It’s time to reinvent the graphical score. With musical practice more international, more broad and varied than ever, and electronics in the mix, conventional notational idioms just aren’t enough.
For curator and prolific electronic producer Hanno Leichtmann, the starting point was a collection of vintage Letraset and Letratone type, as pictured above. Leichtmann, a graphic designer himself (and maker of beautiful record covers), is passionate about digital and ink-based design processes alike; even the posters for the event are exquisitely (and expensively) hand-produced. He then invited a who’s who of illustrators and graphic designers from Germany, Austria, France, Great Britain, and Argentina, Dennis Busch, Angela Lorenz, Philip Marshall, Caro Mikalef, Till Sperrle and Damien Tran.
Next step: “marry” them to collaborators, turning to boundary-pushing musical artists Thomas Ankersmit, Cavern Of Anti-Matter, Jan Jelinek & Masayoshi Fujita, Andrea Neumann, Martin Brandlmayr, and The Pitch. (Robert Lippok also DJs.)
With acoustic and electronic ensembles alike, the resulting graphic scores will be creatively reinterpreted by the musicians, for a whopping six world premieres over just two evenings. Audience members are invited to catch drinks and look through the “action scores” in a lounge.
If you’re in Berlin, the event is tonight and tomorrow night – and very affordable – at RadialSystem, and I hear tickets are still available at the door. (Day one and day two are each on Facebook; read more info from host Digital in Berlin or (auf Deutsch) bln.fm. If you’re – more likely – in the rest of the world, though, I think it’s still worth checking out the music, before and after the event.
What’s striking about the re-imagination of musical scores is the range of possibility, a sort of second renaissance emerging of graphical possibilities in the post-digital era. The event credits early pioneers in post-War graphic notation Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, John Cage, and Karl-Heinz Stockhausen. But Berlin today is a kind of melting pot of visual and musical possibility, home to the likes of label Raster Noton where visual art and music are commonly intermingled and blurred. If those earlier artists expanded the spectrum of possibility with a radical reinvention of the strict, engraved score, today digital technology and printmaking alike exploit that full spectrum.
In fact, perhaps we are finally recovering from a drastic step backward brought by the computer, which tended to favor convenience over choice. There’s no polite way to say this: the most popular notation products are simply dreadful at handling non-conventional notation, requiring elaborate gymnastics for even some more common contemporary notational techniques.
But the beautifully-named Letra / Tone doesn’t simply drop artists into graphic scores. It celebrates, too, the scores as art objects and the craft and design history that made them. No mere abstractions, the very technique of print making and connection to physical process are restored to greatness, perhaps an attempt to undo the injustice done by computers to hand-made scores and engraving tradition.
The name itself is a reference to the history of handmade design, one many young artists are rediscovering:
Letraset was a company and brand name that manufactured sheets of dry transferable typefaces before the proliferation of computers. Up until the 1980s, these were widely used by graphic designers as well as by engineers, for whom Letraset was a convenient way of applying type to surfaces.
In addition to letters in various fonts and sizes, sheets with graphic elements (Letratone) were available. The latter is the namesake of the festival and contains both the graphical (LETRA) and the musical (TONE) in its name.
Teaser for the event:
Via SoundCloud, the event has compiled a must-hear playlist of the artists, gorgeous and delicate explorations of sound and form:
Also check out and old-but-still-relevant interview with Thomas Ankersmit, whose work I particularly anticipate.
Hanno’s own music is I think a nice touch point for the event, displaying his keenly-focused aesthetic sense, but also his fascination with pattern and design. The music itself, in his most recently-released “minimal studies,” sounds like the patterns on the Letraset sheets, a hypnotic tapestry of lines and space.
Thomas Ankersmit makes sounds that seem otherworldly, from perhaps a distant past or a distant future, like the mystical ceremony of sound he conducted in an abandoned seaplane hangar in Tallinn, Estonia. For all the potential of electronics, the saxophone itself is transformed into an alien instrument in the composer’s own hands. With lapping waves, it sounds like the mournful music we would make after the worlds end and the seas rise.
Jan Jelinek is capable of eerily-beautiful textures, too; a 2010 collaboration with Masayoshi Fujita sways in meditational stasis:
I hope, quite frankly, it’s an idea people steal ruthlessly and reinvent. Certainly, programming graphical music together – whether scores are made with paint or pixels – is an opportunity to provide a window into graphic object and musical result, both.
And apart from the live, meat-space events, I imagine I’ll be devoted to listening to these artists on repeat for the next days.
