Escape vanilla modulation: Nikol shows you waveshaping powers

You wouldn’t make music with just simple oscillators, so why only use basic, repetitive modulation? In the latest video in Bastl’s how-to series hosted by Patchení’s Nikol, waveshaping gets applied to control signals.

A-ha! But what’s waveshaping? Well, Nikol teaches basic classes in modular synthesis to beginners, but she did skip over that. Waveshapers add more complex harmonic content to simple waveform inputs. Basic vanilla waveform in, nice wiggly complex waveform out. (See Wikipedia for that moment when you say, oh, well, why didn’t my math teacher bring in synthesizers when she taught us polynomials, then I would have stayed awake!)

Bastl unveiled the Timber waveshaping module back in May, and we all thought it was cool:

Bastl do waveshaping, MIDI, and magically tune your modules

But when most people hear waveshapers, they think of them just as a fancy oscillator – as a sound source. But in the modular world, you can also imagine it as a way of adding harmonics (read: complexity) to simple control signals, which is what Nikol demonstrates here.

That is, instead of Waveshaper -> out, you’ll route [modulation/control signal/LFO] -> Waveshaper in, and mess with that signal. WahWahWahWah can turn into WahwrrEEEEkittyglrblMrcbb… ok, okay, video:

Keep watching, because this eventually gets into adding variation to a sequenced signal.

You can try this in any software or hardware environment, but you do need your waveshaper to work with your control input. What’s relatively special about Timber in the hardware domain at least is its ability to process slow circuits.

https://www.bastl-instruments.com/modular/timber/

You can also follow Nikol on Instagram.

But more of Deina the modular dog, please!

Tragically, while Nikol’s English is getting fluent, us Americans are not doing any better with our Czech. So, Bastl, we may need an immersion language program more than synthesis.

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In gorgeous ETHER, a handmade micro lens brings cymatics closer

Sound is physical, but we don’t often get to see that physicality. In this gorgeous video for Thomas Vaquié, directed by Nico Neefs, those worlds of vibrations explode across your screen. It’s the latest release from ANTIVJ, and it’s spellbinding.

The sounds really do generate the visuals here, from generating terrain from an analysis from the waveform to revealing footage of metal powder animated by sonic vibrations. A self-made micro lens provides the optics.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aK0BXH7zu-M

Everything in this video was made using the sound waves of the track Ether.
Equipped with a home-made micro lens, a camera travels inside physical representations of the musical composition, from a concrete mountain built from the spectrogram of the music, to eruptions of metal powder caused by rhythmic impulsions.

(Impulsion is a word; look it up! I had to do so.)

Still from the video.

Nico Neefs is the director, working with images he created with Corentin Kopp. It’s set to music from Belgian producer Thomas Vaquié’s new album Ecume, on Antivj Recordings. That imprint has for over a decade been a label for audiovisual creations across media – release, installation, performance. Simon Geilfus developed the tool for visualization.

They’ve employed the same techniques to make a very attractive physical release. The image you see in the artwork is cast from a concrete mold. For a limited edition box set, they’re producing 33cm x 33cm plates cast from that mold in dark resin. And it’s ready to mount to a wall if you choose; hardware included. Or if you feel instead like you own enough things, there’s a digital edition.

Ultra-limited handmade physical release.

Concrete mold.

Concrete mold; detail.

The whole album is beautiful; I’m especially fond of the bell-like resonances in the opening piece. It’s a sumptuous, sonic environment, full of evocative sound designs that rustle and ring in easy, organic assemblies, part synthetic, part string. Those then break into broken, warped grooves that push forward. (Hey, more impulsion – like a horse.)

The music was repurposed from installations and art contexts:

These are all derivations of compositions for site-specific and installation projects, the original pieces having been created as a response to place and space, to light and architecture, to code and motion. Now separated and transformed from their original context, the music takes on an independent existence in these new realisations.

