raster-noton

Mar 11 2010

While the CTM Festival was truly an international event, featuring artists from around the world, there was a significant showing from German artists, and in particular artists featured on the label Raster Noton. Several upcoming blog entries will feature reviews and thoughts on specific artists, but to put things in a context, I want to take a look at Raster Noton.

Scenes and styles in general are often associated with specific labels. While there are a number of artists and labels that one might categorize as IDM (Intelligent Dance Music), Warp Records is recognized as the mothership of that particular genre, being the home of artists such as Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. To me, one of the most interesting things happening in electronic music right now is minimal noise techno, and if there’s an aesthetic motherlode for this music, it’s Raster Noton. The label was founded by three like-minded German artists, and came about through a merger of Olaf Bender and Frank Bretschneider’s Rastermusik and Carsten Nicolai’s Noton labels in 1999. The three are active performers, Bender as Byetone and Nicolai as Alva Noto. All three come from a background in visual arts, and visual presentation is a strong component of Raster Noton releases, as well as their artists’ performances.

 

Minimal noise techno really has two roots, German club music and a variety of noise musics. Minimalism in the arts has had a German home since the Bauhaus movement in the early 20th century. Bauhaus as an aesthetic seeks to strip elements of design to the bare essentials, combining form and function, finding beauty in commonplace objects. German electro-pop music going back to Kraftwerk has this kind of stripped-down elegance, where only the bare essentials are part of an electronic arrangement. Techno music, which had it’s origins in late 1980′s Detroit shares this aesthetic if only by virtue of the spare means of production available to it’s early practitioners. While it’s roots are still in the Motor City, (or what used to be the Motor City) Techno, and a multitude of sub-genres, thrives in Germany.

 

Noise in music goes back to the early 20th century with Luigi Russolo’s Art of Noises manifesto. Since then, waves of concert music composers, experimentalists, sound artists, and pop producers have used various kinds of noise as a structural element in their music and art. As visual artists, many of the Raster Noton artists look to pure sound and it’s relation to rhythm, form, and structure. Notable works among these are Ryoji Ikeda’s Dataplex, that uses various sounds from malfunctioning computers as source material; Alvo Noto’s Xerrox 1 and 2 that use environmental noise, and Noto’s Unitxt that uses data from Microsoft Office documents, as well as other file types, converted to audio data. These artists are looking for all sorts of connections between the audio and visual worlds, and their work offers a fresh approach to electronic music that’s radically different. I’ll be talking a closer look at some examples of this work in my next several blog entries.

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A Maze. Interact…

Feb 27 2010

The theme of this year’s CTM Festival was "Overlap, Sound and Other Media." While the opening concert with Jacob Kirkegaard, Transforma, and Hiroaki Umeda gave rich examples of sound overlapping with other performing media, the festival’s conference series explored many other connections. Perhaps the most powerful of these was the series of events that formed a kind of mini conference called "A Maze. Interact… Celebrating the Convergence of Games, Art, and Music." As part of this, there was a symposium, workshops, exhibits, a night of chip music, and something called the Global Game Jam.

The keynote for the symposium was delivered by Japanese game developer Keiichi Yano, founder of the company iNiS. The company develops rhythm-based games in which the player must develop a kind of musical interaction with the game. His address dealt with a couple of practical issues from a developer’s point of view. First, he pointed out that advances in gaming really were dependent on hardware innovation, and the creativity involved in game design really comes from exploring the potential each new platform offers. While early gaming systems may have had limited resources, especially for audio, the games that were successful found clever ways to use these, especially the game controllers themselves. The second point Yano talked about was culture. To be successful, a developer needs to understand the culture of the intended audience. Some of the games developed by iNiS, such as their popular Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, are intended for release only in Japan, and some of the game trailers Yano showed clearly brought this point across.

