Sunday, December 14, 2014

Random Machines

The perception of music lies in the listener's mind, not necessarily the creator's mind. This is evident in the random series of albums recently created by Herr Absurd. As one can find music in Nature and in random traffic patterns, the album Random Machines can be heard as music, but is a collection of randomly generated sound.

Using spoken word taken from this blog, specifically last week's Some Definitions, Herr Absurd recorded it using various strategies to make decisions regarding just about everything for it's creation. He set up each song as a machine. In his own words "a device made to do a certain job and perform various repetitive tasks repetitively. And well. It is not asked to think, theorize or conceive. Merely to do what it does. What it was made to do. What it was commanded to do. So feel free to give these machines characters. The characters of machines."

Prolific as Hell, he continued to turn out random albums all week, following this effort with Indeterminacy Engine, Chaos Computer, and Entropy Device.

These are fun little devices to listen to. Varied with some depth, they are sometimes surprising, sometimes familiar. Surely the art here is in the strategies and design of these machines.

Find Herr Absurd on Twitter, @Absurd13t and on Bandcamp

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Some Definitions

Recently someone noted that when reading this blog that they were unable to understand the technical/musical jargon in the stories. I'm sure that's true in many cases, this is a music nerd blog, after all, and the technology is still developing. In this post, I'll try to explain a bit about a few terms I use regularly when describing music.

Musical Instrument Digital Interface. The most common form of electronic communication between musical instruments. The basis was formed in the 1970's and 1980's, it's been around for a while.

Controlled Voltage. This is a control and communication form that uses analog signals to connect musical instruments developed by Bob Moog for his famous line of synthesizers. Not quite as adaptable as MIDI, it's still used and useful for many applications. (Edit to add: even this could be disputed as MIDI only has 128 values, and CV could conceivably have infinite values. Thanks to Andrew for that observation) 

A lay person would probably call this an echo. Delays delay the sound coming through them to produce an echo effect. There are many sorts of delays, using digital, analog circuitry, and even magnetic tape. Delays led to loopers, which are a sort of delay. The signal can be fed back onto itself to create a rich echo, and sound-on-sound.

Originally called sound-on-sound, looping is when an artist uses a device to record, then repeat a phrase, then play over it. This is very useful to an artist, especially a solo artist, since much music is a repeated sequence of notes. The great Robert Fripp of King Crimson fame along with famous producer Brian Eno did this in the 1970's with interconnected tape machines, and a loop of magnetic tape could be used rather than a reel playing out,  hence the term. This has been simplified by digital technology, and looping pedals abound, adding features beyond just looping, and even enabling the loops to sync not only with each other, but with other devices connected via MIDI.

Digital Audio Workstation. This is the computer application that is used to create much of what you hear today. There are DAWs on many devices today, and personal preferences range widely, as with preference of device. The most popular and prestigious DAWs are Logic, Reason, Ableton Live, and Cakewalk/Sonar. Most can import and export files between them as they use common musical file formats. DAWs are loaded with features and effects today, and are able to transform sound much in the same way that a graphics program can transform photography, except with sound.

Pedals are foot controlled devices. Most commonly a pedal is some sort of effect, but there are control pedals as well, especially since using effects in a DAW would mean that you would trigger and manipulate the effect remotely.

USB Controllers
A USB or MIDI controller is a device that does not produce sound, but sends information to a DAW or soft-synth on a computer or device that actually produces the sound. A device that produces sound  may have the ability to act as a controller for other devices. The controller typically uses keys or pads to transmit note data, and encoders, or knobs, that will allow the user to change other values in the DAW.

Rather than a hardware based solution for sound generation, this is an application that produces sound on a computer or device. Soft-synths have become very sophisticated, and they can emulate just about any sound or process. There is always a debate over whether or not an analog produced sound is superior to a digitally produced sound. This is a matter of preference, but the difference becomes more negligible daily.

Producing sound via electronic circuitry directly, using oscillators. A digital synth will  often emulate this type of sound generation. Analog can also be used to describe using electrical current to process sound as well, and tape recording is considered analog rather than digital.

Sound is converted into a stream of information, then processed. Need I define digital in the computer age?

These are a few terms I use regularly on this blog. As the blog is read by electronic musicians, often I assume that what I write is understandable. However, I understand that most people are lay in this area, and I'd like to promote understanding of the exciting new ways to manipulate sound.

Listening:  Odd Common on Soundcloud

Sunday, November 30, 2014


A car outside plays music loudly, so loudly, in fact, that the body panels are vibrating obviously in sympathy, vibrating the car apart. The sound penetrates the steel, transmitting through the air, through the wood walls of the house, and rattling the windows. Do we hear the full sound of the music? No, it's just the sub bass penetrating, so all we can enjoy of the music, whether we like it or not, is a thumping noise.

This frequency range cannot even be heard directly when we are listening to it ourselves. It's sub sonic, below our range of hearing. You feel it.  It's been popularized by those who don't make music, and enabled by surround sound systems. Recent studies suggest that people may feel more empowered by heavy loud bass. Indeed, it's often used antagonistically, making others hear your music whether they like it or not.

I admit that if a neighbor decides that I need to listen to their sub bass heavy music, I sometimes respond with more wattage than they can muster. It quiets them down, as they wont be able to hear their own nonsense, but I don't like to devolve music down to a volume war, and it puts unnecessary hard mileage on my speakers.

But the truth is it's here to stay. I just would like to hear some actual sound and music to go with it, instead of it's sympathetic effects on the things around us.

