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

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!

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

Song of Sirens

paper.abstracts.8

When I was a child, we often visited our grandparents in Elkins WV. Elkins is home to the Mountain State Forest Festival, and is my birthplace. My Mother’s family has a long history with Elkins. Her grandfather was one of the first mayors and one of two doctors after the town’s 1890 incorporation. I am not sure how my Dad’s mother got there. Mamaw lived in a brick row apartment with a porch and stoop to play on. And she lived one block from the volunteer fire department.

When I slept over with Mamaw, there was always a fire in Elkins, sometimes two. The volunteers had to be called in from all over town, and what called them was the longest, most mournful sound my young ears had ever heard. As loud as it was (remember we were one small block away) the siren also sounded ghostly. It went on and on and on for an eternity and then it stopped! A lovely silence would fall and gently wash away the residue of the wailing. If it happened at night, I would return to sleep; by day, it was back to play. Either way, the siren always elicited a jolt of free-floating anxiety.

The Mountain State Forest Festival takes place the first weekend in October in Elkins and has for 85 years (with a short hiatus during WW II). This Festival was a highlight each and every year of my growing up. We got out of school for two days, traveled through the gorgeous colors and crisp fall air to spend several days with carnivals, exhibits, parades and pageantry. One of the parades took place on Friday night and involved 100 firetrucks sounding their sirens at the same time. The Fireman’s Parade attracted fire departments from all over West Virginia, and into Virginia and Maryland. The trucks would line up at one end of town and slowly make their way down the main street blaring the siren song of their station, their truck. The sound of 100 firetrucks calling their warning song together cannot be described. People flocked the sidewalk, laughing, trying to talk to each other over the din. My brother Matt is famous in our family for having slept through the Fireman’s Parade when he was a babe. Even back then, I enjoyed the interplay of the various intervals that make up a siren song.

A few years ago, my cohorts from iBoD (idiosyncratic Beats of Dejacusse) were discussing ideas for soundscapes. The one sound artifact that really stands out in the urban growth we are experiencing in Durham NC is the frequency of emergency sirens. This became the basis for an iBoD piece called The Sound…of Sirens. One online resource said the intervals of sirens telegraphed who’s coming: the police are a perfect fifth, ambulance is a fourth, and fire trucks are a whole tone. I designed the soundscape with those intervals. We all started with the basic intervals, and as the piece went on, we threw different intervals into the mix. The ending is a big crescendo and all out except the tail of the reverbed voices of the scape, which I turn up to a final fading shriek. We played the piece at a few venues. I thought of it as a novelty song.

I talked about all of this in an interview with Margaret Harmer, who produces electronic music as Shifting Waves. Margaret is producing an album of work from 15 to 20 women electronic artists from all over the world. She asked each of us to think back to a sound in our childhood, to find the story around that sound, and bring it forward into a piece. (I actually added that last part, Margaret did not say the story had to be about the piece for the album, and it sure did flow that way for me.) Here is a link to the interview.

http://www.shiftingwaves.com/blog_files/jude_casseday_interview.html

I took the soundscape for The Sound…of Sirens and began to analyze it harmonically and timbrally. The piece was sculpted from thick resonant voices (several synth pads and strings). This allowed me to carve out the movement of the sirens, the doppler effect of approach and recede, the abruptness of a nearby siren suddenly starting or stopping – the psychoacoustic impact we experience in our communities. Now called Song of Sirens, the piece was a fountain of siren voices overflowing and receding. There are several short repeated interludes during the first section. Several crescendos and several interesting places where the sound drops out leaving space in the front of the mix. This is most obvious when listening through headphones. This has peaked my interest in how we define the sonic space a piece takes up, and how to keep the full space alive when the sound recedes.

Siren’s song in mythology is characterized as an intentional “luring” of sailors onto the rocks. This sounds like one side of the story to me. Who was hearing and for what end? Was the siren song seductive, plaintive, demanding? Was it the call of grey seals, baying and mournful, resounding in the range of the female voice, a voice the sailors had not heard in years? Perhaps the sailors drove themselves into the rocks looking for women to rape. There are many possible scenarios when all points of view are considered.

I wanted to put an intention of comfort and nuturing from female voices into Song of Sirens. How interesting that modern day emergency sirens call out warning, answer your cry for help, or pursue you – all at once. How to embody all of this while flipping the mythology of blame the women. So I recorded Trudie, her daughter, Sheila, and three granddaughters singing phrases of Brahm’s Lullaby and wove them in and around the siren soundscape.

