Techno, without all those pesky human producers? Petr Serkin’s Eternal Flow is a generative radio station – and even a portable device – able to make endless techno and deep house variations automatically.
You can run a simple version of Eternal Flow right in your browser:
Recorded sessions are available on a SoundCloud account, as well:
But maybe the most interesting way to run this is in a self-contained portable device. It’s like a never-ending iPod of … well, kind of generic-sounding techno and deep house, depending on mode. Here’s a look at how it works; there’s no voiceover, but you can turn on subtitles for additional explanation:
There are real-world applications here: apart from interesting live performance scenarios, think workout dance music that follows you as you run, for example.
I talked to Moscow-based artist Petr about how this works. (And yeah, he has his own deep house-tinged record label, too.)
“I used to make deep and techno for a long period of time,” he tells us, “so I have some production patterns.” Basically, take those existing patterns, add some randomization, and instead of linear playback, you get material generated over a longer duration with additional variation.
There was more work involved, too. While the first version used one-shot snippets, “later I coded my own synth engine,” Petr tells us. That means the synthesized sounds save on sample space in the mobile version.
It’s important to note this isn’t machine learning – it’s good, old-fashioned generative music. And in fact this is something you could apply to your own work: instead of just keeping loads and loads of fixed patterns for a live set, you can use randomization and other rules to create more variation on the fly, freeing you up to play other parts live or make your recorded music less repetitive.
And this also points to a simple fact: machine learning doesn’t always generate the best results. We’ve had generative music algorithms for many years, which simply produce results based on simple rules. Laurie Spiegel’s ground-breaking Magic Mouse, considered by many to be the first-ever software synth, worked on this concept. So, too, did the Brian Eno – Peter Chilvers “Bloom,” which applied the same notion to ambient generative software and became the first major generative/never-ending iPhone music app.
By contrast, the death metal radio station I talked about last week works well partly because its results sound so raunchy and chaotic. But it doesn’t necessarily suit dance music as well. Just because neural network-based machine learning algorithms are in vogue right now doesn’t mean they will generate convincing musical results.
I suspect that generative music will freely mix these approaches, particularly as developers become more familiar with them.
But from the perspective of a human composer, this is an interesting exercise not necessarily because it puts yourself out of a job, but that it helps you to experiment with thinking about the structures and rules of your own musical ideas.
And, hey, if you’re tired of having to stay in the studio or DJ booth and not get to dance, this could solve that, too.
The death of 28-year-old star producer/DJ Avicii comes as a shock to many. It’s also easy to reduce to another example of party world excess, or to say it’s just about big-money EDM and pop. But it should be a bigger wake up call than that.
To me, the most alarming reaction I’ve heard from the electronic music world is, “oh, who’s that?” – not from people who genuinely don’t know, but from those who are making a show of pretending not to know. And the reason that should be unsettling is, it allows people in the larger industry of electronic music to try to separate themselves from their own connections to this story.
Some of the warning signs that we got from Avicii are relevant to all dance music – including the bits that like to style themselves as underground. Some relate to the dangers of the industry around music, and its priorities. Some are personal ones, for anyone working in music and creative arts. And some of those speak on a pretty basic human level to asking ourselves what we’re doing with our lives. These are not questions any of us should be somehow “above.”
They’re also relevant to music technology, because our business is fueled by the music industry, because we’re personally often involved in this other world, and because we have self-care challenges of our own.
But, okay, let’s back up. If you genuinely don’t know who Avicii is – which in today’s heavily fragmented musical world is very possible – here’s a quick review. (Yeah, Wikipedia is your friend, too.) His real name was Tim Bergling, hailing from Stockholm. While he wound up with a long string of blockbuster hit singles, he started out making music with more of the profile of a lot of typical readers of, like, this site. He was posting remixes in forums at age 16.
You either know his music, or you’ve heard his music without knowing it – even the most disconnected from popular culture can do a quick YouTube search now and go, “oh, that song” with a few of them. He’s one of a handful of people who made dance music as big as it is at the moment, especially in the US market. And he had that sort of magical talent with both sound and hooks that I personally think is tough to argue with (even if people do out of some reflexive snobbishness). It’s immediate; it reaches people.
