Jlin, Holly Herndon, and ‘Spawn’ find beauty in AI’s flaws

Musicians don’t just endure technology when it breaks. They embrace the broken. So it’s fitting that Holly Herndon’s team have produced a demonic spawn of machine learning algorithms – and that the results are wonderful.

The new music video for the Holly Herndon + Jlin collaboration have been making the rounds online, so you may have seen it already:


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But let’s talk about what’s going on here. Holly is continuing a long-running collaboration with producer Jlin, here joined by technologist Mat Dryhurst and coder Jules LaPlace. (The music video itself is directed by Daniel Costa Neves with software developer Leif Ryge, employing still more machine learning technique to merge the two artists’ faces.)

Machine learning processes are being explored in different media in parallel – characters and text, images, and sound, voice, and music. But the results can be all over the place. And ultimately, there are humans as the last stage. We judge the results of the algorithms, project our own desires and fears on what they produce, and imagine anthropomorphic intents and characteristics.

Sometimes errors like over-fitting then take on a personality all their own – even as mathematically sophisticated results fail to inspire.

But that’s not to say these reactions aren’t just as real. An part of may make the video “Godmother” compelling is not just the buzzword of AI, but the fact that it genuinely sounds different.

The software ‘Spawn,’ developed by Ryge working with the team, is a machine learning-powered encoder. Herndon and company have anthropomorphized that code in their description, but that itself is also fair – not least because the track is composed in such a way to suggest a distinct vocalist.

I love Holly’s poetic description below, but I think it’s also important to be precise about what we’re hearing. That is, we can talk about the evocative qualities of an oboe, but we should definitely still call an oboe an oboe.

So in this case, I confirmed with Dryhurst that what I was hearing. The analysis stage employs neural network style transfers – some links on that below, though LaPlace and the artists here did make their own special code brew. And then they merged that with a unique vocoder – the high-quality WORLD vocoder. That is, they feed a bunch of sounds into the encoder, and get some really wild results.

And all of that in turn makes heavy use of the unique qualities of Jlin’s voice, Holly’s own particular compositional approach and the arresting percussive take on these fragmented sounds, Matt’s technological sensibilities, LaPlace’s code, a whole lot of time spent on parameters and training and adaptation…

Forget automation in this instance. All of this involves more human input and more combined human effort that any conventionally produced track would.

Is it worth it? Well, aesthetically, you could make comparisons to artists like Autechre, but then you could do that with anything with mangled sample content in it. And on a literal level, the result is the equivalent of a mangled sample. The results retain recognizable spectral components of the original samples, and they add a whole bunch of sonic artifacts which sound (correctly, really) ‘digital’ and computer-based to our ears.

But it’s also worth noting that what you hear is particular to this vocoder technique and especially to audio texture synthesis and neutral network-based style transfer of sound. It’s a commentary on 2018 machine learning not just conceptually, but because what you hear sounds the way it does because of the state of that tech.

And that’s always been the spirit of music. The peculiar sound and behavior of a Theremin says a lot about how radios and circuits respond to a human presence. Vocoders have ultimately proven culturally significant for their aesthetic peculiarities even if their original intention was encoding speech. We respond to broken circuits and broken code on an emotional and cultural level, just as we do acoustic instruments.

In a blog post that’s now a couple of years old – ancient history in machine learning terms, perhaps – Dmitry Ulyanov and Vadim Lebedev acknowledged that some of the techniques they used for “audio texture synthesis and style transfer” used a technique intended for something else. And they implied that the results didn’t work – that they had “stylistic” interest more than functional ones.

Dmitry even calls this a partial failure: “I see a slow but consistent interest increase in music/audio by the community, for sure amazing things are just yet to come. I bet in 2017 already we will find a way to make WaveNet practical but my attempts failed so far :)”

Spoiler – that hasn’t really happened in 2017 or 2018. But “failure” to be practical isn’t necessarily a failure. The rising interest has been partly in producing strange results – again, recalling that the vocoder, Theremin, FM synthesis, and many other techniques evolved largely because musicians thought the sounds were cool.

But this also suggests that musicians may uniquely be able to cut through the hype around so-called AI techniques. And that’s important, because these techniques are assigned mystical powers, Wizard of Oz-style.

