Conversations and an overflow of music, streaming from Ableton Loop

Don’t have a ticket to Ableton’s Loop “summit for music makers” in Los Angeles? There’s an overabundance of music and conversation from the gathered artists streaming, much of it live, available now.

It’s easy to imagine Loop as turning into something really focused on the particular software and hardware products from Ableton, but the people programming the event have made it something very different. Loop’s programming itself extends through a range of artistic and technological frontiers, many of them only tangentially related to Live or Push – everything from AI to electronic instrument engineering to sonifying data from space. Most of that does require a ticket – which means you need to be in Los Angeles right now, and tickets were in short supply. (Even for ticket holders, capacities are constrained as workshops and seminars often take place in small quarters.)

What you can get access to is a couple of the mainstage talks, and a whole bunch of the music culture around Loop. That says a lot about the kind of artists Ableton has befriended, and the sort of hub Los Angeles can be for musicians. So Dublab Radio are broadcasting, for instance – and they’ve made Loop their home.

We’ll be talking to artists, too, in our own way – stay tuned for that. But meanwhile, part of what I get is that there’s a ton of music to experience. It’s not just one genre, and it’s also not just about the people Loop programmers thought were important. If music production tools are driven by an urge to create and share, then it’s little wonder that the participants here have self-organized their own collaborative playlist to share what they’re doing.

So let’s listen. Here’s your guide:

Loop has their live streaming schedule online, with events starting mainly 2PM (5PM NYC, 11PM Berlin) daily, earlier on Saturday:
https://loop.ableton.com/2018/streaming-schedule/

Timing on the West Coast of the USA tends to run a little late even in the Americas, and winds up at weird hours for Europe/Africa and the Eastern Hemisphere. But here you go — think afternoon – early evening LA time Friday and Saturday and afternoon Sunday. That means evening east coast USA, early morning Japan, and … Europe you might want to wait for the archive unless you’re a night owl.

Highlights for me include Sunday – Damien Licht has been doing some great productions and has a new album, and shesaid.so, Naomi Mitchell & Coco Solid should be terrific as they’re bringing in loads of new and diverse music interests and community activation. Plus Dennis DeSantis, Laura Escudé, Patrice Rushen, Photay talking Saturday about what happens when plans go awry – well, that’s relevant to all of us, and this is an utterly amazing selection of different life experiences professionally. We all talk about the Instagram-friendly perfect side of our creative lives, and very rarely about the failures – even if adjusting to failures is usually where the good stuff happens.

Plus there are live performances in the evening if you can catch them.

Music you can tune in any time, though, via Spotify.

What’s great is the chance for participants to share with one another:

And Dublab would love to welcome you to LA’s extraordinarily dynamic scene:

For more sounds – including the lineup at Loop and a guide to why the venue EastWest Studios has put out music you already know and love:

https://loop.ableton.com/2018/loop-spotify/

And if you are at Loop, see you here:

Touch, Code, Play: creating hybrid physical-digital music instruments

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

At the turn of the 21st century, one Detroit duo was way ahead. Almost two decades later, the world is revisiting Drexciya and their imagined underwater future – the time is right, and the deepest insights come from James Stinson speaking in his own words.

Drexciyan Cruise Control Bubble 1 to Lardossan Cruiser 8 dash 203 X!

Drexciya, the underground electro duo of the 90s, is enjoying a new resurgence … wait, make that the underwater electro duo enjoying a new submergence? Anyway, cue the Tresor Records re-release, the Resident Advisor spot, the works.

And if you’re not already immersed in this duo’s work, now is a great time to discover or rediscover them. The electro tracks are raw, powerful, grimy, totally Detroit, and in these deadly-serious techno times, unafraid of their own irreverence. “Aquabahn” is sexy and totally, wonderfully, ridiculous:

(They’re not totally kidding, though; everyone I’ve talked to from Underground Resistance has talked about being genuine Kraftwerk fans.)

“Afrofuturism” as a term got applied after the fact (to Drexciya as to the likes of Sun Ra and Juan Atkins). When Drexciya’s 1997 release “The Quest” came out, this was just plain futurism in the words of its creators. But in the liner notes, their journey to imagine an underwater utopia spells out the connection to African-American diasporas and discrimination in overt terms.

From The Quest liner notes – diasporas to global techno to underwater worlds and African return.Source.

The Quest, 1997.

Drexciya were not prone to doing interviews. But apart from being a great musical voice, the late James Stinson, revealed in phone interviews from around the end of the project, had a great voice and articulate vision. And while an under-the-sea world of dreams might seem a preconceived conceit, Stinson says it all came naturally out of the vibes of the music. “We flow with the current,” he told Andrew Duke in 2001. And then he expands on how the concept and life flow out of that, and how water figures into the music.