But whether this is your music or not, watching this kid play around with a Game Boy and smiling in front of a DAW arrangement – of course, this is us. You might not be a guy or white or Swedish or Grammy-nominated or played in front of huge crowds in Vegas or even know how to operate a CDJ. But I know if you read this site, you know that feeling of being excited about some new music well enough to start to tear up even for the passing of a perfect stranger.
You can bet that a lot of discussion this week will center on Bergling’s health.
Mental and physical health are about more than just party culture. One of my personal heroes growing up was Jim Henson of The Muppets fame, who’s about as far from Ibiza as you can imagine. I even met him as a kid in Indianapolis and took a photo with him. And part of what I loved about Henson was his endless devotion to his work. And as a kid as well as in adulthood, I’ve always been able relate to this desire to be consumed by creating things.
I was just twelve when Jim Henson died, but part of what I understood at the time was that this drive also took his life. (He was in production at the time, and even delaying seeking treatment seems likely to have advanced the course of the bacteria that killed him.)
So, when processing the news about Avicii, the first question we ask I think shouldn’t be “is this the sort of music I like?” or “is party culture too much about excess?”
I think we should ask, “are we taking care of ourselves and other people, in terms of their health and their happiness? Who and what are we working for, first?”
As I write this, there hasn’t yet been a discussion of an immediate cause of death, but Avicii’s health problems have been public for several years now. Billboard has an overview:
Heavy drinking at least appears to have been a factor early on. That is itself significant, because both in his native Sweden and in my native United States where his career took off, prohibitions in the music scene have focused on the drug MDMA (or even, perversely, marijuana) but largely ignored alcohol. That’s something that has been criticized by many health advocates. (Without stepping into the ecstasy debate, it’s worth checking out the cannabis debate – as its history in the USA is beyond bizarre.)
But that’s just one factor, if an important one. Touring itself seems to have been a culprit. And there are many more signs something was wrong with Avicii and deeply troubling about the world around him that advanced his decline.
If you want to get fairly depressed, you can watch the documentary True Stories that came out last year for a vivid picture:
This was a message that Avicii the artist wanted to get out. He was even brave enough to actively promote segments from the film that put him and his promotional team in a pretty bad light. From DJ Mag in November, you can watch some utterly chilling moments with his doctors and with his publicist:
This isn’t just about whether someone was drinking too much at one point. In this segment, it’s clear that Avicii and his team sometimes chose keeping up appearances and continuing work at the expense of getting complete medical treatment or recovery.
That is an important, important point. Lots of people can abuse alcohol or drugs or engage in self-destructive or suicidal behaviors. But – coming back to my Jim Henson example – it’s also possible for any of us to get sick and then fail to get treatment. Sometimes a few hours’ delay getting to a doctor can be fatal, even for a health adult with no history of substance abuse.
So, what does it mean if we’re part of an industry, or talking to professionals, who actively encourage us to do something that harms us? What does that mean about musicians – or fans? That motivation can be as much about money as it is about something like substances. It’s not to ignore the substance question (someone’s making money on that, too, ahem), but to try to understand a deeper sense of what this is about.
As I write this, Avicii’s site hauntingly still shows the text posted as he announced his retirement from live shows and touring:
WE ALL REACH A POINT IN OUR LIVES AND CAREERS WHERE WE UNDERSTAND WHAT MATTERS THE MOST TO US.
For me it’s creating music. That is what I live for, what I feel I was born to do.
Last year I quit performing live, and many of you thought that was it. But the end of live never meant the end of Avicii or my music. Instead, I went back to the place where it all made sense – the studio.
The next stage will be all about my love of making music to you guys. It is the beginning of something new.
Hope you´ll enjoy it as much as I do.
But it’s what he said in an interview in the Rolling Stone that I find most telling. And it’s actually not so much about his physical health per se as you might expect.
