My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: ios

Generative at 35,000 Feet

SFO -> iOS -> LAX

There was no audio stored on my iPad or on my phone, and the plane’s wifi wasn’t functioning. The noise cancellation feature of my headphones helped, to some degree, in muting the tense political discussion unfolding behind me between what might, in Fight Club terms, be described as single-serving combatants. The poor newborn crying one further row away was, as well, kept at bay. There remained, however, room for improvement. It was a short flight, just from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but what was I going to listen to?

I pulled up two apps on my iPad. One, a sequencer, would send note values. The other, a synthesizer, would produce sounds in accordance with the sequencer’s directions. The sequencer, named Fugue Machine, can be slowed to a near-glacial pace. Its four independent lines send varying passes on the shared piece of music (depicted in “piano roll” form) they traverse. One of these might read the music in a standard left-to-right direction, another in reverse; some might ping-pong back and forth, while others might treat the note sequence as a refrain to be repeated over and over. I then set the synth, named FM Player 2, on a preset titled Eno’s Feelings: soft pads reportedly based on one of Brian Eno’s own sounds developed on the Yamaha DX7.

And then I just let it roll. Instant generative music, an ever-changing patterning of contrasting yet interrelated melodic and harmonic elements. In the absence of fixed recordings, I filled the noisy void with automated indeterminacy.

Also tagged / / Leave a comment ]

White Noise, Dark Theme

Version 7.6.2

This is an alert from iOS informing me about the updates to the latest version of this white-noise app, which has reached version 7.6.2. Now I’m wondering how dark-theme white noise differs from regular white noise, and if we’ll get to a point where we start employing the retronym “light-theme white noise” for regular old white noise, and yes I’m joking.

Also tagged / / Leave a comment ]

Interviewed for Wired

On generative apps and their discontents

I was interviewed for this Wired article by Arielle Pardes, published this morning, about a new wave of generative music apps, among them Endel and Mubert:

Marc Weidenbaum, a writer and cultural critic who studies ambient music, sees this adaptive quality reshaping the future of music itself. “The idea of a recording as a fixed thing should’ve gone away,” he says. With a generative music app, there is potential not just to listen to something organic and ever-changing, but something that strives to emulate your desired mind state exactly.

Weidenbaum says we may be seeing a surge in generative music because our phones are capable of more computational power. But another reason might be that the genre offers a way for companies, advertisers, and game-makers to skirt licensing issues when adding music to their products.

“That’s a little cynical,” he says, but “I think it has a lot to do with cost savings, control, optimization, and a veneer of personalization.” For the rest of us, these apps offer a pleasing surrender to the algorithms–ones that shape the world to our desires and ask nothing in return.

Now, to be clear, I love generative music. I was an early and strong supporter of the RJDJ app, which later evolved, in a manner of speaking, into the Hear app mentioned in the article. (RJDJ creative director Robert M. Thomas has been a frequent participant in and friend of the Disquiet Junto music community.) I’ve also avidly tracked and used Bloom, among other apps created by collaborators Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers. A central theme in my book about Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II is the wind chime, a pre-electronic tool for generative expression.

The distinction I’m drawing is between art and commerce. Art projects of course have financial restraints of their own, but it is modern commerical products and services that undergo rigorous cost-benefit analysis as part of their ongoing development and maintenance. This distinction is what led to my self-described cynical (perhaps a better word is skeptical) view of certain economically incentivized flourshings of generative music.

Much as Uber and Lyft are simultaneously employing countless drivers and pursuing driverless transportation, some activities in generative music seem less like artistic ventures and more like attempts to remove the need for human participation. If the clear primary goal is simply to cut costs through automation, that’s when I think the venture should be viewed (and, to mix the imminent metaphor, heard) through a keen, critical lens.

As a friend recently reminded me, ambient music has its foundation in the writings on cybernetics by Norbert Wiener, a mathematician and philosopher who inspired Brian Eno, the genre’s originator. A key text is Wiener’s 1948 book, Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, which developed a following in management theory. You might even say that the interest by corporations in generative sound in 2019 is the 70-year-old cybernetics concept coming full circle. Then again, in his later book, God & Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points Where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion (1964), Wiener employed the image of the golem, a pre-Frankenstein symbol of artificial life gone awry. Which is to say, skepticism isn’t unprecedented.