Big corporations can only hype machine learning when it seems to be magical. But musicians can hype up machine learning even when it breaks – and knowing how and when it breaks is more important than ever. Here’s Holly’s official statement on the release:

For the past two years, we have been building an ensemble in Berlin.

One member is a nascent machine intelligence we have named Spawn. She is being raised by listening to and learning from her parents, and those people close to us who come through our home or participate at our performances.

Spawn can already do quite a few wonderful things. ‘Godmother’ was generated from her listening to the artworks of her godmother Jlin, and attempting to reimagine them in her mother’s voice.

This piece of music was generated from silence with no samples, edits, or overdubs, and trained with the guidance of Spawn’s godfather Jules LaPlace.

In nurturing collaboration with the enhanced capacities of Spawn, I am able to create music with my voice that far surpass the physical limitations of my body.

Going through this process has brought about interesting questions about the future of music. The advent of sampling raised many concerns about the ethical use of material created by others, but the era of machine legible culture accelerates and abstracts that conversation. Simply through witnessing music, Spawn is already pretty good at learning to recreate signature composition styles or vocal characters, and will only get better, sufficient that anyone collaborating with her might be able to mimic the work of, or communicate through the voice of, another.

Are we to recoil from these developments, and place limitations on the ability for non-human entities like Spawn to witness things that we want to protect? Is permission-less mimicry the logical end point of a data-driven new musical ecosystem surgically tailored to give people more of what they like, with less and less emphasis on the provenance, or identity, of an idea? Or is there a more beautiful, symbiotic, path of machine/human collaboration, owing to the legacies of pioneers like George Lewis, that view these developments as an opportunity to reconsider who we are, and dream up new ways of creating and organizing accordingly.

I find something hopeful about the roughness of this piece of music. Amidst a lot of misleading AI hype, it communicates something honest about the state of this technology; it is still a baby. It is important to be cautious that we are not raising a monster.

– Holly Herndon

Some interesting code:
https://github.com/DmitryUlyanov/neural-style-audio-tf

https://github.com/JeremyCCHsu/Python-Wrapper-for-World-Vocoder

Go hear the music:

http://smarturl.it/Godmother

Previously, from the hacklab program I direct, talks and a performance lab with CTM Festival:

What culture, ritual will be like in the age of AI, as imagined by a Hacklab

A look at AI’s strange and dystopian future for art, music, and society

I also wrote about machine learning:

Minds, machines, and centralization: AI and music

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A haunting ambient sci-fi album about a message from Neptune

Latlaus Sky’s Pythian Drift is a gorgeous ambient concept album, the kind that’s easy to get lost in. The set-up: a probe discovered on Neptune in the 26th Century will communicate with just one woman back on Earth.

The Portland, Oregon-based artists write CDM to share the project, which is accompanied by this ghostly video (still at top). It’s the work of Ukrainian-born filmmaker Viktoria Haiboniuk (now also based in Portland), who composed it from three years’ worth of 120mm film images.

Taking in the album even before checking the artists’ perspective, I was struck by the sense of post-rocket age music about the cosmos. In this week when images of Mars’ surface spread as soon as they were received, a generation that grew up as the first native space-faring humans, space is no longer alien and unreachable, but present.

In slow-motion harmonies and long, aching textures, this seems to be cosmic music that sings of longing. It calls out past the Earth in hope of some answer.

The music is the work of duo Brett and Abby Larson. Brett explains his thinking behind this album:

This album has roots in my early years of visiting the observatory in Sunriver, Oregon with my Dad. Seeing the moons of Jupiter with my own eyes had a profound effect on my understanding of who and where I was. It slowly came to me that it would actually be possible to stand on those moons. The ice is real, it would hold you up. And looking out your black sky would be filled with the swirling storms of Jupiter’s upper clouds. From the ice of Europa, the red planet would be 24 times the size of the full moon.

Though these thoughts inspire awe, they begin to chill your bones as you move farther away from the sun. Temperatures plunge. There is no air to breathe. Radiation is immense. Standing upon Neptune’s moon Triton, the sun would begin to resemble the rest of the stars as you faded into the nothing.