That does lend the whole release an environmental quality – spaces you can step in and out of – but is nonetheless present emotionally. There’s impact, listening top to bottom, enough so that you might not immediately assume the earlier context. And the release is fully consistent and coherent as a whole. (It is very possible you heard an installation here or there. Vaquié has produced compositions for Centre Pompidou Metz the Old Port of Montreal’s metallic conveyor tower, in Songdo South Korea, at Oaxaca’s ethnobotanical gardens, and at Hala Stulecia, Poland’s huge concrete dome.)

And there’s thoroughly fine string writing throughout – with a sense that strings and electronic media are always attuned to one another.

Cover artwork.

Thomas Vaquié.

Poetic explanation accompanies the album:

Ether embodies the world that exists above the skies.
It is the air that the gods breathe.
It is that feeling of dizziness,
that asphyxiation that we feel when faced with immensity.

Full video credits:

Music by Thomas Vaquié
Video directed by Nico Neefs
Images by Nico Neefs & Corentin Kopp
Edit & Post-production by Nico Neefs
Video produced by Charles Kinoo for Less Is More Studio and Thomas Vaquié
Filmed at BFC Studio, Brussels 2018.

More, including downloads / physical purchases:

https://thomasvaquie.bandcamp.com/

Plus:
www.thomasvaquie.com
www.antivj.com

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SPIRALALALA transforms a spiral staircase into a vocal vortex

Just when you’re bored with digital media installations, something happens that gets you back to childlike wonder mode. And a magical staircase is a pretty good way to do that.

The team at Poland’s panGenerator have been on a tear lately. This time, they took a grand spiral staircase and imagined what would happen if you could make your voice a kinetic part of the architecture. It’s way better than just shouting your echo at a wall.

It’s also a great example of how spatial sound and architecture can interact, making the normally static structures of an environment more dynamic. This is the sort of interactive architecture we’re routinely promised, but now you see/hear it actually working. Each floor gets its own audio, so the sound seems to descend with the ball. Custom built gates with infrared sensors and radio modules complete the illusion by transforming the sound accordingly.

It’s neo-baroque sonic trompe l’oeil, made with digital technology. The digital transformations of the sound, mapped to the actual kinetic movement of the ball, mix virtual and real.

The artists:

Krzysztof Cybulski
Krzysztof Goliński
Jakub Koźniewski

What we got most recently from the same Warszawa-based crew:

The retro-futuristic Apparatum draws from Polish electronic music history

Details:

During MDF Festival we’ve changed the iconic spiral staircase of the Szczecin Philharmonic into 35m long / 15m high spatial voice-transforming instrument.

The audience has been invited to experiment with various spatialised sound effects applied to their vocalisations that were synchronised with the movement of the balls falling along 35m long track. The interaction starts with insertion of the ball into the microphone. Then recording starts and after the recorded sound stops the ball is released to slide down along the track.

Thanks to custom built gates with infrared sensors and radio modules the sound transformations applied to the recording were synchronised with the current speed and position of the ball. The light trail following the ball has also been created thanks to the sensors and microcontrollers measuring the speed of the ball passing the gates.

Since we were using five speakers – one per floor, we were also able to achieve spatialisation of the sound creating the illusion of the sound “falling” with the ball. As a finishing touch we’ve also used simple projection mapping synchronised with the motion of the ball to make the whole thing more visible for the people standing in the lobby of the Philharmonic.

In the end we’ve created a playful and engaging audience-driven audiovisual performance that exemplifies our vision for integrating new media art practice with architecture and breathing the life into static form thanks to digital technology.

