Playing by Ear – What did we learn? Where do we go from here?

Following our first play date for All Data Lost, Lisa and I talked about what happened:

Lisa: I thought, “Oh, shit” when I first walked in [to The Wicked Witch] because its so dark I can’t see what I am doing, and then, you know, if someone is talking to me?!….but the energy there allowed it to be OK. You don’t have to interact, you can be alone in the dark with other people and not feel obligated to look at them, talk to them. Which is kind of freeing, actually, its freeing with the music too. Interacting with the audience effects my concentration on what I am doing with the music.

Jude: I really appreciated that aspect of the festival experience. The total focus on what is being created, on what is happening right now in this primal sonic moment! Most of the artists I heard during the afternoon performances could not be classified into any genre and each one was an engaging and unique experience.

Lisa: I also felt the audience was very attentive! They’re not looking at, or talking to, or doing anything else. They are standing there in the dark just listening to what you are doing! Its pretty neat! Even though some styles of music feed off of interacting directly with the audience, this is more experimentation, so I appreciated being able to focus on what we were doing.

When I listened to the recording, I was pleased with it, I thought it was pretty good. There was enough variety, without being too way out there. Here (in the SunRa Room) we are experimenting, then when we go and play somewhere, there needs to be more structure. I heard that. I liked the layers, and I think what I am hearing most are harmonics, and the harmonics allows the layers. The layers don’t let your brain get lazy or bored. The layering inspires curiosity!

Jude: Experimental sound art, which is what I feel like we are doing, is just one big surprise after another, and/or an evolving constancy built upon repetition and tiny changes. The layers of the soundscape are made up of harmonics, prolonged repetition, tiny and gigantic changes at a variety of tempos. Some folk’s hearing is limited by their thinking about genre classifications and performer virtuosity/charisma. Experimental sound can too overwhelming to the codified earbrain.

Lisa: The brain is like that in other ways too. People who believe that everyone should behave a certain way and anything outside of their prescribed way of thinking causes anxiety and tension. The brain is like a muscle, if you don’t use it to the full potential, it is going to wear out and not be able to tolerate much. When you exercise it, it begins to be able to handle more and more and more. Music and math are ways to exercise the brain. Math is completely like that, its exhausting, frustrating. You don’t see it and one day the light bulb comes on, and you are a totally different person.

The biggest difference between playing here (the SunRa Room) and playing at The Wicked Witch was having other people involved in listening. You feel some responsibility to bring a nice experience to them. So I think I listened more! I am controlling this, what do I want to put out there? I am not that experienced in playing for an audience, so I have a small bag of tools. So, in some ways, this lightens my responsibility to a degree.

Jude: I like having a minimal bag of tools cause it makes me go deeper with them. Also, I get overwhelmed by all that can be done to a sound signal and routing the signal to the right places, midi and audio, etc. So minimal suits my style, which is one of constant learning and deep listening.

Lisa: As far as the sound quality, I thought it was great! It was easy for me to hear what I was doing. I knew where I was at, where we were at. Even though this was the first time I played with the spider capo and that extra layer of harmonics (Lisa had the harmonics for the bottom three strings of the guitar in addition to fingering notes.), I didn’t have to do anything extra or anything difficult. Pluck the string and it is there! The reason I would use ANY tool is because it makes things easier. I am allowing each guitar to talk by doing less. I really want to hear the voice of the guitar, each one is different. That is how I decide to buy a guitar is because of the voice.

After we talked through what we each heard in our playing, I realized that Lisa listens for new ways of playing whenever she explores her guitar’s sounds. We are both experimenters, and feel quite free in that arena. We find structure more challenging. I have lots of questions about structure – my interest in modular synthesis comes from the very clear structural forms that are present in waveforms and filters. These forms, coupled with various sound sources, make interaction the essential feature of every sonic moment. How do we structure interactions? What is included in these interactions? When do we apply structured, conceptual thinking and when do we shake it off and realize “it doesn’t matter!!”

The next phase of Playing by Ear, will include Lisa’s guitar into the Neutron routed through Ableton Live and the AAC/EG clip templates created in the Abeju Synth Station. (See https://wp.me/p5yJTY-vL for more info) Here is a sample:

Come hear us at 919 Noise Showcase in October at the Nightlight in Chapel Hill.

