Modular synthesizing in Ableton Live

Even though I have worked intimately with Ableton Live DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) for over eight years, I KNOW I have only scratched the surface of its capabilities. In the last few years, I have come to think of Ableton Live as my “instrument”, my medium, what I create with. What an incredibly rich and mysterious instrument it is! Now I am enamored of modular synthesis, striving to be come engaged with modular synthesis, particularly Eurorack modules. I love the knobs and sliders, and the patch cables just put me over the top. Modular synthesis is like sonic legos, a form of prayer, and a particular patterning of vibrations that matter. I want to plaaayyyy!!

This is the 2019 plan: spend time researching, listening to and playing modular units. I am learning about how modulars work by playing with the Ripplemaker ios app on iPad. Ripplemaker is a semi modular synthesizer which means that some of the signal routing is already patched together. Ripplemaker contains five modules, an LFO and amplifier/mixer, so it is a good basic learning tool. In addition I am studying the book Patch and Tweak which just came out a few months ago. It is a comprehensive survey of modular synthesis from the basics, to the gear, to the practitioners. I bought the book because it contains an interview with a performer whose work I admire tremendously, Caterina Barbieri. The book is a treasure trove of information that I am studying every day. The write ups about all the major brands and models of Eurorack synth modules is amazing. While Patch and Tweak could pass as a coffee table book, it is a bible to me. While doing all of this, I will save the money to buy my first modular synth unit. This could happen at Moogfest, or sooner depending on the progress of research and saving.

As for now, I have invested alot of time and money in Ableton Live and my computer set up, which is essentially a soft synth – I just need to configure it as such. Up to this point, I have treated Ableton as a composition tool/recording studio for the most part. I have been performing with Ableton and learning how to use the control surfaces (Novation LaumchPro and AKAI Key 25) to create soundscapes in real time. Now I want to configure and play Ableton more like a synth. This new approach will mean I have to deeply learn all the audio effects in Ableton, and other external plugins. I can configure the control surfaces to function as synth controls by mapping the parameters I want to sculpt with to the knobs and sliders of the control surfaces. The rest is signal routing.

Ableton Live is so robust and complex that the signal routing possibilities are numerous. Audio effects can be placed on tracks, within tracks routed together through a group submix, within a clip, within send/return tracks, on the Master track. Then within the larger set, tracks can be routed to and through each other using the in/out sub menu embedded in each track. So, with this in mind, how can I create control voltages, oscillators, slopes, envelopes, LFOs, Noise, and other modulators and configure them and play with them within Abelton Live?

The journey begins…

*photo of basic Auto Filter from Ableton Live Manual

Minding the Oscillations

Reading deeply into sound, physics, chemistry, and nuerobiology, it becomes clear that lived experience is comprised of waveforms modulating each other. These waveforms weave around and through us. The waves are different frequencies and different amplitudes, they have different shapes and resonances AND they interact with each other, all of which creates various densities of matter. As extreme examples, there is a diamond and a thought. These extremes define the boundaries of material experience – the hatd shell of the matrix we exist within. There is more beyond these boundaries, and the more seems to be the field of conciousness.*

With this as a basic understanding, it is my intention to mind the oscillations, particularly those that eminate from my human being/my earth suit/the event horizon of my world. The waveforms I conjur come into phase relationships with themselves and with the waveforms of other human beings as we event our common reality/the hard-shell matrix. This is an amazing realization! This realization sheds light on a major question I have danced with in my life:

How can I be more loving? So much of my living is spent seeking love from “the world”. That was my quest for the first half of my living experience. While it does hurt so good, I finally realized the question is framed in an unhelpful way. So I am moving from how can I get more love, to how can I be more loving?

My most important practice for exploring this question is awareness and presence in the moment. We have been listening to Eckhart Tolle go on and on about this. He works very hard to articulate awareness/presence in all the ways that might possibly bounce around (or cut through) the mind. Listening to ET, I am aware of the trinity of self, egoic mind and conciousness all walking into a bar. (It is a good practice for them to stick together, although the bar was probably egoic mind’s idea.) These three are waveforms of their own, and their interactions eminate into manifest world! These two thought-fields (waveforms of matter and awareness through being) intersect at my heart.