Voyager two took one of the only clear images we have of Neptune. I don’t believe we were meant to see that kind of image. Unaided our eyes are only prepared to see the sun, the moon, and the stars. Looking into the blue clouds of the last planet you cannot help but think of the black halo of space that surrounds the planet and extends forever.

I cannot un-see those images. They have become a part of human consciousness. They are the dawn of an unnamed religion. They are more powerful and more fearsome than the old God. In a sense, they are the very face of God. And perhaps we were not meant to see such things.

This album was my feeble attempt to make peace with the blackness. The immense cold that surrounds and beckons us all. Our past and our future.

The album closes with an image of standing amidst Pluto’s Norgay mountains. Peaks of 20,000 feet of solid ice. Evening comes early in the mountains. On this final planet we face the decision of looking back toward Earth or moving onward into the darkness.

Abby with pedals. BOSS RC-50 LoopStation (predecessor to today’s RC-300), Strymon BlueSky, Electro Harmonix Soul Food stand out.

Plus more on the story:

Pythia was the actual name of the Oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece. She was a real person who, reportedly, could see the future. This album, “Pythian Drift” is only the first of three parts. In this part, the craft is discovered and Dr. Amala Chandra begins a dialogue with the craft. Dr Chandra then begins publishing papers that rock the scientific world and reformulate our understanding of mathematics and physics. There is also a phenomenon called Pythian Drift that begins to spread from the craft. People begin to see images and hear voices, prophecies. Some prepare for an interstellar pilgrimage to the craft’s home galaxy in Andromeda.

Part two will be called Black Sea. Part three will be Andromeda.

And some personal images connected to that back story:

Brett as a kid, with ski.

Abby aside a faux fire.

More on the duo and their music at the Látlaus Ský site:

http://www.latlaussky.com/

Check out Viktoria’s work, too:

https://www.jmiid.com/

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Ecco the Dolphin playthrough with Drexciya music is today’s perfect trip

I don’t know about you, but the next time I need to cool down, trip out, and feel good about the universe, I will turn to this epic playthrough of Ecco the Dolphin with soundtrack by Detroit’s Drexciya. Humans made this. We can follow those humans, or dolphins, or some combination to the future.

Ecco the Dolphin is the 90s Sega Genesis hit developed by Ed Annunziata and Novotrade International. Drexciya is the Detroit futuristic electro duo who imagined an underwater future. Together, they make more sense than peanut butter and jelly, or Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz.

Though, to be fair, after I was tweeted at that I should really transcribe the interviews with James Stinson (I should), it is now dangerously possible that I wind up getting sucked into Ecco and some Drexciya records. Uh… whoops.

But let us heed these words, anyway:

I know a lot of people going through a rough time right now – personally, globally. Sing to the shelled ones and they will heal your wounds.

Thanks, David Abravanel, CDM at-large Nerd of All Things Good.

Previously:

Underwater electronic futurism, in the words of James Stinson (Drexciya)

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Detroit techno, the 90s comic book – and epic new DJ T-1000 techno

In 1992, Alan Oldham aka DJ T-1000 imagined the epic saga of techno and Detroit as a trippy futuristic comic – and it’s prescient today. Plus, Alan’s got a banging new EP that you shouldn’t miss.

I’ve been meaning to share this since I first spotted it in a German-language article, so there’s no time like the present.

Alan was “Minister of Information” for Underground Resistance, as well as making his name as one of the all-time album cover greats with sexy, futuristic work for the likes of legendary imprint Transmat, Derrick May’s imprint. Now, everything in Detroit is in vogue again, but this push and pull between Europe (aka, where the actual techno market is) and Detroit (where it started) is so clear in 1992 that this comic could almost have been posted now.

The setting was a release by pre-minimal Richie Hawtin as F.U.S.E., on Richie’s own Plus 8 Records. Bonus: that demo came with a FlexiDisc and a comic. The comic stands out either way, not least for the presence of a futuristic supercomputer sequencer, a bit of a cross between a mass step sequencer, Deep Thought, and the Borg. Plus it’s great fun imagining UR’s LFO, Daniel Bell (aka DBX of “I’m losing control” fame), and Jochem Paap (Speedy J) as comic superheroes. Yeah, I’d see that Marvel movie.

At the very least, someone needs to make this sequencer.

