The New Normal (?)
this "thing" or state or project or whatever it is, is changing, and it is changing me with it. (“the new normal” is a reference from a kevin kelly article I read) its is a very interesting feeling to feel as if you are being mentally manipulated by your own expression, in realtime. manipulated may be the wrong term; more like "programmed by your own will". this didnt just start. i "could" say that it began when i started playing around with the idea of live-looping with synthesizers back in 2007. but that was an origin point, like birth. this is something markedly different. it incorporates all of the previous experiences, and i do mean, ALL of them; from insignificant habits as an 8 year old and everything else, all the way up to a generalized point in October of 2012, just after a couple of shows in London where i was profoundly not happy with how i sounded. the following week, just before a couple of shows in berlin, i changed a couple of key parameter trajectories that resulted in a sound and concept so alien to me, yet so obvious as the next step that it completely wiped my "imagination slate" clean. And from that point, mutations, which before this fateful week were mostly hypothetical conjecture, became as clear as map points on google maps.
The big change? simply gesturally controlled granular time-stretching. the same timestretching that has been a staple of audio recording and performance software since almost the beginning of software synthesis as a democratic musical concept. it is a technique where the "play head" is looping the audio right underneath it but is also moving at normal speed, so it sounds like normal playing audio. but if you slow it down, the little loop is still playing at normal speed so it sounds like the audio has slowed down without changing the pitch. in addition, the little loop can be slowed down and even reversed so a whole range of manipulations can be be had from this simple technique. mine isnt even that complex. it is based on the same one that comes in the help files for pure data, with a couple of gestural tweaks that allow me to control these variables with my hand position.
My system works by having 8 "elements", or sound sources. i can use finger pressure to select one of these elements as the focused one, then play it into a looping audio buffer. each element has its own. they are all time synchronized wih each other. i simply move from element to element, building my arrangment. i can mute and unmute any or all of them any time i want. In september of 2012 i decided to add a "resampling" buffer to element 8 that would take the entire mix of all the other elements as a single audio file and allow me to manipulate it. sonically, this was very interesting because now i could, for instance, play chords as a two step process of playing a basic chord then resampling it and playing new interval relationships with it.
But -and there is always a but, i had a problem i had had since the beginning of this idea of continuous live looping: i could not change the tempo. i would do all of these changes but if i needed to change the tempo or loop length, i needed to start over from scratch. i found the monotony of the predictability of the loop length became incredibly taxing on me, creatively. like performing to a metronome, which i have done in the past, and was happy to stop doing.
so after said gig in London, i was frustrated enough with this issue to go into one the many trance-like programming states that seem to be more and more common. By the end of the 3rd week of October 2012 i had added the aforementioned timestretch algorithm in hopes of being able to change the tempo. i did not expect the sound that came out from that hypothesis. the sound could not only be stretched, it could be scratched, and ripped apart, IN STEREO -yes, i can scratch the left side with the left hand and the right side with the right hand, at the same time, like some kind of scratch-drummer. THAT was the point; what was this sound? why was this sound so alien yet so obvious? i had completely baffled myself. so few parameters yet so much scope for narrative and syntax. it was then, like being in a video game where you can only progress to the next level after you have solved all the puzzles on this level, that the "transform" element showed me the next stage; better, more timbrally complex elements to feed into the transformer. with the transform element, there were no more mistakes. mistakes become timbrally interesting building blocks thatsound almost sweet when digested in this new matrix. and the tempo is completely untethered to the previous musical ideas. the transform process resets the system loop length for all elements so it can be a brief stutter or long and flowing.
I can no longer predict what i am going to play in a performance anymore. the beginning of a "thought" no longer has any bearing on how it will end or how it sound after its first transform. this confused me as an aesthetic concept, as i didnt know how to contextualize this sound concept, musically, so i started looking to mathematics for answers, which was easier than i thought it would be. maybe by this point, i was mentally ready for a more mathematical answer than an aesthetic one. the one that impressed itself in my psyche most readily, was that of fractals. a basic construction algorithm of nature based on self similarity where phenomena is expressed then divides and splits and repeats, in simplest terms ( I am still studying this so dont shoot me for my oversimplification). I began to look at the system as not a "looping" system-looping is an incidental aspect of the way the sonic ideas are expressed-but as an expression evolution engine. the expression vectors must evolve along a different type of route after being completely and unpredictably transformed in every way. this is not restricted to sound. in late december i cleared a data bottle neck by ridding my system of the serial communications bus, which was slowing down everything i wanted to do, and replaced it with much higher bandwidth 802.11g, or wifi. this has enabled highly controllable expression vectors which now consist of light-color, tempo, intensity, etc-, and robotics for which pure data is extremely well suited. i dont understand why the linkage between pure data and robotics isnt spoken about more, but i digress.
