I prefer vuvuzilla), let’s face it, is a monstrous instrument. And those that say they like it, are actually enjoying the effect it induces in others rather than loving its intrinsic sound.
Why does it sound so horrendous? Well firstly, it is loud, a staggering 120dB(A) at the bell-end. Can you imagine having to stand right in front of that bell-end, while someone is blowing it hard?
But a trumpet is equally loud, but does not elicit such an eargag reflex, so what’s the problem?
Firstly, it produces only one note with any consistency, a B-flat (Bb3 just below middle-C on the piano, around 233Hz). Technically, monotonous. However there is a microtonal wobble on this note so that it actually wavers around 210-240Hz range, Actually I’ve heard, presumably in the mouth of a particularly exuberant bell-end, the pitch drop up to a perfect 4th below. (See figure 1)
Figure 1. A particularly pissy vivuzela caught fucking around the 233Hz mark. Note its untrustworthy slow glides and sudden pitch disruptions. Bastard.
This, en-masse, contributes to the siren-like, ominous swarming drone, however the fluctuating pitch is not where the irritation lies.The big problem, my bell-end blowing friend, is the overtones.
What are overtones? Well… every sound is actually made up of not just a fundamental pitch but a series of higher pitches called overtones, that make up its particular tonal character, or timbre. (The only sound with only a fundamental with no overtones is the sine wave, that pure test-tone sound, to which a tuning fork comes close to emulating)
Some overtones are harmonic, they exist at regular frequency intervals to the fundamental. Like 2/1, 3/2. 4/1, 5/2 etc. These make up ‘musical’ intervals above the fundamental pitch like octaves, fifths, major 3rds and so on. Musical instruments that are pitched tend to possess mainly harmonic overtones.
Overtones that have no simple relationship to the fundamental are non-harmonic and contribute to a noisy timbre. A crash cymbal for example, has a smear of close intervals heading up to the top of our hearing range. The most non-harmonic, or noisiest sound is white noise, which is like a random waveform containing all overtones at random amplitudes. Think the sound of constant static, or in nature, a noisy seashore.
Actually musical instruments contain a complex, dynamic combination of overtones. A piano for example has a smattering of non-harmonic overtones at the initial ‘click’ but quickly settles into a regular harmonic pattern. A violin has beautifully regular overtones heading up into the stratosphere, mixed with a bunch of crazily chaotic non-harmonic high overtones.
The vuvuzela, however is an odd frog. It has a simple and regular pattern of overtones but they don’t match harmonic overtones. So it masquerades as a ‘musical’ instrument but is actually noisy, without the decency of being part of the percussion family (a highly respected family, incidentally, despite you know, the rumours) So what you get is the impression of musicality but the effect of irritation. (Figure 2) It’s like false advertising. We are trained to expect a musical timbre when you hear regular intervals but we get is the death-knell rasp of 10,000 kazoos in a giant blender.
Figure 2. Look at those sneaky regular intervals, pretending to be harmonic. Bloody Charlatans. And look how fucking high they go.
So what good is the vuvuzela other than giving a clear “Hey look at me blowing my bell-end!” message. Can it be used musically? Well I leave you with some half-hearted attempts to depict a parallel musical universe where the vuvuzela holds equal esteem to the violin, piano, cello, trumpet and human voice. Enjoy.
So in a ballad, perhaps? (Led Vuvuzeppelin)
Or more dramatically: (Vu-thousand-and-one)
Alas, I have found but one place where it really works. (Voot’s Theme)