First, about partying, what he describes is more about personal relationships than about substances (even though the magazine’s question related to ecstasy, the pill):
“Parties can be amazing, but it’s very easy to become too attached to partying in places like Ibiza. You become lonely and get anxieties. It becomes toxic.”
Reading through this, it’s clear how traumatized he was by the experience. He also talks in the interview about not standing up to the people who told him to keep going, as seen in the documentary clip above in DJ Mag. But the part that really gets to the point in my mind is this one:
“I needed to figure out my life. The whole thing was about success for the sake of success. I wasn’t getting any happiness anymore.”
Bob Dylan has the song Gotta Serve Somebody. This whole story can speak to that: we all have some questions about who and what we serve. That’s relevant to who we serve in our music, and for those of us making part or all of our living in music (including music technology), who and what we serve in those jobs.
The press and social media present an image of touring that is, oddly, devoid of both its real pleasures and perils. (And there are pleasures, too. I know people who really do love touring, and people who can be miserable stuck in their studio.)
Just don’t think for an instant that this doesn’t have anything to do with your corner of music.
In supposedly “underground” techno (check William Morris), in experimental electronic music and art-y festivals, there are now plenty of big agencies. Five figure fees are standard stuff on even that “adventurous” or “experimental” side of things. Do the math, and you have enough of an industry around touring artists – at the same time that recorded music is collapsing – that a lot of people serve that financial stream more than they do any particular feelings about music or the humans making it. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing; it only becomes one if you aren’t aware of the potential conflict of priorities. What makes money in a tour is not always what takes care of the artist – as Avicii says, “success for the sake of success.”
It’s also easy for those of us in music technology and musical instruments to pass the buck over to the music industry at large. But we feed off those same economics and desires; we sell a lot of our tech to the people who dream of being Avicii. And we have our own demons and burnout to consider, too – obviously.
I also find myself constantly in conversations about making ends meet, about staying happy and motivated, and indeed about this question of touring and keeping up with it – or just keeping up physically with demands in general. There’s a natural human tendency to ignore our own limits and mortality and even our own moods and emotional needs. Now we have social media presenting a continuous image that’s always young, always happy – a world without sadness or death. The bizarre thing is, attempting to live in that world will actually make you utterly miserable.
It’s so easy to turn this into prohibitions instead of self-reflection. And America is great at prohibition. So it’s great at cracking down on the “rave” scene or whatever it may be. It’s even just as easy to ignore what Avicii loved about his music career, while focusing on its tragic end. He did say that touring had ups as well as downs.
I think it’s better to ask some questions.
What does it mean for those of us who encourage music making that we make stardom its ultimate goal?
What does this stardom do to how we value music? To what extent are we weighing that music’s financial possibility rather than how it makes us feel?
Do we insist on presenting artists only in the positive sense, without talking about their struggles?
Are we purposely leaving out real discussions of health? Of mental well being? Of aging, even?
Are we placing all our emphasis on touring and not on other activities that can support artists?
Are we taking health and happiness as part of the goal of tours, of music careers?
Do we actively promote ideas that discourage mental health?
Are we stigmatizing mental health issues in music, even when music is often initially an outlet for people to find healing?
Can we reflect on the role of alcohol as the main revenue stream in so much of live music? What about other substances (including the impact of policies around both legal and illegal substances)?
Do we have accurate information for music-goers and event organizers of what health impacts of consuming substances or other behaviors actually are? (In the age of fake news and fake science spread via online communication and hearsay, accurate risk assessment seems essential, from infectious disease to alcohol to drugs.)
I’m certainly not claiming any kind of innocence either in behavior or intention, but – this is about asking questions, not just having answers.
Are we caring for ourselves and the people around us?
And how do we make music and musical instruments something that add to that care and that don’t just take it away?
Struggling with those questions need not be burdensome. I think it can be rewarding.
Remembering Avicii should be something all of us do. He’s been one of the biggest artists in 21st century electronic music, and what he chose to do was to make his personal struggles public. That isn’t easy, and we should be grateful he’s done that. And we should make sure that the questions he asked remain part of our conversation. Because just like last year’s chart-topping pop hit, the natural tendency of the music industry will be to simply move on – and we shouldn’t let them.
