Mercury Retrograde (or don’t fight it, surrender)

Right in the midst of the most recent Mercury Retrograde, I decided to dive into MAX MSP, a visual computer coding program for controlling sound and light for performance. After downloading the software, I started a class online and was working with some patches when my computer audio stopped functioning. No sound out of the computer. Then the computer and sound card stopped talking. All of this right before an iBoD rehearsal when we were recording Carnatic Water Music.

Using the Windows Troubleshooter, I discovered the problem “audio services not responding” and that this problem was “not fixed”. Online, there are multiple fixes for this message. After cancelling our recording session, I tried all the suggested fixes several times – from inspecting the Services to make sure Windows Audio and Windows Audio Endpoint and all their dependencies were automatically running to entering very specific commands into Command Prompt as Administrator. The first thing I did was update the ASIO4ALL audio driver, so no problems there!

After several days of trying different fixes, I was able to get the computer and sound card talking again! Ableton Sets and Projects were now audible! Yayyyyy! But the computer would not play audio WAV files. Outside of Ableton, audio services still not responding. Finally, I uninstalled the ASIO driver and uploaded the driver for the soundcard. I have a Native Instruments Komplete 6 soundcard, which has been a great device. (I had audio dropout problems with the NI driver about a year after I purchased it, which was when I switched to the ASIO driver and all was well.) Well, changing back to the NI driver solved the audio problems completely and I am back to sounding again!

A friend mentioned Mercury Retrograde as I was working through this process. Dang, I forgot about that current astronomical phenomenon. If I had remembered, would I have done anything different? As things turned out, it is very good that I did not! While I got thrown off of MAX (for the moment) I redirected my energies toward creating synth sequences in Ableton. Since purchasing the Behringer Neutron, I have been unsuccessful in getting Ableton set up as a sequencer for the Neutron. The Neutron has processed audio signal, but never midi signal. Low and behold the NI Komplete 6 driver allowed Ableton to see the midi ports for the Neutron. Suddenly, I was hearing the synth voice and all the modulators. When I made a patch or tweaked a knob, the sound was changed as I expected it to be! WoW! I feel like this is the first time I have heard the instrument’s true voice!

Today I am working on a soundscape for the next Human Origami Jam at ADF Studios in Durham on December 6. Very excited to finally get going with the Neutron.

This is what I will make in the soundscape!

Frankensynth

Ever since I saw Caterina Barbieri at the Pinhook during Moogfest 2018, my deepest desire has been to dive into the sonic sketches/sculptures/landscapes of modular synthesis. Caterina’s album title, Patterns of Conciousness, says it all. This sounding out of the electrical impulse that is at the heart of sonic events has become my spiritual practice, my way of hearing and understanding the world, my container of wonder!

The world of modular synthesis is dense with creative pathways and quite expensive, so I decided to start with what I have – Ableton Live, my soundscape companion for 8 years. For a while, I worked on creating Audio Animation Clip/Envelope Generator modules. This can be done by animating effects within muted audio clips so only the effects are heard, and then routing audio through the clips from a source track. The source audio is then modulated by the effects in the AAC/EG track. I used this for The Space ReSounds of Water to capture and modulate the live sound of the bells. Here is an example:

Then I bought my first hardware synth – a Behringer Neutron. This synth had great reviews, it has knobs and patchbay, and can be sequenced by Ableton. Ableton is beta-testing a pack that allows the DAW to play Control Voltages. I am not sure how this works, but it involves having an interface that is DC-coupled. And this will be for Ableton 10 Suite users, which I am not yet. All of this to say, I have not been successful at getting the Neutron conversing with Ableton via midi. I have had success with the Neutron by running audio signals through the input with the VCA bias knob all the way open. This worked out well as you know if you heard our All Data Lost performance!