Nerdcore did the honors and scanned the whole thing, if you need some techno comic reading:

https://nerdcore.de/2017/01/10/f-u-s-e-overdrive-flexidisc-comic/

But Alan deserves credit for his music as well as his graphic art, running those careers as he does in parallel. And his latest, “Message Discipline” EP as DJ T-1000 is a welcome shot of adrenaline in the electronic releases of the fall. It’s clear, focused, aggressive but perpetually bouncy – a blast of fresh sound at a time when so many releases are overthought, over-effected, and muddled in an attempt to shroud the dancing in layers of gloom.

Direct and concise, this is the sound of someone with real confidence in the genre. It’s four perfect cuts.

That’s interesting to me in that we did get a chance to get some insight into Alan’s process, and it was very much about getting straight to that groove. So I’m not just here to shower words on this release, but partly because I imagine it might assist people trying to get to their own voice in dance music.

Grab it on Bandcamp:

https://djt1000.bandcamp.com/album/message-discipline-ep

Previously:

Cues: Detroit innovator Alan Oldham talks to us about techno, creation

More on his site:

http://www.alanoldham.com/

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Jam to this: the 90s Sundanese house anthem “Maju Maju Maju”

Behold, the alternative 90s house history you don’t know – unless you’re connected to Indonesia. “Maju Maju Maju” is an impossibly catchy “xta-C” indo tech banger from Java’s Barakatak. And the music video is an easy, all-natural YouTube high:

I bring it up now as this was the jam that helped me shake my jetlag on arrival for the first time in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in central Java, meeting with our team from Nusasonic Festival and working together with Berlin’s CTM Festival on the MusicMakers Hacklab and festival performances. That’s central Java; Barakatak are Sundanese, from the west side of Java.

Our world (at least for English-language sites like this one) is so tilted hard to the West that we often don’t know what we’re missing. This week, of course, you can marvel as ABC breathlessly shares the story of how David Guetta “helped bring house music to the US.” (See a terrific takedown by Terry Matthew of 5 magazine in – significantly – Chicago, Illinois.) But while they work out the fact that house music “is a feeling” but also “a genre from Chicago,” you should also take in how American dance styles got remixed elsewhere on planet Earth.

That story is more memorialized in cassette tapes and oral history than it is written down. But “Maju Maju Maju” is one poppy example. This was evidently the lead cut on Barakatak’s not-terribly-creatively-titled tape “HOUSE MUSIC VOL. 2.” The “ecstasy” reference may be literal; I heard a band – I think Barakatak – once got paid in an enormous stash of pills and doubled as dealers.

It’s all in Indonesian, but one blogger has at least taken the time to catalog the band’s tape releases:

http://aerbening.blogspot.com/2013/02/barakatak-group.html

Here’s the very special cover for this one:

And with only minor changes in personnel, the band over the years looked more or less like this:

And this cover pretty much sums up the, uh, genre concept:

What’s to say, really? I can only share the fabulousness, complete with creative use of low budget video production and … enough jump cuts to induce a seizure.

And hey, now CDM readers from outside southeast Asia can be infected with the same earworm.

“Maju” my Indonesian colleagues tell me translates roughly to “forward,” so the song’s hook is “forward forward forward.” (“Let’s go?” Maybe hard to translate colloquially. Just, like, maju. See, now we’re all doing it. Word – learned!)

Okay, one point: here’s some relative thinking for you. A major pop hit from Western Java, even while well known by one of the world’s most populous countries, barely registers in even a quick Internet search. They’re practically invisible. It’d be like if you’d never heard of C&C Music Factory – what would that mean for really underground stuff? Interpolate that down Indonesia’s long tail, and you get some clue to how privileged culture from specific places has become – even London versus rural England, let alone New York versus remote parts of the global South.

This should also blow holes in the idea that there’s “too much music.” There’s too much of the same music, over and over again, leaving little room for most of the people who live on the planet.

To deal with that will take perseverance. Relentless perseverance by all involved.

You know —

Maju maju maju.

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Discover the surrealist charm of Kate NV’s music and films

It’s Moscow’s quirkier, playful side that’s probably easiest for us foreigners to miss. But Kate Shilonosova (Kate NV) is earning an international audience for her introspective, surrealist whimsy, and one that’s well-deserved.