We are creating a new mythology as our brains and conciousnesses go through an extraordinary evolutionary shift. The reptillian brain – the one that fights or flees – is softening into the polyvagal brain. We are moving from survival of the fittest to survival of the kindest. Feminine consciousness knows how to be kind, not just benevolent. As the Song of Sirens raises the death knell of the reptillian brain, grandmothers, mothers and granddaughters sing a soothing lullaby swaddling the panicy cries.

Song of Sirens will be released as a track on Voices from Eris, produced by Shifting Waves studios. Stay tuned for more on fundraising and release date. I appreciate your listening!

Listening to the Eclipse                   August 21, 2017

36.055 degrees N

78.918 degrees W

As the beauty-filled feminine Moon danced between the fire-filled Sun and our spaceship Earth, Trude and I opted to channel the energies of the moment into creative work. Listening to the Eclipse is a two hour soundscape created during the 2017 Solar Eclipse. The scape has a Prelude, silences, a dance of tones, the moon throwing shade, and a return. The Prelude to the Eclipse came first and emerged from the time of the first kiss of shadow to 30 minutes before the 92% totality most of NC received. The eclipse soundscape,  Sun Moon Earth Dance, occurred the 30 minutes before near totality, during near totality and the 30 minutes after.

The tonal relationships involved in an eclipse can be drawn from a variety of data. I used the tones derived by Hans Cousto in the book The Cosmic Octave. The Sun tone is B, the Earth tone is C#. The interval relation is a whole tone. A whole tone has the edginess of proximity and a certain consonance as well. The whole tone interval is like an honest, long-term, intimate relationship. The Moon is G# and is beautifully consonant with Earth’s C# as its fifth. The Moon and Earth are like soul-mates. So the Earth changes partners every twelve hours or so alternately dancing with soul-mate and spouse. Eclipses change the larger cosmic pattern amongst these three. The Moon gets to “cut-in” between the Earth and Sun Mid-day, mid-dance.

The scape is designed with orchestral voices of brass, strings, woodwinds,and bells along with solar winds, rattling bones and boiling water. I created and preset some loops of the primary intervals at play that I triggered while improvising on one of the midi instruments during the actual eclipse. Now, several days later, I am sculpting the piece. Using reverb, amplitude, crossfades, and panning, I place and move the source of each sound, creating sonic leaps and spins, and slow crossfades from one ear to the other. Here is where the story takes place – statements are made, pushed to the foreground or background, interruptions erupt, loud voices fade to whispers, laughter and great flair carry us into the future.

My intention with this practice was to listen closely in the moment and render the story of the eclipse as it occured through the sounds I chose. So the best way to listen to the recording  is through headphones, and with the sense that you are listening to a wordless podcast about the eclipse. There are characters speaking and moving about the sonic space. There are arguments, discussions, laughter and mystery. What story do you hear when you listen?

Here is what the August 2017 Eclipse sounded like to me-

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Playtime: 60 minutes

Moogfest 2017

Once again, Durham burst into a cacaphony of electronics and technology as Moogfest took over the downtown streets and venues from May 18 – 21. Last year, there were more “big names” and a strong emphasis on “living as a cyborg” i.e. augmenting our perceptual apparatus (brain, ears, eyes, bodies) with technology. This year’s festival felt more low key, but at the same time, just as rich and varied.

I opted for the volunteer experience again, which gets you a free ticket as long as you work your shift. My shift was box office for the sleep concert, which ran from 12:30 am to 8:30 am the first night of Moogfest. In the ballroom at 21c Museum Hotel, thick mats covered much of the floor.  Attendees, some in hotel bathrobes with pillows and blankets, some with mats and sleeping bags, waited in line to get in. As it turned out, everyone who waited got in because only a dozen people from on-line registration showed up. My job was to scan wrist bands, do a clicker head count, and keep the entryway quiet.

Laraaji and Arji OceAnanda created soundscape all night long while people came and went and slept. They started with some overlapping synth loops that were quite dense. I wish I had been inside the room to experience them. I imagine they would feel like a blanket tossed and tucked around me. Some people found them too loud and left; others went in, lay down and immediately fell to sleep. As the night went on, Laaraji and Arji moved us through watery realms and meadows of sheep and crickets making song. Occasionally, one of the artists walked around among the sleeping, sprinkling light chimes of sound over them. There were poems about walking in the garden of Now and being consciousness. This was an eight hour blessing!