Before the Behringer, there was Ripplemaker iOS semi-modular synth, which I have played with for a few years now. We are old friends, and I can sit down to a fresh template on Ripplemaker and get going immediately with cool sonic relationships. This app will teach you about synths in a deep way. In the beginning, I referred to the manual constantly, but now it is easy to just jump in and play for long periods of time. Here is a recent soundscape performed on the Ripplemaker to accompany Jody Cassell for the last PROMPTS at The Carrack.

Now the fun begins! After some experimentation, I have cobbled together my Frankensynth. I begin with sequencing in the Ripplemaker, which provides the audio source for Neutron. So we have an iOS synth and a hardware synth playing together. Then the audio from the Neutron goes through a track in Ableton. Seven additional tracks in Ableton are each running AAC/EG effects and receiving audio from the track carrying the Neutron. So the Ripplemaker/Neutron generated audio will be heard through whichever AAC/EG track’s volume fader is up. So these three synths (Ripplemaker, Neutron and Abeju Synth Station) are sitting inside each other like nested dolls. Here is a sample of how this can sound: (recorded in the SunRa Room on a rainy day!)

I am very excited to play this setup with Lisa Means on guitar at the 919 Noise Showcase on October 30th at The Nightlight Bar in Chapel Hill!!

Moogfest 2019

Being an introverted elder, I am no longer the festigoer I once was. One festival a year is enough for me and this is it! Moogfest is an incredible sonic universe that opens up in and around Durham, and turns my world upside down. This year was no exception!

There were numerous durational performances, sound installations and interactive opportunities. I was particularly excited to meet Madame Gandhi, who gave a fabulous performance at Motorco last year. This year she lead two sessions of interactive play at The Fruit. The set up included a Push, a Bass Station, a drum set, microphones for vocals and small percussion, and two synths! WoW! She wasted no time with alot of talk. We jumped right in and started playing. I really appreciated that! I played Push and did some vocals, but mostly listened. The group came up with some nice grooves.

This experience reminded me that I prefer solo or small group playing these days, and the energy of the experience was fantastic! Glad I showed up!

Durational performances involve a group or person performing for 2-3 hours solid with no silence. The 21C Museum Hotel Ballroom and Global Breath Yoga Studio were the venues for these works. For durational performances, I love to sit with the beginning and the end OR go in for the middle. Heard Richard Devine and Greg Fox perform the beginnings and endings of their sets. Always interesting to hear the different approaches the start and finish in the broad context of a durational performance. I would love to create a durational performance there someday…soon.

21C was my favorite venue this year. I heard a wonderful variety of soundscapes there in quad sound with excellent sound engineers, a beautiful light show and interactive screens on either side. The bookends of the weekend for me were Ultrabillons and TRIPLE X SNAXXX (local favorites). Both of these sets were incredibly satisfying to listen to. Big synths and bouncy modulars all around. What I come to Moogfest for!! In between there was Aaron Dilloway who gave an amazing embodied noise performance that was as much exorcism as anything else. Drum and Lace started her set with some whispy songs that all seemed to be the same short length, like 3 minutes or so. But then she launched into some beefier pieces and really took the space. She had some gorgeous videos behind her as she performed.

Cuckoo was so much fun and I envied him his tiny set up which he carried into the venue in a knapsack. At one point, he was playing a vampy section and said, “well, this is the point where I introduce the band!” and proceeded to show us the three small controllers he had routed together. He has YouTube videos, so I want to check him out. Here he is playing at The Pinhook.

Finally, I had a few mind-opening, inspiring encounters. Steve Nalepa pointed the way to route signal out of Ableton for quad speakers. He performed at 21C through quad speakers using Ableton. I always wondered why you would route tracks to sends only in the I/O menu. I havent yet tried this, but plan to soon. Then there was the Modular Marketplace! I delayed going till Friday and spent 3-4 hours there playing. As the WoW would have it, the modular unit Behringer Neutron was on sale for $100 off. I struck while I had a little cash flow. Less than a week later, Abe, Nuet and I played a beautiful primal soundscape for Audio Origami on Friday May 3 at ADF Studios @ 4:30pm.

Thank you, Moogfest! See you next year!