Keiichi Yano

While Yano’s opening remarks where general observations, the next speaker, Leonard J, Paul, went directly into some of the concrete issues in game music and sound design. In his talk "Droppin’ Science – Adaptive Music Design," Paul spoke of the idea of adaptive music design as a way to construct musical ideas and transitions that can be called on in response to choices made in gameplay. The "Adaptive Music Matrix" shown in the table below shows a way to organize the design of transitions between two sets of five options. In this example, there are five scenes at a given point in a game when the player could make a move that would trigger a transition to one of five other scenes. Each scene has a distinct musical theme, but abruptly ending one and going directly to the next results in a soundtrack that would disrupt the flow of the game. The solution is a musical transition that would lead one section into another. In a typical song, there is some musical idea that sets up a move to the next section, verse to chorus, let’s say. At any point in a game there could be an action that triggers a change in music. Let’s say a player is in scene 2 and triggers an action that goes to scene 5. According to the matrix, transition 8 would be called to get from one to the next. Paul maintains the Video Game AudioWebsite which has a wealth of information he has assembled.

1
2
3
4
5
1
X
1
2
3
4
2
5
X
6
7
8
3
9
10
X
11
12
4
13
14
15
X
16
5
17
18
19
20
X
The Adaptive Music Matrix.
Bold indicates scenes, numbers are for transitions. 

The next two presentations examined game music as an extension of electronic music in general. In his talk, Michael Harenberg made connections between game music, especially early game music, and early electroacoustic music, citing examples from Louis and Bebe Barron’s score for the 1956 film Forbidden Planet as well as Tron, the 1982 film with a score by Wendy Carlos. He also points out that game music is the first popular musical form to arise directly from digital media.

Leonard J. Paul

Julian Oliver followed with "Computer Games as Musical Instruments," discussing how game-player interaction can be seen as a form of musical expression. He made the connection with the following statement: "Playing any game can be read as the joy of working with and within the confines of a unique and defined system." That just about sums up what can be said about interactive computer music. I would maintain that developing interactive electronic performance skills is good way to develop a knack for developing game sound strategies. This kind of convergence was really what all the CTM conference sessions were about.

A Maze Interact was far more than talk. There was an exhibition of seventeen key electronic music-based games running on their original platforms, starting from Moondust for PC from 1983 all the way to last year’s DJ Hero. These showed how far the development of game sound has come over the years, and in some cases, how one game influenced another. For example, the technology developed by Harmonix for their 2001 game FreQuency provided the basis for the gameplay design in Guitar Hero and later for Rock Band.

CTM also hosted Berlin’s contribution to the Global Game Jam. The idea here was for teams to develop a game in 48 hours. This was indeed a global event with 120 locations participating, and in the end, we saw what a little creativity and lots of caffeine could produce. Nothing here was going to take a bite out of Guitar Hero’s market share, but this event was more about fostering a sense of community, bringing many diverse talents together to share ideas.

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Greetings from Berlin, Germany. I’ll be spending the month of February here with the generous support of the Newbury Comics Faculty Fellowship, that funds innovative projects undertaken by Berklee faculty members. I’m here to learn about the electronic music and multimedia performance scene here in Berlin, and I’m hoping to share some initial observations in the coming weeks.

To start things off, I’m attending the CTM/Transmediale festival and conference. The CTM festival is focused on electronic music and related forms, while Transmediale is a conference that provides "critical reflection on the role of digital technologies in present-day society." Together, these are two important events that explore current electronic practice, featuring international artists and speakers.

I arrived Wednesday January 26 and used the first few days here to get settled into my apartment, the time zone, and of course… the weather. Berlin ist kalt…

The opening event of the CTM Festival on Friday night cut to the core of the festival’s theme, "Overlap," with a multimedia concert that featured three very different approaches to blending sound and video. First up was Berlin-based artist Jacob Kirkegaard who’s work "focuses on the scientific and aesthetic aspects of resonance, time, sound and hearing." His piece, "Sabulation" explored the resonances inherent in the sound of wind using field recordings and video from the Singing Sands in the deserts of Oman. By using various microphone techniques, Kirkegaard was able to capture the sound of this environment in totally unexpected ways. The accompanying processed video, in black and white, presented images that gave the impression of a kind of ancient, living sculpture.

Transforma: Operators

Next up was the Berlin-based video performance collective Transforma. Their piece, "Operators," featured studio footage they had shot for the piece, and then processed in real time for the performance. Sound artist Markus Hübner contributed a rhythmic, beat-driven score that provided a tempo reference for the piece. The pulsing images of an industrial work environment and a human "operator" posed the question of who was in control, man or his work.