My deep condolences to Tim Bergling’s family, friends, and everyone who worked with him. I hope we can elevate the cause of health, happiness, and care that he worked to raise in the midst of his struggles.
I welcome any and all comments on those topics for music, creativity, and tech – this can absolutely be an ongoing conversation.
Just as mixes need transitions, humans need pauses. So while some of the divisions of time are arbitrary, we need moments to step back and recollect. So CDM asked a cross-selection of producers and DJs to choose music from 2016 to begin our year. Maybe now – as the vacation spirit is wearing off and task lists are looming – maybe now is the time we need those most.
This particular group of humans generally resisted the idea of making charts, as an empty exercise. But I suppose some of those individuals are the very people whose music selections I value most – because they actually reflect on this a bit and choose something meaningful. So, arm twisting where necessary, we got this. Several colleagues included moments of reflection spent over the new year’s holiday looking back across the whole year. Some even did their digging while preparing for New Year’s gigs.
Anyone who says they’ve got the “best” music of the year is probably out of touch with just how much music the planet is making. But here, we have an honest selection of music that moved people. And we get to meet some of the people making those picks. I hope you enjoy.
Alan Oldham to me is the embodiment of electronic music futurism as it has radiated from Detroit. Apart from being an exceptional DJ and producer (as DJ T-1000), he’s also a leading comic book artist and one of the most desirable people anywhere to design your record sleeve. This is someone who can illustrate electronic fantasies in sound or image. So his picks are a wonderful place to start.
Dasha needs little introduction – the Russian native, Berlin-based producer and DJ does a bit of everything, from experimental to techno. She helms the beautifully unique Fullpanda, is brilliant in live electronic performance across genre, and has made appearances on the likes of raster-noton.
And I think Dasha came up with my favorite response to these. She chose just one track – one favorite from the past two years. And she said she doesn’t like the forced exercise of selecting charts and numbering them, or DJs charting their own music – all of which I appreciate. (Though in this case I specifically said to DJs, I was happy to see their own tracks in there, too – because I chose producers I love.)
But here’s her one track – and this one selection says a lot, and is worth some time. (The label is a favorite round here at CDM, Nordanvind Records.)
Korridor – “Somnolence”
Noncompliant (also known as DJ Shiva or Lisa Ess) is a powerhouse of midwest techno and a talent whose moment has come. 2016 was a prelude to what is yet to come, I think, with a Berlin debut and devastating new techno cuts. So apart from a deep insight into politics and unending oasis of empathy, Lisa is your go-to cat when you want grimy, powerful techno.
It’s also worth highlighting some of the picks here. The lose of Cherushii aka Chelsea Faith was not only personally devastating to many, but heart breaking because her music represented some of the richest possibility in the scene now. How that continues will be a topic to come.
I was fortunate to get to seek out Zeno for our new Establishment imprint, because I already knew and loved his music tastes. So drawing on his own rich experimental background and creative taste, here are some more experimental selections for our list. We’ll be talking more to Zeno this week about his own work, too. But of course, I’m especially fond of the Grischa Lichtenberger music here – see our recent interview.
[Epilepsy warning – but otherwise, this video is amazing]
Esther Dune at Berlin’s Gegen party.
Bridging the Amsterdam and Berlin scenes and a regular ring-leader of some of the better appearances literally underground at Tresor, Esther is an unsung techno champion. And like the others here, she’s got a long battle history in labels, production, and DJing. I actually insisted that she select some of her own label and production efforts for that reason – you don’t want to miss them. And it starts with this beautiful, weird track by Jimmy Asquith, the man behind Lobster Theremin records.
You’re probably going to want a record player in order to acquire a lot of this, FYI. Esther’s meticulous personality also means she’s the only one who gave us catalog numbers.
