Gallery: a new documentary digs into techno’s 80s Detroit roots

“God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines” is the story through the eyes of a documentary team that grew up in Detroit – and with time running out, they’re short of their funding goal. Happily, you have the power to change that.

God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines: The Story of Detroit Techno

Behind all the history and legend, there’s always a human story of how things happen. What’s appealing about this film above others is, it’s not just one icon or one machine, but the relationships between the artists that takes the spotlight. And, it’s at last a film about Detroit’s influence from Detroit’s perspective – not just the European scene where the genre eventually turned into a runaway financial success.

The requisite originators all star – Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, Eddie Fowlkes, Blake Baxter, and more – so this is definitely one I look forward to watching.

Of course, funding independent film is these days a major ordeal, particularly for American filmmakers. And so it’s disheartening to see that with days running out on crowd funding, the filmmakers haven’t made their very modest funding goals. There are some lovely benefits in there – just US$5 gets you an exclusive mixtape – so I hope you’ll get the chance to give this a nod.

Motor City natives Kristian Hill and Jennifer Washington are looking just for the finishing funds to put this out.

I asked Jennifer to walk us through some stills from the film, so here’s an exclusive gallery for CDM.

Young child at Movement Festival, Detroit.

Motor City, now.

Cover of Record Mirror, June 1988.

The Scene Dance Show, Detroit, circa 1983.

Cybotron’s vision of future cities, 1983.

Blake Baxter plays those drum machines.

Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, Juan Atkins.

Juan Atkins, Eddie Fowlkes.

Classic Transmat label, illustrated by Alan Oldham.

Mike Huckaby.

Kevin Saunderson.

God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines: The Story of Detroit Techno [Kickstarter]

Previously:

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

In a documentary film, a return to Detroit and speaker f***ing

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Mo’Wax, James Lavelle, DJ Shadow, and more in a new documentary

A new documentary is poised to take what looks like a personal, thrilling look at the UK turntablism revolution.

The film is “The Man from Mo’Wax,” a documentary set to premiere at the end of August, with a full digital release (disc and download) on September 10.

The film centers on James Lavelle and his label, the pioneering purveyor of trip hop, alternative hip hop, and other things involving vinyl. And because of Mo’Wax’s seminal role in the 90s UK music scene, you get Lavelle’s story, but a lot more. DJ Shadow, Joshua Homme, Badly Drawn Boy,
Robert Del Naja (3D), Ian Brown, Futura, Thom Yorke and Grandmaster Flash… you name them, they’re in this picture. And it’s a coming of age story about Lavelle, who launched his DJ career at 14 and the label at 18 – all the ups an downs.

And of course, a lot of what sampling and beat-driven music is today is connected to what happens in this film.

How you get to watch this – apart from the YouTube trailed we’ve embedded here – is also rather interesting. Via something dubbed ourscreen, you can actually order up a screening at a participating local cinema… erm, provided you’re in the UK. For the rest of us, of course, we can just wait some extra days and microwave some popcorn and make every crowd around our MacBook or something.

The real fun will be for Londoners on the premiere date:

On Thursday, 30 August at 20:30, London’s BFI Southbank will host a premiere launch screening alongside a live Q&A with James Lavelle and the filmmakers. The event will also feature a Pitchblack Playback of an exclusive mix from UNKLE’s new forthcoming album. Plus, join us for an after-party with a live DJ set from Lavelle. The Q&A with James Lavelle will also be broadcast via Facebook Live from the BFI.

Given the subject of the film, of course there’s also a lovely limited edition record to go with it:

http://www.themanfrommowax.com/pre-order/

If you can’t wait, though, here’s FACT’s two-parter on Lavelle from the label’s 21st birthday.

Images courtesy the filmmakers.

http://www.themanfrommowax.com

Thanks, Martin Backes!

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From Japan, an ambient musician on solitude and views of the sea

As haunting, oceanic wells of sound sing achingly in the background, Tokyo-based ambient musician Chihei Hatakeyama talks in a new documentary about what inspires him.