The highlight of the evening for me was Japanese artist Hiroaki Umeda and his piece "Adapting for Distortion." This really cut to the core of the aesthetic I’m looking to explore here in Berlin. Umeda is a multidisciplinary artist who is well known as a dancer and choreographer. In "Adapting for Distortion," he explores the relationship between projections of simple geometric shapes and bursts of all sorts of noise. He did a masterful job of building tension and release by structuring the complexity of the images in juxtaposition with the density of the noise bursts. The noise elements came from different sources, with a variety of timbres and durations. Overall, while the piece had a minimalist, futuristic feel, along the lines of (no pun intended) Tron, it had a sophisticated, organic sense to it, and Umeda as the central figure, struck a balance as the sole human figure, adding shadows to the projected light and reacting to the bursts of noise.

 

Adapting for Distortion

While most of the music being presented at CTM is in a club setting, this evening’s event served good introduction to the types of multimedia pieces currently in vogue here in Berlin.

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One of the questions I had after attending the NIME conference in June 2009, was on how new performance technologies made it to market. One innovative manufacturer, Keith McMillen Instruments has been developing interesting new interfaces for the last few years. At NAMM 2009, he showed the K-Bow, a bow for string instruments that allows a player to maintain their traditional playing technique while transmitting control information used in an interactive electronic performance. Richard Boulanger, a colleague in the Electronic Production and Design at Berklee, premiered a pioneering composition for cellist Kari Juusela this year using the K-Bow, and both composer and performer were enthusiastic about the result.

This year, McMillen was showing his latest product, Soft Step, at the NAMM show. Now why would anyone get excited about a 10-key footswitch controller? As a guitarist looking for more complete control in interactive, live performances, I’m stoked. I recently picked up a Behringer FCB1010 MIDI foot controller, which is a solid, well-built device, but it’s big, bulky, and decidedly old school MIDI in it’s approach. The Soft Step weighs in at a little over a pound and at 17.5″ x 4,” it will fit in most backpacks. This is very good news if you’re a laptop performer. It’s made of a carbon composite and is surprisingly sturdy.

Berklee Alum Barry Threw shows Soft Step

While form factor is the practical side of the device, the Soft Step takes things a bit further. Instead of just momentary contact or on/off switches, each of the ten backlit pads offers five degrees of motion, each of which can send separate control messages. The device connects to the computer using USB. Mapping and scaling of control values is easy using the software interface. MacMillen was showing a working prototype at the NAMM show, and he hopes to ship the product in Spring 2010.

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After what was perhaps the worst year in memory for the musical instrument industry, the 2010 Winter NAMM show rolled into Anaheim, California January 14-17. NAMM is the premier US trade show for musical instrument manufacturers, and while the fortunes of individual music technology companies ebb and flow, there continues to be interesting products on the horizon. While several major players like Apple and Native Instruments no longer attend trade shows, stalwarts like Korg, Roland, and Yamaha still continue to use NAMM as a showcase for new products. In what’s perhaps a sign of the times, many smaller music technology companies sat this show out, or opted for private, more informal meetings in lounges and coffee shops. So for me, NAMM 2010 was more about talking to people than seeing things, and in some ways, that human connection made this year’s show all the more satisfying. Over my next few blog posts I’ll report on some of the things I observed at the show this year.

Each year at NAMM there’s always one centrally located booth that serves as a reliable rendezvous point for music tech geeks to meet. While in past years this has been the Didgidesign booth, the torch passed to Ableton this year, and the booth they shared with Cycling 74 was this year’s hub for many at the show. In many ways, this was symbolic of the change the industry is experiencing. Avid, the parent company of Digidesign, is phasing out the Digi brand identity. Since they had nothing new to show, their booth was mainly a set up for private meetings, largely devoid of products, and the name Digidesign was nowhere to be found. A well-placed source confided that at the corporate feeling was that the majority of customers really identify with the name “Pro Tools” as the brand identity for that particular family of products, and the Digidesign moniker had little relevance to both new and future customers. Expect about twelve new products from Avid in the coming year, and your new M-Box will clearly be an Avid product.