Listen to him about trying the impossible, ignoring what is supposed to be in music – a perspective that seems in perpetual need in creative life. The whole half hour with journalist Andrew Duke is worth hearing. That’s appropriate, too, as Stinson encourages people to get beyond needle drops and listen to whole tracks and the whole world of Drexciya:

The guy talks about the feeling of music being like the sensation of sitting in a liquid chair made of water. And equally great questions. (“What’s it like to ride a manta ray?”)

Spirit of the underground? James Stinson sums it up perfectly: “Anywhere. Sewer. Underwater. Swimming pool. In the middle of a swamp. In a back alley somewhere … we’ll appear anywhere.”

(This is doubly interesting to me, as a friend from Tehran has recently staged an underwater concert with hydrophones, singing underwater – partly as a way to get around prohibitions on female performance in the country. Stinson was onto something with the radical possibilities of underwater music.)

Punk Collective fan art. From Twitter, via Drexciya Research Lab.

For still more words from the source: in 2002, shortly before his death, James Stinson talked to Liz Copeland, with tracks driving away in the background:

“Just give me the music; forget all the other stuff,” he says. “People need to … dig more into themselves and pull it out, and be more of who they are, and believe in what they do. Don’t worry about what other people are doing.”

Resident Advisor recently summed up all of this in a ten minute video, drawing heavily from those two interviews:

Another navigational chart to the music came in 2012 from the ever-reflective Philip Sherburne, who reviewed an anthology that year and also sums up the music as more than just “electro”:

Adapting the lurching rhythmic template of 1980s electro-funk acts like Man Parrish, Cybotron, and Jonzun Crew, Drexciya emphasized the depth-charge qualities of a booming 808 kick, and the electric-eel jolt of a zapping filter sweep. But it went deeper than that. The music was punctuated by cryptic interludes and scraps of code … Drexciya weren’t just trafficking in metaphor and affect; they were telling a story.

Drexciya: Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller I

It’s also worth reading this interview from 1994 in UK zine The Techno Connection, by Dave Mothersole, republished by fan page Drexciya Research Lab. Yeah, it’s 1994, but it’s easily just as relevant in 2018, though it seems now with the Detroit originators hot as ever on the international scene, it may be time to go back to the surviving Underground Resistance members to hear their current take on the landscape and the word “techno.” As for learning to mix better, even when there’s no 4/4 kick, uh — yeah, we can all listen to that one; that can’t be wrong!

More listening – even Spotify are into this now:

From Función Binaria, a full mix (tracklisting on SC:

It’s also great that Tresor are re-releasing seminal works, including Drexciya – ‘Neptune’s Lair’ – (Tresor.129)
is out November 30th, 2018 on 2LP vinyl. (In time for Hanukkah, even.)

It’s a gift, really, to get to go buy that vinyl and set it on a record player. I do also come back to what Stinson says about originality, though. So maybe the best way to honor the Detroit – Berlin connection is, perversely, to listen, take this in, listen end to end (record players are nice for that), let your mind get altered, and then forget all that and take that energy and vibe and go make your own thing.

And certainly everything’s better down where it’s wetter and all that jazz.

Fan art, Jim McCormack. Also via Drexciya Research Lab. Go check that.

For more Drexciya obsessions, follow Drexciya Research Lab on Blogger(!) and Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/drexciyaresearchlab/

http://drexciyaresearchlab.blogspot.com/

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From food stamps and survival to writing the songs you know

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” says artist and composer Allee Willis. Yet her output ranges from Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “September” to the theme song of Friends. If you don’t know Willis, you should – and her story might inspire yours.

Behind all the cheery social media these days, most artists you talk to have struggled. They’ve struggled with creativity and sobriety, mental health and creative blocks, unfriendly industries and obscurity. And sometimes they’ve struggled just to get by – which is where Allee Willis was in 1978, living off food stamps and wondering what would happen next.

What happened next is a career that led to an insane number of hit songs – along with plenty of other fascinating side trips into kitsch and art. (There’s a kitsch-themed social network, an artist alterego named Bubbles, and a music video duet with a 91-year-old woman drummer on an oxygen tank, to name a few.) But what it hasn’t involved is a lot of widespread personal notoriety. Allee Willis is a celebrity’s celebrity, which is to say famous people know her but most people don’t know she’s famous.

At least it’s about that gap. The odds that you don’t know her? Decent. The odds that you don’t know her songs? Unlikely.

Let’s go: Earth, Wind & Fire “September” and “Boogie Wonderland,” The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance,” Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield’s “What Have I Done To Deserve This.” The theme from Friends, recorded by The Rembrandts (if you knew that, which I suspect you didn’t)… all these and more add up to 60 million records. And she co-authored the Oprah Winfrey-produced, Tony and Grammy-winning Broadway musical The Color Purple. More songs you know in movies: Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid (“You’re the Best”), Howard the Duck.