Kate NV’s music is beautifully minimal and reflective. The Japan tour makes perfect sense – there’s a distinctively Japanese-compatible electronic aesthetic here. (The poppier nods to minimalism and extensive use of percussion remind me a bit of Cornelius, as do the hand-drawn graphics everywhere.) But her approach to found sound and sampling is equally enjoyable when taken in live. Kate was another highlight for me of Synthposium, and emblematic of Moscow’s experimental, open-minded, live performance-oriented electronic scene. Her own background is in punk and guitars, and she brings that musicianship and improvisational spirit even to this very different sonic idiom.

Live, she works with mics and small percussion and sampling (on various Novation gear and Ableton Live), pulling in elements in a way that’s accessible and fluid. And yeah, she’s the kind of producer who keeps a glockenspiel by her computer in her home studio.

She’s been picked up by RVNG Intl, the Brooklyn-based label with a particularly sharp nose for musical inventiveness. And her LP is terrifically charming. It’s also accompanied by cheery, trippy films from Moscow director Sasha Kulak. Watch “дуб OAK” (each is titled in a combination of the Russian and English equivalent of a word):

— or the extended film “для FOR”:

These films are also available in a generative form, which you can watch on her website – click, and you get different variations:

This project is based on works of Moscow conceptualist Victor Pivovarov,
more specifically on his series called “project for the lonely man”, 1975.
This movie is telling a story about one lonely man’s day.
Every time the button is pressed, the new, slightly different day is generated from the common routine actions.
Thus, creating the sense that all regular days are the same, but in its own way very different.

http://katenv.com/

To get a sense of the live set, here’s a representative set from last year: (Though I wish we had the video of this month at Synthposium! Will share if we get that….)

Her songwriting and singing are also exceptional, though; check, for instance:

Why is this woman smiling? She’s hanging out in Red Bull’s massive Cologne studios.

To get a sense of her tastes and DJ skills, here’s a mix created for DJ Mag – featuring Prokofiev, no less. (You know, I charted the guy and it’s like he almost didn’t notice.)

Lastly, of course, everything is better with a Japanese documentary:

I also love her series of illustrations on manuscript paper and glimpses she makes of her studio, which you can find on her Facebook and VK pages:

Postlude:

Mean YouTube trolls are mean. From the video I posted above, there are some angry comments blah blah guys mansplaining minimalist composers. What gives?

Oh, cool, you know who Steve Reich is. Some kind of expert then.

I think you can do better, trolls. You don’t look like you know what you’re talking about. You need to up your game. Let me help:

“I just talked to your mom and she wants your ‘Minimalist Classics for Babies Naptime Compilation’ album back.”

“You know so little about the early roots of minimalism you probably think La Monte Young is a cheap French perfume store!”

“What’s the sound of one hand trying to perform ‘Clapping Music’?”

See? Amateurs.

Anyway, I think she’s great, and I have, like, a really serious music education or whatever. If someone wants to argue with me they’ll have to get past these fightin’ mallets and my marimba.

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Watch futuristic techno made by robots – then learn how it was made

Roboticist, composer, and futurist Moritz Simon Geist has made an entire album using robotic machines. It’s stunning to behold – and he tells you all about how it developed. Let’s watch:

This is more than a gimmick: there’s a real difference in approach and process here. Moritz’s work is truly mechanical-acoustical and electro-acoustic, using mechanical, kinetic machines to produce sounds.

And Moritz has been working on this background for some time, including making an entire oversized TR-808 drum machine that replicates sounds not with analog circuitry or digital code, but by actually hitting percussion. (The claps even required a cluster of stuff to clap together.)

An extended making-of video walks through the behind-the-scenes process of how this came about and evolved.

It’s as much an exercise in kinetic sculpture as music, but then the album organizes those raw materials in an eminently listenable, musical manner. It’s quirky grooves, true to its mechanical-robotic nature – that is, even if you didn’t know what this was, you might quickly imagine dancing bots. The materiality comes through, in subtly off rhythms and precisely-placed organic sounds.

Moritz’ ongoing collaborators Mouse on Mars co-produced both an EP (“The Material Turn”, out October 12) and LP (“Robotic Electronic Music”, on November 16). And Moritz extends the musical role here, by being both inventor/builder/maker and musician – not to mention label head.