The post Pattern and Design: A 2-Day Festival Turns Vintage Type into Musical Scores appeared first on Create Digital Music.
It’s probably the greeting I’ve heard most in the past couple of months, apart from “Hello.”
Sometimes even before “Hello.”
Everywhere I go, people are asking me what I think of the Roland AIRAs – particularly the TR-8 drum machine.
There are now reviews everywhere of the AIRA TB-3 and TR-8 (and some of the VT-3, as well). For CDM, we’re planning some additional detail, but we’re still awaiting our review hardware. Fortunately, I got to spend an action-packed day with the trio of AIRAs with Benjamin Weiss.
So, I can do what I’d do in a bar: I can tell you all the really important details and skip straight to what I think of these (at least while we wait to do more exhaustive, detailed coverage).
Benjamin and I even finished an all-AIRA track for our NERKKIRN project. Well, nearly all-AIRA – the sound sources are exclusively AIRA TB-3, TR-8, and VT-3 with my voice. Here’s what sounds came out (teaser):
Having a day to mess with these is actually rather a great way to test the gear. You’re left with a fairly immediate impression.
The TR-8 is a killer live machine, and all about hands-on control. Does it sound like a 909 or 808? Absolutely. It’s not a perfect replica of a vintage machine, in part because individual vintage gear will differ and age. But it’s certainly darned close, and a terrific value for money. There’s a reason people are talking about getting rid of their original and replacing it with this. I doubt anyone would fault the sound; mostly what you lose is the appearance of the originals (and the accompanying street cred).
I’m not convinced that getting into the discussion of realism is really the point, though. In fact, more likely the reason not to buy a TR-8 is that you may be bored with the sound of an 808 and 909. Assuming you do want those sounds, though, this is an ideal way to get it, precisely because it’s hands-on. Sure, you could use a sample library and there are even nice drum controllers out there. But those options likely won’t give you perfect one-to-one parameter control – or faders.
And that’s why I say, I think the TR-8 is a live machine. It’s reasonably mobile, about the size of a laptop. And since it can double as an audio interface and MIDI interface, you can drop one piece of gear from your bag.
That’s not to say it isn’t also a nice studio machine (see the video below, via Synthtopia). But I think in the studio, it’s “nice to have” – in live use, for those who rely heavily on 808/909 sounds, it becomes a must-have. You just might want to think about adding an external effects box, and see the workaround for the absence of some internal recording features.
Unboxing and details on integrating with a DAW (as we finished a track in an afternoon, yes, they do work as studio boxes):
And for sound samples, we turn again to Benjamin and De:bug. First, the raw sound of the TR-8. I’m surprised some people were unimpressed with these sounds, but I think that’s for two reasons: one, it isn’t a blind test if you have a listen, and two, it is uncommonly dry. Remember, most people wouldn’t use an 808 or 909 entirely dry, either.
The effects section I think is not the strongest part of the TR-8, but the reverb and delay definitely get the job done. Here’s the reverb, delay, Scatter, and otherwise a raw recording:
The TB-3 is like getting a sequencer – with a free bassline, built in. If the TR-8 is great because it has lots of physical controls for its parameters, the TB-3 is sort of the opposite. It’s basically a preset machine. Dial in sounds, and see what you get. Of course, you can still access most of the sounds you’d produce anyway, but normally I advocate synth hardware precisely for its hands-on controls. Even the effects on the TB-3 are preset-specific: sometimes Scatter is a glitch, sometimes a delay, sometimes a reverb.
But then you add the touchscreen. The TB-3 is a bit like the KAOSS Pad sequencer KORG never made. Sequencing is wildly intuitive and loads of fun. Then, you can switch the X/Y pad to performance mode and use it to modulate effects. Best of all, this all works with external gear. SLIDE/TIE doesn’t transmit MIDI, unfortunately, and can’t be recorded live, only in step mode. But this is still a flexible touch sequencer at a price where there just isn’t much competition. It’s a bit like getting the synth for free.
I have to admit, with my own money, I’d buy a TB-3 first. And oh, yeah, this combo is really a lot of fun.
The VT-3 is sort of the odd man out. The artist Mijk van Dijk, who was a heavy user of all the original Roland gear, tells me he really likes this box, and he bought it with the other two. For him, it seems to bring fond memories of the VT-1. I just found the box limiting: you have fixed presets, and I can’t say I was a fan of them. Basic formant and auto-pitch work well enough, and you might use the synth parts, but why not add useful effects? Why are the controls so limited? Why are all but a few of the presets unusable novelties and throwaways?
