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tag: studio journal

Studio Journal: “The Body Pneumatic”

Usually when I use my iPad as part of the process, it’s just that: part of the process, creating something that I then employ in another context (like a sample for my modular synth), or processing something external (such as my electric guitar). This time, I wanted to do something where the iPad was the beginning as well as the end of the process, and everything in between, all the way through uploading the finished recording to SoundCloud.

The short version of the process: I recorded my breath (something closer to a breathy vowel), then cut it up into slivers, then enacted some alterations on those individual slivers, then triggered them, then recorded a second variation triggered differently, then combined the two tracks by overlaying them, and then uploaded.

This is part of the current Disquiet Junto project (number 0384), in which we find rhythmic material in our breathing. When working with the sample-triggering, I set the pace of this to 60bpm, which is sort of my happy pace. I didn’t think of the start of each breath as the pace, but instead various moments within the breath.

For more detail, here are the iPad apps I used: I recorded the breathy vowel into AudioShare. It took several tries to get the quality I was looking for. The iPad’s microphone turned most of the initial breath attempts into harshly serrated white noise, which is when I added a vowel/hum quality to the breath, and that took the edge off it. I transferred the sample from AudioShare to ReSlice, and then I used ReSlice to break it down into evenly divided segments, and then changed the attack, decay, and release on those slices, in order that each had a unique quality (I also set two of them to play in reverse).

I used the Autony app to trigger the slices in ReSlice for one track, and then added more randomness within Autony to a second round of triggers, yielding a second track of equal length. I could have done those two tracks separately and added them together after the fact, but I wanted to hear what they sounded like together, so I did this all in the AUM app. When I was happy with the balance between the two Autony-triggered ReSlices, I transferred the two lines to the Cubasis 2 app, then used the mixdown tool within Cubasis to output a finished mix. Then I sent that back to AudioShare, and used AudioShare to upload to my SoundCloud account.

More on this 384th weekly Disquiet Junto project — Breath Beat / The Assignment: Explore breath as a resource for rhythm — at:

disquiet.com/0384/

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here:

tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co:

llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-pr…t-0384-breath-beat/

There’s also on a Junto Slack. Send your email address to twitter.com/disquiet for Slack inclusion.

Image associated with this project adapted (cropped, colors changed, text added, cut’n’paste) thanks to a Creative Commons license from a photo credited to Victor Morell Perez:

flic.kr/p/4M5zUQ

creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

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Synth Learning: Muxlicer Piano (First Patch)

A first go with a new tool

This is my first patch with a new module, a device from the manufacturer Befaco called the Muxplicer. It is capable of many things involving slicing up an incoming signal and effecting changes upon it, such as triggering all sorts of percussive cues. In this case what’s happening is a sample of an electric piano is being triggered every eight beats, and then for each of those beats (pulses, really) various things occur. In most of the cases it’s a matter of the volume level shifting, but in two cases (that is, on two of the pulses) some heavy reverb is put upon it. In addition, a sliver of of the signal is being sampled and replayed in a glitch manner at a lower volume. (Technically the first slice was the same patch processing live guitar chords, but I decided to use a sample playback on this initial round.)

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Synth Learning: Distant Train Vapor Trail Fragments

Reworking a Wyoming field recording

This is a single field recording of a train horn (source below) being warped simultaneously in various ways by my modular synthesizer. One strand is going through a reverb, another through granular synthesis, another through a lo-fi looper, and another through a spectral filter, and then there’s the unadulterated line, and all of those are being warped or tweaked themselves. The shape of the overall sound, for example, is affecting the density of the granular synthesis. Various LFOs are adjusting the relative prominence of different elements, and other aspects such as the size of the reverb.

The source audio is from freesound.org. It is a distant train horn recorded by Andy Brannan in Wyoming.

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Guitar + Synth Learning: Ultomaton Software

This is a quick, initial attempt on my part with a new piece of software called Ultomaton. The name is a play on the word “automaton” because the software employs Conway’s Game of Life, the famed “cellular automation” simulation, as a source of triggers and other controls, such as volume and place in the stereo spectrum, for all manner of sonic processes. These effects include stutter, backwards audio, looping, and granular synthesis, several of which are heard in this test run.