The creative series toco toco follows the musician to the places and views that inspired the images of his music – including gazing into the sea. Of that view, he says:

“There wasn’t any gap in space, it was translating directly into music.”

Filmmaker Anne Ferrero writes to share her work, as she follows the artist “to the roots of his universe, in the Kamakura and Enoshima areas, where he grew up.”

And he speaks of the beauty in ambient music, and its connection to nature. And while solitude in computer music is often seen as something of a liability, here he talks about its importance – as he uses that laptop as a box for editing improvisations.

Being able to create music alone made it more personal. The music that I wanted to make could now express my mind – what I felt inside.

The film is subtitled in English, with Japanese audio. (Don’t forget to turn CC on.)

It’s a deeply personal film all over, and even talks about the journey from electronic sounds on dancefloors to the quieter, more contemplative world of ambient music. And he finds that moment of liberating himself from the beat – not by trying to copy what people would call ambient music on a superficial level, but by fumbling his way to this solution after eliminating obstacles to expression.

Hey, I love both modes of music, myself, so I can appreciate that balance. It’s just rained here in Berlin, and I’m reminded of that feeling of relief when it rains after long periods of sun … and visa versa. Maybe music is the same way.

Have a watch, and I’m sure you’ll want to pick up a guitar or laptop, or go to a beach, or take a personal field trip to the museum and stare at paintings.

Painting with colors in sound … filling the world with oceans of your own expression. What could be more lovely?

Now, an insane amount of beautiful music:

http://www.chihei.org

https://www.discogs.com/artist/440866-Chihei-Hatakeyama

https://chiheihatakeyama.bandcamp.com

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In a documentary film, a return to Detroit and speaker f***ing

It’s still winter, but some crazy techno heads are dreaming of Detroit. Interdimensional Transmissions documents the soul of the midwest techno scene.

Maybe this film is just what techno needs at this moment. It tells the story of how dirty raves mixed with an obsession with hardware and design, imported from Europe. Or maybe it’s what Detroit needs – as despite its iconic status in the imaginations of electronic music lovers around the world, as well as its real place in history, the city’s parties are also relatively empty most of the year round, in a city that has seen its population dwindle as fortunes went elsewhere to America’s fractions of 1%.

Or maybe it’s just what you need, because – well, if you know the people in this, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen this. If you don’t know them, and you share this kind of manic passion for making parties with machines, then their story might be both new and inspiring.

Anyway, it certainly won me over with this opening:

This is our generation returning to the source,
felling a freedom and a heat within the music that results in speaker fucking.

Then they get talking chakras and lighting colors. (And you thought that kind of talk only happened on the West Coast. Shout out to Amber Gillen!)

And you get the likes of BMG and Erika and Derek Plasaiko and Patrick Russell and Carlos Souffront and Mike Servito, some of our favorite artists, chatting as you’d be chatting to them for … let’s be honest, for weirdos like us, probably longer than 20 minutes if given the chance.

“Insane heads from all over the world” sounds a good template for any event.

We’ve had a whole lot of slick documentaries of scenes, but it’s rare to just get people nicely rambling about the story of their party, in something they produced themselves. And with so much DIY around, I think you really need some inspiration and perspective from people who have made things work.

If the story of the music scene is increasingly told by big brands and big press outlets – even if those can make some beautiful productions – you might lose some of the details of how that works. And that’d be a tragedy, because a generation of producers might think the aim is to break into a scene, rather than create a scene around themselves.

Do that, and ecosystems of any music die – whatever the form or genre of music makes you want to make sweet love to the music.

So thanks to Interdimension Transmissions. Love what you’re doing – and more like this, please.

To bring the experience to your headphones, look no further than this Bunker Podcast from Erika:

This late night set from @Erikadotnet was recorded live at The Bunker on November 4, 2017 during the Brooklyn edition of No Way Back’s 10 Year Anniversary.

And… uh, obligatory. Because if there’s one thing electronic music shouldn’t do at this point, it’s trying to go backwards…

No Way Back come to Tresor maddeningly the night before I play there… uh, guess we all just have to work on our endurance. And Erika has a new live set coming to Finland.

