This next soundscape in Episode 004 is a 20 minute long soundscape. One thing I love about the podcast format is I can present these longer form works that you can listen to as you go about your day. If you need to pause the show, you can pick up where you left off.
It's been quite a while since I've posted on Modulate This! - but I've been working on a major project that I'm happy to announce today.
For years and years I've wanted to launch a podcast featuring my original works. I'm excited to announce the day has come and I've launched Sonic Encounters: Soundscapse from the Sounds Around Us. Through the podcast I'll be bringing you original compositions and improvisations.
A Bandcamp exclusive with high-quality download in MP3, FLAC... includes digital booklet PDF containing 16 pages of liner notes, photos, and graphical score.
I'm super excited to announce my new album Marooned is now available. This soundscape is in the same universe and is a prequel to my alien invasion concept album series Reboot, I Hear Your Signals, and Fear Cannot Save Us. Unlike the first three albums which contained shorter composed and often groove-based songs, this album contains a single long-form recording combining electronic tonalities and abstract expressionist music. See detailed description below. Watch for future posts on the making of Marooned.
Marooned is an original cinematic electronic soundscape. I think of it as a score for a film yet to be made. An Earth ship crashes on a massive moon and the only hope for the crew's survival is making it across a harsh landscape to an alien outpost for a first, and uninvited, encounter.
This work is an example of live sonic storytelling and was recorded in one pass (with no prerecorded sequences, overdubs, or edits) after weeks of improvising and rehearsal.
Instrumentation: 90% Nord Lead 4 Synthesizer (performance instrument with all original signature sounds), 5% Octatrack (performance sampler for original field recordings/samples and on-the-fly sequencing), and 5% Tenori-On (performance instrument and on-the-fly sequencing).
Back on March 7th I presented a workshop in Boulder called "Intro to Patching Virtual Modular Synths". I thought I'd pass along a concept from this workshop that might save you money as well as inspire you to start down the path of modular and semi-modular sound design with your existing rig.
Many of you already have modular and semi-modular synths but don't necessarily view your current rig with this lens. To illustrate this idea I came up with the following thought experiment.
I've spent a lot of time doing sound design on the Waldorf Blofeld. It's not one knob per function, but does have a nice display with interactive feedback on sound design elements. It's also semi-modular. After some dedicated use with instruments like this and more complex plugins, you start holding the architecture in your head. As a thought experiment I thought it would be interesting to pull apart the modules used in a Blofeld preset and rack them up as if they were in a hardware rack - then draw patch cables that represent what is really going on with the preset and signal path.
I also own Waldorf Largo which is very similar to the Blofeld (see this post and mindmap Waldorf Largo vs Blofeld). This being the case, to save time, I took screen shots of the Largo and then laid them out in a "case".
Here is the closeup.
Using the matrix in Blofeld, or just about any other instrument that has a robust modulation matrix, you can override the default signal flow and - voila - you realize you have a modular or semi-modular hidden in plain sight within your rig :^)
To illustrate some of the sonic range you can get with an instrument like Largo/Blofeld when you take advantage of the mod matrix to add real-time expression here is horror soundtrack I produced solely using Largo in one real-time improvised pass.
When you are alone in the dark your mind will play tricks.
Over the last year I've been spending time listening to the tone. harmonics, overtones, and distortion created by expressive electric guitar greats like David Gilmour. "Alone in the Dark" is my exploration of expressive manipulation of harmonics and distortion with a single synthesizer patch custom programmed. As a result you'll hear me go beyond the sonic range of guitars into the sub-harmonic realm.
Another awesome synth you might not have considered as semi-modular is Native Instruments Absynth. All along it's signal path you can use the edit button to swap in a huge variety of modules overriding the default module for each slot.
You can even swap modules within modules. For example, if you select a filter type that supports feedback, you can swap in a wave shaper, frequency shifter, or ring modulator.
BTW - Manipulating the audio in the feedback of the filter is a great way to add non-linear results to sounds that would normally be in the realm of unstable analog circuits.
