a100ql: a hundred quirky legs
April 10, 2014
Scatter Plot feat. Hans Koch

Design by Ritxi Ostáriz

April 8, 2014
Five Max-Questions for Joana Aderi

In early March 2014 I gave a two day class with the title “Introduction to Composing with Max” at the Institut für Musik of the Hochschule Osnabrück, Germany. Most students had not worked with the Max programming environment before and while most Introductions to Max that I have encountered so far have felt very technical I wanted them to learn how to think compositionally with Max from the very beginning. To go beyond my own artistic interests and point of view I conducted three short interviews with artists, asking them the same five questions about working with Max. The answers were informative and very different each time - exactly what I’d hoped for. Below is the final questionnaire in the series, this one with Joana Aderi, and here are the ones with Ben Carey and Cathy van Eck.

Joana Aderi is a singer and electronic musician. She performs solo as Eiko and plays with the groups Phall Fatale, pulp.noir and many others. Her website is www.eiko-music.com.

[I had wrongly assumed Joana was actively working with Max, but it turns out she provides some very good reasons why someone who is focusing on performance might want to leave that work to others.]

When and how did you know that you wanted to use Max in your own artistic practice? What did it provide that other tools didn’t?

I had one year where I was forced to work with Max. In 2004, during my studies at Musikhochschule Basel. After that, I knew that I’m not going to use Max. It was a fundamental decision. I decided that I want to make more music and spend less time with technology. I aimed to become a good performer, a user, instead of a programmer.

What did you discover only through working with Max that shaped the way you work now?

I got very aware of the fact, that you don’t have to be a slave of any music software. Max makes you think first and play after. You have to know what you want to do before you approach the computer. 

I work mainly with Ableton Live. There you can push some shiny buttons and move a few faders, draw in some effects and Bam! it sounds like something. But it would only sound like the same crap thousands of other users are sending out into space. Knowing what you want for your music before you actually grab your laptop is a good way for me. I kept the Max approach but use it on Ableton.

What advice would you give to a Max beginner on the creative side?

Don’t let your creativity be taken away by technology. Technology is a hungry beast and likes to eat creative hours! If you start working with Max you will have to invest a lot of time in technology. Do that! It is needed! But always have time frames where you focus on music only. Because you want to make music in the end.

What advice would you give to a Max beginner on the technology side?

Obviously I’m the wrong person to answer this question….

Which is your favorite Max object and why (aside from bangs and other non-specific objects)?

My favorite object is my mate who can write a patch the way I ask for it (I ask nicely!).

[Thanks Joana!]

April 7, 2014
This past weekend: 24 hour bell sound installation

My 24 hour bell sound installation played at Kirche Vechigen from Saturday to Sunday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the church’s first bells and as part of this year’s 500th anniversary festivities of the church’s existence. Many visitors came and listened, some meditated. Some stayed for hours, some until the early morning. So many happy people, so many comments by people who were touched by the music. An openness was tangible that I certainly couldn’t take for granted in a small rural town. The project took three years from the first exchange of ideas until its realization. I’m honored to have been commissioned this piece and to have contributed to the anniversaries, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. Now, time to let go, there’s another exhilarating week ahead.

April 1, 2014
Five Max-Questions for Ben Carey

In early March 2014 I gave a two day class with the title “Introduction to Composing with Max” at the Institut für Musik of the Hochschule Osnabrück, Germany. Most students had not worked with the Max programming environment before and while most Introductions to Max that I have encountered so far have felt very technical I wanted them to learn how to think compositionally with Max from the very beginning. To go beyond my own artistic interests and point of view I conducted three short interviews with artists, asking them the same five questions about working with Max. The answers were informative and very different each time - exactly what I’d hoped for. Following last week’s post with Cathy van Eck, here’s the second mini-interview, this time with Ben Carey.

Ben Carey (Sydney) describes himself as a “saxophonist, composer, technologist”. His personal website is at www.bencarey.net, his _derivations project is documented at derivations.net. Ben has also extensively written about _derivations in his guest post on this blog last year.


When and how did you know that you wanted to use Max in your own artistic practice? What did it provide that other tools didn’t?

Going through a conservatorium as a performer in my undergraduate I had many composer friends who were working with this strange beast. I was intrigued mainly by the interactive possibilities - I heard very early on about things like pitch tracking and the like, so I guess it stuck in my mind.

A couple of years later I began improvising with electronics using Ableton Live, but I soon discovered I was fighting against the ingrained loop-based mechanism of Live and building setups that were more improvisation and interaction based. I think I knew in the back of my mind to have the flexibility I needed as an instrumentalist working with technology I would probably need to build my own tools.

Also, much of the electronic music I was performing as an interpreter used Max, but much of the work I was performing did keep the instrumentalist‘s interactive role to a minimum. I knew the software was capable of much more than that and wanted to explore it for myself.


