Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Joyous Noël

Merry Christmas, all! May you find joy as we remember the Word (Pattern) made flesh (stuff).

Celebrate Christmas the monome way!

Occular posted this little German Christmas carol using the lucid musical qualities of the first draft of Stretta's tintinnabulome app, developed in response to a brainstorm I started in the monome community. Stretta wrote this initial version without even having a monome around! I started the brainstorm inspired by my post of respect with regards to Arvo Pärt's work. Much thanks to Stretta, occular, and the monome community.

Christmas Peace

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Loving the Prophet

When I pulled out my old synths and decided to return to music as an avocation, to keep me sane, etc., I realized that, although I loved the sounds produced by both my Sequential Circuits Prophet 600 (P600, 1983) and my Korg Wavestation EX (WS 1993), I did not like programming both of them. I simply did not (and still do not) care to learn the sound architecture and endless paging through endless menus that it takes to program the (supposedly technologically better) digital WS. But I love to program my P600.

The good news for an old school analog guy like me is that analog suddenly became cool again in the late '90s and that hasn't changed. Analog is still cool. They've come up with all sorts of "softsynths" (computer generated software synthesizers) that (attempt to) emulate the old analog sounds. Heck, I don't need that (you young music-store whippersnapper) I actually have an old synthesizer! (Although I love the softsynths that come with my DAW, Logic Express.)

Before I left the high school garage-band scene in the early '90s, I used to have to apologize for having an "old" analog synth like the P600 - I just couldn't afford better. But my heros were analog programmers and I secretly resented having to apologize in the first place! I loved my P600 then as I do now and knew it was a good synth. But I had teenaged gear lust and so was in conflict with myself over it. Now I can go into music stores and say "yeah, I've got an old P600 that still works (more or less) and hasn't even lost its presets!" and they all just say (if they even know what I'm talking about) "wow, cool. you'd better hold on to that." I intend to!

For over-all descriptions of these synthesizers, check out the links on their names in the paragraphs above (they link to articles about them on Vintage Synth Explorer; Google is good, of course). Here is a youtube video of a P600 in action. (The guy has somehow figured out how to sync this ancient beast to midi clock - yes, I am jealous.)

Here is why I am posting about this synth: I started to feel small and inferior to all the programming heros out there on the net now. Especially all the ones using their own RAD modular set ups. I started to think: if I were really cool, I'd ween myself away from the mere milk of hard-wired analog and start biting of chunks of the real meat of modular patch bays.

I mean I really started feeling the limitations of my little P600. It represents (one of the best of) the very first synths that were not only hard-wired rather than modular, but also designed to be economical and to remember patches in a little built-in dedicated computer. Not only that, but my P600 was THE first synthesizer on the commercial market that sported MIDI. Not bad. But to some, not good. Digital patch memory, MIDI, and the like, tended to pave the way for the "keyboards" to come. What I mean here are those electronic instruments with speakers built in to them that you can pick up at Mart or Radio Shack. Okay, so maybe I am still a snob about some things. Anyway, they weren't synthesizers - you couldn't program them.

Now, the P600 is programmable - but not fully. It already lost "patchability" by being analog rather than modular. That's okay, so did the Minimoog. But, I am guessing in order to enable digital patch recall, even the pots that it has are far more limited in scope than those you would find on the older early analogs. I mean, I just can't do as much with my little LFO as you can do on some of the other analogs and modulars! Not only is routing limited, but I can't go super slow or super fast - I can't push the edge of audibility like a "good" LFO should. That is because the P600 was kind of an early "keyboard": a cheaper, more portable, user friendly, factory preset presentable synth for those that wanted to gig but couldn't program or carry around a Rhodes or an organ. "Nothing funky or weird here please, I just need to bang out some chords." Humph.

Anyway, these were where my sad and gear-related self-deprecating thoughts had been meandering for a while. Until I returned to the roots. Among those who program synthesizers (at least the circles with which I care to associate) if you can ground your thought or practice on something Brian Eno has ever said or done then you are good to go. Quoting or referencing Eno is like quoting the Bible or the constitution in other circles. (Check out his site.)

I remembered how Eric Tamm in his book about Eno described how Eno hated synthesizers with lots of options. And that for all sorts of (good, in my mind) reasons. It violated some of Eno's notions of the value of minimalism. When you lower your options, that is, create creative boundaries for yourself as an artist, you actually boost creativity, productivity. Eno also eschews gear-lust: the notion that newer features and more features always means a better instrument. Eno used his EMS AKS almost exclusively for over a decade. Then he switched to his DX7 for at least that long, and, as far as I know, is still using (several of) them. Limiting possibilities, learning what you know intimately well = good. So too having six amazing sounds rather than 6000 mediocre ones.