It’s great to see Moritz starting a new label devoted to this medium – Sonic Robots Records – but also getting the help not only of Mouse on Mars but legendary German label Kompakt to handle global distribution.

You can preorder the EP already, in both digital and vinyl forms:

… with the LP to follow soon.

Here’s our look at how Moritz is working with Mouse on Mars:

Here’s how Mouse on Mars are using robots to expand their band

And here’s how we first got to meet Moritz, through his robotic TR-808:

A Robotic, Physical 808 Machine Advances Weird Science of Music, Tech Alike

Want to try making your own robotic music? Dadamachines is an easy way to start, and you can explore sound and musical arrangement without having to know about the building side right away:

dadamachines is an open toolkit for making robotic musical instruments

Don’t miss Moritz’ talk, too, for our MusicMakers Hacklab this year, discussing speculative futures for machine learning:

https://moritzsimongeist.bandcamp.com/album/the-material-turn

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Cues: Detroit innovator Alan Oldham talks to us about techno, creation

It’s easy to forget if we get too deep into hero worship and seriousness, but real creativity is fun and boundless. So nothing energizes like talking to people like Alan Oldham, the multidisciplinary Detroit techno artist.

Oldham, sometimes DJing as DJ T-1000, had a multifaceted series of roles in techno. So he’s served in Underground Resistance – including as “Minister of Information.” He did artwork for Derrik May’s legendary Transmat label. He’s a comic artist as well as a producer, savvy enough to interact with the art market and not only the music industry. A lot of us in the USA got our first introduction to techno and the full story behind it through his story “Fast Forward” on National Public Radio. But then, in this age of overabundant production, we need those kind of voices now more than ever – people who can narrate what’s happening in music, DJs in the club sense and DJs in the radio sense.

Meanwhile, as CDM finds its evolved voice this year, I got to invite Alan (now a Berlin transplant) to talk about his process, to jam a little, and to chat about music, aesthetics, and futurism.

Alan is a big Native Instruments Maschine fan, and it’s nice to see how the MPC and other hardware workflows have made the transition to the computer age. I think immediacy is important to tapping into that creativity.

Have a look:

Off camera, it was also great that Alan got to hang out with our other guests, HRTL and Oliver Torr and their live project Windowlickerz. Growing up in Detroit, meet growing up in Czech Republic.

Alan Oldham in the studio.

Making beats (MASCHINE MIKRO), making comics (paper and pen).

Since January, Alan has been busy, in the studio and in the club (as well as continuing his visual art work). Message Discipline is the EP dropping in October on Pure Sonik Records.. The timbres, the tech are decidedly future-looking, not nostalgic. But as a lot of techno gets cold and clinical, overthought, or overly … well, dreary (not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that) — this is none of those things. It’s “up,” as Alan says. Maybe it’s hard to find words for that funky, groovy feeling because it’s better to describe it me moving my body around than it is just wiggling my fingers over the computer keyboard.

You know you’re in for something special when you’re dancing around to the damned excerpts on SoundCloud. Tell me I’m wrong:

Even that last cut swings, like a nice makeout slow dance. And the title track sounds ready to blast into orbit to some, uh, really sexy space lounge, I would imagine.

Message Discipline is all bangers, but for a more tripped-out experience, DetroitRocketScience is the ticket:

Alan and Ellen Allien can often be caught side by side, so expect more on Ellen’s BPitch Control, like this excellent remix:

He’s also got a great remix of Sky Deep’s “In This,” but looks like I can’t share that – take my word for it.

Now who wants to don an Andy Warhol wig and dance around a bit? Yeah? Have a great weekend, y’all.

Related – in summer 2011, Wax Poetics provided us with this article they ran exploring early Detroit techno history, and even talked to Alan. of course, now you meet the Detroit artists in Berlin.

Future Shock: The Emergence of Detroit Techno, Told by Wax Poetics

Photos courtesy Native Instruments.

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Live techno after Polish punk and communism: Dyktando of Brutaż

Dyktando aka Wiktor Milczarek is turning out dark, hard-hitting music and live sets that are brutally groovy. We got to join him in Sweden for our Conspiracy of Planets event – and to get a tour of his music, and the Polish scene.