Listening: The EFC Challenge on Soundcloud

Sunday, November 23, 2014


I've been doing this blogging thing  for about five years now, and it's been a great experience. I started the blog in 2009 at a private domain. Originally I'd been posting all kinds of things, my mundane science fiction, reviews, and even a little music, and had built a small audience. When a virus crashed the original blog, I moved to Blogger in 2011, and Twitter enabled me to inform my audience where to go to continue reading.

Although I don't keep more than a year of journal posts up on the blog, my "Progress" posts, it's interesting to look back on how things have changed. I became a very proficient keyboardist, much better journalist, and my readership grew from the tens to the thousands. My journey continues, and I hope that a little stability in my life will soon allow me to be more creative once again, as my psyche needs stability to create.

This post is just a simple thank you for reading my progress, and thank you for listening to my music. I hope that the esoteric music reviews have been enlightening, and am grateful for each of you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Listening: Isotherme on Soundcloud

Friday, November 14, 2014


©2014 Linda Palmer
Although there will likely never be a single standard for aesthetics, the degree of skill in crafting a piece can be evaluated in terms of effectiveness.

There are several things I look for when spectating. What is the overall emotional effect of the work? How much originality and individual style is shown? Is the intention of the piece clear enough, and does the piece succeed in conveying such intent? If the piece is purely sensation, then what is the effect, how is it achieved, and how well is it achieved? These are the types of things I enjoy experiencing in music.

While it's true that chance can play a role in creation, often it's how we as artists define the work that makes a difference. The choices we make are crafting as well, the strategy to realize the piece as we imagine it, and often the experience to know how to craft our vision. Not hard and fast rules, but a level of craftsmanship that allows the artist to succeed in conveying intent. This is what I look for, even in pure sensation. Decorative arts can be quite skillfully and originally done, and dance music can be well executed as well. No better or worse, just well crafted.

Listening Herr Absurd's  Dark Mythologies

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Wires, String, Circles and Angels

Compelling and novel sound design fills wires, string, circles and angels, the new instrumental electronic album by Peter Cline.  Each piece is unique, each an exploration into untested territory. A forest of synthetic sound has been produced, with the occasional digital reproduction of acoustic instruments complimenting the anodyne sounds.  I, myself, try to find that balance between the anodyne and the dissonant. Peter achieves this.

As with many things I listen to, this album is not ambient, merely instrumental. Attention is paid to the compositions, which are intended to be listened to, not to float in  the background. That's not to say there is no subtlety in the pieces. As with Peter's musical alter ego candytrash, the rhythmic pieces such as Datacrime and Chinese Red venture into the dance realm, but in a different way than electropop.

When you listen, listen actively. There's a lot going on in these pieces. I can see that some of the groundbreaking combinations will be the stuff of future genres, as it's far ahead of the curve. We have nothing to adequately pigeonhole it today. And I like that.

You can follow Peter on Soundcloud and Twitter, and don't miss candytrash as well.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Influence 2014

I've been moved by much new music lately. Not only have I been moved by my friends in the Electric Future Collective, but by what's going on in the larger music scene.

My classic influences are many, and I revisit them often. I always return to Brian Eno, for instance. Laurie Anderson is huge in my influence as well, as is Robert Fripp. Interested in the cutting edge, I found their material  right on that line. They pushed the boundaries of what people would consider music, and opened up new areas to explore.

Today I look for those same qualities, and have found much new music to inspire.

Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs is a big influence for me at the moment. She uses loopers on both her voice and drums and loves her new Minimoog Voyager. Sounds like it's right up my street to me, and indeed it is. Influenced by African rhythms, she traps herself beautifully, finding novel ways to arrange her music. Recently she participated in a conversation/interview with Laurie Anderson, where they discussed just about everything under the sun. Laurie had indicated a desire to work on a duet with Merrill, who was enthusiastic about the idea. Let's hope we get something from these two! You can listen to the interview here: Merrill Garbus with Laurie Anderson

Annie Clark. Sheesh, I had such a crush on her a couple of years ago! By getting into her stuff, I was able to see what I needed to go forward, and her brilliant keyboardist Daniel Mintseris showed me the way into the new technology. I had just gotten Ableton Live, and St. Vincent showed me what could be done when a whole band is powered by AL. Another band with a Voyager. Coincidence?

When watching a great concert from tUnE-yArDs, Merrill Garbus had started gushing about the support band for the gig, Sylvan Esso. I was intrigued and went looking for them. I did like it a lot, but I didn't think much of it at first. Those earworms did their work, however, and I finally got hooked on Coffee. After that it was over, I love their entire eponymous album. This band is a Cinderella story of two professionals getting together for a remix, but finding their true sound. Amelia Meath of a Capella folk band Mountain Man gave Play It Right, one of her songs that she thought could be bigger, to Nick Sanborn, producer and bassist for Megafaun for a remix. He took a year to discover it, finding a new way forward and knocking the remix out of the park. The pair's usual bands were in hiatus, and they started to write songs together. Her beautiful vocal performances, coupled with his trapping and Moog Minitaur stuff in Ableton Live are timeless. Nick performs with an Akai APC 40, his trap machine in which he also controls his Minitaur. This stuff is infectious.

So that's where my head has been influence-wise. There's a lot out there, and my friends on Twitter have a lot of pull in my stuff as well. What a wonderful time for discovering new music.

Listening: Sylvan Esso's Dreamy Bruises