——

VIDEO CREDITS

DOP – Hola Hola Film – holaholafilm.pl
VIDEO EDITING & POSTPRODUCTION – Jakub Koźniewski
SOUND EDITING – Krzysztof Cybulski
VIDEO SOUNDTRACK – Maciek Dobrowolski – mdobrowolski.com
VOICE – Jona Ardyn – jonaardyn.pl

SPECIAL THANKS

Paulina Stok-Stocka
Barbara Kinga Majewska
Tomasz Midzio
Maciej Kalczyński

—–

pangenerator.com/
mdf.filharmonia.szczecin.pl/
https:/filharmonia.szczecin.pl/en

More:

http://pangenerator.com/projects/spiralalala/

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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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The 1976 Polymoog film reminds us of when polysynths were new

In case you missed it, Moog’s re-release of an aging red-tinted, humming copy of the original 1976 Polymoog promo is a treat. And it’s a reminder of how far we’ve come.

Yes, there’s no question that a lot of today’s synths seem lifted from the pages of the 1970s, from monosynth to modular. And yes, a lot of keyboard chops today are shameful, though – well, if you’re going up against Chick Corea, you really ought to practice, regardless.

But there’s something charming about watching some of the great musicians of the last century explain what it means to use more than one finger at a time to play a keyboard instrument. And they approach the Polymoog almost gingerly, more a Rhodes with effects than a new instrument. That mid-70s sound is itself something unique and nice, and if anyone stands out as sounding contemporary, it’s Herbie Hancock. But you begin to appreciate that it’s only recently that the avant-garde and keyboard tradition have merged together in the mainstream ear. If we all bumble a little to keep up both chops and sound design, maybe we can be forgiven as those universes continue to squish together. It makes me optimistic.

Ten fingers, man.

In any event, going back in time is a wonderful historical exercise, and it just might give you some fresh musical ideas – or at least a different perspective on what you’re doing now.

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

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

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

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

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

— or the extended film “для FOR”:

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

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

http://katenv.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postlude:

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

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

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

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

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

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

See? Amateurs.

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

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Watch enchanting experimental live acts from Atonal’s control room

Berlin Atonal Festival wrapped up last week, and for all of the breathtaking impact of the power plant’s cavernous main room, as per usual, the sleeper hits came from the more intimate control room tucked next to the mainstage.

Once you’re done acting out your Homer Simpson fantasies on the controls, this room – staffed by the synthesis lovers of Schneidersladen – is home to more experimental acts and jam sessions and modular patching extravaganzas. And the crowd is different, too, more family style sound nerd reunion than festival scenesters.

Photo at top: Mark Verbos, modular builder, alongside Lady Starlight. Photo courtesy CTM Festival.

Our friends from FACT captured three performances. (Don’t watch on Facebook; that social network’s encoding is crap for some reason. YouTube seems fine.)

There were lots of great shows, but they also selected well with what they recorded, with two gorgeous ambient solo sets and one quirkier duo. (Also, anyone else noticed that laptops have just quietly reappeared alongside modulars? And why not – who cares what particular gear you’ve assembled, if you find some way to be expressive with it?)

There are some dropouts here and there, but it’s worth checking out anyway.

My favorite is object blue – all on Ableton Live/Push, but a kind of shuffled, irregular looping musique concrete:

London-based artist object blue has a bunch of great stuff in her discography:

https://objectblue.format.com/

Really digging this one, just out this year:

But then this is lovely, too, adding more vocal goodness, also a 2018 creation:

Hiro Kone (aka NYC’s Nicky Mao) is looking chill with her Elektrons and modulars, and with good reason – some chill sounds happening. Lounging in the control room, genau:

Nicky is one busy, multi-talented, insanely prolific touring musician. And she’s got a well-organized site to discover more of her music (we would all do well to learn from that, too… rarity these days):

https://hirokone.com/

She’s done a nice mix for Secret Thirteen recently too:

https://secretthirteen.org/stm-246-hiro-kone/

KILLER-OMA is the off-kilter, leftfield (and inter-generational) combo of Isao Suzuki and KILLER-BONG – yes, one bare chin on gear, and one long beard on contra bass.