So yes, this is as much of a head fuck as it sounds like it is. i have begun designing gestural fractal elements-sounds of varying timbral complexity that will translate a certain way, to feed this process and also started redesigning the transform matrix for more dramaitic types of transformations. and all of this has changed me. i dont watch movies anymore. they distract me from this crazy algorithm that is trying to parse itself in my head. the only things i can really listen to are post bebop/pre-70's jazz from artists like sun ra, archie shep, ornette coleman and eric dolphy, none of whom i knew about 2 years ago and when i would hear their musics randomly, i recoiled from them from being to “self-indulgent” (yeah, pots talking shit about kettles…I know). now i cant get enough of it. and everyday, all day, is streams of the strangest series of questions about everything from stop signs to wall paint composition, to geographical locations of saltmines and what the first humans did before language or tools, and 1000 other questions. it was driving me a little mad but now its more comfortable. it is the new normal.
this was the last 2-3 months, much of which was spent perched on my crappy office chair, rambling to either myself or my neighbor, but i knew that i was going to be in the US for the first time since 2009. technically, i had been in the US twice in 2011-once for the TED thing and once for the Maker Faire in NYC, but those were both in NYC and i didnt see any family nor did i really have a defined concept as complete as this "mental algorithm" or "pattern". i was acutely aware, as i am writing this blog post, that maybe they, the people in savannah georgia and in memphis tennesse, would think i was completely nuts. maybe i had sat in my flat a month or two too long, exploring my own world in too much detail. i knew those were possibilites, but the algorithm felt so right...so complete, that i was more curious than apprehensive (airport TSA shenanigans not withstanding).
Coming to America
So I arrived in Savannah georgia to the completely surreal experience of seeing my own picture on the cover of the local weekly zine. whoa! I've never been cover material, or so i told myself. that, and it was HOT, as in weather. so i took advantage of the opportunity to revel in some much missed sweetend iced tea and a whole list of unhealthy former addictive food-stuffs which usually populate the shelves near the counter at gas stations. all that is besides the point though...I was in Savannah to do a series of presentations and performances for the Telfair Museums Pulse festival. there was a whole digital arts exhibit with digital video arts, video gaming arts and more. it as beautifully put together.
there were two days of full auditorium presentations for my project. i was happy with the diversity of the people in attendance, especially the age ranges. there seemed to be just as many older people as young ones. so i just decided to drop it how i see it now, without any consideration that i might be kooky sounding and surprisingly to me, everyone got it! i just described the esoterics and how they tied to the mechanics of the system and idea and everyone, older and the kids as well, got it. i could tell because some of the questions were very specific. one kid, about 8 years old, asked if i had thought about putting the sensors in my body and i explained, in detail, my apprehensions with sub-dermal sensors but that i was open to EEG scanning and he was completely cool with that answer! cool! questions about integration of this modality into the school system, its place in the continuity of jazz, from a local older jazz cat (really happy that he saw the connections i was trying to present musically, without saying anything about them first), communal music creation, and on and on. the Q&A sessions lasted from 30 minutes the first day to about an hour on the second and last day.
After the talks, the range of people that came up and the range of questions were very informed and interesting. i felt like something had connected and felt very much more confident that i wasn’t crazy. that doesn’t mean that everyone liked it. there were swaths of people who got up and left as soon as i started playing, which was encouraging since i dont want this idea to be middle of the road; “dig it or dont or build your own!”-should be the motto.
i had a week or so with family to chill out and revel how old we're all getting and how grey we're becoming and even talk about this "algorithm" (and by talk, i mean ramble endlessly) and it still kinda held strong. nothing that fell out of my face was glarringly wrong or complete bullshit, because if it were, i would have heard about it right then and there. this was heartening as i prepared for Memphis.
but i should say that Memphis was prepared for me! they went all out! and by “they” I mean Eric Swartz and Sarah Bolton who went to a lot of trouble getting me there( I met them while they were in Berlin filming a Documentary called “Children of the Wall” which you can check out Here,) and guys at the Five in One Social Club who dusted out their wonderful subterrainian bunker and filled it with custom stages, screen printed posters-yes, screen printed, like on tshirts but on cardboard-beautfully designed and they even made me a t-shirt version. and an amazing 3d projection mapping co-performance by Christopher Reyes. (this and more photos from the night here) Memphis is special because my first time playing there in 2008, was literally my last stop on my way to new york to fly to berlin for the first time, to begin a new life. and that party was heavy! I and Jeremy Bustillo did an all EWI based party night, and held it down all night long. the crowd kept it going! and then again in 2009 at a space called Odessa, which was so warm and comfortable that i couldn’t wait to play there again.
I was so chilled that i sat, onstage, for a good portion of my talk. i rambled about all of the above mental stuff and interspersed it with bits of playing and then dropped into a full set. people were sitting on the floor and generally relaxed from the barbeque, cole slaw and iced tea that was being served, so i took the opportunity to investigate new ways of transforming. i am having to come up with new terms for this stuff but i found "stutter rips", and "dving deep" and my new and barely explored favorite so far, "scratch drumming", where i am learning to scratch each side of the audio in relation to the other. i finally stopped when i felt like i had explored all the permutations i could think of that night. i was tired and the crowd seemed satisfied. and the rest of the evening was super chilled out. it was a great opportunity to talk interesting heavy stuff with many representatives of Memphis' artistic community. I even met Larry Heard-House music legend-There!
After all of this, i spent a few nights in a motel 6 near Hartsfield airport to decompress a bit and even in the solitude of a hotel room, it was all a flurry of drawings, and patch programming and design bits. i think this is a permanent state now, which is ok with me. the next stages are clear now and in the coming week, i will be doing another crowdfunding campaign to unveil what "next" means. it will be weird- Trust!- but i think it will be as obvious to you as it is to me now.