A sound design experiment showing the darker virtual analog modelling side of Absynth (no samples here) to illustrate Absynth's range beyond the typical motion pad :^) This piece is an improvisation using an original preset patched with two oscillator in single mode and two Filters with feedback. I'm using waveshaping feedback mode and modulating filters and resonance with envelopes which creates the sonic movement as the envelopes play out.
Another great and affordable choice if you want the vibe of working with patch cables is U-HE ACE. It's only around $80, sounds fantastic, has a very good manual, has a great set of free YouTube tutorial videos and recipes produced by U-HE, and is way more than the sum of it's parts.
It's a great learning and teaching instrument and using ACE will help you wrap your head around modular sound design recipes. Working with ACE could help you make better decisions about what you might want in a hardware system.
Of course this is a partial list of what's available. Pop the hood on some of your favorite virtual instruments - or put a new lens on the way you look at your existing hardware. Perhaps you'll find some modular and semi-modular joy in what you already have.
I hope this post inspires you to use what you've got and/or helps save you time in money when considering choices in the hardware realm. Happy patching!
Like so many of us, my first interface for synthesis was akeyboard. I grew up playing organ, then gigged 100s of shows playing synth keys in an alt-rock band in a past lifetime.
Five years ago when I was designing a studio and performance rig for my original albums and shows, I started embracing a wide variety of controllers such as gesture-based infrared Percussa AudioCubes, as well as grids such as Tenori-On, and Launchpad. Over the past year-and-a-half, I've been playing the Ableton Push - like a lot. I'm hooked on the isomorphic note mode and I really love the feel and response of the pads.
The isomorphic nature of the Push encourages you to hold your hand in certain shapes when playing in note mode. The pad response also encourages you to vary the tension in your hand in ways that are just different from what you are used to on keys. If your hand is very tense your fingers and hands bounce of the pads with much more force than on a synth action or piano keyboard.
After months of mostly playing on the Push I started working on a new long-form piece on the Nord ad 4. The Nord Lead 4 has the lightest synth keyboard action of any keyboard I've ever owned. I really love it. As I was riffing out and experimenting with new ideas I noticed my hand position was different. I was using a more clutching rigid hand position with more tension in my hand just out of habit from playing chords and doing melodic work on Push. I started to run with this idea and started playing they keys more like a push. I've come up with all sorts of new chops as a result.
I have spent over five years jumping from controller to controller. So what's different this time? It was the dedication to the Push for months - and break from keys that allowed me to form a different habit, and also create a gap where the other technique wasn't used and lose a bit of the old habit in the short-term.
Like the old saying "travel expands the mind" - travelling to the Push, then coming back to keys has expanded my chops on the keyboard.
Time for a trip. Where can you travel "instrument-wise" to expand your chops?
"Dedication" has been my watchword for the last few years. I've spent 100s of hours working with a small set of instruments - Octatrack, Nord Lead 4, Ableton Push, and Absynth.
The payoff is when you transcend the technology you can make and change sonic decisions in real-time and focus on making music and live in the moment. It also allows you to make deeper connections to the music and other artists when collaborating and in ensemble situations. Another payoff when you deepen your relationship with your instrument is that you end up building a signature vocabulary of chops and sounds.
While this might seem obvious, I'm making a point of stating all this here as a nudge. In the world of electronic music it's easy to get caught up in solving creative issues by buying more gear or more sound sets. The alternative path of dedication to a small number of instruments will get your further down the road of your unique artist journey.
As you build up your chops and "voice" through your instruments odds are you'll also be invited to collaborate more - which again pushes your craft. It all comes full circle.
Performing in a collaboration at the Asheville Electro-Music festival 2014 with 16-MCollaboration with Sally Sparks, Bill Fox, Mark Moheny (photoby Adam-Holquist).
The instruments you pick almost don't matter - although - I do recommend instruments with depth that will reward your dedication. My personal picks of Octatrack and Nord Lead 4 allwed me to recapture the notion of a hardware "trinity" (synth, sampler, drum machine) with morphing expression. Push turns all of Live into a massive modular backpackable (a big pack mind you) environment with almost no mousing. Absynth allows me to do very complex sound design and shaping. You'll also notice my picks are all quite complimentary. They offer a variety of experiences depending on the situation and my mood.