While one industry goliath is clearly consolidating, Ableton is becoming more of a presence. They’ve done this not by expanding their product line, as is usually the case with any manufacturer, but rather by opening their product architecture and partnering with other companies to extend Live’s capabilities. At this year’s NAMM, Max for Live was a reality, and in the six or so weeks since it was officially released, there’s been a flurry of activity as scores of MAX gurus and aficionados adapt their signature patches for use in Live. Included in the Max for Live release are patches from the stash of Ableton co-founder and electronic music pioneer Robert Henke. While the buzz around Max for Live may be substantial, the truth is that Max programming is not for everyone who uses Live. The value of this collaboration to most users will really be the open architecture that allows forward thinking hackers to expand the capabilities of Live according to their own muse. I expect to see a cottage industry of MAX for Live developers to spring up this year, offering any user access to additional tools that will bring both utility and innovation.

The big new news for Ableton this year was their collaboration with DJ stalwarts Serato called The Bridge. While Live has always had the basic functionality needed by a digital DJ, there’s really a cultural difference between DJs and live electronic music performers that’s defined the tools for each. Some artists, like Richard Devine who’s all over Native Instrument’s Traktor for live performance, can migrate between these tools, but by and large, a DJ’s point of reference will be decks, hardware or otherwise. The collaboration between Live and Serrato respects this and provides users a bridge between their respective programs. Serrato decks show up in Live, and a DJ set done with Serato can be saved as a Live session with three stereo tracks, one for each of two decks and one for a bounced mix of the two. Included here are all effects and realtime moves, so in essence, a DJ set can be further refined or serve as the starting point for a completely new hybrid work. Over the years, Ableton has become a tool that provides a platform for both spontaneous creation and refinement of musical ideas, and this year’s developments expand the scope of users who will benefit from this.

NAMM 2010 Demo of the Bridge

Tight integration with performance controllers is now a big part of Planet Ableton. The AKAI APC40 and the Novation Launchpad, that were released last year, each have a slightly different design approach. While the APC40 provides a complete control solution for both clip launching and mixing and effects, the Launchpad is a more portable device optimized for launching clips in the heat of battle. At a fraction of the size and half the price, the Launchpad has been very successful with performers, but a big complaint has been the lack of faders. AKAI unveiled the APC20 at NAMM that addresses this with the addition of eight fades to a set of “launch pads.” All of this is good news for anyone using Ableton Live, as this is only the start of what will be a number of hardware control products that will be coming out in 2010.

NAMM 2010 Demo of the AKAI APC20

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Get Stoked…. Read

Jan 05 2010

Many of my online students ask about additional reading once their course has finished. For the most part, they’re looking for additional reference material or reading to get them deeper into the technology. Every year around the holidays I try to stock up on books, not to learn more techniques, but to get inspired. I’d like to share a few of the things that I’ve been reading and will continue to be inspired by in the new year.

The Cambridge Companion to Electronic Music

The Cambridge Companion to Electronic Music is a great place to start if you want to get an overview of the current scene. The book is really a series of essays edited by Nick Collins and Julio d’Escrivan featuring authors who are active practitioners of electronic music. While the Cambridge University Press imprint might imply dry, academic reading on academic music, the authors make no distinction between high art and street art in parsing the roots, trends, and directions in current practices, and the book makes for fascinating, thought provoking reading. There are also a number of artist statements from early pioneers like Max Matthews and Pauline Oliveros to emerging artists like Warp recording artist Mira Calix and chiptune musician Bubblyfish.

Arcana

Starting in 2000, New York Avant Guard saxophonist and composer John Zorn has edited a series of four anthologies called Arcana: Musicians on Music. Like the Cambridge Guide to Electronic Music, these are made up of essays by a wide range of modern musicians. Their thoughts and perspectives on how and why they make music and how their art reflects the society they live in are totally engaging. While each musician has a distinct, iconoclast view of music and their role in it, it’s remarkable to see the common threads that run through these essays, and taken as a whole this series provides a remarkable look at the fabric of modern music.