The Detroit native is an impassioned use of Web tech and animation, networked together machines to design an orchestration workflow for The Color Purple musical, and now lives in LA with … Pro Tools, of course, alongside some cats.

But this isn’t about her resume so much as it is about what she says drives her – that itch to create stuff. And for anyone worried about how to get into the creative zone, maybe the first step is to stop worrying about getting into the creative zone. We value analysis and self-critique so much that sometimes we forget to just have fun making and stop worrying about even our own opinions (or maybe, especially those). In the end, it was that instinct that has driven her work, and presumably lots of stuff that didn’t do as well as that Friends theme song. (But there are her cats. Not the Broadway kind; that’s Andrew Lloyd Weber – the furry ones.)

There’s a great video out from CNN-produced Web video series Great Big Story:

And her site is a wild 1999-vintage-design wonderland of HTML, if you want to dive in:

https://alleewillis.com

More:

How she wrote “What Have I Done to Deserve This” gets into her musical thinking – and incongruity (and she does sure seem like she knows what she’s doing):

Plus how she hears and why she needed a Fender Rhodes:

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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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Free Ableton Live add-ons will f*** up your mixes and insult you

That headline isn’t a mistake. If you’ve ever wanted a plug-in to f*** up your mixes, sabotage you, insult you, or “get passive aggressive,” this free collection of Max for Live Devices is for you.

Not to completely spoil the results here, but as I write this, my screen is covered with virtual bees. I cannot make the bees go away. I thought the “bees” instrument was going to make some sounds, but instead it has brought bees onto my screen, both inside and outside Ableton Live.

That’s the sort of results you can expect from Really Useful Plugins.

ru.bomb will take your mix and completely f*** it up, as my headline promises.

ru.no is basically an onscreen version of the nagging doubts inside your head.

Sad.

That is way too much f***ing reverb.

And that’s just the beginning.

Simon Kitmine and David Synth bring you 12 instruments, audio effects and midi effects for Ableton Live, featuring:

Insults!
Games!
Bombs!
Self importance!
Sabotage!
Ways to magically sound like everyone else!
The Chuckle Brothers!
Annoying insects!
Exploration!
Passive aggression!

Really Useful Plugins Set #1 now available!

How much would you pay for such a collection? $99? $299? $999 for a multi-seat license? Well, it’s … free, for some reason. (Can’t imagine why. Free as in bees. Erm, beer.)

Max for Live is required, so Live Suite or Live with the M4L add-on. I’ve said before that’s worth it. Now, there’s no doubt.

You know, it really is too much reverb.

Sigh.

PS, if you appreciate this kind of insight, definitely check out #gothscreenshots:

https://www.instagram.com/goth_screenshots/

It’s the curated collection of digital artist Sougwen, who has also participated at Ableton Loop, bringing this all full circle.

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Exploring a journey from Bengali heritage to electronic invention

Can electronic music tell a story about who we are? Debashis Sinha talks about his LP for Establishment, The White Dog, and how everything from Toronto noodle bowls to Bengali field recordings got involved.

The Canadian artist has a unique knack for melding live percussion techniques and electro-acoustic sound with digital manipulation, and in The White Dog, he dives deep into his own Bengali heritage. Just don’t think of “world music.” What emerges is deeply his and composed in a way that’s entirely electro-acoustic in course, not a pastiche of someone else’s musical tradition glued onto some beats. And that’s what drew me to it – this is really the sound of the culture of Debashis, the individual.

And that seems connected to what electronic music production can be – where its relative ease and accessibility can allow us to focus on our own performance technique and a deeper sense of expression. So it’s a great chance not just to explore this album, but what that trip in this work might say to the rest of us.

CDM’s label side project Establishment put out the new release. I spoke to Debashis just after he finished a trip to Germany and a live performance of the album at our event in Berlin. He writes us from his home Toronto.

First, the album:

I want to start with this journey you took across India. What was that experience like? How did you manage to gather research while in that process?

I’ve been to India many times to travel on my own since I turned 18 – usually I spend time with family in and near Kolkata, West Bengal and then travel around, backpacking style. Since the days of Walkman cassette recorders, I’ve always carried something with me to record sound. I didn’t have a real agenda in mind when I started doing it – it was the time of cassettes, really, so in my mind there wasn’t much I could do with these recordings – but it seemed like an important process to undertake. I never really knew what I was going to do with them. I had no knowledge of what sound art was, or radio art, or electroacoustic music. I switched on the recorder when I felt I had to – I just knew I had to collect these sounds, somehow, for me.

