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: live performance

Buddha Machine Variations No. 31 (Narrowed Divide)

A series of focused experiments

One thing that occurred to me as I’ve reached the end of a full month of daily Buddha Machine Variations is that I am accessing a familiarity with the source recordings that has only one direct comparison for me, which is the year I spent daily listening to and writing about one of my favorite albums of all time, Selected Ambient Works Volume II by Aphex Twin. As I searched for a Buddha Machine loop for today’s exercise, I realized that as I clicked through the options, I knew what would be next: Not only were the individual loops familiar as a friend’s voice on the phone, so too were the loops’ relative proximity to each other. And as I listened to the audio as it was being processed, I adjusted the various options in accordance with the specific loop’s qualities. And when I thought back on how this patch came together, I realized the decisions about what kind of processing to engage in were rooted in the source material. That point is distinct from where I began 31 days ago, when the audio was more of a discreet object, and the processing a discreet application. The divide between them has narrowed.

In any case, this piece has four subsidiary parts. I’ll describe them in brief, one channel of the mixer at a time, from left to right. Channel one is the straight audio out of the Buddha Machine, but with a slight variation on the delay, lending it a warble quality (delay via the ER-301). Channel two is the same unadulterated audio, its volume increasing and decreasing thanks to a slow, shallow wave (courtesy of the o_C module, running the Hemisphere firmware). Channel three is a narrow band of the FXDf-derived audio (from the source loop), put through a slight, static delay (in the ER-301). And channel four is another narrow band of the FXDf-derived audio, set on a little loop that is constantly overwriting itself. The loop is a little over two seconds long, and the trigger for the recording is going at a different pace, so over time the audio that is heard in this loop changes. (The loop kicks in at 1:05, when I connect a cable from the Batumi to the ER-301.) Beyond that, it’s all just me manipulating the various channels, based on my understanding and appreciation of the source loop, its melodic qualities, and the stages that comprise its structure.

There was no entry yesterday because after I recorded it last night I realized there was an issue with the audio, so I waited until today to re-record it. In the process I changed the patch, adding some elements.

For further patch-documentation purposes, here are two shots of the synthesizer:

And the settings on the Ornament and Crime module, the screen of which had gone dark while the video was being shot:

Video originally posted at youtube.com/disquiet. There’s also a video playlist of the Buddha Machine Variations.

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Buddha Machine Variations No. 30 (Organ Specter)

A series of focused experiments

One Buddha Machine, the Philip Glass edition, playing the organ loop, three processed channels of which go into the mixer. When the piece begins, it’s just the signal going through the granular synthesizer (channel two). Then comes the main line (channel one), which is the output of the Muxlicer. There are eight randomly selected outputs from the Muxlicer: six bands of the filter bank, and two of the granular synth, all set at different volume levels. They’re being selected at random, and the clock that sets the pace of the Muxlicer changes regularly. The basic pulse is a square wave from the Dixie II. There’s a hybrid wave from the Batumi, via the SPO, that occasionally makes the Dixie II pick up the pace, as a result of two different combined waves. The third channel of the mixer is a copy of the audio in the second channel, that of the granular synth processing the inbound signal, except it’s going through the ER-301 and being delayed. The intention was to overlap the granular phrase so that there are fewer gaps in the sound. In addition, the value of the delay on the third channel of the mixer is rapidly shifting tiny increments, so its relative position to the second channel is always changing. That about covers it.

For further patch-documentation purposes, here’s a straight-on shot of the synthesizer:

Video originally posted at youtube.com/disquiet. There’s also a video playlist of the Buddha Machine Variations.

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Buddha Machine Variations No. 29 (Prescient Delay)

A series of focused experiments

At some point during the Buddha Machine Variations series of exercises, it occurred to me that many people who might come across these videos probably haven’t ever actually heard the Buddha Machines themselves. As a result, I began, on occasion, to include the unadulterated sound of the source audio at some stage of a given piece, generally at the start of a recording, so that the contrast between, dare I say, raw and cooked would be more evident.

This piece, “Prescient Delay,” is built around three delays set at different rates. It opens with the unaltered sound of the Chan Fang model of the Buddha Machine (first released in 2010). Or at least what appears to be unaltered sound. In fact, the audio is being delayed a few seconds. This delay doesn’t affect the sound itself. What it does do is allow for other sounds to insert themselves as premonitions of the main line. The main line here is the second channel of the mixer (the yellow cable). The delays all occur in the ER-301 module, the one three in from the bottom left.

A copy of that unaltered source audio is being sent, separately, through a filter bank, one of my favorite tools, which siphons off distinct bands of the audio spectrum. One of those bands, the white cable, goes into the first channel of the mixer. It’s heard for the first time just shy of 40 seconds into the recording. The quality of this line is quieter, softer, than the main track, and because the main track is set on a delay, this little element is heard before it, giving it a kind of prescience. This line is the only one in the piece occurring in sync with the Buddha Machine itself.

