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: studio journal

Introductory Loop-Making

Another weekend experiment

Another little weekend project straight out of any Electronic Music 101 textbook: make a tape loop with an old cassette. I’d never done this before. The cassette tape is from an old batch of unused 90-minute Maxells I have on hand. The loop was recorded on a Panasonic Standard Cassette Transcriber RR-830, a relic of when I’d record interviews on physical cassette and then transcribe from those cassettes. That Panasonic device has a foot pedal, which used to make the start/stop process of transcription a tiny bit more bearable, especially because it can micro-rewind an adjustable amount with each pause.

The audio of my first tape loop came out OK on the first try — I recorded a short strum on an acoustic guitar — but there was an issue with playback on the RR-830: After two or three cycles through the loop, it would come to a stop. I had high hopes of using the RR-830 in a performance setting, given the potential for that foot pedal, along with other attributes of the device, like control over tone and playback speed. (Another issue: there was a not so little gap in the audio, and it was suggested to me to record the audio first on a longer stretch of tape, and to then make the loop from a subset of that tape. I’ll try this approach next time.)

At first I thought the issue with the playback ending on the Panasonic had to do with a poor job on my part constructing the cassette. So, I took it apart and made it more taut by trimming the length of the tape a bit, as well as reinserting the second plastic reel. Still, the Panasonic ceased playing after two or three cycles. To test the newly refined tape loop, I put the cassette in the old, bright yellow Sony “Sports” Walkman, and it played well, over and over and over. Perhaps there’s a setting on the RR-830 that will make it less sensitive, and therefore capable of playing the loop on repeat dependably.

Making the loop was more painstaking a process than I’d expected, even after advance warnings from various experienced people. The standard cassette tape has loose parts, held in only thanks to the tension supplied by five tiny screws. In addition, getting the tape to the correct length, and connecting it into one continuous piece, requires a level of dexterity almost — but, fortunately, not quite — beyond my manual dexterity. I got it to work, which was a lot of fun in the end. The sound quality is excellent, which is to say it is rich with texture, not high-fidelity.

And if you want to try it out, the tape-oriented musician who goes by the name Amulets has a helpful video on YouTube. There’s also a good tutorial at instructables.com.

Also tagged / / Leave a comment ]

“Aida Facing Shimmy 353”

Playing with acoustic guitar and MiniDisc artifacts

I have an old Sony MiniDisc recorder I’ve been meaning to sell or trade for the longest time. After watching one of the recent videos by the musician Hainbach, however, some hidden potential was revealed to me. Hainbach has been exploring unique characteristics of the MiniDisc, such as the granular quality of its fast-forward and rewind artifacts, its ability to easily break tracks into segments, and its gap-less playback.

The second and third of those three features are the ones I was most immediately interested in pursuing. That third one, the gap-less playback, isn’t present on all MiniDisc devices, though it was an impetus for Gescom’s ingenious 1998 album Minidisc — Gescom consisting of Autechre working in collaboration with Russell Haswell. Fortunately, my MiniDisc recorder, a Sony MZ-R50, has gap-less playback.

This simple little evening project turned out to be a learning experience in more ways than one. I wanted to record from my acoustic guitar into the MiniDisc, which seemed easy enough, but as it turned out I couldn’t find the microphone that originally accompanied the device. I spent some time looking on eBay and discovered that lots of people selling old MiniDisc recorders have also misplaced their microphones. I thought briefly about skipping the acoustic guitar for now and recording from a little iOS synth into my MiniDisc just as a proof of concept, which is when it occurred to me to record my guitar into an ancient iPod and to then record from the iPod into the MiniDisc. This worked fine.

The audio was me plucking and strumming a D chord on the guitar for about 30 seconds. I used a standard audio cable to go from the headphone jack of the iPod to the Line In of the MiniDisc. Once the 30 seconds were on the MiniDisc, I used the “T Mark” function on the MiniDisc to subdivide the track into little fragments. This took the one single track and turned it into about 25. After listening to it on shuffle/repeat, I whittled away and deleted a handful of silences, ending with about 19 pieces of varying lengths. In the end, the guitar material played out in little slivers and proved, to my ear, quite pleasing, as soft tones end suddenly and chance permutations render momentary melodies.

The question then became: how to transfer the audio from my MiniDisc to my laptop, or back to the iPod for that matter. This isn’t as simple as it sounds. The macOS software Audio Hijack didn’t seem to recognize my headphone input, and neither did my iPod. As it turns out, that’s because the standard headphone jack is different from the sort that laptops and mobile devices recognize these days. The standard audio headphone mini-jack has two little lines on it, if you look closely. The jack of the now-standard (well, until the imminent Bluetooth apocalypse) headphone-with-microphone cable actually has three little lines on it. I need to order a converter for future recordings, but I wanted to finish this tonight. So, I used a cable to connect my MiniDisc player to my Zoom H4n recorder, and then took the SD card from the H4n and put it in my laptop. I used Audacity to lower the treble on it, and then — just to try it out, because the software is new to me — Adobe Audition to trim the close, where the track initially ended too abruptly.