One definition of oscillation (from physics) is

regular variation in magnitude or position around a central point

This aptly describes the interplay of these two planes intersecting through me at heart center. I feel this most intensely when I am sounding harmonics through a space. Especially using modular synthesis – with all the operators, envelopes, slopes, attenuations, triggers, gates and frequencies- to create actual sonic forms in space. At present I play with Ripplemaker ios app from Bram Bos. It is great to learn on. Ableton can function as a synthesizer. This is my focus at present- to configure Ableton into a synthesizer. (I am deeply desiring a modular system, but must go slowly due to funds. So work with what you have!)

This first week of 2019 – a new year (marking earth’s intersecting oscillations with the sun, moon and stars) brings some interesting mantras –

Listen more deeply, mind the oscillations, propagate harmonic vibrations, learn to play with forms, depersonalize the whole thing! The WoW

Alrighty then!!…on with the emanations!

*These books have informed my thinking about all this:

Long, Manya J. The Psyche as Interaction (Electromagnetic Patterns of Conscious Energy)

Lanza, Dr. Robert Biocentrism and Beyond Biocentrism

Voices from Eris released 1/3/19

Cover art by Bronwyn Mackenzie

Voices from Eris was released on Shifting Waves label January 3, 2019. Here is a link to the Bandcamp page where you can buy the album!

http://shiftingwaves.bandcamp.com/album/voices-from-eris

Big thanks to all the artists and especially to Margaret Harmer, who brought mad skillz and expanded sonscience to the project.

Big thanks to any of my friends who takes the time and interest in my being in the world. I love you and would love to talk with you over a cup of tea very soon!

Human Origami Soundscape Dec 7 2018

Today at 3 pm, Glenna Batson will lead an exploration of folds and resistances. In her words:

What happens when awareness meets a curved line, a folding surface, a deepening crevice within the body’s interior and the surround? Is the quality of this first contact fixed or free? Is the conversation open or resistant? Is there a clear beginning and ending? It’s at this junction between folding and unfolding where new possibilities for negotiation arise – where a boundary can become more porous and transparent. In this session, movers will uncover the rub of resistance within themselves and open the conversation to new movement possibilities.

The soundscape for today’s playshop will be a piece from Audiorigami (Meditations on the Fold) interspersed with modular synthesis play in formless to form and back again. The Audiorigami track is called 11th Harmonic and consists of overlapping 11th harmonic intervals. This harmonic at extremely high frequencies has been shown to break up tumor cells! The Law of Octave allows us to bring the high frequency into the audible range, and benefit from the entangled resonance with the higher frequencies.

11th Harmonic is a kind of smudge soundscape. It has the capacity to clear stuck energy in a space, in a body, so is perfect for the suggested intentions Glenna has put forth. This piece has five or six movements, and the parts are layered in and shimmered over each other. This is an example of how I have created audiorigami to this point. Now there is new direction in the form of Ripplemaker – even the name suggests the Fold!

Ripplemaker is an iOs semi-modular synthesizer. Synthesizers play electrical signals or control voltages. These voltage-based signals are shaped by waveforms, oscillators, envelopes, filters and effects into sound sculptures. Modular synthesizers can illustrate the journey from the formless into form in amazingly beautiful ways! And the journey is accomplished through folds. The basic structure of this sound material is the waveform, and each waveform highlights the harmonic overtones in different ways. The waveshape is then propogated, expanded, attenuated, filtered, timbrally-morphed through oscillators, envelopes and filters. The journey is amazing and intense, so each mod synth excursion will be followed by a bit of room resonance and breath. Then 11th Harmonic will return.

Very excited to give this voice today at 3pm at ADF Studios. Please come and play with us!

Voices from Eris – Various Artists

Voices from Eris is a compilation of women electronic artists from around the world. The brainchild of Margaret Harmer of Shifting Waves Studio in Geneva, Switzerland, the album is a cauldron of sound shapes that interweave and connect far beyond the individual voices of each woman. You will hear the song of rocks, sirens, the trapped and the free. You will hear the sound of the deconstruction of patriarchal structures, and the spinning of new and dynamic sonic forms that are flexible and expansive.