Conspiracy of Planets was a debut event organized by myself with SONA [Pommes 94, Potent Pussy, GLUK] – her underground collectives (complete with a skate park) in Malmö Sweden getting mixed with Polish collective/label Brutaż, as represented by Wiktor. With the support of Inkonst, club and cultural center, we took over a Saturday night earlier this month.

And all of this meant the pleasure of, among other people, getting to know Wiktor, his unique approach to techno and live playing, and his perspective on the scene in Poland and beyond. Check out a hard-hitting live set from last year. (We’ll have his set from Sweden to share with you soon, too, hopefully.)

And his EP (under his real name) for the label:

Can you tell us a little about your relationship to Brutaz? How did you come to be involved in this collective?

So I was going to the Brutaż parties almost since the beginning. It was started by Piotr Kurek, Michał Libera, and Alessandro Facchini, in the club called Eufemia in the basement of the Art Academie in Warsaw. Then I’ve played once and together with Jacek (rrrkrta), starting to be much more involved in the party. Now I’ve released on Brutaż record label and I’m playing occasionally.

What’s the significance of that collective to you – has that shaped who you are musically?

Yeah, in a really big way. Not only because of what was happening at the parties, but also because we were talking a lot about records, artists, the way they were playing. We kind of have been discovering club music together. What was somehow unusual is the fact that most of us started with an experimental, noise, or modern classical music background and then went to techno, not the opposite.

Ed.: Well, yeah, I can relate to that bit! Maybe it’s the new thing.

Your sound I think is really powerful, really your own. How have you evolved to that point – or how is it continuing to change now?

I think I learned how to produce – and developed my sound – when I was doing my previous project called Souvenir de Tanger. I’ve also found my way of recording tracks, using a Tascam 644 cassette recorder. So almost all the music I make nowadays is just a one-take recording. That gives the opportunity to test ideas fast and also makes this punk-y sound.

I really enjoyed your live set. What’s your onstage rig; what are you playing with?

I’m using a Cyclone TT-303, Dave Smith Instruments Mopho, Boss DR-660 and MFB 522. All of those things are put through various overdrives, delay, and pitch-shifting units. My main sequencer is an MPC 1000 that I’m also using for samples.

How much do you find you plan your sets ahead? Apart from practicing – do you have in mind a sense of what you’ll play? Have you parts pre-programmed?

I do have a prepared melodic structure of the set. I also have pre-made sequences of the different percussion parts (samples and DR-660) that I’m mixing one with another. With this, I’m improvising with MFB-522 and with the sound of Mopho.

You’d talked a bit about these elements from 80s Polish punk that you’re using – what’s the story there; how did you come to make use of those materials? What’s their significance to you?

My mother used to be involved in a Polish punk and post-punk scene in the 80’s. So I’ve been listening to this music since I was a child. She also has a lot of demo and bootleg tapes of really obscure bands, some of them I was sampling for this project. Some of those bands are really interesting, some of them not so, but the way how those tapes sound is really inspiring. Their sound quality is quite unique because of the sound equipment used to record them wasn’t the best and also tape degraded itself during the time.

One band to check out from Polish punk is WC – and yeah, Wiktor got some tapes from his Mom.

On some level, this seems like a split in electronic music – whether some of techno and experimental music continue to take on a punk aesthetic, right? Do you identify with that element in how play at all?

I think European techno has strong roots in punk and especially the post-punk scene. All those bands like Palais Schaumburg or A.G. Geige in Germany — also, the whole scene around Factory Records in the UK — were where many techno artists have started their music careers. So the binding is quite strong and it’s nice that some younger producers are trying to combine those two aesthetics. I find it kind of refreshing after those all years of chasing the perfect sound, that the opposite attitude starts to take over.

It’s also interesting to me to get to dig into Communist-era history of music, art, media, electronic arts … I find I’m doing this as an outsider, and have been personally inspired by what I’ve gotten to learn about Polish culture across these generations, but also that friends from the former eastern bloc are finding out more about one another’s histories, their own countries histories. This seems really different from a moment 20-25 years ago when it seems west and east were ready to just discard that past. Do you feel something has changed here? Are we somehow informing the new stuff we make partly by learning a bit more about what the generations before were doing?