The Foley Grail

Now for beach reading… One of the least documented aspects of post production for visual media is the art of foley, or literally performing sound effects to picture. The Foley Grail: The Art of Performing Sound for Film, Games, and Animation by Vanessa Theme Ament, provides an insider’s view of the full gamut of post production sound. From the historical background to current practices, the author provides a wealth of firsthand knowledge in a very readable and entertaining book. For those of you interested in learning more about getting involved in post production sound, this will be a very useful point of departure.

Your art is the humanity you bring to it, technology is just the tool. Don’t forget to nourish your spirit and imagination as you get deeper into music technology.

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One little known way to get some great software at a reduced pricing is through group buys. This works like volume purchasing, only for the masses. While major developers are able to offer large distributers, like Guitar Center, lower prices for volume purchases, small independent developers that distribute their wares through the web, don’t have that option. Enter the group buy. If enough individuals are able to commit to purchasing a particular product within a certain period of time, a developer is often willing to sell at the kind of discounts a major retailer might get, only the savings are passed on directly to the individual purchaser. These special deals are usually not part of a manufacturer’s marketing, and are typically offered through user groups, list serves, or blogs.

Sound cool? Well, hold on to your hats. Camel Audio is offering a group buy on their entire line of products. These include a couple of really great processing plug-ins, Camel Phat and Camel Space, as well as their flagship software synthesizer Alchemy. Alchemy usually goes for 250.00 but with the group buy currently underway, it will probably go for around 125.00.

To learn more about Alchemy, check out the mention I gave it in my 2008 round-up. To get in on the Camel Audio group buy, follow this link: Camel Group Buy. Check in out and let me know what you think.

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AES New York

Nov 01 2009

The Audio Engineering Society held it’s annual convention in New York City the weekend of October 9. The event has a number of components from work group meetings that discuss proposals for various audio standards, to technical papers and workshops, as well as the mother of all professional audio trade shows. This year’s show was noticeably smaller, as the economy forced many to cut back from their usual presence. Nowhere was this more evident than the eerie absence of Digidesign. While Pro Tools 8 captured this year’s TEC award for DAW Technology, the company spent the year downsizing, losing many key engineering and management positions. Prior to the show, Digi announced Eleven, a new product for guitarists, leaving many in the pro audio community wondering if the company was shifting its attention to the potentially more lucrative mass market. While Pro Tools remains a kind of industrial standard, one wonders what might happen if an industry standard goes out of business…

While the industry as a whole is having a hard time, there’s a common thread that runs through all the players who are weathering the storm and made it to AES, they all have a real love for high quality audio, and regardless of shifting trends and economic conditions, they’re in it for the long haul. Nowhere was this more evident then at API, who manufacture high end analog mixing consoles and modules. This year theuy celebrated they’re 40th year in business with a party and concert featuring guitarist Sonny Landreth with guest Bob Weir of Grateful Dead fame. Their slogan, "celebrating 40 years of ups and downs" says it all. With the rise of DAW systems and "mixing in the box" many thought the end was near for many of these manufacturers. API was quick to realize that the analog technologies they developed for high end consoles could be repurposed for the digital age. Their "lunchbox" series of preamps, EQs and compressors provides a flexible and cost effective way to assemble a high quality, analog signal path for a variety of recording and mixing scenarios.

Sonny Landreth and Bob Weir of Grateful Dead

Although AES is primarily a pro audio show, a number of musical instrument manufacturers make an appearance. Korg has a stake in both camps with their revolutionary MR series of digital recorders, a decidedly pro audio product on one hand, and their line of keyboards a dominant player in the instrument arena. This year they rolled out the SV-1, a new modeled stage keyboard that’s designed from the ground up to be a players instrument. To emphasize this, they’re promoting it with video presentations from respected players such as Neil Evans from the group Soul Live. Korg also rolled out a new version of the fabled Korg Wavedrum. The original was an innovative product that was really ahead of it’s time, and while it was a kind of secret weapon for innovative percussionists, it never really took off in the mass market. The drum itself is not a pad, but uses a drum head to provide the feel of an acoustic instrument. The drumhead serves to provide input to a physical modeling engine capable of sounds that range from organic to electronic. Korg updated the design and dropped the price, and with a renewed interest in electronic performance, this will be an important addition to just about any performer’s arsenal.