Here is a link to the crowdfunding site for the album, where Margaret illuminates the inspirations behind the album title, the larger signifigances of “Eris”, and why we feel compelled to express ourselves at this moment in time.

https://wemakeit.com/projects/voices-from-eris

This is not your typical music album, so I feel the need to help you hear exactly what it is we are doing. Unfortunately, many people bring their “music” ears to these pieces, with all the evaluative frames entailed in “listening to music.” These frames interfer with the listener’s ability to access sound paintings. If you have ever experienced Magic Eye paintings, then you know that looking at them with “what is this a picture of?” eyes makes the form of the picture completely inaccessible. In order to see deeply into a Magic Eye painting, one has to relax the gaze, soften the eyes, and surrender mind/awareness, only then will the form in the painting emerge. When this same kind of deep gaze can be translated to a deep listening – the soundscapes become mesmerizing and create new worlds in the brain ear.

On behalf of all of the artists on the album, I appreciate your love, respect and support for this project! Help us make it happen!!

Bandcamp CD Release: Audiorigami (Meditations on the Fold)

Human Origami is an ongoing movement/sound project to which I contribute along with Glenna Batson and Susan Sentler. On our website, http://humanorigami.com, you can explore who we are and all the ways we are playing with folds. This project was inspired by a seed idea from 20th Century French philosopher Gilles Delueze’ The Fold. In this treatise on the Baroque period, Delueze asserts that the smallest unit of matter is not the point, but the fold. He describes the fold as a unit of oscillation, along with the point and the wave. My interest is the intersection between sound and movement within and throughout the fold.

For the past several years, Glenna and I have offered a series of workshops where folds were investigated in depth and breadth. I have written about these experiments in three blog posts linked here: (https://wp.me/p5yJTY-c9) (https://wp.me/p5yJTY-cy) (https://wp.me/p5yJTY-gi) Now it is time to manifest what I have learned.

After much experimentation and reflection, a number of ways to find and create folds in sound became apparent. After all, sound is oscillating air, so the very form of sound involves folds. From there:

Rising and falling, overlapping, and reaching back (all actions associated with folds) can be orchestrated musically. One technique used to create “reaching back” is to feature overtone harmonics. By this I mean, playing the interval notes to a fundamental tone in the octave in which they naturally occur in the harmonic overtone series. For example, the first harmonic in a series is the octave above the fundamental. In the second octave above the fundamental, we hear a fifth then the next octave tone. In the third octave we hear the third, fifth and flatted seventh. The fourth octave layers in the second and the raised fourth and the sixth. Normally when these intervals are played over one or two octaves they are heard as scales and chords. Articulating them in their natural harmonic series “home” octave creates a harmonic reach over multiple octaves, and a fold back in reference to the fundamental tone.

Other techniques for more concrete renderings of folds are melodic lines that reach out from and come back to a fundamental tone. On the page, one can see how the melodies move up and down notationally. Percussive sounds are used to define the edges of a fold. A formal quality of folds is repetition. For example, two types of audio folds are 1. an echo, where the sound comes back on itself like two halves of a folded sheet, and 2. a spiral, where the feeling of the sonic movement is a perpetual reaching towards the fold, but never completing it.  Folds require a doubling back that is repetitive and ever shifting.

With these gestures in mind, here are the track notes for Audiorigami (Meditations on the Fold):

First Folds is in two parts and accompanies Glenna’s meditations on the primal unfolding of body from spine in utero. It begins with the sound of heartbeat and rushing blood. Then waves of lovely tones intermingle, slightly muted, rising up and down in a short, repetitive theme that will return in later sections. The piece begins in a still, enfolded place and moves out into form.(12:53)

First Folds Part Two begins with the percussive edges of folds then leads into an emphasis on harmonics -melodic and dissonant. The earlier theme returns to intermingle with alternative themes, all weaving into the fabric of sound as we expand out into extremeties and beyond into ethereal fields. The fold, as articulated oscillation, travels far beyond our corporeal realms. (10:03)

