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!!

The Place ReSounds of Water

Sunday May 19th was a gorgeously breezy afternoon when Susanne Romey fluttered and howled on the Native American flute while Eleanor Mills pulled rich sounds from The Bells, and Lee Moore Crawford blessed and balanced the water, while Jody Cassell moved and was moved by internal and external energies. dejacusse added a little shimmer to the bell harmonics and witnessed this most beautiful rendering of love.

Big thanks to Jim Kellough for sound smudging the space, to Linda Carmichael for the video capture, and Central Park School for allowing us to celebrate at The Bells.

Stay tuned next year for National Water Dance 2020 Durham NC!

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

Riding and Playing the en/Harmonic Waves

My quest to synthesonize Ableton Live has taken an exciting new turn. Last Sunday, we discovered that by micing The Bells at the Central Park School Soundgarden, I can run that sound through Ableton and into the various synth modules and FX racks I am building. What happens is that the Abeju Synth Modules and FX Racks capture most of the harmonics that arise from Eleanor’s bell playing. The harmonics can be shaped by envelopes and attenuation and, of course, granular synthesis. My goal is to gradually shape the bell harmonics into a watery stream sound. This will be part of the soundscape for The Place ReSounds of Water (TPRSW) on April 14th at 4pm for SITES Season 2018-19.

When iBoD first started playing with The Bells, I recorded and analyzed their harmonic content. These bells are former compressed air tanks with the bottoms cut off, so the metal is not pure, it is some kind of alloy. This translates to lots of harmonic AND enharmonic content! A pure metal would render more pure harmonics. These pure harmonics are pretty, often beautiful, but my ear grows tired of the stasis of it all. The idea of purity in all of its forms is an illusion that leads to much misunderstanding and anguish in the world. Think about what striving for purity has given us: genocides, fascism, chronic autoimmune diseases, disconnection from and attempts to conquer nature, diminished empathy, and on and on. It is my prayer that riding and faithfully playing All the en/harmonic waveforms will encourage evolutionary growth. That is what I am going for!

TPRSW is my first attempt to sync up with the National Water Dance. My timing is off as this is not the year for National Water Dance, however I am hoping this will kickoff some interest for 2020. The idea for TPRSW is to give prolonged loving attention to water in the form of sound, light and the liquid itself. The soundscape will consist of Eleanor Mills playing The Bells, dejacusse aka Jude Casseday capturing and playing the en/harmonic waves from The Bells and morphing them into a watery feeling soundbed. Then Susanne Romey will play Native American flute over that for a while, then we start the wave again. The movers will pour water from vessel to vessel. An altar of flowers may be built. The whole thing is a mystery.

Our location at the Soundgarden at Central Park School gets full afternoon sun, so the visuals might include sparkles and shimmers of water. We could be lit up! If it is overcast, the air will be moist and the sounds of water will carry more clearly. If it threatens rain on Sunday, we will do it on Saturday instead! Or, perhaps, we will figure something else out and perform as it rains.

Whatever we do will be in praise of water!

East Durham Children’s Initiative

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Jody Cassell and I are super excited to be bringing our dancing stories to this wonderful program in the Fall of 2018. East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI) is a community-targeted educational initiative with the vision that all the children in a 120 block area of East Durham will graduate from high school. This is grassroots activism at its best! Now, thanks to American Dance Festival (ADF) and a grant from the Ivy Community Service Foundation of Cary, Inc we get to offer our skills to this amazing community.

For the last 5 years, Jody and I have been part of the ADF Community Outreach. We take our programs of interactive creative dance and storytelling to libraries, YMCAs, schools, and museums to promote dance as a joyful, imaginative and expansive activity for children. Jody teaches creative dance classes for “little ones” and their care providers as well as classes for children age 4-9 at ADF Studios. So our community workshops help spread the word about those classes and about the overall ADF season which peaks in Durham every summer. Last summer, ADF sent us for a workshop with the EDCI Stepping Stones summer program at the Maureen Joy Charter School. A preschool group of about a dozen with a lead teacher and several aides moved with us through BrainDance(c) and Jody’s story Where’s Leon?. We had such a great time with them! We really wanted to go back. Then ADF staff obtained a grant that allows for three more dancing story performances and two professional development sessions for teachers at EDCI in November/December 2018!

As I read through their Six Year Impact Study, it was clear that our dancing story programs are designed to fulfill aspects of EDCI’s mission. EDCI emphasizes early childhood intervention as a path to greater success in grade school and beyond. Jody Cassell trained as a Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts teaching artist and served as a Master Artist for over a decade. She has honed her skills in community-based dance and story in Atlanta and Baltimore school systems, and special residencies in school systems throughout NC. Her programs are designed to promote brain development and physical coordination, improve focus, engage somatic learning, and foster creative expression. The soundscapes for Jody’s stories center around pulses from brain wave states, which sonically enhance relaxation and focused engagement during dancing stories. The most important element in all is that we have fun!

Durham is such a rich place to live with so many wonderful and terrible things happening all at once. It is a joy to be engaged with locally focused organizations that are planting the seeds of creativity, respect and a high regard for the wide variety of learning styles that exist in the world.

I am grateful to have found myself at this particular intersection!