As the sun was rising over Parrish Street, Laaraji played a sweet harmonica solo. I lay down for a while, which was wonderful. The sound was quadraphonic, so the water sounded as if it was in the middle of the room. It was like lying beside an actual lake. As the last half hour approached, we pulled back the curtains, danced and chanted Om Shanti and I am Consciousness! When we left the room, someone from Moogfest had brought in coffee and doughnuts! Whooo hoooo! The sleep concert was a highlight of the festival.

The next highlight was meeting Gerhard Behles, one of the originators and the CEO of Ableton. He gave a moving talk on the visionary mission of the Ableton company. He started with his own story of how electronic music saved his life as an unhappy teenager. His gratitude for this has brought him right where he is today! Ableton has a mission to make music creation accessible to all. He is a kind, creative and engaged man, and I am glad I got to shake his hand and express my deep gratitude for the sounding world that Ableton has opened up to me.

Sudan Archives at the Presbyterian Church was a delight. She played electric and acoustic violin over loops. She had a lovely voice and was unselfconscious and genuine! Many of her songs seemed like works-in-progress, surprising the audience with their brevity. Then she carefully laid out loops of tapped tones on the violin strings, and sang a vocal line over top in a beautifully sculpted improvisation. The church is a breathtaking venue visually and acoustically. So glad I got to hear Sudan Archives there.

I ventured down to the Motorco end only briefly to hear Omar Souleyman. The pulse of the music was inviting, so I moved closer to the stage, but got caught by the low end about half way down. Punched me in the stomach and throat and I could go no further. The sound is just too loud. My constant question is “why are the bass/drums allowed to dominate the show at such a great cost to the felt-sense of the music?” Last year at The Armory, people reported getting physically ill from the bass. It is these moments in life when one must ask, “What is happenin’ here?”

I was so into Laurie Anderson last year, that Suzanne Ciani was only a moment of my festival. This year I gave her more attention, and am glad I did. The documentary A Life in Waves is one of the best biographical docs I have ever seen. Suzanne is a self-contained, independent, intelligent woman who comes across as soooo comfortable in her skin.  My favorite aspect of the film was that it gave you a sense of how deeply attuned her ear is to the world. As she revealed the metaphors of her life, the filmmakers mined them beautifully. A wonderful collaboration! Suzanne Ciani was honored with the annual Moog Innovation Award at Moogfest 2017. And she played a set at The Armory on the Buchla which was fun and engaging! When I think about Laurie and Suzanne, who are contemporaries and probably acquainted, they seem to be the antitheses of each other. I admire them both for the ways they sound their beings into the world!

Then there were the stumble upons:

a group of young troubadours hauling ukes and a washtub bass around the convention center plaza

Marc Fleury and the Church of Space going bullhorn to bullhorn with a local corner street ministry down at Five Points. They got real quiet when Marc (in his mask) bellowed, “Of course, there is a God!” I don’t think the locals were expecting that.

Pierce Freelon and a group of teens getting their rap on at CCB Plaza Friday night.

Another peak experience was Lily Dale -The Dream Wanderer Virtual Reality Bus. Lily Dale is a spiritualist community of ghosts and mediums that actually exists in upstate NY. The VR experience was a kind of guided meditation using the voices of people from the Lily Dale community in conjunction with movement and graphics. There are numerous scenes you can experience, so the first thing is to pick three random original tarot cards to determine which scenes you will…be in. They place a vest over your torso, headphones and goggles over ears and eyes and you are off. One of the scenes I went through had to do with traveling outside the body, something I have only done in quick snatches. The visuals for this were stunning – I felt I was stationed in the cosmos. I could see the the shapes of planets in alignment or in their orbital relation depending on which direction I looked. There was a large Earth-like planet moving toward me 45 degrees to my right. Then it was like I passed over a dark hill and below me was a swirling galaxy. I saw a human form float by like a sister airplane flying at a different altitude. And all the while the planet got closer. (I thought about that movie Melancholia, and that gave the visuals a creepier feel.) Then everything faded away. Each scene is accompanied by a story or message from a Lily Dale resident. The experience felt healing and uplifting. For more on this project, check out: http://flatsitter.com/lily_dale/

Finally, we concluded with iBoD in the Soundgarden on the Sunday evening apres Moogfest. Suzanne, Eleanor, Jim and I arrived at the Central Park School and got partially set up before discovering our power source was not hot! Electronic music does not happen without electricity! (I see a solar generator in my future.) So we improvised along with the bells for about 40 minutes to a small and appreciative audience. Later that same night one of our savvy audience members discovered a power source just slightly further away, so we have rescheduled our soncert for Sunday evening June 4th at 7 pm.

Meet us in the Soundgarden then!