Read the full piece at wired.com.

Also tagged , / / Comment: 1 ]

10 Great 2016 iOS + Android Music/Sound Apps

From developers small and large

The list of the main iOS music-making apps I used heavily and followed closely in their development this past year is somewhat boring, in that it largely consists of backend software. A whole suite of third-party tools has come to the fore in recent years in order to provide an ad hoc infrastructure for sharing sounds and computer instructions between apps, and between the iPad and other equipment.

Of these following four only Aum was new in 2016, while the others saw various updates and upgrades. I’ve put Aum first because it’s new, and the remaining three are in alphabetical order.

(1) Aum: As with all the apps in this sub-category, Aum seems like the sort of thing Apple should simply purchase and make part of the iOS backend. The company responsible for it describes it as “a flexible audio mixer, recorder, and connection hub,” but that really doesn’t do justice to how it will immediately become the home base for all your music making on an iPad once you start using it (kymatica.com, itunes.apple.com). Pictured above.

(2) Audiobus: There may not be another piece of software that is more requested for developers of music apps to include as part of their own releases. Audiobus is the de facto sound router for iOS, allowing for an enormous (and growing) library of apps to send sound back and forth (audiob.us, itunes.apple.com).

(3) AudioShare: By the makers of Aum, this is a simple, elegant, and highly effective means to store and share audio files (and MIDI files) between apps. It’s been around since 2012, and its last major upgrade was in late 2015, though in early 2016 slide over and split screen support were added, which is especially helpful with infrastructure apps (kymatica.com, itunes.apple.com).

(4) SilQ: Excellent, narrow-focus (32-band) equalizer that works via Audiobus (see above). I’m especially hopeful for MIDI implementation (tonapp.no, itunes.apple.com).

And these six (well, #10 is sort of a list-making cheat) are performance-oriented iOS apps, the first five listed in alphabetical order, the last a grab bag:

(5) Blocs Wave: Novation already had a success on its hands with its Launchpad app when it launched this fluid, efficient, and pleasurable approach to sample-based sound production (blocs.cc, itunes.apple.com).

(6) FieldScaper: This experimental sound manipulation tool by Igor Vasiliev is far from anything I’ve come close to mastering, but I find myself going back to it again and again to morph sounds and gain competency with its intricate toolset. The app debuted in late 2015, and this year it got even better with the addition of recording and editing features (motion-soundscape.blogspot.com, itunes.apple.com). Pictured above.

(7) H–r: This app is a creative resuscitation and refashioning of one of my favorite apps of all time, the RJDJ app from Reality Jockey. Alone among the apps I’m highlighting this year, H–r is where I always thought apps were headed, which is to say it provides a platform for the casual reimagining of sounds and environments. In fact, most music and sound apps these days have music producers, professional or not, in mind, rather than everyday consumers, but H–r (it’s had some issues with its name since launch) provides hope that audio-games and audio-toys still have a future. (hearapp.io, itunes.apple.com).

(8) Korg Gadget: Korg has virtually reimagined itself as a software company, so rapid fire is its release schedule of iOS apps. This is a massive one, loaded with a variety of, per the name, audio gadgets, and it appears Korg has no plans to slow down its expansion. (korg.com, itunes.apple.com).

(9) LoopyHD: This is arguably the most user-friendly audio looper available. It appealed to me initially because it allowed for easy desynchronization of loops. Many loopers, software and hardware alike, seem to assume the user wants a steady beat, but while Loopy is great for building songs in realtime, it also allows for layering of asynchronous sounds. I use it just as often with outboard sound sources, like Buddha Machines and the squelchy feedback of a no-input mixer, as I do with intra-app audio (loopyapp.com, itunes.apple.com).

