Friday, June 28, 2013

On Traveling and Distance

This piece started out with a very different intent and mood from how it ended up.  Initially, I was striving for something pretty dark, which is where I was at at the time.  However, as I revisited it over the last eight weeks or so, I began hearing other things in it; it called from unexpected directions.  The experience was a lot like I've what heard from novelists talking about how characters develop:  you start, but they tell their own stories which you are privileged to hear first and record.  So the dark tritones with all the overtones and the saw pulse with the pinging echo that I initially imagined being the foundation of a brooding meditation began demanding a more present, less introverted evolution.  What could I do but listen?

The title is also a reflection of this process.  The initial name, which actually made itself known at the same time the original ideas for the piece did, became not merely inapplicable to the final version, but actually felt counter to it.  The current title came to mind as I was working on it this evening and seemed to fit perfectly its new mood.  It may merely be the fact that I was primed to think of it because I have been reading about recent developments in and corrections to scientists' understanding of exactly where Voyager 1 is, but, regardless, it felt right.  It was not merely a descriptive name for the piece as it revealed itself, but a metaphor for how my own life feels right now:  passing a profound but poorly demarcated boundary, crossing into a new phase in a long, important journey.

This was performed on Arturia's Moog Modular V 2.6, controlled in real time variously by keyboard and Lemur 4 for iPad; it was recorded and tweaked in Apple Logic Pro 9.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Messing Around

One thing I've been trying to do in organizing my studio is to set myself up so I can be more improvisatory in my music-making.  Initially, didn't have a controller keyboard attached to my DAW; it took a while, but now I do.  I also got Lemur for iPad a while back and have spent quite some time playing with different configurations for that; I recently settled on one that covers a good bit of functionality for the Moog Modular V.  And getting to know one softsynth reasonably well (the MMV) has been important, too, making it easier for me to figure out how to create the sound that I want.  String all of this together, and music-making looks a lot more musical and a lot less like programming.

This makes it easier to create the kind of music I've been interested in making from the beginning.  At first, I thought the way into that sound was through careful -- even obsessive -- attention to structure and detail.  It turns out I'm not so good at that; I get overwhelmed and lose my focus and inspiration trying to manage tiny particles of music.  After reading some of Morton Subotnick's writing and hearing/witnessing a lecture/performance of his, I've discovered that I can get much closer to what I hear in my head by just messing around, creating some imperfect but honest expression of what I feel and then going back and pushing, prodding, tweaking it into shape.

This piece started with a couple of sounds I heard in my head:  I wanted to see how closely I could synthesize a dripping faucet, and there was a kind of crash sound that I made using the LMMS in In Three II that I really liked and wanted to try to recreate in the MMV.  As I worked on the faucet sound, I came up with the sound you hear here and decided I liked it more than a faucet.  I then controlled this "singing faucet," as I called it, with the sequencer in the MMV, coming up with a semi-random pattern controlled by two out-of-synch LFOs to trigger the sequencer on and off.  While looking through some of my old sound designs in the MMV that I might use as a basis for the crash, I found this bell-like sound I liked and added some noise to it, running it through the LPF with the frequency tied to the keyboard.  However, instead of controlling it with the keyboard, I used a pad grid I built in Lemur with a 1/2 step (x-axis) by tritone (y-axis) design.  As I messed with these, I began to imagine a shooshing sound cycling in and out; I implemented this using the MMV's pink noise run through its Bode frequency shifter (the change in the phase gives it the shooshing) and controlled it on the Lemur. After that, it seemed to want some thick, dark, bottom notes; this was just a series of the MMV's square-wave oscillators tied together, with one of them taken out of phase periodically to give it some unpredictability, and then run through the LPF.  Using the Lemur, I was able to control the LPF's frequency and resonance simultaneously.

What's exciting about this for me is that it's much easier to produce expressive sounds with this approach, and it sounds much more natural, too.  The real-time nature of it makes it feel more like a performance and less like I'm Ray Harryhausen's apprentice.  I hope you enjoy it!