11th Harmonic stretches over four octaves of harmonic overtones. This piece was based on some experiments that demonstrated a particular harmonic interval that could break up stuck cells (i.e. tumors). And while the interval used in the experiments is out of the audible range, the Law of Octave allows the interval to be reduced into the range of human hearing. The primary tonal relationship is rendered as a fundamental frequency and its fifth in the fourth octave above the fundamental. My experience is that this piece is capable of stirring things up on multiple levels. It uses the fundamental to 11th harmonic interval as its basic fold, then builds from there. I played with propagation dynamics in the final mix as a way to move the soundscape closer in and further from the listener. (11:00) An 11/11 wink- I did not plan 11 minutes. I noticed it after the fact.

Folding the Edges (5:15) and Accordion Breathing (6:13) were prompted by Glenna’s idea for a “squeeze box/accordion folds event.” From this I began exploring what makes an accordion fold? This type of fold follows geometric lines, has more symmetry and presents repetitively. Accordion folds have edges – in order to BE an accordion fold there must be two edges that fold away from each other. They hold their shape as they move. The smallest unit of an accordion fold is, interestingly, a tryptych. In these two pieces, there is a strong sense of expanding and contracting, of opening and closing, of breathing with accordion folds. Both soundscapes have edges, repetitive patterns, triad/triplet relationships and breathing space.

Floating Enfolded (10:18) and Floating Downstream (7:02) did not evolve from Human Origami workshops, but were added as part of an online class in Human Origami to be offered in March 2019.

Here is a link to the album:

Continue reading

Sonification and Life Forms II

Since excitedly sharing the results of a sonic analysis of Lemur Gut Microbiomes, I have been working up a soundscape based on the quick sketch included in the first Sonifications and Life Forms post. (You can hear both below.) In order to get feedback on the work, I sent the first blog post to Mark Ballora, with whom I had taken a data sonification workshop in May. His response helped me realize the need to clarify my sonification process. So here is a description of the project:

The purpose of the sonification is to illustrate the changes in baby lemur microbiomes from birth to weaning. Microbiome data was captured through fecal samples taken at birth, through nursing, introduction to solid foods, regular solid foods, and two times while the babies were weaning. The sonification will illustrate changes in the type and amount of bacterial phyla present at each of the six sampling stages for all three lemur babies. In addition, the mother’s microbiome was sampled at the time she gave birth, so her profile, which was assumed not to change, provides a baseline adult profile with which to compare the babies’ changes.

There were 255 strains of bacteria collected over the course of the study. These fell into 95 classes and 35 phylum. I focused on the phylum, as my plan was to assign a note value to each bacterial data point, so I needed a smaller data set. The data set was narrowed further (and made more interesting) by focusing on a family: a mother Pryxis, and her triplets, Carne, Puck and Titan. This group allows us to not only hear the variety of changes in the babies’ microbiomes, but compare the changes as well.

The original data set included 9 lemur babies and 7 mothers. So the first step was to go through the phylum data sheets and pull out the profiles for Pryxis, Carne, Puck and Titan. A phylum profile would be the type and amount of each phyla present at each data collection point. The profile changes over time at each collection point. The microbiomes of these four lemurs housed 15 phylum (at a density of >.001) out of the 35 found in the entire study group.

The next step was to assign a note value to each phyla. Since there are only 13 notes available in the chromatic scale, some phylum would need to be on the same note, albeit a different octave. Same note, different octave will lend a tonal consonance to the profiles. So what might this consonance represent? There were 5 phylum that had the greatest density and presence in all the samples, so I assigned those to the note G from octave 1 to 5. The remaining 10 phylum were assigned note values based on their presence throughout the profiles, and on their consonance/dissonance with the tonal center G.

