Patrick Flanagan serves as the token human in cyborg percussion ensemble Jazari, which fuses African rhythms, algorithmic composition, digital effects, improvisation, and electro-mechanics into futuristic Afro-baroque dance music. Jazari’s non-human members consist of custom-built wooden machines designed to resemble antique furniture and outfitted with solenoids and stepper motors. The machines play a bevy of percussion instruments, including djembe, bongos, drum kit, and gogo bells. Each machine responds to MIDI signals sent from Flanagan’s custom MIDI controller the Meganome, which allows Flanagan to improvise through the machines in real time. Synthesizers and vocoders coded by Flanagan complement the percussion machinery to flesh out Jazari’s DIY sonic world.
Jazari’s sound is influenced by funk, electronic dance music, jazz, academic computer music, and spectral composition. Equally influential is the technology itself. Jazari tracks grow from exploring of what is possible and idiomatic with percussion machines and custom software. The machines are capable of doing things that are impossible for humans, and sometimes they fail at doing what humans do well. For example, the machines can’t hit a drum as hard as a human, but they can play triplet 32nd notes indefinitely, and a mic signal from a drum can be processed with filters and pitch-shifters that are synced to the beat. These capabilities demand exploration of the unfamiliar.
Flanagan designed and coded the vocal processing software he uses in Jazari. It goes far beyond existing pitch-correction and harmonization software by decomposing the vocal signal into its constituent frequencies and reassembling them into striking and otherworldly sounds. Flanagan collaborated with Minneapolis audio developer Square B to incorporate his vocal processor into Square B’s Vio iOS app, which allows anyone with an iPhone or iPad to experience the mesmerizing sounds of spectral vocal transformation. Vio has been featured as “New and Noteworthy” and an “Essential” music app by Apple in the App Store.
Before beginning work on Jazari, Flanagan earned his bachelor’s degree in music composition from Columbia University, studied music in Germany on a Fulbright grant, and received a master’s in composition from the University of Minnesota. In graduate school, he developed an interest in computer-assisted composition and using computers to model improvisation in various styles. He used statistical models of heavy metal, jazz, and R&B to generate quasi-original pieces live from behind a laptop, where he influenced generative processes. While these performances were interesting from an intellectual perspective, what made them interesting wasn’t obvious to audiences because the process was completely opaque. Audiences saw just a guy behind a laptop. Jazari is in part a response to the failure of this earlier computer music to connect with audiences. By creating a physical realization of virtual musicians, the relationship between Flanagan, the human performer, and his virtual bandmates becomes becomes semi-transparent.
“His rig does everything the hard way – and the results are fantastic.” – Create Digital Music
“…half-way African, half-way cyborg rhythms” – FACT Magazine
“awesome—and awesomely DIY” – Beatport
To hear an extensive interview with Flanagan recorded in his studio that covers influences, how the machines work, and future mobile app projects, listen to Charlie McCarron’s Composer Quest podcast.