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[Update: Due to the nerd blog media explosion (which is great!), I've had to buy Bandcamp download credits so I can keep giving away my music. If you've enjoyed the videos and music and you'd like to support the creation of future r0b0 beats, you can buy Vio for iPhone and iPad. It's $2.99 and makes your ears feel really good. I use it for the vocals on my EP The Human Element]
A year and a half ago I decided I had to abandon my horn claw MIDI controller. It was a tough decision because there was a lot to like about the controller: gestural control of rhythmic density and beater velocity, zebra wood, and of course, horns. That controller is the first, and as far as I know, only device to put dead springbok into the service of beat-making, a distinction that has earned it pride of place on my bookshelf of discarded electronics. But in the end, what mattered was making music live, and the horn claw made that difficult. It monopolized my right hand and didn’t have enough buttons to trigger pitched instruments. Enter the Meganome. (more…)
…is out. Four years after I left academic music and started building machines that play drums, my debut EP, The Human Element, is available for free digital download. Visit Bandcamp to grab the whole thing. I’m going to do a longer, liner-notes-style post soon, but for now, enjoy the video of the in-studio performance of track 2, Quick Minute.
The result of two years of blood, sweat, and coffee hit the app store last night. It’s called Vio, and it’s based on the voice processor I use with Jazari. One year ago, I began collaborating with Audiofile Engineering on incorporating my audio code into an app that lets everyone explore fantastical sonic spaces derived from their own voice and gives musicians and producers a powerful voice-processing tool that goes beyond existing technology. That process deserves its own blog post. But for now, I’m going to post the amazing artist videos we recorded with Carnage The Executioner, Aby Wolf, OSO, and myself. You can learn more about the app at transformyourvoice.com.
I haven’t put up a performance video in some time, and this is the first one that shows the MegaNome controller in action.
Minneapolis-based vocalist Aby Wolf is riding a wave of success with her Wolf Lords project with Grant Cutler. The sound of her voice pitch corrected to just intonation with the Sitar Hero preset is one the most beautiful sounds I’ve heard from the app.
The bots and I play for the home crowd of makers, geeks, and freaks at the Twin Cities Maker Fair this Saturday, April 14. This show will mark the debut of not one but two new pieces of gear: the kick machine and the MegaNome controller, which is a big grid of illuminated square arcade buttons that I hit during performances while thrashing around in mock ecstasy. You don’t want to miss THAT, do you? Here’s a taste the robo disco blues that will be the hot genre this mid April.
I live in an apartment that shares no common walls with any other apartment, which makes my building something of an architectural freak. For a couple years I’ve been under the impression that this unique layout allowed me to make a lot of robot noise without disturbing anyone, and I was half right. The neighbors on my floor can’t hear me from their apartments, and I thought the same was true of the neighbors above me. But I was wrong. Apparently, one upstairs neighbor has been suffering through late night jam sessions while wrapping her annoyance into a tight ball of passive-aggressive Minnesotan rage. Because I’m a nice guy, and because I got tired of electromechanical furniture dominating my living space, I rented a real rehearsal space.
As it turns out, this was a great idea in its own right. Being able to play with normal volume is very liberating and completely changes how I practice. I’m able to balance the instruments better, build up thicker textures, and simulate a real performance. I got a little giddy with that freedom during my first full day in the space, and I dropped my planned session of scales and rhythm exercises for hours of self-indulgent jamming, which in a one-man improvisatory band, is actually the point of the enterprise. Who else would I indulge? But I digress. I recorded about half an hour of spontaneous beat creation and melodic noodling, and while there are some awkward moments and some loops last too long, I like the overall vibe. Unlike earlier tracks, these are mellow beats that aren’t in a hurry to get anywhere. Synths amble around in a bouncy reverberant space grounded by regular patterns in the djembe and auxiliary percussion, and enough weird stuff happens to avoid ambient chillout blandness. That said, it’s background music. Anyone listening for structural narrative in the modulation scheme will be…well, let’s just stop here and say that anyone who listens for the structure of modulation schema probably endured a harsh, though rigorous, upbringing in the former East Germany and deserves our support and patience. But that person will be bored Scheißelos by this track. Other people, however, may enjoy listening to this session while distracting themselves with homework, chores, or any one of the many brilliantly stupidly brilliant single-serving tumblrs on the internets. I recommend Fuck Yeah Menswear.
Other people’s music can be interesting too, and I thought I’d share some sounds that I’m digging.
Chicago juke music has been around for years, but I didn’t stumble upon it until recently, so for those who, like me, haven’t hit up underground dance parties on the South Side in a while, a brief introduction: Juke is derived from Chicago house music and hip hop but turns the tempo way up to around 150 bpm. The rhythms are intensely syncopated and often create tempo ambiguities; you’re not sure if the beat is at 75 or 150 bpm. Both are often viable listening strategies and you can choose to hear the music at either, allowing you to perform perceptual gestalt flips–who doesn’t enjoy a good gestalt flip? Juke has an associated dance style called footwurk that features manic legwork, and “footwurk” is sometimes used synonymously with “juke” to refer to the music itself. This article in New Zealand music mag Rip It Up delves deep into juke/footwurk’s origins. Here’s an off-kilter exemplar from Chicago dance music polymath Chrissy Murderbot.