In order to capture the density of each phyla, a midi velocity range was aligned with the decimal percentage of the phyla in each profile. Midi velocity settings determine the force with which the note is played. Thus the velocity ranges render a clear sense of presence or loudness to each note played. The decimal percentages ran from .001 to 1.0 and the midi velocity range runs from 1 – 127. Here is a chart of how these ranges overlap:

So for example, Protobacteria present at .25473 would be represented by the note G at octave 3 set at 40 velocity. The largest sample in all the data points captured for this project was around .9 and the smallest was .001 (this was a cutoff point as there were bacterial phylum present down to .0001 ranges.) Here is the chart for Titan showing note assignment and density values through each sample stage:

My sounding board for this data comparison is Ableton Live, a digital audio workstation (DAW). The individual lemurs are represented by a “voice”/midi instrument in Ableton. Tuck, Titan and Carne are bell-like voices that blend together, while Pryxis, the mother, is a warm, pervasive woodwind. She envelops and contains the changes in the babies’ phylum profiles.

All lemurs had a Phylum Profile Chart like the one above. In the DAW, the instrument track for Titan, for Puck and for Carne contains a midi-clip of notes of the phylum colonies present at each stage of dietary change, which were then laid out as a “scene” in Ableton. As example, Titan’s Phylum Profile at birth was

Protobacteria (Note value=G3) set at 101/127 in intensity

Euryarcheatae (Note Value=A2) set at 34/127

Firmicutes (Note Value=G2) set at 11/127

Cyanobacteria (Note Value=A#4) set at 1/127

Other Bacteria (Note Value=B3) set at 1/127

Spirochaetae (Note Value=G5) set at 1/127

Titan’s Birth Phylum Profile is the multi octave chord GAA#B. Three of the phylum were barely present, so those tones are almost inaudible in the chord. However, 2 Gs and the A ring out. The total number of phylum present in each dietary stage varied from 3 to 14, so the multi octave chord becomes more dense and dissonant when the phylum are so varied. Here is a look at the tracks (individual lemur voices) and the “scenes” (which are the phylum profiles from all 3 babies at each stage.)

The first sketch was just the mother’s phylum profile droning under the three babies’ profiles expressed as a stacked megachord. All 3 baby profiles rang out together four times at each stage, starting with birth and ending with the second wean. What could be heard was a homogeneity and consonance between the Mother and babies at birth that gradually became more diverse and dissonant as solid food was introduce. However, by the second wean, the babies’ and mother’s profiles become more consonant again. The researcher said this illustrated the conclusions of her study.

As a soundscape artist, I felt there was more here than just that basic chordal movement. The babies’ phylum profiles were quite different from each other as well, which is lost in the chord presentation. For example, Carne’s birth profile has only 3 phylum, while Titan has twice that amount. One way to hear this level of contrast in the baby profiles is to articulate the chords into riffs. Now we can hear the interplay of the changes in their microbiomes. In addition, we can hear how consonnant/dissonant and dense the phylum become as outside food is introduced into their systems. Titan’s phylum profiles arpeggiate down, Puck’s go up and Carne’s go down then up. A practiced deep listener could key in on a particular profile and follow it through to the end. I played around with rhythmic shifts to create more movement in the stages where the phylum profile were incredibly dense and diverse. The last two arpeggiating riffs you will hear are all of the phylum notes sounding through twice. And listen for the elevated levels of Protobacteria in all 3 profiles at birth – that G3 rings out at that point.

As I put this full family profile together, another more nuanced movement in the data appeared. In the chord rendering, I heard the data get more dissonant and dense from nursing through first wean, and then the phylum thinned out and became more consonant at the last wean. In the riff rendering, I can hear a contraction and more consonance at the Intro to Solid Foods stage as well as the second Wean. That was not clear in the chord presentation. When I checked my data records, there was a drop in the number of phylum present between Nurse and Intro stages. I love that a nuance appeared in the listening that made me go back and check the data. That is exactly how I hope this process will work.

Some other things for future consideration:

Aligning each phylum tone to a particular beat might help the listener hear the differences from stage to stage more clearly.

When assigning notes to data points, closer attention to the harmonic overtone series might help clarify the role consonance and dissonance play in hearing the data.

The voices of the baby profiles have similar timbre as a unifying element. The profiles could have very distinct voices which might make the variances in their profiles more audible.

Up next – Sourdough Songs.