All Data Lost Fest – August 17th – The Wicked Witch -Raleigh NC

iBod will perform THIS SATURDAY at 3:20 to 3:40 pm, so do not be late! This version of the indiosyncratic Beats of Dejacusse (iBoD) features Lisa Means and me in the first installment of a long term sonic exchange called Playing by Ear. Our set up is simple with Lisa on a Hollow TKD-Hybrid II electric guitar (built by Terry Dineen of Raleigh) which will play through a Behringer Neutron semi-modular synthesizer that I will be navigating into the amplifier. So Lisa provides the melodic tones and rhythmic energy, while I modulate timbre and propagate rhythmic structure.

When I first proposed this set up to Lisa, she said, “I should just give the guitar to you!” I am controlling the sound that comes out of the amplifier, so Lisa wondered what she was contributing. Thus began a dialogue about collaboration, listening, playing, structuring a sonic improvisation, narrative, adaptation, exchange, and standing in our own sonic authority. This dialogue is 25% verbal and 75% listening/playing in the moment.

Another factor in all of this is our different ways of hearing. Lisa experienced a gradual hearing loss through adolescence to adulthood. Hearing aids help bring her sense of hearing out into the world, while much of what Lisa hears is in her mind’s ear. When Lisa listens deeply to the sounds that emanate from her collection of crafted guitars, she hears (and conveys) vast worlds. My own hearing often feels supersonic to me. I hear the clocks ticking, the brown noise of the air purifier upstairs, an airplane passing over the house and the morning trilling of wrens as a musical interplay with rich harmonic textures. Sound surrounds and beckons me. Lisa and I talk in order to understanding how we each are hearing what we are playing together. Sometimes we agree on a theme and go from there. After we play, we talk about what we heard.

Playing by Ear is Lisa channeling the vibration of the present moment via her fingers on electric guitar through the Behringer Neutron synth, which I will patch and tweak in response to what Lisa says. I am constantly listening and tuning in search of “all of the waveforms” with the intention of catching and amplifying patterns of life in the moment. This is easy to do in the SunRa Room, with its lively acoustic enclosure. Here are two snippets from one of our sessions a few weeks ago.

We are both aware that this will be quite different at The Wicked Witch this week. What happens when we take this dialogue into a public space? How will we play with all that we are hearing in that space? We are ready to find out!!

1000 Tiny X-rays and O Men and Mice from The Art of a Scientist exhibit 2019

The Art of a Scientist exhibit closed last weekend. If you did not get a chance to hear/see my collaboration with Hasan Abbas, MD-Ph.D candidate, Duke University and the Shared Materials Implimentation Facility (SMIF), Duke University – here it is! The video plays twice and the whole thing lasts only a little over two minutes. For more on the concepts underlying the soundscapes, go here-> https://wp.me/p5yJTY-zm after listening.

iBoD presents FreeQuencies @Durham Makes Music Day

My cohorts and I are flipping the script from our usual way of play for Durham Makes Music Day this coming Friday. We have played together as iBoD for about 5 years now. I make soundscapes in Ableton Live, while Susanne, Eleanor and Jim add their own riffs and melodies over top. These soundscapes follow a more formal, songish structure. While we mostly improvise, the more we play a piece, the more we lock into parts, which layers in a more rigid form and stifles the improv. Too much structure calcifies creative growth, so time for a shift!

Under the influence of Moogfest and the work of Pauline Oliveroes, iBoD is exploring “all of the waveforms” and the means to transmit them. Susanne, Eleanor, Jim and dejacusse will provide the soundscape LIVE using voice, harmonicas, melodica, digital horn, recorder, flute and electronic modulations. In this way we will transmit a diverse range of audible waveforms as patterns of frequencies. These “freequencies” will permeate the larger soundscape that will surround us, altering the sonic environment in unusual ways.

Our location at M Alley/Holland Street (behind the Durham Hotel) means we will be in the thick of all the sounds of downtown Durham and all the outdoor music being made on Durham Makes Music Day. We will not be the loudest, but if you come down to where we are located, close your eyes, quiet your mind and open your ears, I guarantee you will hear something beautiful and amazing!

Friday June 21st

8:30-9:30 pm

iBod at M Alley/Holland St.

Synthesizing in Ableton: They are On It!