Myles Serge / Duijn & Douglas – Split EP (A1 Myles Serge -The art of shadow thoughts) [Another Earth AE101]
John Heckle – Tribute to a Sun God (B1 Mesopotamia) [Bedouin Records BDN010]
Esther, as I lack a meticulous personality, I’m not totally certain this is the right L.I.E.S. cut, but … it’s also too nice to share if not.
Meanwhile, here’s one of hers – delicious:
And quite fond of this whole John Heckle record:
Hayden Payne, New York-to-Berlin transplant (a phrase associated with NYC now much like “world champion New York Yankees) is one of the brightest up and coming techno acts. His now-regular sets at Berghain are deliciously gothic and adventurous. And I think his taste are a beautiful hype-free window into what’s happening in the international electronic scene, what’s driving the queues at these clubs beyond just hype, and what is genuinely fresh and enjoyable and new. And sure enough, he delivered a lovely reminder of some favorites of mine, ones I’m sure will appeal here.
Apart from liking Grischa’s latest as much as apparently the rest of us do, Kyoka is a person whose live sets and music consistently come up when chatting with the others here. The second raster-noton inclusion on this list apart from Dasha, I added Kyoka because of her intelligence and enthusiasm. So, we’ll get some repetition, but I think well-deserved – these are tracks a lot of us couldn’t stop listening to last year, and may still look forward to savoring this year.
004_241 B – Grischa Lichtenberger
Bound State – Ueno Masaaki
Dark Barker – kangding ray
Twistet In the Wind – Frank Bretschneider
a1_entrance_m_v2 – Eomac
Cause to emit sound – DJ SODEYAMA
Just Face It – DJ Git Hyper
From Moscow to Copenhagen, Anastasia has emerged as a brilliant connector – she’s someone who manages to seem to be everywhere, know everyone, but then apply that social intelligence to greater musical depth. And I asked her here because her sets and mixes are diverse and not just cookie-cutter creations.
yen towers – bid II, posh isolation
ctrls – the wave, token
air max’97 – thrall, decisions
dreams – headhunter, nous disques
rx 101 – 101 reasons, saction
jamaica suk – Depth Between Waves, L.A.G.
melly – skip fire, where to now?
rommek – solvent, blueprint records
ken ishii – extra (7th plain remix), a-ton
imaski – hyperloop, (Establishment)
Photo: Michael Breyer.
Susanne Kirchmyer just played a brutal set at about blank his weekend. To those in the know, she’s simply a legend – a foundation of the European scene. She’s also been active in transforming the face of the scene to come, through her work with Female Pressure.
Now, like Dasha, Susanne straddles experimental and techno, AV performance and dancefloor in her own work. Unlike Dasha, Susanne’s rebellion to “name five to ten tracks” was to go with more instead of less. But that reflects her collections, too, so let’s have at all of it!
10 chosen most significant:
Born In Flamez x Modeselektor – TBF [XLR8]
Perc – Ma [Stroboscopic Artefacts 026]
Monolake – Error (VLSI Version) [Imbalance Computer Music ML-032]
B12 – Core Meltdown [FireScope 003]
Rrose – Emboli [Khemia 002]
Adriana Lopez – En Ningun Lugar [Modularz 25]
Headless Horseman – Under The Earth [the29nov 001]
Annie Hall – Hyssop [Subspec 035]
Sky Deep – Woman & The Gun feat. Hevî [female-pressure – Music- Awareness & Solidarity w- Rojava Revolution]
Annie Hall – Herschel [CPU 00011100]
Other tracks that I wanted to be in the top 10:
Orphx – Blood in the Streets [Sonic Groove LP02]
Alhek – The Voice Of Cement Buildings [Mechanical Thoughts LP01]
Antigone & Francois X – Ready To Escape [DEMENT3D 012]
Scalameriya – Ambidextrous [Genesa 006V]
Angelina Yershova – Immersion [Twin Paradox 003]
Silent Harbour – Dock Operations [Transcendent LP001]
Shlømo – The Ritual [Wolfskuil LTD 029]
Kero / Gotshell – Samaria District [Blueprint 047]
More tracks that I really like:
Simo Cell – Away From Keyboard [Livity Sound 021]
Shifted – Clairvoyance Part II [Drifting Over 001]
Dimi Angélis – Dwarf Planets [Construct Re-Form 012]
Insolate – Renew [Out of Place 002]
Trinity – Orchard [Coincidence 074]
DJ Red – Sweet Silence [Electric Deluxe 047]
Klaudia Gawlas – Obsession [Credo 038]
Etapp Kyle – Ahora [Ostgut Unterton 08]
Actually, 2016 was a very good year listening to the music I collected
Kevin McHugh, aka Ambivalent, but impressing lately as techno act LA4A, is our consummate tasteful last entry here. I appreciate that Kevin actually said he enjoyed picking these for this task. And he’s worth quoting here, because I feel some of his music was the most underrated of the year – even though it was also widely selected by our group of contributors as some of our favorite.