(10) Various: When something like Korg Gadget costs upwards of $40, and is supported by a major music-technology company that’s been around for over half a century, it can be unfair to put it up against the wide range of inexpensive little apps out there, so I wanted to reserve space to note things like the free MIDI Wrench, which monitors MIDI communication and can be useful during troubleshooting (itunes.apple.com); the $0.99 Lofionic Duplicat, which simulates tape delay (itunes.apple.com); the whole suite of Timothy Barraclough’s $0.99 mini-apps (especially Dahlia Delay, Saffron Saturator, and Buttercup Bitcrush — more at timothy-j.com); and the free Hexaglyphics noise generator (itunes.apple.com).

Listing 10 (or so) iOS apps here is just the tip of the iOSberg. The high priority assigned to Aum and Audiobus is that I use them to connect so many other apps, including delays and noise sources, effects and sequencers, too many to list here. For solid retrospective insights on iOS music-making, I recommend the year-end articles on two great dedicated music-app sites: musicappblog.com, from John Walden, and palmsounds.net, from Ashley Elsdon.

And 10 Notable Android Music/Sound Apps:

In addition to my iPad Mini 2 (which I expect to upgrade in the coming year, as the old CPU is getting laggy, and I’d like something larger, especially for the modular-synth apps I’ve been fiddling with — and because I need more memory; Korg Gadget alone is over 600MB in size), I have an Android phone, currently the Nexus 5X. While Android is quite behind iOS in music-making software, there is a growing library of useful tools. This year I’ve made a lot of use of these 10 in particular, none of them necessarily new (though Caustic 3 got some great upgrades this year), mostly on the bus and while waiting for movies to begin, and as short-notice inputs for my modular synthesizer and looper. These are listed in alphabetical order.

(1) Caustic 3: A powerful and ubiquitous cross-platform music construction kit, packed with synthesizers, drum machines, a sequencer, and effects (play.google.com singlecellsoftware.com).

(2) Circle Synth: A simple sound generator from Two Big Ears, which earlier this year joined Facebook’s VR and AR development group. This appears to be unique to Android (play.google.com).

(3) Common FM: A simple synthesizer employing frequency modulation, and it comes packed with presets. This appears to be unique to Android (play.google.com).

(4) DRC: A polyphonic synthesizer with a great user interface. Admirably, it’s also available for Windows, iOS, and Mac OSX. I use more powerful tools on my iPad, but on a phone-size screen it’s perfect (play.google.com imaginando.pt).

(5) Function Generator: From the prolific keuwl.com app foundry, this is a nifty stereo waveform generator. This is unique to Android (play.google.com keuwl.com). Pictured above.

(6) MikroWave: A colorful little groovebox. This appears to be unique to Android (play.google.com, igorski.nl). (They also make Kosm, a visual sequencer, which I’ve yet to spend much time with.)

(7) Noise Maschine: An excellent noise generator. This appears to be unique to Android (play.google.com). Pictured above.

(8) Saucillator: A loop-oriented tactile synth by Matt Feury. This appears to be unique to Android (play.google.com).

(9) S.A.M.M.I.: A great little sound-experimentation app with a sequencer, drone machine, and theremin. Also available on iOS (play.google.com, futronica.com).

(10) SphereTones: A touch instrument with excellent random/counterpoint opportunities. Also available on iOS (play.google.com, binaura.net).

Also tagged , , / / Comments: 2 ]

An Ambient Employment of a Granular App

Dave Stafford's video "Formation of the Universe"

Dave Stafford’s video “Formation of the Universe” is a solid introduction to an amorphous, fluid music application. The application is Borderlands Granular. It allows the user (né musician) to locate tiny segments of pre-existing music and build from them glistening, refracting cues that cycle in a random, often curiously delightful state. Stafford mixes vocal samples with less identifiable source material. In addition to posting the video, he wrote a lengthy appraisal of the app, which is one of his favorites. Stafford goes into detail on how it functions. The music makes good background listening as you read up on how it was recorded.

It’s the latest piece I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine “Ambient Performances.” Video originally posted to Stafford’s YouTube channel. More from Stafford at pureambient.com and pureambient.wordpress.com

Also tagged , , / / Comments: 2 ]