As the years went on and I understood the possibilities for using sound captured in the wild on both a conceptual and technical level, and with the advent of tools to use them easily, I found that to my surprise that the act of recording (when in India, at least) didn’t really change. I still felt I was documenting something that was personal and vital to my identity or heart, and the urge to turn on the recorder still came from a very deep place. It could easily have been that I gathered field sound in response to or in order to complete some kind of musical idea, but every time I tried to turn on the recorder in order to gather “assets” for my music, I found myself resisting. So in the end I just let it be, safe in the knowledge that whatever I gathered had a function for me, and may (or may not) in future have a function for my music or sound work. It didn’t feel authentic to gather sound otherwise.

Even though this is your own heritage, I suppose it’s simultaneously something foreign. How did you relate to that, both before and after the trip?

My father moved to Winnipeg, in the center of Canada, almost 60 years ago, and at the time there were next to no Indian (i.e. people from India) there. I grew up knowing all the brown people in the city. It was a different time, and the community was so small, and from all over India and the subcontinent. Passing on art, stories, myth and music was important, but not so much language, and it was easy to feel overwhelmed – I think that passing on of culture operated very differently from family to family, with no overall cultural support at large to bolster that identity for us.

My mom – who used to dance with Uday Shankar’s troupe would corral all the community children to choreograph “dance-dramas” based on Hindu myths. The first wave of Indian people in Winnipeg finally built the first Hindu temple in my childhood – until then we would congregate in people’s basement altars, or in apartment building common rooms.

There was definitely a relationship with India, but it was one that left me what I call “in/between” cultures. I had to find my own way to incorporate my cultural heritage with my life in Canada. For a long time, I had two parallel lives — which seemed to work fine, but when I started getting serious about music it became something I really had to wrestle with. On the one hand, there was this deep and rich musical heritage that I had tenuous connections to. On the other hand, I was also interested in the 2-Tone music of the UK, American hardcore, and experimental music. I took tabla lessons in my youth, as I was interested in and playing drums, but I knew enough to know I would never be a classical player, and had no interest in pursuing that path, understanding even then that my practice would be eclectic.

I did have a desire to contribute to my Indian heritage from where I sat – to express somehow that “in/between”-ness. And the various trips I undertook on my own to India since I was a young person were in part an effort to explore what that expression might take, whether I knew it or not. The collections of field recordings (audio and later video) became a parcel of sound that somehow was a thread to my practice in Canada on the “world music” stage and later in the realms of sound art and composition.

One of the projects I do is a durational improvised concert called “The (X) Music Conference”, which is modeled after the all-night classical music concerts that take place across India. They start in the evening and the headliner usually goes on around 4am and plays for 3 or more hours. Listening to music for that long, and all night, does something to your brain. I wanted to give that experience to audience members, but I’m only one person, so my concert starts at midnight and goes to 7am. There is tea and other snacks, and people can sit or lie down. I wanted to actualize this idea of form (the classical music concert) suffused with my own content (sound improvisations) – it was a way to connect the music culture of India to my own practice. Using field recordings in my solo work is another, or re-presenting/-imagining Hindu myths another.

I think with the development of the various facets of my sound practice, I’ve found a way to incorporate this “form and content” approach, allowing the way that my cultural heritage functions in my psyche to express itself through the tools I use in various ways. It wasn’t an easy process to come to this balance, but along the way I played music with a lot of amazing people that encouraged me in my explorations.

In terms of integrating what you learned, what was the process of applying that material to your work? How did your work change from its usual idioms?

I went through a long process of compartmentalizing when I discovered (and consumer technology supported) producing electroacoustic work easily. When I was concentrating on playing live music with others on the stage, I spent a lot of time studying various drumming traditions under masters all over – Cairo, Athens, NYC, LA, Toronto – and that was really what kept me curious and driven, knowing I was only glimpsing something that was almost unknowable completely.

As the “world music” industry developed, though, I found the “story” of playing music based on these traditions less and less engaging, and the straight folk festival concert format more and more trivial – fun, but trivial – in some ways. I was driven to tell stories with sound in ways that were more satisfying to me, that ran deeper. These field recordings were a way in, and I made my first record with this in mind – Quell. I simply sat down and gathered my ideas and field recordings, and started to work. It was the first time I really sustained an artistic intention all the way through a major project on my own. As I gained facility with my tools, and as I became more educated on what was out there in the world of this kind of sound practice, I found myself seeking these kinds of sound contexts more and more.

However, what I also started to do was eschew my percussion experience. I’m not sure why, but it was a long time before I gave myself permission to introduce more musical and percussion elements into the sound art type of work I was producing. I think in retrospect I was making up rules that I thought applied, in an effort to navigate this new world of sound production – maybe that was what was happening. I think now I’m finding a balance between music, sound, and story that feels good to me. It took a while though.

I’m curious about how you constructed this. You’ve talked a bit about assembling materials over a longer span of time (which is interesting, too, as I know Robert is working the same way). As we come along on this journey of the album, what are we hearing; how did it come together? I know some of it is live… how did you then organize it?