So, I defer to the master. I am no Brian Eno, but darn it, my little P600 is my DX7! And I am sticking to it. (Another example: I have a Korg Kaoss Pad KP3. It is rad. I have left it on the same effect, "Talk Filter," pretty much since buying it. I still haven't exhausted how cool that effect is, so I'm shamelessly and unapologetically sticking to it for a while!)

Another example: I've recently decided that I can never tire of filter sweeps. As far as I am concerned, from now until I die (unless I should change my mind, to which I reserve the right) I'm going to have a filter sweep in every piece I produce (that is, assuming I ever actually finish something).

Future posts: commentary on some of my ground rules and practices for musical productivity and some theoria on the notion of limiting possibilities in order to unfetter creativity as a parallel to ascesis.

Thanks for reading, thanks for the support, and three cheers for my Prophet 600!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Monome dabble and prospective piece

Slow 64 dabble from Tetramorph on Vimeo.

I came home one evening and decided that I wanted to try something a bit more slow and meditative. So I set Stretta's Polygomé down from its preset 120 BPM to 60 BPM and started dabbling. The above is a sample of it.

I like it so far and really enjoyed myself while producing it. I think it has potential as a recording project, so I welcome any helpful comments. I especially wonder about how to work in extra, overlapping material, themes and sections in order to give variety to pieces such as these that would otherwise be quite repetitive: a productive of this kind of electronic music production. The goal would be theme and variation while keeping the whole feel seamless and (fairly) minimalist.

Technical: As I said, I am using Stretta's Polygomé driving my Prophet 600 and signal processing both the Prophet and my little DR-550 drum machine through my KP3 Kaoss Pad. I actually like the cheesy beats from my old drum machine better than most of the loops in Logic. Logic is currently my (only) DAW. The wave-sequenced pad I add is from my Wavestation.

Apology: Okay, so I apologize again for how low-tech this production quality is. I still have "wife-camera-person" on our digital camera for both video and sound capture. I plan to upgrade, but it is hard to spend money on a camcorder when I want to spend money on gear! So I ask for your patience, etc.

Thanks for following, and thanks for the support.

Behind the name

In St. John, as in Ezekiel, these four animals, or rather, these four "living creatures," are the epitome of creation, because of all creatures they are the noblest.

-- Louis Charbonneau-Lassay: The Bestiary of Christ

Theology and teaching are my vocation.

My current career focuses on the worship of the church.

I have always been musical and I have some basic visual artistic talent and interests.

I love music and art that points beyond itself, that participates in the sacred.

I have sung in many choirs; I dabble with keyboard instruments and the guitar. I enjoy synthesizer programming, especially analog. I enjoy attempting to write traditional icons and other forms of sacred images.

I love minimalism, sacred minimalism, ambient and popular music with synthesizers (but not synth pop).

I was inspired to maintain this web log when I received my monome 64.

I appreciate the monome community and consider it a privilege to be (even a minimal) part of it.

So why "Tetramorph"? There are several intersecting reasons:

An angelology of forms and patterns participating in ever overlapping hierarchies that generate almost infinite unique concrete manifestations inspires my meditation on the "decoupled grid" that is the monome.

Tetra = four (64, 128, 256); Morph = form, pattern (application, sequence, progression).

Music, art, creative work, theurgy as means of meditating on the transcendent within creation, and that, in turn, as a means of contemplating on the Source of creation, all gives me the desire to contemplate the Tetramorph.

Not too much good stuff about the Tetramorph on line, but try Wikipedia.

Thanks for reading, and encouraging! Peace.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Another hour (or two) with monome and Logic

This is a follow up on the project I began at an Apple Store One to One session I had a couple of weeks ago. Here is what I was able to do to that project in yet another hour session at the store and about one more hour at home:

I placed a new rhythm bed under it all and worked in a bit more variation. Most significantly, I've added a "B" part that shifts the feel and adds a simple melody from my Prophet 600 through my KP3. Underneath that I lay down a treble rhythm using my monome 64 running Stretta's Polygomé in the "goméizer" mode. I like that track, but it seems too punchy. Over the course of making these new sections, I managed to erase or loose some of the cool midi data from the previous session. Bummer, but I'm not so invested as to do the work to try to recover them. This is just experimentation to get familiar with recording and composing music again.

I like this new piece in general, but the transitions from A to B and back to A need some clear work. I'm also having trouble "bouncing" from Logic to iTunes. I'm not able to get the ending to turn out as I would like it. It cuts of too abruptly. More to work on at my next One to One, I guess!

I would love any comments or criticisms. Thanks for listening, and thanks for the encouragement.