What did you discover only through working with Max that shaped the way you work now?

One of the groundbreaking things for me was the ability to program the computer to listen and act autonomously. Rather than forcing me to control every aspect of my setup, I wanted to enter into a kind of dialogue with the computer - separating the roles of computer and performer very clearly. As a sax player this required me to think about the computer as something that could adapt and react to its environment - I needed freedom to play the sax, so the computer needed the freedom to make its own decisions. I couldn’t have done this any other way.


What advice would you give to a Max beginner on the creative side?

Keep focused on your interests, be open to new possibilities, never discard anything and record everything you do! Creatively max has been much more than a tool for me, it‘s been an environment for trying things out and iterating ideas. The small, single purpose patches you build along the way to larger projects will come in handy for other projects. I’ve come back to very old patches to spark the imagination, and short recordings made long ago have formed the basis of new works. I think it’s also important to keep coming back to the reason you began working with Max in the first place, but also to be open to new ideas without getting overwhelmed!


What advice would you give to a Max beginner on the Technology side?

Get deep into the tutorials, always assume there’s a solution to your problem, and keep a project notebook. There‘so much info out there about Max, it‘s sometimes hard to know where to start. The golden rule for me is to work from the project outwards, your programming skills and knowledge about the program grow when they’re being used for something you’re passionate about. That said, I also try to read widely and thoroughly even if the info is not directly related to my current work. Knowing the possibilities of a technology can unlock new creative pathways. I always have a notebook (or a word document) where I write down my issues and work through problems.


Which is your favorite Max object and why (aside from bangs and other non-specific objects)?

Big fan of the zl collection of objects. The deeper you get into Max the more lists of data become important. These have been the backbone of much of the heavy data crunching work I‘ve done. Other than that, for spectral analysis the zsa.descriptors library from Emmanuel Jourdan and Mikhail Malt are amazing for machine listening.

[Thanks Ben!]

March 26, 2014
Two new compilation albums

My friends at Iapetus / Unsung Productions have recently released two new compilation albums on the occasion of The Crimson ProjeKCt World Tour (which I have the fortune of seeing live tonight!). I’m honored to feature once more among many brilliant artists. Both albums are free or name-your-price, so please dig in!

Iapetus Compilation 2014

I’m play on four tracks on this one, the first being Fletcher | Fletcher | Reuter’s “Islands" for which I’ve programmed the drums and percussions. The next is centrozoon’s "The Yeah Winces" off our 2012 album, Boner (MF Version / AB Version). “Container” is a composition off my 2010 album Backup Aura. Finally, I’m playing synths (even soloing!) on (a new edit of) Troy Jones’ “New Peace” off his 2013 album of the same name.

Touch Guitars Compilation 2014

This features another piece from Troy’s album on which I’ve programmed some percussive synths. centrozoon features again, this time with Fire 8 from our “Fire" recording session. You can also see a video of that recording below.

March 25, 2014
Five Max-Questions for Cathy van Eck

In early March 2014 I gave a two day class with the title “Introduction to Composing with Max” at the Institut für Musik of the Hochschule Osnabrück, Germany. Most students had not worked with the Max programming environment before and while most Introductions to Max that I have encountered so far have felt very technical I wanted them to learn how to think compositionally with Max from the very beginning. To go beyond my own artistic interests and point of view I conducted three short interviews with artists, asking them the same five questions about working with Max. The answers were informative and very different each time - exactly what I’d hoped for. I’ll be posting the interviews here over the coming days. Here’s the first, with Cathy van Eck.


Photo © Silvana Torrinha

Cathy van Eck is a composer, sound artist, performer, researcher and teacher. Her work is documented on her website at www.cathyvaneck.net.


When and how did you know that you wanted to use Max in your own artistic practice? What did it provide that other tools didn’t?

I got to know MaxMSP during a summercourse in 1998. MSP was just new and everyone was still very excited about being able to process audio in real time. I composed a piece for clarinet and live electronics during that course and was immediately convinced of using electronics in my music.


What did you discover only through working with Max that shaped the way you work now?

I am working a lot with interactivity by using, for example, pitch following, envelope followers and all kind of sensors. MaxMSP makes it very easy to make all kind of different parameter mappings. 


What advice would you give to a Max beginner on the creative side?

Make a patch which is not too complex or doing too many things. Play with it till you found all musical possibilities it has.


What advice would you give to a Max beginner on the Technology side?

Look at how other people make their patches (including the tutorials of course).


Which is your favorite Max object and why (aside from bangs and other non-specific objects)?

I use pattrstorage very often, because it makes it so easy to store your presets.

[Thanks Cathy!]