Well, my short-lived journey into configuring Ableton Live as a synthesizer has come to a halt with the purchase of a Behringer Neutron at Moogfest AND with the Ableton announcement that they are Beta-testing CV plug-ins for Ableton 10. I am soooo excited with this direction.

My experiments with creating modulation FX using “dummy clips” or Envelope Generators yielded some new directions for iBoD and dejacusse. We are experimenting with running live sound through the FX tracks and EG clips. This coming Sunday, we will perform The Place ReSounds of Water in front of the Central Park School for Children. Eleanor Mills will play The Bells, dejacusse will morph the bell harmonics into a watery pallette that Susanne Romey will play NA flute over top. There will be meditative movement and the pouring of water. Come join us!

Sunday May 19 @4 pm

724 Foster St @The Bells

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!

Synthesizing in Ableton Live: Envelope Generators

My first pass at working with Ableton as a modular synth was to explore “dummy” clips. These are tracks that contain an audio clip with the actual content muted. The clip is then transformed into a container for audio effects automation that can be applied to any audio routed through whatever audio track the clip is in. The clip becomes an Envelope template that can be pulled into other projects.

Ableton Live allows the sound designer to see and manipulate many parameters within each individual clip. This is most amazing, and something I have not paid enough attention to. Here is a picture of the clip console from the Ableton Manual:

For Audio Animation Clips, the focus is on the Sample box and the Envelopes box. The slider in the sample box is used to mute the audio by simply turning it completely down. Now the clip is ready to be shaped into an envelope. (That is how Audio Animation Clips will function in my Abeju Synth Station – as Envelope Generators (AAC/EG). The two drop down windows in the Envelope box give the sound designer access to all the effects and mix processing available on the track for this clip only. So whatever I draw onto the audio clip itself only happens when that particular clip is playing. In the case of AAC/EG, the clip will play the animation of the envelope and the envelope will be applied to any audio routed through the track.

In order to create an AAC/EG, we need an audio track and an audio clip. The length of the clip doesn’t seem to matter cause it loops. (Currently, I am sticking with 8-12-24 bars and I hear potential for longer clips with more complex movement in the automation in the future). Use the volume slider to mute the audio within the clip. (Addendum: Experience has taught me that the original audio in the clip should be low volume. I am going to start experimenting with creating audio specifically for these clips.) Then assemble a rack of audio effects you want to use to shape sound and insert them on the track. In the orginal audio clip, use the drop down box in the clip to access each effect, and turn them all to Device Off by moving the red line in the clip box to the off position. Now you have an open audio sleeve with no effects enabled. When source audio is routed through this clip, the audio will sound as is, with no effects present. Next, duplicate the clip. This will be the first AAC/EG. Go to the drop down box and turn on the devices you want to use. The top box takes you to the main effect, and the second will bring up every adjustable parameter within the effect. When you identify a parameter that you want to change, go to the red line in the audio clip window (on the right above) and draw in the animation you want.

Once I finally understood all this, I began to design AAC/EG Modules. Each module is a track with 2 to 4 different envelope template clips. Each instance of the clip can be shaped by adjusting the automation (I am calling animation) of the effects that are on the track. One technique I like is layering three effects over three clips. The track contains three effects (a delay, an EQ and a reverb), so the first clip has one effect on, the second has two, the third has three. Initially, I tried linking several modules (tracks containing the clips) together but found this too cumbersome. The option to layer modules is in the routing in each particular set.

To use the modules, insert another audio track that will hold the samples you are using. I label this track Source. Now there are several routing options, but the main idea is that the AAC/EG modules need sound coursing through them in order to perform. On the In/Out tab on the track, audio can be routed from someplace and routed to some place. The best mixing option so far is to have the AAC/EG modules receive audio from source and then everybody sends audio to the Master Volume. This allows the faders to act as dry/wet attenuators. The Source can be heard as is or through the AAC/EG Modules and Clip Templates.

So far, I have created four modules. Combed, Mangled, Stutter Delay and Harmonics Flinger. [Post Publication Addendum: More modules are added to above and all are being fined tuned. Our April 14th SITES event was rained out (rescheduled for May 19th) so the debut of Abeju Synth Station will be tonight as part of Electronic Appetizers program at Arcana. I am playing a piece called Perimeter Centre, which will feature the Ripplemaker semi-modular ios synth as my sound source for the Abeju Synth Station. Come listen!