This balance between the various facets of my sound practice is a delicate one, but it’s also driven by instinct, because really, instinct is all I have to depend on. Whereas before I would give myself very strict parameters about how or what I would produce for a given project, now I’m more comfortable drawing from many kinds of sound production practice.

Many of the pieces on “The White Dog” started as small ideas – procedural or mixing explorations. The “Harmonium” pieces were from a remix of the soundtrack to a video art piece I made at the Banff Centre in Canada (White Dog video link here???), where I wanted to make that video piece a kind of club project. “entr’acte” is from a live concert I did with prepared guitar and laptop accompanying the works of Canadian visual artist Clive Holden. Tracks on other records were part of scores for contemporary dance choreographer Peggy Baker (who has been a huge influence on how I make music, speaking of being open). What brought all these pieces together was in a large part instinct, but also a kind of story that I felt was being told. This cross pollination of an implied dramatic thread is important to me.

And there’s some really beautiful range of percussion and the like. What are the sources for the record? How did you layer them?

I’ve quite a collection, and luckily I’ve built that collection through real relationships with the instruments, both technical and emotional/spiritual. They aren’t just cool sounds (although they’re that, too) — but each has a kind of voice that I’ve explored and understood in how I play it. In that regard, it’s pretty clear to me what instrument needs to be played or added as I build a track.

Something new happens when you add a live person playing a real thing inside an electronic environment. It’s something I feel is a deep part of my voice. It’s not the only way to hear a person inside a piece of music, but it;s the way I put myself in my works. I love metallic sounds, and sounds with a lot of sustain, or power. I’m intrigued by how percussion can be a texture as well as a rhythm, so that is something I explore. I’m a huge fan of French percussionist Le Quan Ninh, so the bass-drum-as-tabletop is a big part of my live setup and also my studio setup.

This programmatic element is part of what makes this so compelling to me as a full LP. How has your experience in the theater imprinted on your musical narratives?

My theater work encompasses a wide range of theater practice – from very experimental and small to quite large stages. Usually I do both the sound design and the music, meaning pretty much anything coming out of a speaker from sound effects to music.

My inspiration starts from many non-musical places. That’s mostly, the text/story, but not always — anything could spark a cue, from the set design to the director’s ideas to even how an actor moves. Being open to these elements has made me a better composer, as I often end up reacting to something that someone says or does, and follow a path that ends up in music that I never would have made on my own. It has also made me understand better how to tell stories, or rather maybe how not to – the importance of inviting the audience into the construction of the story and the emotion of it in real time. Making the listener lean forward instead of lean back, if you get me.

This practice of collaborative storytelling of course has impact on my solo work (and vice versa) – it’s made me find a voice that is more rooted in story, in comparison to when I was spending all my time in bands. I think it’s made my work deeper and simpler in many ways — distilled it, maybe — so that the story becomes the main focus. Of course when I say “story” I mean not necessarily an explicit narrative, but something that draws the listener from end to end. This is really what drives the collecting and composition of a group of tracks for me (as well as the tracks themselves) and even my improvisations.

Oh, and on the narrative side – what’s going on with Buddha here, actually, as narrated by the ever Buddha-like Robert Lippok [composer/artist on Raster Media]?

I asked Robert Lippok to record some text for me many years ago, a kind of reimagining the mind of Gautama Buddha under the bodhi tree in the days leading to his enlightenment. I had this idea that maybe what was going through his mind might not have been what we may imagine when we think of the myth itself. I’m not sure where this idea came from – although I’m sure that hearing many different versions of the same myths from various sources while growing up had its effect – but it was something I thought was interesting. I do this often with my works (see above link to Kailash) and again, it’s a way I feel I can contribute to the understanding of my own cultural heritage in a way that is rooted in both my ancestor’s history as well as my own.

And of course, when one thinks of what the Buddha might have sounded like, I defy you to find someone who sounds more perfect than Robert Lippok.

Techno is some kind of undercurrent for this label, maybe not in the strict definition of the genre… I wonder actually if you could talk a bit about pattern and structure. There are these rhythms throughout that are really hypnotic, that regularity seems really important. How do you go about thinking about those musical structures?

The rhythms I seem drawn to run the gamut of time signatures and tempos. Of course, this comes from my studies of various music traditions and repertoire (Arabic, Greek, Turkish, West Asian, south Indian…). As a hand percussionist for many years playing and studying music from various cultures, I found a lot of parallels and cross talk particularly in the rhythms of the material I encountered. I delighted in finding the groove in various tempos and time signatures. There is a certain lilt to any rhythm; if you put your mind and hands to it, the muscles will reveal this lilt. At the same time, the sound material of electronic music I find very satisfying and clear. I’m at best a middling recording engineer, so capturing audio is not my forte – working in the box I find way easier. As I developed skills in programming and sound design, I seemed to be drawn to trying to express the rhythms I’ve encountered in my life with new tools and sounds.