Moldover in Brooklyn

One of the real highlights of the weekend was a trip to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg district for a late Saturday night performance by Moldover, who I featured in one of my early blog posts. He’s now a resident of San Francisco, but he was on an East Coast tour supporting a new CD release Circuit Board Instrument. While Ableton Live was the engine for the show, his laptop was off to the side, out of the spot light. As a key proponent of "controllerism," Moldover believes that electronic music performance should be an entertaining visual experience for the audience, and this show was a tour de force of that aesthetic. After years hacking and customizing existing controllers, he’s now using a custom-built unit. It faces the audience and his nimble manipulation of the controls provides a clear visual connection to the sound that’s being produced. Combine this with good writing, guitar playing, and clever use of effects processing, and you get a thoroughly engaging performance.

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Catching the Wave…

Sep 24 2009

While sound fanatics are always on the lookout for new ways of synthesizing or processing sound, there are a number of techniques that have fallen in and out of favor over the years, yet still remain useful and interesting. Some of these have been tied to the fortunes of specific companies, as was the case with the Hartmann Neuron, while others have become synthesizer “cult classics.” A favorite technique of mine is wavesequencing. This is one of the hidden treasures in Reason’s mother-or-all subtractive synths, Thor, and one of the many techniques covered in Berkleemusic’s Sound Design for the Electronic Musician, a course I co-authored and teach.

In a digital synthesizer, any basic, geometric waveform used in an oscillator is stored as a digital representation of a single cycle. These are often referred to as a wave or a wavetable, a list of samples that is read at different rates to produce a pitched sound. As this became a popular method of generating sound in the early 1980s, a couple of pioneering instruments allowed users to cycle through a series of different waves while a note was held. The sequence of waves here is also called a wavetable. This produces some evolving timbral effects and rhythmic patterns not available any other way. The first of these instruments was the PPG Wave 2.2 released in 1982, followed by the Sequential Circuits Prophet VS in 1986 and the Waldorf Wave series in 1993. This technology is also incorporated in the Korg Wavestation series which first appeared in 1990. While the original hardware versions of these classics can be hard to come by, Korg has an excellent software version of the Wavestation, and Waldorf markets a software PPG Wave.

We can think of wavesequencing as a kind of “sound movie,” in which each individual wave is a frame. Each wave is assigned an index number, and plays in turn, reading through the list.

Wavetable

Wavetable waves.

Play the wave sequence movie linked below to see how these blend together over time. Although there are a number of ways to sequence these, this is a close approximation of how we’ll hear these in a wavesequence. This is our “sound movie.”

Sequenced wavetable.

Reason’s Thor implements this with it’s Wavetable Osc, one of the six types of classic oscillators available. While most of its parameters provide the typical control of tuning and key-tracking, the Position and X-Fade are exclusive to a wavetable.

The following steps will get you started with wavesequencing in Thor.

1. Open Reason, add an instance of Thor, and choose Initialize Patch from the Edit menu.
2. Change the Analog Osc that comes up as the default to a Wavetable.
3. The first wavetable is Basic Analog. It stores four waves, a sine, triangle, square, and sawtooth. Hold a note and turn the Position knob clockwise. This selects which wave in the table will be heard. As you move the knob, you’ll hear the sound morph between these waves.

Wavetable position.

Wavetable position.

4. The X-Fade function provides a smooth transition between the waves. Click on the X-Fade button to disable this; the red indicator will turn off. Move the position knob again and you’ll hear an abrupt switch between each wave.

Wavetable crossfade function.

Wavetable crossfade function.

5. Each of the 32 wavetables will have a different number of waves. Take a few minutes to select different wavetables and scroll through the available waves with the X-Fade function both enabled and disabled.

6. Call up the table named MixedWaves1. Hold a hold and scroll through the table, as before. There are eight different harmonically rich waves stored here. Turn off the X-Fade function and set the position to 63.

Wavesequencing, as a technique, yields two main timbral effects. With X-Fade enabled, we get a smooth timbral shift that works well for pads, while disabling the X-Fade function is useful for rhythmic effects.