I was born just after communism collapsed in Poland. So this is somehow an exotic past that is fascinating to explore. I think discarding the past is impossible – for many people, there’s still a need to align bills, making justice for people who were involved in the previous political system. (Basically, all of Polish politics you can describe with this conflict). I think what is quite unique for people of my age is the ability to making a less biased assessment of products of that era and rediscover them for our own cultural needs.

I know Polish society faces some real tension and challenge – well, as does my own American society, and it feels these are related. What’s the place of music for you in that sense? Is music something that can help you reach other people?

There is a big conflict in the Polish scene about how club music should be involved in politics. We in Brutaż are thinking that you can make some impact with music and parties. And because of a privileged position – in terms of cultural capital, the ability to reach many people – we should act. I don’t really believe in some magical power of music to change the world, but you can use it to build people’s awareness about political matters, or just to collect money to help people in need. It is, of course, working on a microscale, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not important.

Lastly, inside or outside Brutaż, who are other people from the scene around Warszawa or elsewhere you feel you relate to, that we should know?

Some of my favorite initiatives are:

Dunno. A great party and label run by Lutto Lento and Filip Lech, worth checking their last release of Aldona Orłowska. Polish pop-opera diva and a swimming champion)

https://www.facebook.com/dunnorecordings/

Syntetyk. A terrific local party with really talented DJs, focused mostly on new/synth/etc wave music/

https://www.facebook.com/syntetykk/

Oramics. Polish techno-feminism collective.

Moli Siabadaba, Sasha Zakrevska / Poly Chain of Oramics.

https://www.facebook.com/oramics/

Check out their podcasts archive.

https://www.oramics.pl/

Radar. Great crew from Cracow run by Olivia, Chino and Kinzo.

https://www.facebook.com/radarkrk/

https://soundcloud.com/radarkrk

And of course, don’t miss Dyktando / Wiktor / Brutaż – thanks for this opportunity to chat, and stay tuned for more!

https://soundcloud.com/l-s-c-135346057

Label of the month: Brutaż [Resident Advisor did a nice feature, by Elissa Stolman, in May]

The post Live techno after Polish punk and communism: Dyktando of Brutaż appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Free Ableton Live tool lets you control even more arcane hardware

They’re called “NRPN”‘s. It sounds like some covert military code, or your cat walked on your keyboard. But they’re a key way to control certain instruments via MIDI – and now you have a powerful way to do just that in Ableton Live, for free.

NRPN stands for “Non-Registered Parameter Number” in MIDI, which is a fancy way of saying “we have a bunch of extra MIDI messages and no earthly clue how to identify them.” But what that means in practical terms is, many of your favorite synthesizers have powerful features you’d like to control and automate and … you can’t. Ableton Live doesn’t support these messages out of the box.

It’s likely a lot of people own synths that require NRPN messages, even if they’ve never heard of them. The Dave Smith Instruments Prophet series, DSI Tetra, Novation Peak, Roger Linn Linnstrument, and Korg EMX are just a few examples. (Check your manual and you’ll see.)

Now, you could dig into Max for Live and do this by hand. But better than that is to download a powerful free tool that does the hard work for you, via a friendly interface.

Uruguay-born, Brazil based superstar artist and ultra-hacker Gustavo Bravetti has come to our rescue. This is now the second generation version of his free Max for Live device – and it’s got some serious power inside. The original version was already the first programmable NRPN generator for Live; the new edition adds MIDI learn and bidirectional communication.

It’s built in Max 8 with Live 10, so for consistency you’ll likely want to use Live 10 or later. (Max for Live is required, which is also included in Suite.)

Features:

Up to 8 NRPN messages per device
Multiple devices can be stacked
Setup parameters in NRPN or MSB/LSB [that’s “most significant” and “least significant” byte – basically, a method of packing extra data resolution into MIDI by combining two values]
Bidirectional control and visual feedback
Record automation directly from your synthesizer
MIDI Learn function for easy parameter and data size setup
Adjustable data rate and redundancy filters
Configurable MIDI Thru Filter
Easy draw and edit automation with multiple Data Sizes

User guide

Download from Maxforlive.com

https://www.facebook.com/gustavobravettilive/

The post Free Ableton Live tool lets you control even more arcane hardware appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.