Regularity and grid is important in rhythm – even breaking the grid, or stretching it to its breaking point has a place. (You can hear this very well in south Indian music, among others.) This grid undercurrent is the basis of electronic music and the tools used to make it. The juxtaposition of the human element with various degrees of quantization of electronic sound is something I think I’ll never stop exploring. Even working strongly with a grid has a kind of energy and urgency to it if you’re playing acoustic instruments. There’s a lot to dive into, and I’m planning to work with that idea a lot more for the next release(s).

And where does Alvin Lucier fit in, amidst this Bengali context?

The real interest for me in creating art lies in actualizing ideas, and Lucier is perhaps one of the masters of this – taking an idea of sound and making it real and spellbinding. “Ng Ta (Lucier Mix)” was a piece I started to make with a number of noodle bowls I found in Toronto’s Chinatown – the white ones with blue fishes on them. The (over)tones and rhythms of the piece as it came together reminded me of a piece I’m really interested in performing, “Silver Streetcar for The Orchestra”, a piece for amplified triangle by Lucier. Essentially the musician plays an amplified triangle, muting and playing it in various places for the duration of the piece. It’s an incredible meditation, and to me Ng Ta on The White Dog is a meditation as well – it certainly came together in that way. And so the title.

I wrestle with the degree with which I invoke my cultural heritage in my work. Sometimes it’s very close to the surface, and the work is derived very directly from Hindu myth say, or field recordings from Kolkata. Sometimes it simmers in other ways, and with varying strength. I struggle with allowing it to be expressed instinctually or more directly and with more intent. Ultimately, the music I make is from me, and all those ideas apply whether or not I think of them consciously.

One of the problems I have with the term “world music” is it’s a marketing term to allow the lumping together of basically “music not made by white people”, which is ludicrous (as well as other harsher words that could apply). To that end, the urge to classify my music as “Indian” in some way, while true, can also be a misnomer or an “out” for lazy listening. There are a billion people in India, I believe, and more on the subcontinent and abroad. Why wouldn’t a track like “entr’acte” be “Indian”? On the other hand, why would it? I’m also a product of the west. How can I manage those worlds and expectations and still be authentic? It’s something I work on and think about all the time – but not when I’m actually making music, thank goodness.

I’m curious about your live set, how you were working with the Novation controllers, and how you were looping, etc.

My live sets are always, always constructed differently – I’m horrible that way. I design new effects chains and different ways of using my outboard MIDI gear depending on the context. I might use contact mics on a kalimba and a prepared guitar for one show, and then a bunch of external percussion that I loop and chop live for another, and for another just my voice, and for yet another only field recordings from India. I’ve used Ableton Live to drive a lot of sound installations as well, using follow actions on clips (“any” comes in handy a lot), and I’ve even made some installations that do the same thing with live input (making sure I have a 5 second delay on that input has….been occasionally useful, shall we say).

The concert I put together for The White Dog project is one that I try and keep live as much as possible. It’s important to me to make sure there is room in the set for me to react to the room or the moment of performance – this is generally true for my live shows, but since I’m re-presenting songs that have a life on a record, finding a meaningful space for improv was trickier.

Essentially, I try and have as many physical knobs and faders as possible – either a Novation Launch Control XL or a Behringer BCR2000 [rotary controller], which is a fantastic piece of gear (I know – Behringer?!). I use a Launchpad Mini to launch clips and deal with grid-based effects, and I also have a little Launch Control mapped to the effects parameters and track views or effects I need to see and interact with quickly. Since I’m usually using both hands to play/mix, I always have a Logidy UMI3 to control live looping from a microphone. It’s a 3 button pedal which is luckily built like a tank, considering how many times I’ve dropped it. I program it in various ways depending on the project – for The White Dog concerts with MIDI learn in the Ableton looper to record/overdub, undo and clear button, but the Logidy software allows you to go a lot deeper. I have the option to feed up to 3 effects chains, which I sometimes switch on the fly with dummy clips.

The Max For Live community has been amazing and I often keep some kind of chopper on one of the effect chains, and use the User mode on the Launchpad Mini to punch in and out or alter the length of the loop or whatnot. Sometimes I keep controls for another looper on that grid.

Basically, if you want an overview – I’m triggering clips, and have a live mic that I use for percussion and voice for the looper. I try and keep the mixer in a 1:1 relationship with what’s being played/played back/routed to effects because I’m old school – I find it tricky to do much jumping around when I’m playing live instruments. It’s not the most complicated setup but it gets the job done, and I feel like I’ve struck a balance between electronics and live percussion, at least for this project.

What else are you listening to? Do you find that your musical diet is part of keeping you creative, or is it somehow partly separate?

I jump back and forth – sometimes I listen to tons of music with an ear to try and expand my mind, sometimes just to enjoy myself. Sometimes I stop listening to music just because I’m making a lot on my own. One thing I try to always take care of is my mind. I try to keep it open and curious, and try to always find new ideas to ponder. I am inspired by a lot of different things – paintings, visual art, music, sound art, books – and in general I’m really curious about how people make an idea manifest – science, art, economics, architecture, fashion, it doesn’t matter. Looking into or trying to derive that jump from the mind idea to the actual real life expression of it I find endlessly fascinating and inspiring, even when I’m not totally sure how it might have happened. It’s the guessing that fuels me.

That being said, at the moment I’m listening to lots of things that I feel are percolating some ideas in me for future projects, and most of it coming from digging around the amazing Bandcamp site. Frank Bretschneider turned me on to goat(jp), which is an incredible quartet from Japan with incredible rhythmic and textural muscle. I’ve rediscovered the fun of listening to lots of Stereolab, who always seem to release the same record but still make it sound fresh. Our pal Robert Lippok just released a new record and I am so down with it – he always makes music that straddles the emotional and the electronic, which is something I’m so interested in doing.

I continue to make my way through the catalog of French percussionist Le Quan Ninh, who is an absolute warrior in his solo percussion improvisations. Tanya Tagaq is an incredible singer from Canada – I’m sure many of the people reading this know of her – and her live band, drummer Jean Martin, violinist Jesse Zubot, and choirmaster Christine Duncan, an incredible improv vocalist in her own right are unstoppable. We have a great free music scene in Toronto, and I love so many of the musicians who are active in it, many of them internationally known – Nick Fraser (drummer/composer), Lina Allemano (trumpet), Andrew Downing (cello/composer), Brodie West (sax) – not to mention folks like Sandro Perri and Ryan Driver. They’ve really lit a fire under me to be fierce and in the moment – listening to them is a recurring lesson in what it means to be really punk rock.

Buy and download the album now on Bandcamp.

https://debsinha.bandcamp.com/album/the-white-dog

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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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Get inspired by how Che Pope tracks live – and manages time

Digital production isn’t just about electronic music – it’s about producing the likes of Preservation Hall Jazz Band, too. Here’s Che Pope on his “GSD: Get Sh*t Done” method.

And yes, that’s worth highlighting I thought not just because this live-tracked music recording of the ensemble is fun to watch, but because I like his rigorous approach to separating time and concerns.

Che Pope you may now as Che Vicious or Che Guevara. He’s worked with… well, so many people, from Lauryn Hill and The Fugees (taking me back) to later on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath to Kanye to Hans Zimmer.

So listen to the man. Actually, just as with Susan Rogers, figure the kind of personality who can work with all those very idiosyncratic personalities is able to keep some distance and objectivity. Sometimes our rockstar heroes may not be able to put things into words, but the producers who worked with them often can.

To highlight the time management part – not that I, uh, ever get challenged with trying to be half a dozen people at once – here’s what he recently told Universal Audio:

I did this thing a few years back I call “Taking Back Your Schedule,” where I made some firm decisions about, y’know, this is my phone call and email time. This is when I’m reachable. And this is when I go into creative mode without any interruptions, unless they’re urgent.

In general, mornings up to about 2pm are for business calls and emails and all that; 3pm on is for creating music. Look, if you’re going to do both — and in many ways you especially need to do both these days — you need to craft a system that works for you. Doing so will make a significant impact on your ability to be productive in your creative and business life.

Actually, I think it’s easy to look at that and think, okay, that’s just for successful producers who already have this balance thing worked out and other people working with them.

I’d say it’s probably even more important if you are under more pressure and in the DIY everything situation. Then you need time that isn’t connected to social media management or tax accounting – even if it’s just a half hour at the end of the day, if that half hour is sacred.

Che Pope was talking to Universal Audio, meanwhile, because they shot this beautiful live session. This makes me want to put aside some time this week to practice keys – and you thought the keyboard couldn’t be “expressive”:

Whatever the instruments, this really demonstrates how much can happen with live tracking. And the beauty of digital is, you can now model an entire studio worth of gear and take it with you on a compact laptop rig. That means here with the UA Apollo, they can track live as if the equipment were in the room – being a UA 610-B tube preamp, and here a Studer multitrack tape with Fairchild limiters.

At the same time, the cleanness of digital recording and the control that offers can still provide a fresh, modern sound. It’s interesting to see people get the modernity in comments – but then the Studer was meant to sound transparent; we’re just used to listening to poor copies on tape and poorly maintained vinyl, played on poor-calibrated/low quality playback equipment, and thinking of that as “vintage.” (Don’t get me wrong – I love horrible equipment, too! But you get the point.)

Maybe there’s some connection to the idea of time management and decision making. Here, you really capture a set of live performances without too much manipulation – and in the ambience of the room. That’s something you could experiment with in any idiom or genre; it still scales the music performance to human time. (Some similar thoughts on ensembles soon – and a parallel early approach to production – from Carl Craig.)

And keeping things at human scale is something we can all do.

More details on the process and thoughts:
Inside the mind of Che Pope / Apollo Artist Sessions [Universal Audio]

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Pretend you can play and produce drums with this free plug-in

Spitfire’s latest LABS plug-in release is out, with the theme “DRUMS.” Here’s how to get started with it – and why it may make you feel like you magically know how to actually play and properly record an acoustic drum kit.

Okay, apologies – I’m projecting a little. Some of you I know can do both those things. Me, that counts as “not at all,” and “yes, but only in theory, please hire an actual producer.”

But DRUMS packs an enormous amount of nuance into a deceptively simple, two-octave mapping. Ever had a chocolate sundae and said, you know, I’m really kind of about the cherry and this bit of peanuts covered in chocolate most? You get the feeling that that’s what’s in this pack.

Here’s a sample. This is literally just me mucking around on the keys. (I ran the sound through the Arturia TridA-Pre, from Arturia’s 3 Preamps You’ll Actually Use set, just to add some dynamics.)

Ready to get started? Here’s where to begin.

Get going with LABS – don’t fear the app!

If you missed our first story on LABS, we covered its launch, which came with a lovely soft piano and chamber string ensemble through vintage mic:

LABS is a free series of sound tools for everyone, and you’ll want it now

Your first step is to head to the LABS site, and choose the free sound you want. If you created a login before at Spitfire, that will work for “DRUMS” – just click ‘get’ and login. If you haven’t got a login yet, you can register with an email address and password.

https://www.spitfireaudio.com/labs/

I find two things scare people about free software, and I understand your frustration, so to allay those fears:

They’re not signing you up for a newsletter, unless you want one!

Some useful assistance, not annoying intrusion. The app is only there to aid in downloading. It doesn’t launch at startup or anything like that. Basically, it’s there because it’s better than your Web browser – it will actually put the files in the right place and let you choose where those hundreds of megs go, and it will finish a download if interrupted. (That’s especially useful on a slow connection.)

Specifically on Windows, you can make sure it finds your correct VST folder so you don’t load up your DAW and wonder where the heck it went.

Grabbing the app helps make sure you complete the download, and that it goes into the right place. The app downloads and installs the content in one step. It doesn’t load on startup or do anything else weird.

Another key feature of the Spitfire app – you can select where the sample content goes, so you can use an external drive if you’re short on space on your internal drive.

Give it a play!

Once LABS is installed, you have your drum kit, which Spitfire says is the creation of drummer Oliver Waton and engineer Stanley Gabriel.

That minimal interface shouldn’t worry you – have a fiddle with the controls and dial in whatever variation you like. Most of the nuance to the LABS kits is really in actually playing them, so the best idea here is to connect your favorite velocity-sensitive instrument and play, whether that’s a drum pad controller or keyboard or whatever else you have handy.

In my case, I wirelessly paired a ROLI Seaboard Block. It’s conveniently also two octaves, so you just need to set the octave range to match the DRUMS.

As opposed to sprawling sample libraries, LABS are simple and compact, so don’t worry – just go ahead and play.

Beginning some ideas with a familiar sound can also be the basis of doing something a bit radical, because a well-recorded acoustic source will give you a rich sonic range – and dares you to make it sound like something else. So, using another bit of free add-on we’ve covered lately, I loaded up the Creative Extensions Pack from Ableton, which works in Live Suite 10 or any copy of Live 10 with a Max for Live license.

To bend this into experimental/IDM territory, I stacked on various effects, including reversing and gating the sound and adding spectral ambience … generally mucking about. The idea was to keep the character of the drum source, but make it sound like spacetime had gone a bit amiss.

Pairing conventional sounds with out-there effects is one way to go. Ableton Live 10 users can grab another freebie (for Suite or Max for Live). Choose Creative Extensions from the browser and download.

And here is a not terribly-well-thought-out effects chain using those Creative Extensions. Could your cat do better? Possibly. I like cats, though. Give those felines some production opportunities, too.

This time I finished off the sound using Native Instruments’ VC 76 compressor and Enhanced EQ.

But I was just having a bit of fun. So I’d love to hear what you come up with using these sorts of sounds. One of the common complaints about production today is that everyone has easy access to sounds and very often the same tools. But let’s use that – let’s see what you all come up with.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to better record drums, I’m happy to ask Spitfire about how they recorded this set, too. Playing with it actually does make me want to grab some mics and a kit, too.

Feel free to post thoughts, questions, and sound links in comments.

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