And if you want the full experience, head to Detroit for their 10th anniversary party:

313: Return to the Source

Cover photo: Amy Hubbarth Photography / Interdimensional Transmissions.

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Celebrate Blade Runner with these videos on Vangelis and his sounds

1982’sBlade Runner film one of the reasons a lot of us fell in love with synths. So, with the sequel out, let’s look back on that music.

Surely no composer – not even the legendary Wendy Carlos – managed to inspire so many obvious rip-off sound presets. (Barely-veiled references to chariots and fire and Deckard were there just to avoid any doubt.) And Blade Runner is essentially without comparison, with thick synthesizer instrumentations that recall the colors and shapes of orchestral timbres but are simultaneously unmistakably synthetic and new.

In fact, you might reasonably argue that Blade Runner was one of the popular vehicles to introduce the public to the capabilities of the polysynth, after years of rock music dominated by the Minimoog and its ilk.

I think talking just about those colors might miss some of the compositional elements of the music. Vangelis’ stately pacing and soaring melodies, with the tension of slow sweeps in pitch, kept Ridley Scott’s movie from being dull by injecting futuristic wonder and suspense. But the instrumentation is of course in service of that – and if you ever want to escape those presets, an autopsy of how they were constructed is needed.

First, let’s check out a good breakdown of the signature sound design on the Yamaha CS-80, which you could duplicate on any polysynth with a similar architecture. (Here, it’s faked reasonably well using a slightly later-era Yamaha CS-70M, and strings on a Roland MV-8800 – an unrelated animal to anything available in 1982, but it does the trick.)

Reverb.com breaks down these memorable sounds in a new video that talks about how to recreate them on the kind of gear you’re likely to find today. And, of course, just like studying scores or learning a favorite song, picking apart those sound designs can be a great way to better understand how to make new sounds of your own:

Hat tip to Synthtopia for catching that one. More at Reverb.com, including sample packs for a couple bucks.

Vangelis isn’t prone to a lot of interviews or public appearances, but there are a couple of chances to hear him speak poetically about the role of music in the world – particularly the 2011 interview with Al Jazeera, top:

For the serious Vangelis fan, there’s this two hour documentary portrait:

At about one hour twenty, you get Vangelis and Ridley Scott talking about Blade Runner, just after a chat about the composer’s collaboration with NASA. I imagine somewhere someone cornered him more on this score specifically, but here there are some nice tidbits.

From that interview:

“It was like being in the cave of a magician,” Ridley Scott says. “I’d be there at 2am … watching him just muck about.”

Vangelis: “I don’t really like working on film … everybody’s under pressure.”

Now, there you go: you’re hereby empowered to do some mucking about in your cave, or (thanks to modern tech) on your couch or in your bed or wherever it is your synths are at your disposal.

Just in case the new Blade Runner has you living your own Vangelis fantasy of yourself – go for it. Just make sure to record or hit save, or all those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain…

Um, sorry, I’ll stop. Enjoy.

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Watch as music luminaries revisit the first Buchla 100 modular

You can’t watch the Orville Brothers and Amelia Earhart go to your local airport. But you can watch music pioneers revisit the first Buchla 100 modular.

In a new clip from the Subotnick documentary, Morton Subotnick joins fellow San Francisco Tape Center founder and multi-disciplinary creator Ramon Sender. (I’ve heard Subotnick credit Pauline Oliveros with the Tape Center’s creation, too – Ramon Sender must have wanted her to be represented, as she appears on a t-shirt.)

That location was birthplace of a lot of what would happen in 60s electronic experimentalism – the anachronistic “tape” name little clue to the radical sounds to come. And one of those lasting accomplishments was Don Buchla’s Buchla 100 modular – the modular system that gave us what now is commonly called the “west coast” sound.

Here, we get to see that very first Buchla 100 modular system as it lives at Mills College.

