EMP Week 5: Live Performance

This week is what I’ve been waiting for!

I’m a huge fan of people incorporating electronic audio concepts in conventional analogue music. This kind of exploration has been traditionally undertaken by Jazz based artists. In the 70’s they were some of the first artists to incorporate synthesised instrumentation with keyboards such as the Fender Rhodes and the Hammond B3 organ with rotating Leslie speaker.

This trend continued as the technology evolved, which resulted in the crossover of Jazz fusion artist Herbie Hancock to the synth world with his seminal 80’s synth-pop track Rockit. This was usually performed live using a Roland Keytar controller

 

In the 90’s, Weather Report keyboardist Josef Zawinul incorporated a lot of sampling and digital effects such as vocoding into his live ‘Zawinul World Syndicate’ ensemble tour, which to this date had the most impressive keyboard setup I’ve ever seen – 8 high end keyboards including a Korg M1 workstation, Clavia Nord Lead; Korg Prophecy monosynth, Sequential Circuits Prophet T8 synth; and Korg Triton workstation.I also counted 18 expression pedals!.

 

 

In the 2000’s, thanks to the increase in CPU power; electronic music which was usually generated on expensive and cumbersome hardware synthsisers has been virtualised to run on a desktop PC. This was a huge improvement over trying to incorporate dozens of hardware synths into a gig, but used to limit the potential for creative live performance, after all, what kind of idiot wants to drag out his entire desktop system to a live gig?

Flect - Live 2006

Yes, that’s me. The desktop tower is under the bench. I was running Cubase 5 with a Novation keyboard and a Yamaha WX5 wind controller. These fed in to either the Yamaha MU128 Tone generator under the monitor or could be switched (using the mouse) to use a VST.

 

Fortunately, in the last decade, laptop CPU power has come in line with desktop machines, so this debacle is no longer necessary. This has lead to a flourishing of new talent who can manipulate sound in real time using a laptop and a new generation of high tech but affordable hardware controllers, such as the Behringer BCR2000 and Ableton Push.

 

For the class exercise, I reused the Blinky sample from last week’s class and one of the synths I made earlier into a dub reggae style with a heavy synth bass part which had a lot of deep filter movement after playing around and mapping some LFO’s. delay feedback & eq’s to hardware controls.

EMP Week 4: Remixing

his week, we took a look at remixing – essential taking a track or recording of a certain style and transforming it to fit another. It is a staple of modern electronic music but has the potential to be done quite poorly, with little care and attention. This usually involves dropping a 4/4 beat loop over an already successful song in an attempt to capitalise on a modern genre trend (see: nearly every shitty track incorporating the word ‘remix’ or ‘VS’ in its title from the mid 90’s onwards; basically, every Nick Skitz album). This is sometimes seen as a threat by original artists, as a producer trying to capitalise on their success while contributing very little creativity of their own and is often perceived as plagiarism.

One of my favourite examples of remixing done well is actually a remix of a remix. In this track, Melbourne artist Terrafractyl applies his epic production skills to a reworking of the Propellorheads’ remix of Shirley Bassey’s original ‘History Repeating’.

http://terrafractyl.bandcamp.com/track/history-repeatin

He uses a pulsing psytrance bassline with overdriven Hammond organ and live electro-jazz piano riffs along with lo-fi sampling of the original horn lines with Shirley Bassey’s original vocal part to great effect.

Another favourite is the remix of the ABC News Australia theme by Perth DnB artists Pendulum. Here they have added a driving bass part with some rock drums and sidechained to the original ABC orchestra recording.

 

 

Here is another great example of a Queen remix from NZ artist and Ableton guru Tom Cosm:

 

For this weeks class exercise, I had a lot of fun with the Queen stems provided in class and decided to go with a breaks-funk kind of thing:

EMP Week 3: FM and Granular Synthesis

If anyone listening to any ballad or TV show theme between 1985 and 1998 said “That’s sounds so cheesy!” they were in no doubt referring to sounds made by the Yamaha DX7.

The DX7 was a ubiquitous powerhouse in the 80’s and styled a lot of our ideas about what synths ‘should’ sound like, to the point of homogenisation. This has been repeated in recent times with people using the same software (FL/Reason/Cubase/Ableton) and sample packs (Vengeance) with all-in-one mastering (Oxygen).