I’d wait on this one and hope the AIRA adds an effect more worthy of the other two units. (A Space Designer was seen on the test bench in early AIRA promo videos, for instance, so Roland could have – and hopefully yet will – go another direction.) Or, frankly, right now, I’d buy a BOSS – you know, from Roland.
Bottom line: They’re really nice boxes. Talking about authenticity is a waste of time; they sound great. It’s really more whether you want 808/909 sounds (or whatever might be added via firmware) for the TR-8. On the TB-3, the sequencer plus some nice 303 sounds make for a wonderful buy, and I’m surprised that hasn’t gotten more attention. The VT-3 will probably work for someone, but to me it doesn’t live up to the Roland and BOSS names, so I’m hoping we see another effect in the lineup soon.
It’s been fun to watch people use these live over the past weeks, too; from Roland demos to artists getting them in-hand. Hardware endures because it’s really fun to play things with these kinds of controls.
We’ll revisit this in greater detail once we see the hardware; I hope we can use the extra time we’ve had to go into more specifics of functionality than some of the earlier reviews may have been able to do. And Roland has promised us a review unit of the System-1 synth. It’s still not entirely complete, which means any “reviews” you’ve seen were based on unfinished hardware. Having had a play at Musikmesse, I can at least say the existing synth model on there is something new. It’s beautifully compact, though the omission of velocity sensitivity from the keyboard is puzzling (if historically accurate). It’s really the details of the “Plug-Out” SH-101 model that may be most interesting, and that we haven’t heard yet. Stay tuned.
The post One Day, One Track, 3 Roland AIRAs: How They Sound, Would We Buy Them? appeared first on Create Digital Music.
Don’t call it a comeback. Hardware step sequencing is becoming the must-have accessory for even computer users.
And the boutique Digital Warrior controller, which neatly combines knobs with colored pads, is a great solution. I’ve been messing about with the Arturia BeatStep, as well – review coming – but the Digital Warrior has some tricks of its own. It integrates nicely with Traktor, like the still-forthcoming MIDI Fighter Twist from DJ TechTools. But the reason I wouldn’t buy or recommend the DJTT piece is – no MIDI DIN connector. And that spoils the fun.
Here, the Digital Warrior is comfortable not only integrating with your computer but with MIDI gear, as well. Note the cable making its way into the volca beats. And the volca beats I think has become most popular of the volcas with good reason: the touch strip at the bottom is ideal for quick sequencing. Some of the sounds I think are better than others, but it does have a grungy and unique sound, aided by the PCM and grain controls. And, crucially, the bass drum is deep. (I remain interested to hear what Akai’s rival Rhythm Wolf will sound like, though the tiny size of the volca is perfect when you’re cramming a live rig into cramped quarters, which always seems to happen onstage – hey, half a meter square is enough for you, right?)
You can output MIDI clock (as with volca beats), or use the MIDI port as MIDI thru, turning the box into a proper MIDI interface.
Bottom line: whether working in something like Ableton or Traktor, you can layer hardware step sequences over top so that you actually have something to play (rather than waving your arms around while some scenes or tracks play automatically – bah).
Digital Warrior a compact open source Traktor Remix deck sequencer and MIDI Controller. Sequencing Korg Volca Beats through the on-board MIDI out connector.
More video: here’s the box driving Bitwig Studio – and did I mention I really like how Tomash, the creator, plays?
The post Quick Jam: Digital Warrior, Open Source Step Sequencer, Plus KORG volca beats and Bitwig appeared first on Create Digital Music.
In the previous tutorial we looked at recording instruments at the more classical end of the spectrum. Looked at from one point of view, recording a jazz session player is not dissimilar—choosing a suitable location with the right microphone correctly placed will get the job done in exactly the same way.
But as we noted, classical musicians are usually highly trained at reading music, so they will most likely be looking for a notated part when they arrive for the session. Jazz musicians are, almost by definition, improvisers. This is what they do best. They may not even be able to read a notated part that well, if at all.
But if a talented jazz session player can connect to your track and the vibe is right for them, then watch out. You could be about to hear something awesome!
A confident session musician can give you what you’re looking for...
– David Sylvian
Know Your Player
For this reason, it really is worth choosing your player with care for the track you have in mind. Ask yourself; does the style of the piece you have in mind really suit the session player you are about to invite? Is the range right for the instrument, or will he or she struggle in that key?