They get to talk to a third major figure in American experimental music, Maggi Payne. (Payne’s Wikipedia entry gives some indication of how much she does, calling her an “American composer, flutist, video artist, recording engineer/editor, and historical remastering engineer who creates electroacoustic, instrumental, vocal works, and works involving visuals (video, dance, film, slides).” Got all that?)

Payne and Mills are now inseparable, which makes her instrumental in producing ripples in electronic music from that vital institution. She runs the music program, teaches composition and sound engineering and electronic music, and is co-director of Mills’ Center for Contemporary Music. You could think of few better caretakers for the Buchla 100.

The creators of the I Dream of Wires documentary are now doing a new documentary focusing on Subotnick, presently on IndieGogo. This clip does suggest it could be fun to watch.

Subotnick: Portrait of an Electronic Music Pioneer

It also makes me hungry for more work on the experimental scene – and there’s probably a lot more to say about Mills. (Don’t ask me; I was out on the East Coast!)

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Watch this crew go transhuman in the absorption chamber

“Well, it’s not really anything new” (or some variant) is a phrase heard at music and media shows perhaps as often as “I’m going for a smoke” or “where’s the toilet?”

But this raises a question. Forget for a second what an audience thinks is new – sound or look or technology or whatever. What would get you to do something different? What would get you out of your comfort zone? What would get you to push yourself – even just a few steps?

That’s been the idea behind all the collaborative labs I’ve gotten to organize, but for last year’s “performance lab” at Music Tech Fest, we had some special ingredients.

First, we had as icon and inspiration Viktoria Modesta, a “bionic” pop star who has made prosthetic legs into part of her performance. Viktoria brought an interest in wearable interfaces for performance and worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the other participants. She – and her involvement with us in Berlin – was featured in the Wired issue edited by then-President Barack Obama:

Bionic Artist Viktoria Modesta Transcends the Human Body [Wired]

If Viktoria represented the potential transformation of the body, then the venue itself represented possibilities in space. The Absorption Chamber is a cavernous concrete space built around the DDR-era concert halls of Funkhaus Berlin, the East German radio and sound facility. As far as I know, it had not been used as a venue until our appearance, instead being left empty intentionally by the building’s engineers. And that environment created site-specific possibilities and a defined play arena amidst the bustling activity of the festival.

Jasmine Idun, with whom I co-facilitated the lab, is a self-described cyborg herself, having implanted herself with NFC-compatible chips with which she is creating an ongoing set of interactions. Jasmine’s skills center around play, interaction, transmedia stories, and collaboration – and orbit from there out to fire breathing (really) and the design of game mechanics. (See the entity she founded, Playcentric Industries.)

musictechfest_lab

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But I could go on about each of the individual artists, neuroscientists, engineers (some migrating in from the MIT lab), designers, and hackers who got involved. Via an invited international group, we had people who were as handy with a Max patch as they were with a needle and thread, who could sing and write code, who could parlay research knowledge into on-the-spot experimentation. In just one week, they invented from-scratch performance interventions – most of the collaborators meeting for the first time. Everyone shared with everyone else, but there were eventually three distinct performance groups (one including Viktoria), plus some offstage experiments, presented to the public in an afternoon.

Having a performance as the outcome means there’s a result, an ephemeral moment where an audience witnesses the humans involved in some theatrical state. But that moment is also a kind of final test for ideas, a chance to learn from fully committing them to action. And those lessons I hope reach beyond the event. (Gabriela Prochazka, Arielle Esther, and I have wound up collaborating after learning how one another work in this event, so I can attest to this.)

DCIM100GOPROG0080056.

labassembly

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And I remain inspired as I hope the others do by the material – enough so that revisiting now sparks new ideas as well as fond memories.

The documentary here is the work of hacklab veteran and filmmaker Fanni Fazakas. Fanni also did a longer documentary on the full MTF Berlin experience, and its various people and projects:

Fanni’s work:

http://rumexinaction.com
https://vimeo.com/fannifazakas

The music comes to us by way of musician (and lab participant) Kika Rg.

Photos for this story: Jasmine Idun, Peter Kolski.

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