FM Synthesis very quickly falls into a pit of ‘sounding like an FM synth’ due to the relative simplicity of its oscillator waveforms – Sine, Square, Saw or Triangle and has a mathematically limited pallet to draw from. Granular synthesis seems to avoid this as it uses snippets of infinitely more complex waveforms as its base points.

I have had incredible success incorporating Granular synthesis into live performance, as it seems to give much allow much greater expression and exploration of the patch, especially when incorporated with MIDI elements such as velocity, aftertouch and breath controls. Almost all of my lead patches which I have created in Reason are using the Malstrom synthesizer.

https://soundcloud.com/flect/flect-psytrazz-live-jam#t=4m1s

 

I look forward to exploring and incorporating more graintable synth into ambient and soundscape tracks for film in the future.

For the class exercises, I tried to keep things simple by emulate existing sounds and came up with a Glockenspiel/Bell sound created using a sinewave oscillator with fast attack and a lot of sustain/release. I also made a Carnival Organ sound using 4 oscillators with some course and fine detuning and a longer attack with a quick release.

EMP Week 2: Sampling

This lesson we looked at the history and basics of sampling and its latest machination: warping.

Sampling has always intrigued me but for a very long time was somewhat elusive due to the lack of hardware ($$$!) or processing power it used to require.

When the power of my desktop PC was finally caught up to the hideously expensive hardware and was finally able to playback more than one track/VST without crashing, I did go through a bit of a “That’s AWESOME!! I should totally sample that and put it in a track”-phase, with interesting results.

Sample meme

For the class exercises, I had some trouble importing and working with the samples I wanted to use due to their relative complexity. It seemed that the Warp Marker algorithm was on another planet trying to find appropriate transients to latch on to. In fairness, I did give it some relatively complex Acid Jazz which was in the compound time signature of 6/8. After an hour or so of *almost* getting it to work the way I wanted, I quickly realised that I would have to repeat the same arduous process every time I wanted to add another layer so I abandoned the Acid Jazz for more suitable EDM/EMP based 4/4 loops.

One of my first introductions to Acid Jazz was artists US3, who released a track called Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia) in 1993. This track is almost entirely sampled from old Jazz records, predominantly from the Blue Note label. The rhythm and melody loops are sampled from Herbie Hancock’s ‘Cantalope Island’ and features hits from Lou Donaldson’s “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky (From Now On). The rest of the song uses a hip-hop vocalist and a trumpet solo was recorded over the top.

 

For the class exercise, I sampled the pad breakdown from ‘Shatter the Sky” by Melbourne artist Blinky.

This was warped to fit a 4 bar loop over some sequenced drum rhythms. A bass line was added and automation was recorded to give it some movement (slight LFO on the filter).  I then recorded a synth melody over the top which ended up as a 16 bar loop.

EMP Week 1: Rhythm Sequencing in Ableton Live

In week one of Electronic Music Production we took a look at drum programming using Ableton Live. This is a modern DAW which focuses mainly on the production, synthesis and manipulation of audio for electronic music; in contrast to ProTools, which is typically used for recording, mixing and mastering traditional audio.

I have played drums & percussion since 1994 and started sequencing MIDI in 1998, so I was already familiar with many of the concepts, however I had an unexplainable aversion to Ableton Live and saw this class as an excellent opportunity to finally get my hands dirty with an unfamiliar workflow.

After a basic overview, I very quickly realised my problem: I have been over-thinking EVERYTHING. *Ableton* *just* *works* and I should trust the program to do its thing without having to wonder about how or what it’s doing. This allows more attention for the creative process.

This is in stark contrast to my main creative DAW, Reason, which uses virtual racks of equipment and a virtual cable system for signal flow – you literally connect the virtual equipment together the same way you would with real hardware, which allows for a lot of creative control and flexibility but requires a working knowledge of audio signal flow to get even basic results.

I did marvel in Ableton’s ease of manipulation and its intuitiveness when incorporating samples and slicing – everything is mostly drag and drop, however I am still unnerved by the power of groove templates from audio, which, in my opinion, has grave potential for misuse and abuse, and encourages sloppy musicianship ie: AutoTune and Beat-detective.