Certain instruments are limited in that way; some harmonicas are keyed in C (for example) rather than fully chromatic; likewise certain types of whistles improvise better in some keys than others. Best to find out before they arrive, so check with your player or send them an MP3 of the track before you tie up the session details.
Here’s an example of a whistle improvising over a track in B major. Note the pitch bends towards the end of the piece; these can work well but depend on the whistle either being in the same key of the piece or a closely related key, since many are not fully chromatic.
For the saxophone there is a whole family of instruments to consider. The tenor, the alto and the soprano sax are all beautiful instruments to work with—I also recorded a baritone sax one time—but they differ quite a bit in the kinds of thing they do well. Many sax session players will own and play several, but some are known specialists in a particular instrument.
The soprano sax is the highest pitched of the family and has a smooth, sweet clear sound. It can be extremely agile when well played, but needs particularly careful intonation to keep perfect tuning. Here’s an MP3 of a soprano sax playing in a particularly laid back, chilled way that works well for the instrument:
The tenor has a darker, throatier and more aggressive sound that can create a more ‘full on’ vibe. Here’s the same backing track, but this time fronted with a tenor sax to give you an idea:
Using Samples to Suggest a Part
For jazz players, we know we’re not going to have to provide a notated part. And we’ve established that (a) they are generally good at improvising, and (b) we want to use their creativity to give a touch of class to our track. But what if you actually have a pretty clear idea in your mind what you want them to play?
One solution is to prepare a MIDI part using samples for them to hear. A well programmed part certainly can give a clear lead to the session player trying to understand what it is you want from them; it can point them in the right direction.
But here a word of caution might be in order: don’t fall too much in love with your own MIDI creation! After all; you asked someone into your studio to play for real, which is going to be light years more authentic sounding than anything you previously programmed. So just play your part once for guidance, remember to apologise for it, and then switch it off! We musicians are sensitive creatures and easily offended...
How Does It Sound in the Headphones?
OK. So now we’ll assume the session’s been set up and the talent has just arrived at your studio. To get the best out of your player, they absolutely have to be hearing the track through their headphones at its best. So do make sure you check their headphone mix to see that it sounds just right.
This can be a little tricky if they are in another room and their mix is coming from the AUX send of a mixing desk. With this kind of set-up, the control room sound you are hearing through the studio monitors won’t be the same as what they are hearing; you’ll need to take time to set up their mix separately.
Try soloing the AUX send on the desk while you build their mix; then go through and actually check their headphones as well for mix and volume until you’re satisfied they are hearing the right things.
Tip: If your mixer has this capability, send the headphone mix out on an AUX send that has a pre-fade option, and make sure all the pre-fade buttons are pressed on every channel. This way, you can change your own control room monitor mix any way you want without it affecting what the player is hearing.
They might not actually need all of the mix. A strong sense of groove (drums and bass) plus pitched information (keyboards or guitars) will probably be enough. You can leave the pads, string arrangement, or ‘icing on the cake stuff’ out for now. They may also need to hear more (or less) of their own instrument in the headphones. Ask for their opinion on this if they don’t volunteer this information themselves.
I have on rare occasions set the player up in the same room as me, in which case they will hear what I am hearing from my control room monitors. That makes things a whole lot easier, but the trade-off is a lot of track spill will get picked up through their microphone which can make mixing a bit tricky later. It can work if the volume is really low, but is definitely not my preferred option!
Quick, Hit the Record Button!
Your whole aim is to get the player comfortable and relaxed in the studio, so try to get all the technical stuff sorted out with the minimum of time and fuss—some of it preferably ahead of time. I know things don’t always go to plan. Mysterious hums and buzzes can suddenly appear from nowhere; or worse, the headphone amp goes down at precisely the wrong moment. But thankfully these are rare exceptions rather than the norm.
There’s a lot to think about aside from the headphone mix, of course. There are recording and compression levels to set, maybe a little EQing to do, and certainly your own monitor mix levels to sort out.
One thing I have learned to my cost though; it’s possible to be too fussy about these details and risk either tiring the player out, or worse, missing the best take which was the first time through!
As I write this I can hear myself saying, as I have done many times through the talkback button of my own studio mixer, ‘Can you just play it through one more time, while I get the technical stuff sorted?’ Moments later I am then asking myself why on earth I hadn’t pressed record straight away.
So get that record button pressed! These days, as soon as the player starts playing, I’m already recording so I don’t miss a thing.