What I’m playing on electric guitar as the source audio is the first of the 120 right-hand exercises by composer Mauro Giuliani (1781 – 1829). I’ve been working my way through these exercises for the past few weeks, and sometimes experimenting with ways to make practice even more enjoyable, such as prerecording the chords to supply accompaniment. The real-time processing of Ultomaton provides accompaniment as I play, built from the very things I am playing at that moment. The accompanying screenshot shows the Ultomaton controls as they were set for this recording.

The electric guitar went into the laptop, a Macbook Air (2013), via a Scarlett audio interface. After recorded, the audio was cleaned up in Adobe Audition: volume increased, bit of reverb added, and fade-in/fade-out implemented.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/disquiet. The Ultomaton software is the work of Benjamin Van Esser, who is based in Brussels, Belgium. The software is free at github.com/benjaminvanesser. More information at benjaminvanesser.be.

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The Module’s Underbelly

The wriggly life of synthesizer printed circuit boards

Yesterday I said goodbye to another synthesizer module. I packed it up into a box and now it is on its way to the interior of Japan, where a new owner will nestle it into a new rig and where it will make new sounds in a new context, amid a new set of modules. I bought this module used from Toronto. I don’t know where it was before that.

Many modules will emit some sort of sound on their own if you push them hard enough — well, almost all still need to be connected to a speaker somehow — but almost all modules are intended for use with other modules, as a local network passing audio as well as commands in the form of electricity. When a module is in the rig, its innards go out of view. I often joke I wish I had a Lucite case for my modular synthesizer, so those innards, the close stacks of printed circuit boards (PCBs), were always available to be pored over. Part of the joke is I can’t stand Lucite, but the real impossibility of the joke is that a rack’s power supply, interior wiring, and structural support would occlude even the most transparent of synth boxes. Once a module is installed, its underbelly is disguised by a faceplate, knobs, and jacks.

Some of those synthesizer PCBs are wildly colored and arcanely inscribed, while others are as generic as the materials that allow your microwave to heat popcorn. Much of this is purely aesthetic, but aesthetics mean something. If the utilitarian appearance of one speaks of a company’s goal to reduce costs and perhaps a mission to make widely available what was once lavishly expensive, the filigrees of another’s speak of the whimsy, the fantasy, at the organization’s — often, an individual creator’s — heart. I’ve wondered about the intentionality and readability of these visual characteristics previously (at length — see my article “Is the Printed Circuit Board a Form of Musical Notation” at NewMusicBox) — and the upturned module reminded me of just how much I still have to learn.

This module in my hand is of a fairly homebrew variety. It is from the Ieaskul F. Mobenthey family, designed by the inventive Peter Blasser. Some are made by Blasser himself, while others are built in synth workshops that he runs, like some PCB Johnny Appleseed. The module goes by the name Fourses, because it is designed around a quartet of oscillators, the circuits that produce the frequencies we experience as sound.

Before I mailed off this module, I did what I always do during a sale. I investigated it for any shortcomings. What struck my eye were the paramecium-like formations of this tiny machine’s even tinier components. A chip resembles a little bug under most circumstances, but the asymmetrical, angled gang here have the look of things scurrying intently. Exposing the underbelly of the module felt like pulling a rock from a garden and exposing all sorts of wriggly life. The relative sizes and shapes of these things, how they’re all nestled together as part of coherent integration, suggest the presence an ecosystem. And the lines seen in the green of the board, often committed with rectilinear certainty, here have a topological quality, the squiggles of a mapmaker making sketches of new territory — territory explored subsequently by the people who, over time, invite the module into their sonic world.

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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    December 13, 2021: This day marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
    December 28, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    January 6, 2021: This day marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.

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    July 28, 2021: This day marked the 500th consecutive weekly project in the Disquiet Junto music community.
    There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
    A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)

  • Ongoing
    The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.

  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

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  • Background
    Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.

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  • 0512 / The Sequel / The Assignment: Record a piece of music that follows up a preexisting piece of music.
    0511 / Freeze Tag / The Assignment: Consider freezing (and thawing) as a metaphor for music production.
    0510 / Cold Turkey / The Assignment: Record one last track with a piece of music equipment before passing it on.
    0509 / The Long Detail / The Assignment: Create a piece of music with moments from a preexisting track.
    0508 / Germane Shepard / The Assignment: Use the Shepard tone to create a piece of music.

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