Closer to my own practice, Archie Pelago uses a complex setup of laptops and live instruments to create an improvisational beat-based music that draws on jazz and dance music.
Cities Aviv is a Memphis-based rapper who likes to stretch out highly textured samples from classic R&B, chillwave, and jazz and let them bake in the sun for a while before applying a high sheen of reverb. I don’t listen to lyrics so I couldn’t tell you what he’s rapping about. Probably money, women, and his own skills as a rapper, but that’s just a guess based on what I’ve read about rap music.
To stay true to my roots, some modern composition. I’ve always enjoyed Salvatore Sciarrino’s work for being ultra modern without being dogmatic and for maintaining a sense of joy and wonderment against the angsty, neurotic gloom that characterizes a lot modern music from composers of his generation. The violin caprices are tour de force of technique that I’ve had the good fortune to hear live twice. Here’s a taste:
Speaking of angsty, neurotic gloom, one composer who does it better than almost anyone alive is Austrian Georg Friedrich Haas. His piece for chamber ensemble Wer, wenn ich schreie, hörte mich? (Who, when I scream, will hear me? — do you see what I’m getting at?) is one my all time favorites pieces. It makes great use of cymbals to augment shimmering dissonances, and creates a massive sense of foreboding with slowly accelerating, swooshing chords in the brass and strings that move in and out of phase. To hear Haas in a mellower mood, check out his second string quartet, which is gauzy spectral work in the mold of Grisey.
I wish Engadget Deutschland had contacted me for the post. If I remember my year abroad correctly, “balls-to-the-wall freebasing steamfunk” is one word auf Deutsch.
Auf jeden Fall, bitte Klicken Sie auf die “Like” Taste auf der rechten Seite um in Kontakt zu bleiben und Nachrichten über neue Jazari Ereignisse, beispielsweise videos mit der neu gebauten “Wobble” Maschine, zu bekommen.
On Thursday I had the pleasure of performing for an enthusiastic crowd at TEDx Grand Rapids. The organizers of the event had asked me to do a short talk about my music in addition to performing, which is something I’m always slightly apprehensive about because I worry that too much explanation and theoretical discussion can make the music seem like a demo instead of something that stands on its own. But I put those concerns aside and wrote a short talk that was as much about trends in music software and hardware as it was about Jazari, and I’m glad I did. At the reception after the conference, a couple people told me they would have been annoyed if I had walked off the stage after my last djembe solo. Apparently in 2011, giving the people what they want means robot drum ‘n bass plus futurist prognostications. That’s a giant leap from “Free Bird.”
Here’s the text of the talk that I prepared:
The title of my talk is Cyborg Musicianship; I am wearing a large controller made from springbok horns and arcade buttons; and I also surrounded by electro-mechanical machines that play instruments. Extrapolating from these facts, you might think that cyborg music is an eccentric kind of sci-fi genre made by nerds and shared on obscure internet forums. And you would be half right. But the other half of the story is that cyborg musicianship already dominates the production of pop music and permeates music-related video games and mobile device applications. The machines that you see on stage here are in a sense hardware manifestations of ideas that have spread throughout musical culture in software. Before I elaborate on that point, I’d like to lay out a tentative definition of cyborg musicianship. (more…)
A new member will join the band over the next couple months, which poses a problem: I’ve run out of limbs. Controlling three machines with two hand-held devices is hard enough, and trying to extend this framework of direct control would require either rapidly alternating control of four machines between two controllers or building foot controllers. Foot controllers are out of the question because I think they’re fairly ridiculous. For an organist or drummer, they’re fine, but for a quasi one-man band, simultaneous foot and hand control looks a little clownish.
The other approach of alternating control of the four machines with my existing controllers works well enough, be it leaves me stuck in loop-based music: play something on one instrument, loop it, switch to another and play something, loop that, now switch back, etc. I’m eager to overcome this approach. Live interaction and simultaneous constrained improvisation among all participants, whether human or computer controlled, is what interests me. (Why it interests me more than loop-based music is a topic for another post.) Musical human-machine interaction has been a research topic for at least two decades now but has seen mixed results. Research in the field often produces interesting demonstrations but little in the way of music you might actually enjoy. Among the more notable efforts is Robert Rowe’s Cypher system, which uses a rules-based approach, and Francois Pachet’s Continuator project, which favors a data-driven, machine-learning strategy. I favor the latter approach augmented by the ability to build hooks into the generative system so that I can steer its output.
Machine learning researchers often describe their models as “black boxes” because their inner operations are opaque to observation. (more…)