After the Session Is Over
If it all went well and the session player has left for their next gig, then it’s time to congratulate yourself and take a break. (Did you pay them a decent amount for their time?) Hopefully you got a few different takes, so there are options on sections that could be cut together when you mix.
Live instruments can mix well with programmed samples, but there are a couple of very common issues that come up:
- Volume. Live instrument playing is often very dynamic so there’s a real contrast between the softer sections and more full on playing. Hopefully you used a little compression as you recorded just to try to contain the levels a bit, but there’s almost bound to be more required at the mix, which might need to be applied either generally or a section at a time.
- Tuning. If the headphone mix was good and the player warmed up thoroughly, then the tuning ought to be pretty spot on for most of it. But there might be the odd spot to fix; perhaps you couldn’t quite decide at the time whether to go for a re-take on a particular section? Both Melodyne and Auto-tune have instrument options; either is perfectly capable of ‘rescuing’ a section that didn’t quite come off at the time. I personally don’t like to overuse tuning correction software though; if it was great at the time then how will processing it more improve it later?
Finally, a quick word about click tracks. The presence of a click track keeping a steady tempo throughout the track can be of enormous help to the player, enabling them to keep time and count in their cue. But it’s surprising what the instinct of a talented player can conjure up without one!
Here’s an mp3 that features a drifting piano part in no particular tempo and with no click track given. The flute player in question came back at me with this beautiful part.
Note: All the music excerpts cited in this article form part of the authors portfolio on AudioJungle. Feel free to check them out and leave a rating!
Before triggering clips and samples on the computer, Pantha du Prince and The Bell Laboratory “trigger” the musicians.
Yes, before there were machine clips, there were human patterns, and in performing Terry Riley’s legendary classical new music composition “In C,” the ensemble has to do just that. In a beautiful chorus of chiming tones, that orchestra is augmented with digital embellishment.
The result makes for a live performance that expands the role of the computer into a large-scale instrumental ensemble, venturing into territory perhaps not as often associated with Ableton Live as genres like dance music are. But Ableton has lavished attention on electronic composer Pantha Du Prince and his ensemble in a series of videos that amount to a complete documentary on the work and how it was produced.
Pantha du Prince’s music has always shimmered with beautiful sounds, but here, percussion form an otherworldly realm of glittering rhythmic waves.
Ableton’s film begins with the artist side, and in fact less discussion of the gear. (I’ve heard people chattering about that lately, and pleasantly surprised that this isn’t an in-your-face promo video.)
Pantha Du Prince & The bell Laboratory, Centraltheater, Leipzig 2013
© R. Arnold/CT
Via the project’s Facebook page.
But let’s do a bit of gear spotting anyway, just to parse how the setup works. In the “cockpit” of Hendrik’s computer rig arrive feeds from all the instruments for sampling, looping, and effects, plus a couple of contact mics for adding close-miked sounds of hand percussion. These are routed through hardware effects (delay, reverb), and then sampled and looped in Ableton, which is in turn controlled by an APC and MPD hardware controller. The full rig:
Akai MPD32 pad controller
KORG Kaoss Pad Pro 3
Eventide Space Reverb
VERMONA PERfourMER mk II analog synth – maybe the most interesting piece of gear in that lineup, actually
But the real stars here are the acoustic instruments. Microphones bring you closer to the delicate sounds, but this is otherwise timbral design in the world of physical sound. I actually had the pleasure of wandering the Drum hall for a few minutes at Musikmesse with Dave Hill, Jr. of iZotope, himself a talented drummer (and Ableton veteran) – thanks for that, Dave. We spent some moments handling cymbals and talking about their design. Coming from the realms of code and electronics, there’s something comforting about discussing the hammering of metal (and at least I’m not entirely inexperienced there, having played in a gamelan ensemble for some years).
It’s actually my favorite video of the set – create acoustic music:
Here’s the music video for “Spectral Split” with The Bell Laboratory:
And the piece Photon:
And from four years ago, the artist talks to Rough Trade Records whilst touring Teufelsberg, the abandoned US listening installation in Berlin.
The post Learn How Pantha Du Prince Combines Acoustic Instruments with Ableton Live, In C appeared first on Create Digital Music.
Tony Andrews is a renowned soundsystem designer and the owner and founder of Funktion-One, perhaps dance music’s most famous soundsystem manufacturer. The company has influenced global electronic music in countless ways with its groundbreaking technology, superb sound quality, and enormous bass, but undoubtedly clubbers and DJs will know Funktion-One best from its giant stacks in the world’s top clubs, including Space Ibiza, Berghain, Output, and Trouw.