March 23, 2014
New project and live dates: Scatter Plot

Design by Ritxi Ostáriz

March 3, 2014
Epic

A snapshot from my stage setup with pulp.noir. I haven’t yet come up with an “instant epicness” preset, unfortunately. But one part of our “signal to noise” performance has the code name “epic”, and this my master fader for that part of the show. Next performances at Tojo Theater, Bern on April 9, 11 and 12 - with hopefully more to come.

I’ve been very busy these last few weeks - many photos to go through and many things that I could write about, but so little time to condense it into blog posts. Until I get around to doing that please visit my Facebook profile if you take an interest in more frequent updates.

February 12, 2014
Interview

A few weeks ago my music was the subject of Spanish radio show “Un lugar en el tiempo - la vanguardia del sonido”. The show was accompanied by a blog post with a short interview that Juan Dahmen, creator of the show, had conducted with me and translated into Spanish. Juan has now kindly given me permission to post the English version here - you can find it below. More infos on the show, along with links to all the episodes, can be found here, and here is the show’s Facebook page. If you are interested in further reading about my views on composing with computers you may also want to read this interiew from 2010 and this essay from 2012.


Interview with Tobias Reber
December 8, 2013

When and how did you begin to feel music?

I don’t remember a specific event or piece, but I remember when I consciously began to listen to recordings again and again for the emotional effect they had on me, and for the goosebumps. That must have started around age eight or nine.

Did you begin directly with computers or was there anything before?

I played recorder for two years as a child and then took classical guitar lessons as a teenager. I got an electric guitar, played in a couple of bands and was very much into various rock musics. I always loved music but I didn’t practice with any ambition until around the age of sixteen, when I got interested in prog rock, jazz, then improvised music and from there got into electronic music. I was twenty by that time, so I was very late to the party. There had just never been anyone or anything in my life that would have brought me into contact with that world until I discovered it for myself.

Which is your approach when making it? I mean, how do you use technology and what are you looking for in your pieces (sound wise, apart from the technology used).

I think I use technology very much as a feedback system and a catalyst. Computer technology allows me to model ideas in code, see if and how they work, listen, adjust, listen again, adjust again, and so on. To me, all computer-aided and rule-based composition is also ear training because you get to hear new structures in sound, and learn to listen to results of your compositional choices that you may not have anticipated, and this feeds back into your imagination. I was always unhappy with applying music theory to composition - all my attempts at this ended in the reproduction of other people’s ideas. At some point I realized that generative systems could play by their own rules rather than by theory that was synthesized from an accepted canon.

How do you hear music? What do you feel or care of when doing it?

That’s a very difficult question! I hear music as a quality - I know when music “happens” - it changes how I feel, and the way I perceive what I feel. It’s also of course an experience, and real music affects your very being. I try to not have any expectations when I hear new music and be open to being moved in ways I haven’t been moved before.

As for the second question: I often devise new processes for new projects, so the focus varies. With generative composition - the creation of musical structure through systems of rules - I always try to let myself play without too many preconceptions, following my intuition, guiding the process and ensuring the musicality of the results. It’s often a bit like a slow motion improvisational process. A track on my latest album is called “Piñata" - sometimes composition feels like you beat around in the dark a lot until you get all the parameters right - and suddenly, marvelous wonders start to pour out.

What has changed in your approach between your two albums?

Whereas Backup Aura was a very conceptual work and was created over a long time, Kola happend more or less by accident. I coupled a generative software I had created with a set of percussion sounds that I’d made, and the pieces were composed and recorded over the course of three consecutive evenings. Kola is also exclusively created with sound synthesis while Backup Aura was mostly sample based.

What do you do as solo artist that you can’t do in an ensemble or band?

When I collaborate I want the various personalities of the people involved to meet and create something neither of us could have done on their own. When I work alone, I react only to my own output. There are all the practical things as well, such as not having to travel, of course. I enjoy both situations in equal parts and regard them as necessary for my development as a musician and person - venturing into the unknown all alone or fusing my input with that of others.

Recommend some artists/bands you like (may them be of whatever the genre).

I’m going for three very different choices here: I’m a big fan of Renaissance-era vocal music. Guillaume de Machaut’s “Messe de Nostre Dame” as sung by Marcel Pérèz and Ensemble Organum is deliriously good. The latest album by Depeche Mode, “Delta Machine”, is brilliant. The songwriting is better than just about any pop music that still passes as “mainstream”, the lyrics are great and the sound design is just fantastic. Lastly, I am a huge fan of Burial’s “Ashtray Wasp” EP from 2012. It’s brilliant on so many levels and even by his standards it’s by far the best thing he’s released so far.

February 4, 2014
"A Clockwork Orange" RMX

The “signal to noise” shows with pulp.noir were wonderful and very well received. Next up is an audio-visual live remix of Stanley Kubrik’s “A Clockwork Orange” at ewz.stattkino, Zürich on February 25th (Info and Tickets here) before we regroup in April to play “signal to noise” in Bern.