Talking about modular synthesizers, and a lot more
It was a pleasure this week to have been featured as the guest on the great Podular Modcast, which as its name suggests is a podcast about modular synthesizers. The Podular Modcast is hosted by Tim Held and Ian Price. Price wasn’t available when the episode was recorded, but he does appear early on in the segment, telling a touching story about Aphex Twin, a subject that then leads into Held interviewing me about my Aphex Twin book, Selected Ambient Works Volume II (33 1/3, Bloomsbury), and announcing that it has been licensed for translation and publication in Japan, something I just learned this past week. I spent five years at a manga company bringing Japanese books (comics and novels, and related titles) to America, so it’s nice to send one back.
Held and I then talk about modular synthesizers, how I got into accruing (assembling? agglomerating?) one myself, after witnessing Marcus Fischer perform live in Portland when I did an Aphex Twin reading there back in 2014. We discussed the tactile as well as visual feedback of modular synthesis, and other topics. I had a great time speaking with Held. You can listen with the above embedded audio player, or at podularmodcast.fireside.fm.
A modular synthesizer track and what succeeded it
A week ago, Darren Harper posted the results of one of his synthesizer patches online. The audio track, bearing a timestamp for a title, “~4/23/18,” is soft matter infused with abrasions and occasionally launching peaks of sound from its core. At nearly eight minutes in length, it is like the scientific surveillance of some newly discovered utopian microsonic world, Whoville via R. Murray Schafer. A brief technical explanation is provided by Harper, those occasional peaks characterized thusly: “new bits and pieces pop up throughout.” The depiction is for participants of synthesis more than for observers, and it belies the environmental simulacrum of the achievement.
A week later, Harper revisited his patch, and found another environment entirely. This follow-up track, “~4/30/18 (4/23 redeux),” is even softer than the original, and it seems to look up and outward where the other looked down and in. Those “bits and pieces” are largely gone, replaced with lens flare grace notes amid a huge floating zone. It is, as Harper writes briefly, a “more spacious version.” That is an understatement.
Tracks originally posted to the SoundCloud account of Darren Harper, soundcloud.com/darrenharper. More from Harper, who is based in Nederland, Colorado, at darrenjh.blogspot.com.
[ Also tagged recommended stream
Guitar + modular, via Australia-based Betsy Hammer
This brief Instagram clip from Betty Hammer — aka Liesl Hazelton — shows her performing electric guitar, in the background, through an array of synthesizer modules, in the foreground. That depth of field serves as well to describe the music. You can see her hands playing the guitar, but by the time it reachers your ear those modules have done a lot to the source audio, pushing it from a simple plucked string to something more like a Caribbean steel drum played at the very far end of a long metal corridor. Meanwhile the synth is deploying its own snare beat, the pace evident in the soft red light that is as large as Hammer’s hand.
Clip originally posted at Hammer’s Instagram page. More from Hammer, who lives on Norfolk Island, Australia, at lieslhazelton.com.
Electronic music is science fiction, sometimes more than others
Bidding farewell to the great Ursula K. Le Guin. I was so young when I read her the first time, I didn’t know about genre conventions. My imagination was pretty close to a clean slate. I simply recognized the transition as I entered into another world, and I never fully returned.
Later in life, as I got interested in Monome music equipment and related software, I came to sense like minds when I recognized familiar names among the tools, such as the Earthsea and Ansible synthesizer modules.
[ Also tagged science-fiction
A third week in the Weekly Beats series
This is the third Weekly Beats of 2018 — the third week of the biennial series wherein people upload tracks they’ve recorded as part of a communal challenge. It’s a bit like one of those largely non-competitive marathons where the majority of the people are just there to run alongside each other, and the only person anyone is gauging their performance against is themselves. (Which is to say, it’s like the Disquiet Junto to some degree.) For this week, I continued my efforts to combine electric guitar and modular, to run my guitar through my modular synthesizer in a manner that is, in essence, a very large effects pedal. My main goal this week was to incorporate a third element into the guitar + modular combination. The third element is piece of software called Rack, available for free from vcvrack.com. It’s a virtual modular, for which at this stage well over a hundred different modules have been created, most of the available, like the software itself, for free download. I have a physical module in my rig that lets me send and receive both audio and CV (control voltage) signals, and so I hooked that up to Rack and used Rack-based modules to augment the sounds being processed by my physical modular synth. Last week I ran the full guitar line through a looper, whereas this week I experimented with just sending two bands of the audio spectrum. It’s still very much a test case, but I thought it more important to get something up this week, to maintain the Weekly Beats cadence, than to skip a week out of self-editing. There’s some overdub toward the end, where I layered in material from an alternate take. That latter material involves no live playing. It’s all the circuit afterglow of the recording, where the guitar fragments caught in the system cycle through, morphing a tiny bit as they go. I didn’t upload this piece to SoundCloud, but you can give it a listen on the Weekly Beats website at weeklybeats.com/disquiet.
This is what the virtual modular setup looked like:
And this is what my modular synthesizer looked like: