Now ‘AI’ takes on writing death metal, country music hits, more

Machine learning is synthesizing death metal. It might make your death metal radio DJ nervous – but it could also mean music software works with timbre and time in new ways. That news – plus some comical abuse of neural networks for writing genre-specific lyrics in genres like country – next.

Okay, first, whether this makes you urgently want to hear machine learning death metal or it drives you into a rage, either way you’ll want the death metal stream. And yes, it’s a totally live stream – you know, generative style. Tune in, bot out:

Okay, first it’s important to say, the whole point of this is, you need data sets to train on. That is, machines aren’t composing music, so much as creatively regurgitating existing samples based on fairly clever predictive mathematical models. In the case of the death metal example, this is SampleRNN – a recurrent neural network that uses sample material, repurposed from its original intended application working with speak. (Check the original project, though it’s been forked for the results here.)

This is a big, big point, actually – if this sounds a lot like existing music, it’s partly because it is actually sampling that content. The particular death metal example is nice in that the creators have published an academic article. But they’re open about saying they actually intend “overfitting” – that is, little bits of samples are actually playing back. Machines aren’t learning to generate this content from scratch; they’re actually piecing together those samples in interesting ways.

That’s relevant on two levels. One, because once you understand that’s what’s happening, you’ll recognize that machines aren’t magically replacing humans. (This works well for death metal partly because to non connoisseurs of the genre, the way angry guitar riffs and undecipherable shouting are plugged together already sounds quite random.)

But two, the fact that sample content is being re-stitched in time like this means this could suggest a very different kind of future sampler. Instead of playing the same 3-second audio on repeat or loop, for instance, you might pour hours or days of singing bowls into your sampler and then adjust dials that recreated those sounds in more organic ways. It might make for new instruments and production software.

Here’s what the creators say:

Thus, we want the out-put to overfit short timescale patterns (timbres, instruments, singers, percussion) and underfit long timescale patterns(rhythms, riffs, sections, transitions, compositions) so that it sounds like a recording of the original musicians playing new musical compositions in their style.

Sure enough, you can go check their code:

https://github.com/ZVK/sampleRNNICLR2017

Or read the full article:

Generating Albums with SampleRNN to Imitate Metal, Rock, and Punk Bands

The reason I’m belaboring this is simple. Big corporations like Spotify might use this sort of research to develop, well, crappy mediocre channels of background music that make vaguely coherent workout soundtracks or faux Brian Eno or something that sounded like Erik Satie got caught in an opium den and re-composed his piano repertoire in a half daze. And that would, well, sort of suck.

Alternatively, though, you could make something like a sampler or DAW more human and less conventionally predictable. You know, instead of applying a sample slice to a pad and then having the same snippet repeat every eighth note. (Guilty as charged, your honor.)

It should also be understood that, perversely, this may all be raising the value of music rather than lowering it. Given the amount of recorded music currently available, and given that it can already often be licensed or played for mere cents, the machine learning re-generation of these same genres actually requires more machine computation and more human intervention – because of the amount of human work required to even select datasets and set parameters and choose results.

DADABOTS, for their part, have made an entire channel of this stuff. The funny thing is, even when they’re training on The Beatles, what you get sounds like … well, some of the sort of experimental sound you might expect on your low-power college radio station. You know, in a good way – weird, digital drones, of exactly the sort we enjoy. I think there’s a layperson impression that these processes will magically improve. That may misunderstand the nature of the mathematics involved – on the contrary, it may be that these sorts of predictive models always produce these sorts of aesthetic results. (The same team use Markov Chains to generate track names for their Bandcamp label. Markov Chains work as well as they did a century ago; they didn’t just start working better.)

I enjoy listening to The Beatles as though an alien civilization has had to digitally reconstruct their oeuvre from some fallout-shrouded, nuclear-singed remains of the number-one hits box set post apocalypse. (“Help! I need somebody! Help! The human race is dead!” You know, like that.)

As it moves to black metal and death metal, their Bandcamp labels progresses in surreal coherence:

This album gets especially interesting, as you get weird rhythmic patterns in the samples. And there’s nothing saying this couldn’t in turn inspire new human efforts. (I once met Stewart Copeland, who talked about how surreal it was hearing human drummers learn to play the rhythms, unplugged, that he could only achieve with The Police using delay pedals.)

I’m really digging this one:

So, digital sample RNN processes mostly generate angry and angular experimental sounds – in a good way. That’s certainly true now, and could be true in the future.

What’s up in other genres?

SONGULARITY is making a pop album. They’re focusing on lyrics (and a very funny faux generated Coachella poster). In this case, though, the work is constrained to text – far easier to produce convincingly than sound. Even a Markov Chain can give you interesting or amusing results; with machine learning applied character-by-character to text, what you get is a hilarious sort of futuristic Mad Libs. (It’s also clear humans are cherry-picking the best results, so these are really humans working with the algorithms much as you might use chance operations in music or poetry.)

Whether this says anything about the future of machines, though, the dadaist results are actually funny parody.

And that gives us results like You Can’t Take My Door:

Barbed whiskey good and whiskey straight.

These projects work because lyrics are already slightly surreal and nonsensical. Machines chart directly into the uncanny valley instead of away from it, creating the element of surprise and exaggerated un-realness that is fundamental to why we laugh at a lot of humor in the first place.

This also produced this Morrissey “Bored With This Desire To Get Ripped” – thanks to the ingenious idea of training the dataset not just with Morrissey lyrics, but also Amazon customer reviews of the P90X home workout DVD system. (Like I said – human genius wins, every time.)

Or there’s Dylan mixed with negative Yelp reviews from Manhattan:

And maybe in this limited sense, the machines are telling us something about how we learn. Part of the poetic flow is about drawing on all our wetware neural connections between everything we’ve heard before – as in the half-awake state of creative vibrations. That is, we follow our own predictive logic without doing the usual censoring that keeps our language rational. Thinking this way, it’s not that we would use machine learning to replace the lyricist. Rather, just as with chance operations in the past, we can use this surreal nonsense to free ourselves from the constraints that normal behavior require.

We shouldn’t underestimate, though, human intervention in using these lyrics. The neural nets are good at stringing together short bits of words, but the normal act of composition – deciding the larger scale structure, choosing funnier bits over weaker ones, recognizing patterns – remain human.

Recurrent neural networks probably won’t be playing Coachella any time soon, but if you need a band name, they’re your go-to. More funny text mangling from the Botnik crew.

My guess is, once the hype dies down, these particular approaches will wind up joining the pantheon of drunken walks and Markov Chains and fractals and other psuedo-random or generative algorithmic techniques. I sincerely hope that we don’t wait for that to happen, but use the hype to seize the opportunity to better educate ourselves about the math underneath (or collaborate with mathematicians), and see these more hardware-intensive processes in the context of some of these older ideas.

If you want to know why there’s so much hype and popular interest, though, the human brain may itself hold the answer. We are all of us hard-wired to delight in patterns, which means arguably there’s nothing more human than being endlessly entertained by what these algorithms produce.

But you know, I’m a marathon runner in my sorry way.

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Max TV: go inside Max 8’s wonders with these videos

Max 8 – and by extension the latest Max for Live – offers some serious powers to build your own sonic and visual stuff. So let’s tune in some videos to learn more.

The major revolution in Max 8 – and a reason to look again at Max even if you’ve lapsed for some years – is really MC. It’s “multichannel,” so it has significance in things like multichannel speaker arrays and spatial audio. But even that doesn’t do it justice. By transforming the architecture of how Max treats multiple, well, things, you get a freedom in sketching new sonic and instrumental ideas that’s unprecedented in almost any environment. (SuperCollider’s bus and instance system is capable of some feats, for example, but it isn’t as broad or intuitive as this.)

The best way to have a look at that is via a video from Ableton Loop, where the creators of the tech talk through how it works and why it’s significant.

Description [via C74’s blog]:

In this presentation, Cycling ’74’s CEO and founder David Zicarelli and Content Specialist Tom Hall introduce us to MC – a new multi-channel audio programming system in Max 8.

MC unlocks immense sonic complexity with simple patching. David and Tom demonstrate techniques for generating rich and interesting soundscapes that they discovered during MC’s development. The video presentation touches on the psychoacoustics behind our recognition of multiple sources in an audio stream, and demonstrates how to use these insights in both musical and sound design work.

The patches aren’t all ready for download (hmm, some cleanup work being done?), but watch this space.

If that’s got you in the learning mood, there are now a number of great video tutorials up for Max 8 to get you started. (That said, I also recommend the newly expanded documentation in Max 8 for more at-your-own-pace learning, though this is nice for some feature highlights.)

dude837 has an aptly-titled “delicious” tutorial series covering both musical and visual techniques – and the dude abides, skipping directly to the coolest sound stuff and best eye candy.

Yes to all of these:

There’s a more step-by-step set of tutorials by dearjohnreed (including the basics of installation, so really hand-holding from step one):

For developers, the best thing about Max 8 is likely the new Node features. And this means the possibility of wiring musical inventions into the Internet as well as applying some JavaScript and Node.js chops to anything else you want to build. Our friends at C74 have the hook-up on that:

Suffice to say that also could mean some interesting creations running inside Ableton Live.

It’s not a tutorial, but on the visual side, Vizzie is also a major breakthrough in the software:

That’s a lot of looking at screens, so let’s close out with some musical inspiration – and a reminder of why doing this learning can pay off later. Here’s Second Woman, favorite of mine, at LA’s excellent Bl__K Noise series:

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Immerse yourself in the full live AV concert by raster’s Belief Defect

Computer and modular machine textures collide with explosions of projected particles and glitching colored textures. Now the full concert footage of the duo Belief Defect (on Raster) is out.

It’s tough to get quality full-length live performance video – previously writing about this performance I had to refer to a short excerpt; a lot of the time you can only say “you had to be there” and point to distorted cell phone snippets. So it’s nice to be able to watch a performance end-to-end from the comfort of your chair.

Transport yourself to the dirigible-scaled hollowed-out power plant above Kraftwerk (even mighty Tresor club is just the basement), from Atonal Festival. It’s a set that’s full of angry, anxious, crunchy-distorted goodness:

(Actually even having listened to the album a lot, it’s nice to sit and retrace the full live set and see how they composed/improvised it. I would say record your live sets, fellow artists, except I know about how the usual Recording Curse works – when the Zoom’s batteries are charged up and the sound isn’t distorted and you remember to hit record is so often … the day you play your worst. They escaped this somehow.)

And Belief Defect represent some of the frontier of what’s possible in epic, festival mainstage-sized experimentalism, both analog and digital, sonic and visual. I got to write extensively about their process, with some support from Native Instruments, and more in-depth here:

BELIEF DEFECT ON THEIR MASCHINE AND REAKTOR MODULAR RIG [Native Instruments blog]

— with more details on how you might apply this to your own work:

What you can learn from Belief Defect’s modular-PC live rig

While we’re talking Raster label – the label formerly Raster-Noton before it again divided so Olaf Bender’s Raster and Carsten Nicolai’s Noton could focus on their own direction – here’s some more. Dasha Rush joined Electronic Beats for a rare portrait of her process and approach, including the live audiovisual-dance collaboration with dancer/choreographer Valentin Tszin and, on visuals, Stanislav Glazov. (Glazov is a talented musician, as well, producing and playing as Procedural aka Prcdrl, as well as a total Touch Designer whiz.)

And Dasha’s work, elegantly balanced between club and experimental contexts with every mix between, is always inspired.

Here’s that profile, though I hope to check in more shortly with how Stas and Valentin work with Kinect and dance, as well as how Stas integrates visuals with his modular sound:

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Experimental Ukrainian music, through a looking glass

April is a generous month for fans of unusual Ukrainian compilations – now having covered new braindance from the country, we’re directed by readers to another set, giving a tour of experimentalism and electronic composition.

Flaming Pines is a wonderful label for experimental music, also setting up its virtual home on Bandcamp, that last best hope for underground digital downloads and physical releases. Check their full catalog for adventurous sounds from 9T Antiope (great stuff) to Kate Carr (seriously, just go give those a listen). The label, a transplant from Sydney to London, has also taken on a number of tours of experimental electronic scenes in far-off locales, including a gorgeous Iranian compilation called Absence, and up-and-coming Vietnamese avant garde in Emergence.

It’s not so much exoticism the label seems to find as threads connecting kindred spirits. And now, having plumbed the depths of mystical sound in Ukrainian duo Gamardah Fungus, the label brings back half of that duo to curate a selection of sounds from that motherland. Igor Yalivec is the guide here, leading us in just twelve tracks to some highlights of established compositional voices and younger contributions alike. Igor you’ll also find showing off modular musicianship as a solo artist in addition to working in the duo:

Guitar and electronics yield magical metallic timbres like a lucid dream, in the work of Gamardah Fungus – some potent brew of remembered folklore and time-warped futurism. It’s Slavic spirit ambient, but always inventive – modal melodies tensely wandering about layers of tape and sound:

So this was a perfect starting point for Kaleiodoscope. That leads to Alla Zahaikevych (aka Zagaykevych) – her work spanning traditional concert music training, historical folk singing technique (with over a decade singing in an ensemble dedicated to the practice), and founding the Electronic Music Studio of Kyiv’s National Music Academy of Ukraine. I can’t think of many composers covering that many directions in a single career worldwide, making her a leader on that stage as well as in Ukraine.

Or there’s Andrey Kiritchenko, obsessively prolific generation X-aged composer who founded the cutting-edge Nexsound label – and has worked with names like Kim Cascone, Francisco López, Andreas Tilliander, Frank Bretschneider, Scanner, Charlemagne Palestine, and many others.

But thinking in generations or separating academy from disreputable underground – it’s fitting that we cross those borders freely now. So it’s an easy step to a younger artist like Motorpig, a visceral, dark project spanning techno, industrial, and experimental veins – and things that are none of those, but rather ambient, undulating merry-go-rounds of texture. (Been a while since there was new Motorpig, so I’m up for any new track):

To come full circle, understanding the reason for this journey out to Ukraine, it’s worth hearing the terrifically nuanced sound world of Flaming Pines’ own Kate Carr. These are ambient soundscapes that breathe and ache, as precarious and fragile as evidently the artist was recording them – “sliding about in freezing mud on steep inclines.” And maybe that’s what this is all about – music that invokes deep spirits and puts itself in positions of extreme difficulty, all to catch fleeting moments of beauty.

So the compilation promises great things – like this utterly chilling vocal composition by Alla Zagaykevych, some evidently convolved, ghostly sound that seems to be about to blow away like frost:

Also in future-vocal territory, Andrey Kiritchenko delivers a chanting vocoder:

The art, at top, also comes from Ukraine – artist Alina Gaeva. I look forward to the compilation coming out on April 22 – but there’s plenty of link holes to drain our PayPal accounts on Bandcamp in the meantime.

https://flamingpines.bandcamp.com/album/kaleidoscope

And all of this makes a nice contrast to that naive nerdy braindance business from a couple of days ago. Previously, on “there’s a lot of really cool music from Ukraine on Bandcamp now and it’s worth dropping doing other things to talk about it”:

From Ukraine, a compilation to resist normality and go braindance

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Exploring machine learning for music, live: Gamma_LAB AI

AI in music is as big a buzzword as in other fields. So now’s the time to put it to the test – to reconnect to history, human practice, and context, and see what holds up. That’s the goal of the Gamma_LAB AI in St. Petersburg next month. An open call is running now.

Machine learning for AI has trended so fast that there are disconnects between genres and specializations. Mathematicians or coders may get going on ideas without checking whether they work with musicians or composers or musicologists – and the other way around.

I’m excited to join as one of the hosts with Gamma_LAB AI partly because it brings together all those possible disciplines, puts international participants in an intensive laboratory, and then shares the results in one of the summer’s biggest festivals for new electronic music and media. We’ll make some of those connections because those people will finally be together in one room, and eventually on one live stage. That investigation can be critical, skeptical, and can diverge from clichéd techniques – the environment is wide open and packed with skills from an array of disciplines.

Natalia Fuchs, co-producer of GAMMA Festival, founder of ARTYPICAL and media art historian, is curating Gamma_LAB AI. The lab will run in May in St. Petersburg, with an open call due this Monday April 8 (hurry!), and then there will be a full AI-stage as a part of Gamma Festival.

Image: Helena Nikonole.

Invited participants will delve into three genres – baroque, jazz, and techno. The idea is not just a bunch of mangled generative compositions, but a broad look at how machine learning could analyze deep international archives of material in these fields, and how the work might be used creatively as an instrument or improviser. We expect participants with backgrounds in musicianship and composition as well as in coding, mathematics, and engineering, and people in between, also researchers and theorists.

To guide that work, we’re working to setup collaboration and confrontation between historical approaches and today’s bleeding-edge computational work. Media artist Helena Nikonole became conceptual artist of the Lab. She will bring her interests in connecting AI with new aesthetics and media, as she has exhibited from ZKM to CTM to Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. Dr. Konstantin Yakovlev joins as one of Russia’s leading mathematicians and computer scientists working at the forefront of AI, machine learning, and smart robotics – meaning we’re guaranteed some of the top technical talent. (Warning: crash course likely.)

Russia has an extraordinarily rich culture of artistic and engineering exploration, in AI as elsewhere. Some of that work was seen recently at Berlin’s CTM Festival exhibition. Helena for her part has created work that, among others, applies machine learning to unraveling the structure of birdsong (with a bird-human translator perhaps on the horizon), and hacked into Internet-connected CCTV cameras and voice synthesis to meld machine learning-generated sacred texts with … well, some guys trapped in an elevator. See below:

Bird Language

deus X mchn

I’m humbled to get to work with them and in one of the world’s great musical cities, because I hope we also get to see how these new models relate to older ones, and where gaps lie in music theory and computation. (We’re including some musicians/composers with serious background in these fields, and some rich archives that haven’t been approached like this ever before.)

I came from a musicology background, so I see in so-called “AI” a chance to take musicology and theory closer to the music, not further away. Google recently presented a Bach ”doodle” – more on that soon, in fact – with the goal of replicating some details of Bach’s composition. To those of us with a music theory background, some of the challenges of doing that are familiar: analyzing music is different from composing it, even for the human mind. To me, part of why it’s important to attempt working in this field is that there’s a lot to learn from mistakes and failures.

It’s not so much that you’re making a robo-Bach – any more than your baroque theory class will turn all the students into honorary members of the extended Bach family. (Send your CV to your local Lutheran church!) It’s a chance to find new possibilities in this history we might not have seen before. And it lets us test (and break) our ideas about how music works with larger sets of data – say, all of Bach’s cantatas at once, or a set of jazz transcriptions, or a library full of nothing but different kick drums, if you like. This isn’t so much about testing “AI,” whatever you want that to mean – it’s a way to push our human understanding to its limits.

Oh yes, and we’ll definitely be pushing our own human limits – in a fun way, I’m sure.

A small group of participants will be involved in the heart of St. Petersburg from May 11-22, with time to investigate and collaborate, plus inputs (including at the massive Planetarium No. 1).

But where this gets really interesting – and do expect to follow along here on CDM – is that we will wind up in July with an AI mainstage at the globally celebrated Gamma Festival. Artist participants will create their own AI-inspired audiovisual performances and improvisations, acoustic and electronic hybrids, and new live scenarios. The finalists will be invited to the festival and fully covered in terms of expenses.

So just as I’ve gotten to do with partners at CTM Festival (and recently with southeast Asia’s Nusasonic), we’re making the ultimate laboratory experiment in front of a live audience. Research, make, rave, repeat.

The open call deadline is fast approaching if you think you might want to participate.

Facebook event
http://gammafestival.ru/english

To apply:
Participation at GAMMA_LAB AI is free for the selected candidates. Send a letter of intent and portfolio to aiworkshop@artypical.com by end of day April 8, 2019. Participants have to bring personal computers of sufficient capacity to work on their projects during the Laboratory. Transportation and living expenses during the Laboratory are paid by the participants themselves. The organizers provide visa support, as well as the travel of the best Lab participants to GAMMA festival in July.

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From Ukraine, a compilation to resist normality and go braindance

The letters titling the release spell out, in Cyrllic, “sh**s.” And more than just another dull compilation, this collection of tracks is a statement – in opposition to commercialism and homogeny, in favor of “braindance” weirdness.

The earnest voices of the ШЩЦ creators intone their explanation in an ‘intro’ track you get with the download. “We have power to … make it not commercial, to make it true, to make it native,” they explain – “emotional music, true music from true people.” 23 artists were picked out of hundreds, and the result is a pay-what-you-will Bandcamp release plus a DVD physical copy. (Just got a confirmation – the DVD I impulse-bought is coming in the mail. This should complete my antiquated release format bingo, alongside floppies and game cartridges and VHS tapes and so on….)

ШЩЦ is a party in Kyiv as well as this first music release, and so in addition to lots of new names, you’ll see the likes of Stanislav Tolkachev. The collective itself is based in the capital city, but connects a group from around the country.

You’ll find some magical and surprising arrangements here. And in an age that so often trends between molasses-thick irony and nostalgia on one hand, or dark dystopia on the other, this is music that that’s free, experimental, and optimistic. Just to name a few favorites, and I like this top to bottom – Xtal’s “A-Body” shimmers with cascades of glistening tunes across a frosty-rich percussion bed. Sztvo’s “Heaton” is equally gorgeous, sunlit-warm stuff. “Famergame” is total insanity, by Potreba – please, please DJ with this and invite me. Jubex “Pass In The Dust” feels almost like the Detroit-Kyiv electro connection, with some dry digital newness thrown in. “Hibernation” by S+ is frenetic and urgent. And yeah, Tolkachev’s contribution sounds like there was a transporter accident on the disco floor. Everywhere there are rhythms that range from frantic digital streams to dorky awkward irregularity.

We’ve heard these timbres and rhythms before, but to me ШЩЦ is a sign that what was once high-falutin’ computer craft has become downright punk – and just as easy and spontaneous, rather than sounding overworked or off-putting.

Ukraine now post-revolution is like UK 90s, they argue. But hey, UK or not, why not go oldschool by making connections just by putting together some tracks and being decidedly weird. More of that, please.

“Listen on Bandcamp … and also, wherever in Internet.”

Word.

http://ssshitsss.bandcamp.com/album/various-artists-01

I also dig that their description reads like a manifesto:

ШЩЦ (SHITS) is a new Ukrainian label that started as a club night in December 2016. It was founded by A-Body, Bodya Konakov and their friends and promotes ‘Braindance’ — a much loved and misunderstood genre of electronic music, forgotten by some and indeed new to others, especially in Ukraine. Label founders want to show a kind of ‘family’ of ukrainian artists (by no means a monopoly) who introducing more freedom and versatility to music. These artists feel that there is a void in the country’s dance music that few were attempting to fill so ШЩЦ (SHITS) aims to demonstrate to the rest of the world that Ukrainian braindance music can be entirely original. Also, it disregards the all-to-common commercial genres and wants to show alternative side of dance music.

They tries to demonstrate this in VARIOUS ARTISTS ШЩЦ01, a DVD compilation.

The compilation features 23 musicians from Ukraine, which makes innovative, but at the same time emotional music. This is the friends of the label who have repeatedly performed at concerts and parties of the ШЩЦ (SHITS), including such names as Stanislav Tolkachev, A-Body, Wulffius, Potreba, Sommer, Tofudj, Sasha Very, Acid Jordan, etc.

Also label places equal importance on the evolution of fresh artists on the scene and aims to offer a fair contract for everyone.

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Two free plug-ins and a music label take you into ambient worlds

What’s to say a music idea can’t be both a tool and a tape, an instrument someone could play or an album they can get lost in? Puremagnetik are launching their new experimental label with two free tools that let you keep the drones and grains and ambient soundscapes flowing.

There’s a bunch of hype this week because Warner Music signed an algorithm. And in turn with everyone abusing the term “AI,” you might well think that a computer has automated a composer’s job. Except that’s not what happened – in the long tradition of algorithmic music, a group of composers applied their ideas to the development of software. One of the first apps launched for the iPhone, in fact, was the Brian Eno – Peter Chilvers “Bloom.” Endel has more in common with Bloom, I’d argue, than it does some dystopia where unseen, disembodied AI come to rob you of your lucrative ambient music recording contract. (At least, we’re not there yet. Endel is here in Berlin; I hope to talk to them soon – what they’ve done sounds very interesting, and maybe not quite what the press have reported.) Bloom in turn was a follow-up to Eno’s software-based generative music releases. Ableton co-founders Gerhard and Robert released software in the 90s, too.

So let’s talk about the role of musician as blurred with the role of instrument builder. Soundware and software shop Puremagnetik is made by musicians; founder Micah Frank was moonlighting in sound design for others as he worked on his own music. While this may come as shocking news to some, it turns out for many people, selling music tools is often a better day job than selling music or music performances. (I hope you were sitting down for that bombshell. Don’t tell my/your/anyone’s parents.)

But there are many ways to express something musically. Many of us who love tools as we do love playing live and recording and listening do so because all of these things embody sound and feeling.

It’s fitting, then, that Puremagnetik are launching their own record label to house some of the recorded experiments – Puremagnetik Tapes, which already has some beautiful music on cassette and as digital downloads.

And the perfect companion to those albums is these two free plug-ins. Like the label, they promise a trip for the mind.

The two first tapes (also available as digital)… gorgeous sound worlds to lose yourself in on loop.

The label announces it will focus on “experimental, ambient and acousmatic music.” That already yields two enchanting ambient forays. “Into a Bright Land” is in turns crystalline and delicate, warm and lush as a thick blanket. It’s Micah Frank himself, releasing under his Larum moniker. The musical craft is a digital-analog hybrid, part synths and tape machines – the kind the company has been known for sampling in its sound work – and partly Micah’s intricate custom coding work in the free environment Csound.

https://puremagnetik.com/collections/tapes/products/larum-into-a-bright-land

To accompany Into a Bright Land, there’s the plug-in “Expanse,” a “texture generator,” with a combination of “texture tone” filter, spectral blurring, adjustable pitch shift, and a healthy supply of noise generation and space.

Its drones and sonic landscapes draw from that same world.

Tyler Gilmore aka BlankFor.ms has crafted “Works for Tape and Piano,” pushing each instrument to its most vulnerable place, the tape itself becoming instrument, sounding almost as if at the point of a beautiful breakdown.

https://puremagnetik.com/collections/tapes/products/blankfor-ms-works-for-tape-and-piano

Since you can’t just borrow Tyler’s tape machines and such, Driftmaker is a digital equivalent – a “delay disintegration” device. Add your own audio, and the plug-in will model analog deterioration. The artist himself supplies the presets. Again, you have plenty of control – “parse” which sets the record buffer, “chop” which determines how much to recall, and then controls for delay, modulation, filtering, and wet/dry.

Both plug-ins are free with an email address or Gumroad login.

…and the plug-ins, each created to aesthetically accompany the albums.

There’s a pattern here, though. Far from a world where artists remove themselves from craft or automate the hard work, here, artists relish in getting close to everything that makes sound. They make music the hard way because each element of DIY is fun. And then they share that same fun. It might well be the opposite of the narrative we’re given about AI and automation (and I suspect that may also mean artists don’t approach machine learning for music in the way some people currently predict).

Or, well, even if you don’t believe that, I think you’ll easily lose whole evenings with these albums and plug-ins alike.

Details:

https://puremagnetik.com/blogs/news/two-free-plugins-expanse-driftmaker

Requirements: macOS X 10.8 (AU, VST) or Windows 10 (VST) 64-bit plug-ins

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Premiere: rituals of sound and rhythm in the latest from Mexico’s FAX

The Changing Landscape is the latest mystical outing from Mexican ambient/experimental electronic master FAX. And to launch into that world, we have a video that’s liquid, glitchy, a post-digital mind trip.

Let’s watch the music video, created by Hirám López:

Fax, aka Rubén Alonso Tamayo, is the epitome of a long-term artist. He’s got multiple decades of music to his name, spanning from dancefloor to far-out experimental soundscape, but always imbued with craft and thought. Ideally, you’ll get to hear Fax’s work in person – live, he creates earthquakes of sound and transports audiences to other planes. (I was lucky enough to catch him in Mexico City for the edition of MUTEK there.)

The Mexicali, Baja California-native artist is also a hub of activity in Mexico, across visual and sonic media. So for The Changing Landscape, we get free-flowing, spontaneous journeys full of the percussion work of Yamil Rezc.

The landscapes are organized into a diverse progression of “lands,” variations on a theme and instrumentation. “Land I” opens with a squelchy, exposed bassline before breaking into a gentle, jazzy jam. “Land II” is a stuttering, irregular ambient world, drums and piano idly ambling in stumbles over top waves of fuzzy pads. “Land IV” is more futuristic, pulsing synths glistening as noise crests and breaks across the stereo field. “Land V” crackles and cycles in some final parting ritual.

“Land III,” for which we get this video premiere, is clearly a highlight, an esoteric inner sanctum of the album, digital odd angles against a melancholy dialog of pad and bass.

FAX, photo by Braulio Lam.

Like the label he has co-founded, Static Discos, FAX works along borders of geography and medium. As often is the case, the personnel here come from that Mexican border town Mexicali. And visual collaborator Hirám López tunes into the trance-like, surreal-ultrareal quality of the work, writing:

FAX’s atmospheres and musical progressions submerged me in a hypnotic trance that I had to capture. Land III, was an experimentation exercise, where the human collages of Jung Sing were distorted to mix these characters even more through the aesthetics of the glitch. I used Adobe After Effects to replicate a series of visual alterations that bad coding can cause in today’s tech devices, based on the musical figures to give them a synchronized intention.

It’s all subtle, as is the music – the effect just disrupting the surface, a direct analog to the sonic approach in the album. As they write:

“Displacement mapping” was the technique that Hirám López used the most; It allows you to alternate pixel positions from a high contrast image, were the brightness intensity determines how the superimposed pixels on that image or map will move. Lopez’ method consisted in using several layers of this effect on Jung’s illustrations, placing keyframes and expressions (code that detects audio and converts it in a numeric value) that moved the distortion map along the x and y axes, in sync with the music. Under the concept of permanence of the disturbance, as a ghostly trace of the previous or later character, the “Datamoshing” effect created dynamic transitions, with this same tool. Due to its hypnotic effect, the waves and tunnels created with various plugins including “Ripple” and “Radio waves” were very helpful for depth simulation, the repetition of the illustrations, and the Mandelbrot type fractals to emphasize the trance.

Also, “masking” allowed López to cut out some elements from the characters in order to extend its fragmentation, also as a resource based on musical sync and especially on visual composition.

The full album is out on Bandcamp and other services from Static Discos.

Official release page:

http://staticdiscos.com/sta097/

For more – a mix from last year on the Dimension Series from the label:

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Visualize pitch like John Coltrane with this mystical image

Some musicians see Islamic mysticism; some the metaphysics of Einstein. But whether spiritual, theoretical, or both, even one John Coltrane pitch wheel is full of musical inspiration.

One thing’s certain – if you want your approach to pitch to be as high-tech and experimental as your instruments, Coltrane’s sketchbook could easily keep you busy for a lifetime.

Unpacking the entire music-theoretical achievements of John Coltrane could fill tomes – even this one picture has inspired a wide range of different interpretations. But let’s boil it down just to have a place to start. At its core, the Coltrane diagram is a circle of fifths – a way of representing the twelve tones of equal temperament in a continuous circle, commonly used in Western music theory (jazz, popular, and classical alike). And any jazz player has some basic grasp of this and uses it in everything from soloing to practice scales and progressions.

What makes Coltrane’s version interesting is the additional layers of annotation – both for what’s immediately revealing, and what’s potentially mysterious.

Sax player and blogger Roel Hollander pulled together a friendly analysis of what’s going on here. And while he himself is quick to point out he’s not an expert Coltrane scholar, he’s one a nice job of compiling some different interpretations.

JOHN COLTRANE’S TONE CIRCLE

See also Corey Mwamba’s analysis, upon which a lot of that story draws

Open Culture has commented a bit on the relations to metaphysics and the interpretation of various musicians, including vitally Yusef Lateef’s take:

John Coltrane Draws a Picture Illustrating the Mathematics of Music

Plus if you like this sort of thing, you owe it to yourself to find a copy of Yusef Lateef’s Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns [Peter Spitzer blog review] – that’s related to what you (might) see here.

Take it with some grains of salt, since there doesn’t seem to be a clear story to why Coltrane even drew this, but there are some compelling details to this picture. The two-ring arrangement gives you two whole tone scales – one on C, and one on B – in such a way that you get intervals of fourths and fifths if you move diagonally between them.

Scanned image of the mystical Coltrane tone doodle.

Corey Mwamba simplified diagram.

That’s already a useful way of visualizing relations of keys in a whole tone arrangement, which could have various applications for soloing or harmonies. Where this gets more esoteric is the circled bits, which highlight some particular chromaticism – connected further by a pentagram highlighting common tones.

Even reading that crudely, this can be a way of imagining diminished/double diminished melodic possibilities. Maybe the most suggestive take, though, is deriving North Indian-style modes from the circled pitches. Whether that was Coltrane’s intention or not, this isn’t a bad way of seeing those modal relationships.

You can also see some tritone substitutions and plenty of chromaticism and the all-interval tetrachord if you like. Really, what makes this fun is that like any such visualization, you can warp it to whatever you find useful – despite all the references to the nature of the universe, the essence of music is that you’re really free to make these decisions as the mood strikes you.

I’m not sure this will help you listen to Giant Steps or A Love Supreme with any new ears, but I am sure there are some ideas about music visualization or circular pitch layouts to try out. (Yeah, I might have to go sketch that on an iPad this week.)

(Can’t find a credit for this music video, but it’s an official one – more loosely interpretive and aesthetic than functional, released for Untitled Original 11383. Maybe someone knows more… UMG’s Verve imprint put out the previously unreleased Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album last year.)

How might you extend what’s essentially a (very pretty) theory doodle to connecting Coltrane to General Relativity? Maybe it’s fairer to say that Coltrane’s approach to mentally freeing himself to find the inner meaning of the cosmos is connected, spiritually and creatively. Sax player and astrophysicist professor (nice combo) Stephon Alexander makes that cultural connection. I think it could be a template for imagining connections between music culture and physics, math, and cosmology.

Images (CC-BY-ND) Roel’s World / Roel Hollander

and get ready to get lost there:

https://roelhollander.eu/

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Watch My Panda Shall Fly play KORG volcas with bits of metal

“Play your KORG volcas with bits of metal instead of your fingers” isn’t one of the Oblique Strategies, but maybe it ought to be.

Sometimes all you need for some musical inspiration is a different approach. So My Panda Shall Fly took a different angle for a session for music video series Homework. Since the volca series use conductive touch for input, a set of metal objects (like coins) will trigger the inputs. Result: some unstable sounds.

I mean, maybe it’s just all part of an influencer campaign for Big Coin, but you never know.

My Panda Shall Fly is a London based producer covering a wide range of bases:

And he’s done some modular loops. We’ve seen him in these here parts before, too:

Artists share Novation Circuit tips, with Shawn Rudiman and My Panda Shall Fly

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