More from them:

Check out their release on Bandcamp for Tokyo’s Black Smoker:

https://blacksmokerrecords.bandcamp.com/album/killer-oma

Mixed feelings about the live stream age, actually – and something to think about, as CDM revisits how to work with live performing friends. (I’d go for higher quality audio, no? Thoughts?) At the same time, a live stream is a nice place to introduce people, and it’s great to see what people are doing – if we can sort those occasional sound dropouts. Open to ideas for what you’d like to see, especially as a community of music makers.

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Try a free Minimoog Voyager – and get the Minimoog Bob wanted

“What would Bob Moog do” is normally a tough question to answer – but not so with the Minimoog. We know exactly what Dr. Moog thought would improve the Minimoog – and that’s all the more reason to try it for free on your Mac or Windows machine.

Robert Moog was principle designer of the 2002 Minimoog Voyager, the instrument that brought the Moog name back to life. And here’s the thing: while the original was a classic, and maybe is worth experiencing in its “pure” form, it’s possible to recommend the Voyager as a genuine improvement.

Apart from preset storage (you wimps), the Voyager maintains the original Minimoog architecture but allows deeper access to sound design. So there’s a dedicated LFO, so you have a modulation source. There are two dedicated modulation buses, allowing you to shape the sound. You get separate envelopes for filter and amplitude.

And all of these features are recreated on Blamsoft’s VK-1 Viking synth. (Available as a VST2 plug-in, compatible with macOS 10.11 or newer and 64-bit Windows XP or newer.) Now, whether this is the best Minimoog emulation ever is perhaps besides the point. It sounds great – enough so that I don’t mind just saving time doing an elaborate A/B comparison, and would get straight to music. It adds all the Voyager features. And, oh yeah, they let you set the price you want to pay.

That’s great. You can actually try this as an instrument, then support the developer with the amount of money you’ve got, not the amount of money they think you should have.

If you’re a Reason user, the VK-1 is also available as a (still very reasonably-priced) 59 $/EUR Rack Extension – which is great, because then you get all the advantages of Reason. They’ve also completed a big update, version 1.5:

https://shop.propellerheads.se/rack-extension/vk-1-viking-synthesizer/

Synth Anatomy just went through a nice video tour:

You get 228 presets, but honestly, this thing is really fun to program – thanks to the LFO and two modulation buses. You can choose drive modes for the filter, which escalates the ladder filter from kinda normal to kinda awesome. An there’s enough modeling of instability to make this thing feel alive.

Now, someone needs to make a nice iPad touch template for it – Bob unintentionally predicted the iPad with the Voyager’s X/Y modulation panel, right?

Here are a bunch of sound examples from the developer:

But if those don’t appeal to you musically, a nice little community has formed around the VK-1 with tons of other music made just with this one synth.

I’d been often returning to Native Instruments’ Minimoog-inspired synth Monark – especially now that it has a Reaktor Blocks edition, so you can break it apart and use it as modules. But it’s really nice having the architectural additions of the Voyager, and the pay-what-you-will nature of the VK-1 makes it ideal for exchanging projects with others.

http://blamsoft.com/vst/vk-1-viking-synthesizer/

And raise a glass to Dr. Moog’s various accomplishments – but also to the Voyager, the synth that made the Moog renaissance possible, and all the great Moog Music stuff that has followed since.

The Voyager, in electric blue.

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Tom Whitwell on Turing Machine and how to design your first module

How to design a module when you’ve never designed a module before? Tom Whitwell, the man behind legendary music tech blog Music Thing who now runs a modular company of the same name, explains.

This video is fresh out of the Brighton Modular Meet. So let’s all head to the UK, virtually speaking:

Tom walks through the design and engineering of the Turing Machine module kit, an open source project made with local electronics builder Thonk.

Also worth watching – Tom talked to a new podcast called WHY WE BLEEP back in January, about his whole history in modular and synths:

And for more on the module itself, here’s an in-depth demo of the MKII edition:

Plus what the equivalent in the free VCV Rack modular environment looks like:

And have at the kit:
https://www.thonk.co.uk/shop/turingmkii/

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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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