Morphology – Vector Plant – DUM
Physical Therapy – 909 Reasons Why – Delft
Amotik – Terah – Amotik
Avalon Emerson – Glider Gun – Valence
Emmanuel – Masa – Enemy
Vernon Felicity – Defender – Delft
TAFKAMP – I Laf You – Paling Trax
Ambivalent – Whyou (Michael Mayer Remix) – Kompakt
Camea – Signs (Andre Kronert) -Neverwhere
Truncate – Wave 1 – Truncate
Now, this is my kind of New Year’s Resolution. Because listening to all of this makes me want to go discover more and make more music. Unlike those forgotten new year’s gym memberships, this is fitness that is addictive.
And I hope we’ll visit these friends here more throughout the year. That’s a resolution to keep.
Just in under the wire before Roland hosts their own product shindig next week, Korg are here with a new volca to announce. The latest handheld instrument in that blockbuster line is something of an outlier: called “kick,” it’s more specialized than the rest. But it does look like more than just a box for making bass drum sounds (though it’ll do that if that’s what you’re after).
Now, in my view, the best feature of the original volca drum machine, volca beats, was its enormous analog kick. But Korg is betting they can win us over with something still better. The volca kick uses the self-oscillating resonance of the classic MS-20 filter as its sound source.
That should give you plenty of bass drum variety, extending some of the possibilities to other drums (toms) and melodic lines (using it more as a sound source / synth generally rather than a “kick” maker in particular). And it can indeed be fun playing with melodic basslines that provide the function a kick drum normally does.
What might make you want to buy this, though, is that it’s a volca. So, you have battery power, loads of hands-on control, and a versatile step sequencer with touch control. That step sequencer now extends to a new effects feature which Korg don’t entirely explain but which sounds cool. Check out the rolls, though – while a “roll” doesn’t really make sense for a bass drum which you play with a pedal, the rhythms are set up to conveniently let you access basic polyrhythms and syncopation. (Sorry, if you want 1/32-note bass drum trills, you’ll have to resort to MIDI.)
This isn’t the first product of its kind. The Jomox MBase01 and MBase11 had more or less the same idea — make a small module that specializes in kicks. And as I’m imagining you might do with the volca kick, you can use the MBase as a melodic synth module, too. The Jomox has nothing like the Korg’s step sequencer, though, or the excellent volca hands-on controls – MBase users are either dialing up presets or controlling parameters via MIDI. But this might still be a horse rase: the Jomox sounds amazing, it might better emulate the 808/909 sound than the volca does, and it has a dedicated trigger input if you’re using it with something other than MIDI.
Given that Roland are dubbing their event next week “909,” I’m guessing there could be some connection to a drum machine there. Just a hunch. On the other hand, you wouldn’t expect anything remotely like the volca kick from any major manufacturer but Korg.
That said, I think the volca kick is an interesting entry and worth a look. And it was probably a better idea than the volca clap or volca cowbell, but… the night is young.
House music producer Deadmau5 is getting a virtual reality game. Deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman) has teamed up with Absolut on the iOS/Android Google Cardboard virtual reality video game, Absolut Deadmau5. The game lets you navigate deadmau5 through a series of gameplay … Continue reading →