A new XYZ control scheme for modular synths

Here’s a thing I’ve wanted to try for a while:

I’d like to put a goldfish in a large bowl, point 2-3 cameras at it and write a small script that tracks it’s movements in 3 dimensions. The movements would then be translated into CV to be passed via an X-out, Y-out, Z-out on a custom built eurorack module.

Behold the ‘Goldie module’! It would become the centerpiece of my stage performance…


Day 13 in Japan

After the positive responses to the ‘Snow’ track I released yesterday I’m excited to start work on the next song. I’ve gathered some inspiration already and will probably start tracking and sequencing tonight.

I’ve had this persistent cough for the past month that just won’t go away. In fact I coughed so heavily that about a week ago I broke the cartilage of my lower right rib… The pain is finally starting to subside but in order to fight the cough I went to a hospital to examine my lungs. The diagnosis: Acute Bronchitis…

In other news, I can’t stop thinking about the possibility of venturing into the world of modular synthesizers. I have read through all the Doepfer base system module manuals online to the point where I now feel like I fully understand the purpose, operations and capabilities of each module. The one thing I still haven’t completely decided is whether the modular approach will offer me enough value and sound sculpting possibilities that I could not achieve through software or other means…

Investing in a modular system is a significant commitment both in terms of money, time and creative direction. To me the great appeal is actually trifold. First it’s the ability to build a completely custom rig, tailored to the musical style and sounds that I want to work with. The second is the hands on, physical interface with all the intuitive and creative possibilities it offers. The last is the learning experience of building my own signal paths and patching my own sounds.

There is also the added benefit of cost. That might sound like a contradiction, but after the initial investment, additional modules are actually pretty reasonably priced, and it allows you to invest in the parts of the system you need the most without having to buy an entire new instrument.

The Doepfer system in particular has very reasonable prices, but if you want to expand into more esoteric / boutique modules of a higher quality you can mix and match modules from many different manufactures (as long as they adhere to the Eurorack standard) in your synth. With the right converters you could even go so far as to patch the signal of one synth into another if you want to create really unique sounds.

I’ll make up my mind before I return to the US… Will keep you posted.

Psytrance, Trance and Inspiration

My daughter (and my wife) have been complaining lately that my music doesn’t have enough ‘UNTZ’. Thus, I decided to work on some more EDM oriented stuff. I’ve been dabbling in trance from time to time and I really like it. Trance to me touches on some fundamental structures and musical constructs that I really enjoy. Typical progressions, the build ups and breakdowns may be basic and sometimes predictable, but I personally love them.

Anyways, while trance is great and a lot of fun to work on, this time I wanted to try something new, and preferably something with a little less formalized structure to it. Something where I can improvise a bit more and work closer to the kind of analog, robot-machine-industrial kind of melodies that I’ve focused a lot on lately.

The search brought me to psytrance, (or psychedelic trance), also commonly known as Goa Trance (though the term is not entirely correct). In this form of trance, the structure and progression of a track is much more open and less bound by the genres conventions. For me its a great playground because it contains lots of complex, layered sounds and riffs and the bass is often allowed to drive the track forward with equal importance to the percussion and beats. Also, the repetitive yet deep nature of the melodies often found in psytrance is a great match between the stuff I’ve worked on lately and my desire to experiment right now.

I hope I’ll get a track pulled together soon. Will post as soon as I do.

Music and Silence

At the most fundamental level, one thing that has interested me since I was very little is space. Not as in outer space, but the spaces ‘in-between’ that define intervals, pulses, perceived size and the length of time and so on.

When I was very young one of my favorite things was riding in a car through a forest of white birch. I liked it so much because as the car moved forward the parallax of the trees would constantly change, and the interspersed black ‘spots’ on the otherwise white trunks added a second dimension of randomness to the scene.

Trees in particular fascinated me (and still do) by the way their branches seemed to spawn  and grow in completely random patterns, and the only way I could get a grasp for the size or ‘space’ that a tree occupied was by moving my vantage point in relation to its ‘fixed’ position.

Years later this fascination with space was what led me to 3D graphics engineering. Constructing 3D spaces via computer code forced me to make up a ‘space’ within my imagination that I would then ‘populate’ with objects. Moreover, since the camera that represented my Eye could be moved freely, I was able to explore the scenes I had built from view points that would not have been possible in reality. My first stumbling steps in 3D programming was to generate random clouds of points and then programmatically move the ‘camera’ around in those clouds.