If, like me, you did not know about EDCI and the important service they provide, please check out their 6 year impact study: http://edci.org/en/about/impact

Moogfest 2018

At the Moogfest Volunteer orientation, we learned that the festival has changed hands, and that Durham is invested in growing Moogfest. I am gladdened to hear this news, and hope that it will be one of a myriad of festivals supported by our civic community. Each year Moogfest moves in different and interesting directions, embracing new venues, and improving their internal protocols. At the same time – it is a business. I hope that the owners prosper (within reason) and grow the festival in responsive and inclusive ways. This year seemed to be moving in that direction.

There truly was something for everyone at Moogfest 2018! One could listen to magnetic frequencies, experience 360 degree sound, hear an original Theremin (built by Theremin himself and recovered from a NC fleamarket.), witness remarkable performances by legendary Midori Takada and Psychic TV, and hear local talent like hifilorau, Trandle, Maille Form at the Roundhaus Stage and The Fruit. Those who sprang for The Engineer pass got to build a cool new synth called a Subharmonicon, which I would love to play with as it focuses on my main interest – harmonics. And the many workshops ranged from the democratization of music to how bacteria talk to each other. I attended a fascinating presentation on representing data as sound, which is a new interest of mine. (I am involved in a project where I will be creating some type of sonification of chemical reactions in fermentation – more on that in the future.) I learned the difference between audification and sonification, which had been a source of confusion. Projects where the data generates the sound are called audification. Projects where the data is represented as sonic information are called sonifications. My desire is to sonify data, so I will be using the resources from this workshop in the near future!

Midori Takada is known for busting through the glass ceiling in 1980s Japanese electronic music with her album, Through The Looking Glass. In Fletcher Theatre, she began with a simple brass singing bowl, moved to an array of cymbals and drums, and played a long set on the marimba. She was amplified and used a delay on some sections of the marimba piece, but was mostly acoustic. She is a consummate performer and knows how to take the stage and hold attention. (A Facebook post inquired about what designer she was wearing. A beautifully sculpted costume.) Later that same evening, I heard Madame Gandhi at Motorco. She could be the fractal repeat of Midori Takada – percussionist, electronic musician, performer and feminist fashionista who connects with the audience while she holds our attention. Both are modes of performance, one more traditional and exclusive, the other exploratory and inclusive. It was intriguing to experience both in the same evening. I look to Madame Gandhi who articulates The Future is Female and whose work is a reclamation of femininity. This girl is one to listen to!

The first morning of Moogfest, I went to the Modular Marketplace to play! The new Moog Grandmother synth was calling my name. This is a semimodular keyboard synthesizer with some cool features of which I only scratched the surface. At the Novation booth, I had great fun with the Circuit and their Peak synth. I shared my experience of playing with the Launchpad ios app with a Novation rep, and requested a live loop feature. He said he would take it to the developers. This year the Marketplace relocated from the Power Plant Boiler Room to Bay 7 at American Tobacco Campus – great decision! – a playground needs wide open space! The Modular Marketplace is a highlight of the festival and is open to the public, no wristband required.

Micheal Stipe was back with another of his dance video projections. Thibault Dance was projected inside and outside the Snow Building on Main Street, tucked away in a sort of hallway. The dance projection was visible from outside the building, but the soundtrack (by Stipe) was only accessible from within. On the way home one night, I popped in there and was glad I did! The dancer explored the energy fields in and around his upper body with very little foot work except weight shifting and slight movements around the space. Gradually, he brought his lower body in more with leg lifts and kicks. Then it was over. I do not remember much about the soundtrack.

Susanne Ciani and Layne and several inidentified Berklee music students performed an original soundtrack for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. This event took place in the A3 360 Sound array in the Durham Armory. The soundtrack made the movie so much more interesting to watch and I was sorry I couldnt see the whole thing. I did manage to capture a most boring screen moment (written text to further the narrative) but you will get what I am saying about the soundscape.

I thought the sound at The Pinhook was stellar on Friday night when Katie Gately and Caterina Barbieri played fantastic sets there. Gately works with vocals and effects pedals, while Barbieri performed a full on Eurorack Modular Synth set. Barbieri’s style was to set up some nice arpeggiations and then mix them all up into a noisy mess before pulling out beautiful strands of sound once again. I enjoy that kind of movement in modular synth sets.

I blame the weather (which was rainy and overcast most of the weekend), but by Saturday afternoon I was done. Too tired to dance at The Fruit, which was a necessary disappointment. I spent Sunday working on the soundscape for Friday’s PROMPTS with Jody Cassell. (She has given me more meaty dialogue with her Mother. What they are processing is phenomenal.) Then we ended the weekend with iBoD’s traditional post-Moogfest soncert at The Bells. This soncert featured Eleanor Mills on the bells, Jim Kellough on digital horn, and Susanne Romey on flutes and recorders. I played the soundscapes, ukelele and psaltry. We had gorgeous weather, an appreciative audience and a generally lovely time stirring up the vibrations! I even managed a few minutes of a live Instagram feed till my phone fell over.

All of this to say, I am looking forward to Moogfest 2019!!

Video Clip from Celebrate SITES

Here are some short excerpts from the two plus hour happening that occurred on February 16th at The Fruit in Durham NC. This was a fusion event with tremendous activity oscillating throughout the space! The first 30 seconds or so illustrate a section of the soundscape where all the sound and visual components came together in a “moment” on the video. The primary dancer is Jody Cassell. You hear her voice and her mother’s voice in the soundscape.

Appreciations to Bill Romey for the video capture. Appreciations to Jody Cassell, Stephanie Leathers, Kim Gray, The Bipeds, LICE and all the movers. Appreciations to Tim Walters and The Fruit for hosting the event.