7. The key to either effect is modulation, and Thor’s matrix offers many possibilities. We’ll start with a rhythmic effect This is produced using an LFO to control the wavetable position. In the first slot of the matrix, set LFO1 and the Source and Osc1Pos as the destination. Set Amount to 100.

Modulation matrix settings.

Modulation matrix settings.

8. Thor has a number of evenly stepped LFO waveshapes, where each step will select a specific wavetable position. Select the 8-step sawtooth shape shown below. Play and hold a note and you’ll hear an even progression thorough the eight positions in the wavetable.

8-step sawtooth LFO shape.

8-step sawtooth LFO shape.

Rhythmic wavesequence.

The wavetable we’ve been working with is a collection of eight distinctly different waves. Other wavetables will have a more subtle variation between a common shape.

9. Change the wavetable to PPG2 Bell. This is from one of the classic Waldorf synthesizers. Manually cycle through the table while holding a note and you’ll hear that these waves have a common timbral characteristic, while each has a distinct spectrum.

10. In the Modulation Router, choose Mod Env as the source and keep Osc1Pos as the destination. Set the amount at 100.

11. Set the Mod Env attack time to 1.49 seconds and the decay time to 6.24 seconds. Play and hold a note, you’ll hear a distinct timbral shift here.

Timbral shift wavesequence.

While these examples illustrate the basic idea behind wavesequencing, there are a number of factory patches that offer great examples of this technique. Check out: Kaleidoscope, Relay Stepper, and Scan Dance from the folder of Rhythmic patches for starters.

Surf’s up…

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MetaTools…

Sep 02 2009

I’ve always been obsessed with finding tools that were unique and personal, secret weapons, if you will. While a good part of my career involves finding creative, interesting ways to use ubiquitous tools, my job gets harder (or easier, for that matter) as production tools become common appliances. Let’s face it, just about everyone has Pro Tools, and tips and tricks are easy to come by. So when there is something interesting that’s off the radar, I try to do a little evangelizing. Over the years, my all time favorite sound design tool has been something called Metasynth, and with the new, version 5 release, I’m back on the soapbox.

Metasynth is the brainchild of San Francisco programmer Eric Wenger. Wenger originally made a name for himself developing the Bryce image processing plug-ins for Photoshop. Coming from this visual orientation, he wondered if some of the techniques developed for manipulating visual images could be used for sound. The result was the original version of Metasynth, first released in the late 1990s, that was most notably used for sound design on The Matrix. Since then, the program has evolved at the methodical pace one might expect from an iconoclast developer. Version 5 takes advantage of Macs with Intel chips, multi-core processors, 32-bit files, along with a host of incremental improvements. Metasynth is a standalone application and not a plug-in, only available for the Mac.

The Metasynth Image Synth

The Metasynth Image Synth
Metasynth is based on some very simple visual metaphors. The grid is a unipolar frequency domain display; time is displayed left-to-right, and pitch from bottom to top. Pitch can be scalar, with virtually any tuning, or frequency-based, making Metasynth a powerful tool for composition as well as sound design. The brightness and color of each pixel represents amplitude and position in the stereo spectrum, red for left, green for right. Blues are ignored and can be used to construct grids or other visual elements that won’t play back. These elements make for a sonogram representation of sound. While a sonogram is usually thought of as an analysis of an existing sound, Metasynth uses this visual interface to create and process sound as well as display it. Metasynth can import an image and construct a sound representation by treating it as a sonogram and simply reading from it. One might think that by importing an interesting picture, a similarly compelling sound might result. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Most images we respond to visually have little immediate use in Metasynth, although Aphex Twin did use a kind of self portrait to synthesize sound he’s used in his work.

Over the years, Metasynth has evolved into a complete system for processing sound and composing electronic music, but it’s not for the faint of heart. While the basic idea is easy to understand, the overall package is so different from any other piece of music software, you really have to commit some time to learning the program. Thankfully, the documentation is complete and the tutorials are clear, illustrating practical ways to use all aspects of the program. In addition, there’s a healthy user community with plenty of examples of music made using Metasynth. All this is available with the free demo version, available online.

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