Later this led to my involvement with Time geography, which took the entire concept of time and space to a new level for me with it’s attempt to quantify time and turn it into a shapeable, physical mass. (Time geography btw could very well be one of the most powerful disciplines of science I have ever had the pleasure of getting close to…) From Time geography it was a small step to architecture, and once there I soon stumbled upon the concept of Ma.

Ma is a Japanese term that describes a form of space. The very short and simple explanation is that Ma is the space in-between. It is often explained as a way to talk about the intervals or pauses that define the relationship between two structural elements, such as the space between two heartbeats that define a pulse. This explanation touches upon a very important aspect of Ma, namely its dependance on Time. Without time there can be no movement, and it is the movement (of the eye, the heart, other elements within the same time/space and so on) that allows us to experience space in the sense of Ma. Ma is not measurable in terms of centimeters or seconds, it is entirely a ‘sense of space’ that exists purely within the observer and is thus very subjective.

We can talk about the distance between two walls as being 5 meters, but how a person experiences those 5 meters will be highly dependent on what objects are places between the walls, and their size and placement. The physical properties of the viewer are also important such as size, speed of movement and whether the viewer uses primarily sight or hearing to ‘measure’ the space.

Ma also tells us that without confinement, boundaries or limits there can be no space, only emptiness. Space is the in-between, that which makes emptiness measurable and meaningful.

Lao Tzu speaks of similar things in the famous verse 11 of Tao te Ching:

Thirty spokes
meet in a hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
Is where it is useful.

Hollowed out
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
Is where its useful.

(I have only quoted the first two passages here.)

This can be interpreted in many different ways, but to me one of the interesting reads is that we often think of the outer shape of a ‘vessel’ as what defines it’s character or purpose, when it is in fact only turning emptiness into something useful. In this process a piece of emptiness gains meaning and a purpose, but for the most part that purpose is still mostly imbued in the space, not the ‘shell’.

In music, Ma can be felt in the meaningfulness of spaces between ‘beats’ that make up a rhythm. It is the limiting of emptiness in time (Ma), by a rhythm, that allows us to make sense of and ‘understand’ sounds as music. Thus silence and the in-betweens are  important not only as structural elements in the music but as conveyers of meaning and atmosphere.

While it is hard for me to find the right words to explain my feelings, one if my musical goals is to explore this relationship between silence and sound, the Ma of music…

Ableton Live and Bitwig (follow up)

(See the first post on Live and Bitwig that introduces the topic!)

So while discussing the whole Ableton Live and Bitwig situation with my good friend Adam, an interesting thought emerged that I thought I’d share.

(Keep in mind that the below is pure speculation.)

Perhaps the real story on the relationship between the two companies / applications, and why Ableton has basically stayed silent since Bitwig was announced back in 2009, is that Live 9 is being built as an extendable, modular type of application (a platform?), which developers can extend with their own UI and workflow components. Bitwig Studio could be the first, ‘semi-internal’, example of this used by Ableton to showcase Live 9’s abilities.

This kind of architecture, which already exists to some extent with the Max4Live announcement, would allow 3rd party developers to provide customized or original Live scripts and user interface extensions, or just straight up new ‘versions’ tailored for a specific workflow or ‘application’. Kind of like a ‘Live for Live performers’, ‘Live for Mastering and Mixing’, ‘Live for Beat and Loop Making’ and so on.

If Live 9 contains an internal scripting engine it would also enable stuff like batch scripts to remove repetitive tasks or chained operations (additional automatic processing on a clip as soon as it’s recorded into?) that could be triggered by events in the DAW or via MIDI.

The Bitwig site talks about a ‘Native Modular System’:

Native modular system

Create your own instruments and effects or modify existing ones. Design their appearance and share them with the world.


This would certainly be possible if Live 9 allows for modular extensions and new UI to be plugged in, and Bitwig is built on Live 9 as a platform…

Well, one can always speculate…

UPDATE: After this post I received a direct message from the Bitwig team dismissing this scenario. You can read more about that here:

No, Bitwig Studio is not Live 9 afterall