The track’s title, “Aida Facing Shimmy 353,” is an anagram of the word “MiniDisc” and the model of my acoustic guitar, a Yamaha FG-335.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/disquiet.

Also tagged , / / Leave a comment ]

“Gain Entrance (Test)”

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:

Also tagged , / / Leave a comment ]

Building on “Fever Pitch”

Joseph Branciforte has created a duet by adding to a track I recorded.

The Disquiet Junto has been going on since the first week of January 2012, and though I have moderated the Junto from the start, and we’re currently on the 316th consecutive weekly project, and the mailing list has over 1,200 subscribers from around the world, I myself have participated less than a handful of times, most recently this past week, for project 0315.

I hadn’t recorded the piece of music, “Fever Pitch,” as part of Junto 0315 initially. I recorded “Fever Pitch,” in fact, for an entirely different weekly music project series, one called Weekly Beats. When I subsequently recognized that the simple track, just a guitar line filtered by a modular synthesizer, fit the constraints of Junto project 0315, I posted it for that as well. There is a lot of cross-pollination among only compositional series. For example, I wrote a poem for the great Naviar Haiku series on the occasion of its 40th weekly project, and some people have cross-posted pieces of music between Naviar and Junto, which share a bit of the same roster in general, and we have collaborated once or twice.

In any case, the point of project 0315, “First Chair,” was for musicians to make short pieces of music that would serve as one third of a trio, with the idea that in the following weeks other musicians would, in turn, flesh out the trio. It’s an exercise in asynchronous collaboration, which is a central theme of all Junto projects. The sequence originating with Junto 0315 is simply a reinforcement through emphais of that concept.

Well, as part of Junto 0316, which is currently ongoing and will close at 11:59pm on Monday night, a Brooklyn-based musician named Joseph Branciforte did me a great honor. He added a second part to “Fever Pitch,” which he simply titled after the day he recorded it, “January 18, 2018.” It’s a marvel of simpatico consideration, his Fender Rhodes, coaxed by some effects pedals, filling in the blanks left by my guitar. I’ve been fiddling with a modular synthesizer since 2014, when I started to assemble one after marveling at a performance by Marcus Fischer at Powell’s Books in Portland at an event for my then just published book on Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, part of the Bloomsbury 33 1/3 series. Since last July, when I started taking guitar lessons weekly, my synthesizer has gotten less attention, but I recently got into using the synth as an oversized effects pedal, which is how this piece came about.

All of which is to say, I’m writing this evening to thank Branciforte for the great pleasure his piece — that is, his piece and my piece in tandem — has brought me. There is a misunderstanding that music critics are frustrated musicians. I’m in no way a frustrated musician. I have such low expectations for what I might accomplish musically, that learning guitar and synthesizer is just as sequence of pleasurable discoveries fed by curiosity and reinforced by the steady pace of practice.

As I write this, there are already 21 tracks by almost as many musicians in the 0316 Junto, “El Segundo,” some others of which have also built on my “Fever Pitch.” I’m just beginning to work my way through the accumulating duets, and listening for the space they leave for what will soon be trios.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/joseph-branciforte. More from Joseph Branciforte, who is based in Brooklyn, New York, at josephbranciforte.com, twitter.com/josbranciforte, YouTube, and instagram.com/josephbranciforte.

Also tagged , , , / / Comments: 3 ]

“Fever Pitch”

A guitar + modular track I recorded today for Weekly Beats and the Disquiet Junto

For the second week in a row, I’ve participated in Weekly Beats. Whether I make it the remaining 50 is yet to be seen, but I’ve enjoyed it so far. Unlike the Disquiet Junto, the weekly music composition prompt series I’ve moderated since 2012, there is no set theme in Weekly Beats. There are optional themes, but the main idea is simply to encourage making music as a way to learn to make music, along with the support that comes from other people doing so at the same time, and commenting on each other’s work. (I also submitted it to the Disquiet Junto for this week’s project, which is to produce something that will become part of a trio co-composed asynchronously by other participants.)

My second Weekly Beats track is, like the first, an attempt to combine electric guitar and modular synthesizer. The glitchy under beat is a bit of trigger sequencer, along with the byproduct glitches inherent in the looper. The main guitar line is heard with various aspects of the audio spectrum being modulated by medium-paced LFOs, and being sent through the looper for additional effects, all echoes and stutter. And then at the end a snippet of a chord is sent through a different looper, providing a simulated tape-loop fade-out. There’s more going on, like the primary guitar line being put through a filter, but that’s the gist of it.

And here is a photo of the synthesizer patch employed in this piece:

Also tagged , , , / / Comments: 2 ]