Been a few days since the previous Buddha Machine Variation. The camera died, after it had stopped playing nice with audio. And I got a new, smaller synthesizer case (from Pulp Logic, who were super helpful with plotting it out). This is the first time I’ve ever used an expression pedal with my synth, thanks to one of the three tiles in the upper left corner of the box. (“Tiles” being a term for the shorter modules seen top and bottom here, above and below the ER-301 module.) Very simple little patch. Just a proof of concept. The tiny foot (well, hand) pedal is triggering the recording of a microloop (400 or so milliseconds) of the choral audio coming from the Philip Glass 80th-birthday edition of the Buddha Machine. The expression pedal is varying how much we’re hearing the inbound Glass loop, and how much we’re hearing the microloop. If you’re wondering where the Buddha Machine is sending its audio into the synth, there are jacks in the side of the case itself.
For further patch-documentation purposes, here are two shots of the synthesizer:
A lot of YouTube videos of music (in contrast with “music videos,” a term that brings to mind a dramatized or play-along format, à la classic-era MTV) focus on specific instruments. These can feel salesy, and given the prevalence of affiliate links might even be salesy, but many of them are simply evidence of musicians focused on their tools. Some are about trying out new things, while others are about dedication to a thing. Many of the musicians who make these videos are experts in their craft, and their videos are the études of streaming life. Such is the work of Amulets (aka Randall Taylor), whose tool of choice is the tape loop. He is a prolific utilizer of loops, and an activist in promoting their utility (his how-to video is approaching 150,000 views). His latest, posted this morning, is a timely one, a roughly nine-second loop, seen rotating in plain view, as a warped vocal goes round and round. The table on which the player-recorder rests is festooned with the little plastic reels of past and, no doubt, future experiments. In a brief accompanying note, Taylor connects the maudlin yet beautiful sound to our current circumstances:
I just had this super simple video idea and decided to make it in quarantine. It’s really nothing more than a repeating tape loop, but I think it’s definitely a reflection of the monotony of quarantine life and our daily existence. These days are on loop and no one really knows when its going to end…
This was an experiment in exploring the device as a whole: not just as a set of loops contained in one object, but the sequence of those loops, and the way the loops progress as a result of the object’s design. All the previous Buddha Machine Variations to date have involved one loop per machine. Here the multiple loops of such a device, one from the second-generation of Buddha Machines, are heard not just in sequence, but in overlapping sequences. They’re considered as a suite.
There are three subsets of whatever loop is playing at a given time. Each is a subloop: one three seconds, one four seconds, one five (in the ER-301 module, using the Feedback Looper unit). Each of the subloops is extracted from a different narrow band of the audio spectrum (via the FDXf module). As the piece proceeds, the button on the side of the Buddha Machine is clicked. One or more of the subloops begins recording the new audio almost immediately, but there is some time before the preceding loop is entirely eradicated. At the very end, the audio cable is pulled out of the Buddha Machine, and eventually all the subloops give way to silence. (This was less sudden when rehearsed, but it works OK here. I’ll be trying this all again with a slightly different approach.)
For further patch-documentation purposes, here is a shot of the synthesizer:
One loop from the fifth generation Buddha Machine, little snatches of it glitching out in a semblance of correlation. At first all that’s heard is the unaltered audio of the source loop. That’s the fifth channel of the mixer (lavender cable). And then one by one, the first through fourth channels of the mixer are introduced. Each is set on a mico-looping procedure of the source loop, varying individually between roughly 100 and 300 milliseconds. They are each set to record over whatever was there before, meaning sometimes there will be silences. And finally, once the main source audio is turned off in the mix (at 1:45), all that is heard is this combination of microloops.
If you’re familiar with the ER-301 module, here’s some additional detail: The unit being used is the Feedback Looper. There are four of these running individually. Each is taking a square wave from the Batumi as its on/off switch to record. In addition, each is taking the next channel’s on/off as its trigger to (un)engage (the fourth channel looks to the first channel, squaring the circle).
That runs for quite awhile, and then at 2:55 the relative pace of the four square waves are altered. This has an impact on when the individual loopers are triggered, and then at 3:09 the Batumi is switched from “free” mode to “quad,” and the levers adjusted further.
For further patch-documentation purposes, here is a shot of the synthesizer:
One loop from the first generation of the Buddha Machine, which turns 15 years old in 2020. The loop ends up with three variants in the mixer, channels one, two, and five. The fifth channel (lavender cable) is just the straight audio out of the Buddha Machine (a little noisier than usual, perhaps because the batteries were going). The first channel is the output of the Muxlicer, which switches between eight variants on the audio: six are spectral bands (from the FXDf), and two are channels of the granular synth (the position of which, in the Smog, is shifting regularly). The Muxlicer is going at a steady pace (clocked by the Dixie II, starting when the Muxlicer’s switch is flipped at :28), but the sequence is random thanks to an inbound sine wave (from the Batumi). The second channel, which kicks in at 3:24, is a tiny fragment of a loop that is constantly being overwritten, and it’s set off from the Muxlicer’s beat by a slight, almost half-second delay, which at first gives the contrast a sing-song quality, but eventually disappears as the amassed swell occludes virtually everything. And that’s about it, except that at 4:25 a slow wave is introduced to gently alter the volume of the original, channel-five track.
For further patch-documentation purposes, here two shots of the synthesizer:
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
• February 5, 2020: The first session of the 15-week course I teach at the Academy of Art about the role of sound in the media landscape.
• April 15, 2020: A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming 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.)
• December 13, 2020: This day marks the 24th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2021: This day marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming 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.
• At least two live group concerts by Disquiet Junto members in the San Francisco Bay Area are in the works for 2020.
• I have liner notes for a musician's solo album and an essay in a book about an art event due out. I'll announce as the release dates come into focus.
• 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.
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.
• 0438 / Deep Plan / The Assignment: Compose a piece of music in which something special is situated at the very center.
• 0437 / Echo Relocation / The Assignment: Record someone else's field recording of their environment playing within your own.
• 0436 / Planetary Headspace / The Assignment: Share a recording of your local environment to create a communal soundscape.
• 0435 / Woodshed Report / Share something you've been working on (and respond to what others post).
• 0434 / Beat Kit / The Assignment: Create music with beats crafted by fellow Junto participants.