Another band of the filter bank, the orange one, channel three in the mixer, is also being delayed a tad, a bit less so than the main line, so when it is potted up, around the 1:20 mark, it contributes a second premonition of the main line.

Finally, a third band of the filter bank, the blue one (channel four in the mixer), is also set on a delay that’s shorter than the main line. It’s a third premonition, but it’s something else as well. While the delay of the yellow and orange lines are fixed, the delay of this blue band is shuddering, changing slightly, hence that warble quality it has. (The effect is a bit like that of the Instant Lo Fi Junky, a synthesizer module and guitar pedal that I like very much.) This is achieved thanks to a wave form that is ever so slightly altering the value of the delay (the number of milliseconds it is removed from the source audio). The wave is produced by a combination of two waves that come out of the Batumi (note the two short white cables) and go into the S.P.O., the white cable from which goes into the third gate jack of the ER-301. At 2:20, I push a button on the Ornament and Crime module (the black one three in from the bottom right), and you can see a little oscilloscope image. That image shows the wave form that is affecting the value of the delay for the blue line. In addition, if you look at the top screen of the ER-301, you might notice the value of the delay shifting up and down rapidly just above the fourth button in from the left.

And that covers it. If you have any questions, let me know. I’m very happy with how the premonition-like quality of these early apparitions function, and how they alter my sense of the utility of delays. I previously thought of delays as things that happen “after” the main line. No longer.

For further patch-documentation purposes, here’s a straight-on shot of the synthesizer:

Video originally posted at youtube.com/disquiet. There’s also a video playlist of the Buddha Machine Variations.

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Buddha Machine Variations No. 28 (Qin Whopper)

A series of focused experiments

So, to cut to the chase, there’s a big whopping error in the middle of this video. Actually, earlier than the middle. At 1:32 (the full length is 4:37), I connect a cable, and then proceed, over the following minute and a half, to 3:10, to first recognize something is off, and to then sort it out. I had the whole thing plotted, but it had been a long day and I was pretty tired, and I messed it up when I started recording. Still, that minute and a half sounds fine, and even as I was sleuthing what was wrong, I was thinking, “This actually sounds fine, so long as I can fix it soon.” As further evidence I was a bit rushed, the Buddha Machine that is the source of the sound is entirely off-screen. It’s the Chan Fang model, which is all samples of a performance on a qin, an ancient Chinese zither.

Three days/patches ago I mentioned parenthetically, of the big module in the lower left: “Of course, there’s a lot going on inside the ER-301 that’s not viewable.” If you watch that module from 1:32 to 3:10, you’ll get a sense of what moving around its interface is like.

Let’s break the recording down. There are four channels in the mixer, from left to right: one/lavender, two/black, three/yellow, and four/white. They are all variations on the incoming Buddha Machine loop.

Lavender is just the sound of the Buddha Machine loop, unaltered (putting aside the extent to which slight changes in the gain on the initial input do have an influence on the sound). Black and yellow are processed by the ER-301. Both are variations on bands of the incoming audio split off from the overall audio spectrum. Black is on a short delay, so it echoes a bit of the main signal (listen at 1:04 to how it repeats what just preceded it, as if a full register lower).

Yellow is the problematic channel. It is on a two-second loop that is constantly writing over itself when triggered. The signal that triggers the loop is itself fairly long, so the yellow signal doesn’t change that much. The problem was, it’s set in the ER-301 to be triggered by the gate on the top row, and I had it set on the second row. Eventually I figure this out, which is why at 3:10 I change the location of that cable, and at 3:16 the looping kicks in.

As for white, the fourth and final channel in the mixer, it is another band of the audio spectrum, sent through a granular synthesizer. And that covers it.

For further patch-documentation purposes, here’s a straight-on shot of the synthesizer:

Video originally posted at youtube.com/disquiet. There’s also a video playlist of the Buddha Machine Variations.

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Buddha Machine Variations No. 27 (Fracture Delay)

A series of focused experiments

One loop, three strands, many rhythms. A single loop comes out of the second-generation Buddha Machine. It’s split into two. One cable goes straight into the mixer. That’s what’s heard when the first pot is turned up. The second cable goes into a filter bank, two cables from which go into the ER-301. Each carries a different band of the audio spectrum of the source loop. Each of those goes through a different delay in the ER-301, and then the volume of each of those fluctuates (using the ER-301’s Linear Unipolar VCA unit) due to waves coming from the Batumi. The ADDAC mixer has three options for each channel: solo, off, and mute. At the end, each of the three mixer channels is turned off one at a time.

For further patch-documentation purposes, here’s a straight-on shot of the synthesizer:

Video originally posted at youtube.com/disquiet. There’s also a video playlist of the Buddha Machine Variations.

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