Horizon: Late Night Improvisations

A brief late-night improvisation with guitar and laptop. Fragments and variations on a simple melodic phrase. As in previous Max-Jams, all sounds were processed in realtime via my custom-built software patch programmed in Max 7.

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My Max Performance Patch

Late night improvisation with guitar and laptop. All sounds generated in real time via my custom-built Max patch. Many of the weird and (hopefully) wonderful sound design elements on the upcoming EP were created by processing sounds within this patch.

The Guitar and Processing Part: 1

Due to its necessity for amplification the sound of the electric guitar is shaped and processed from the outset. Beyond the coloration provided by the amp itself, effects pedals or “stomp boxes” offer numerous ways to transform the signal or create artificial spaces and ambiences. With the advent of the home computing revolution and the democratisation of technology a new wave of sonic possibilities became available to guitarists.

Working with pedals offers a spontaneous, improvisatory approach music creation processing the guitar signal in real-time either via the use of effects pedals. Norwegian guitarist Stian Westerhus uses a wide range of pedals, particular distortion and delay units to create darkly beautiful sonic vistas. Here signal chain becomes vitally important as each pedal can colour another depending on it’s position in sequence. Along with the amp they become as much an instrument as the guitar itself.

Within this digital domain a number of artists make use of the textural possibilities of the electric guitar, sampling raw sounds of the instrument before applying a number of audio manipulation techniques such as granulation or spectral processing. Many of these processes are non-realtime requiring a different compositional workflow. Software environment Max MSP has frequently been a tool of choice, allowing composers to tailor-build audio processing tools unique to their individual needs and stylistic tastes. Christopher Willits uses a combination of Ableton and custom Max patches to build rhythmically shifting patterns from sampled chords and single note lines, a process he describes as “Folding”.

Contrastingly, Touch recording artist Christian Fennesz largely eschews rhythmic elements, utilising Max to create shifting ambient noise-scales constructed from electric and acoustic guitars, often augmenting them with field recordings. He frequently uses Lloopp, a free, pre-written suite of Max patches for sound transformation created with live improvisation in mind.

BandCamp Store Now Live

The new Bandcamp store is now LIVE. The EP will be released first here towards the end of March. In the meantime I didn’t want anyone to leave empty-handed so I’ve made my recent acoustmatic composition Ocean Dream available for stream or download. The piece uses sampled guitar and water sounds cross-processed many times using a variety of audio manipulation software.

What follows is a brief extract from the original program note: The initial inspiration for the piece came from dreamstates. During REM sleep the brain’s activity increases to levels similar to that of being awake. We experience a variety of sensory information we interpret as dreams. During these dreamstates locations and memories from our past are recalled with crystal clarity. People and places collide, merge and transform in surprising and frequently unexpected ways…

Max 7 Harmonizer Patch

This patch came about through adopting a more bespoke approach to audio processing in an effort to further develop an individual instrumental and compositional voice. Coded in Max 7, the patch uses the gizmo~ object inside an FFT sub-patch to analyse peaks within given FFT bins before moving them along the frequency axis, shifting the sound up or down in pitch. Max 7 makes pitch shifting even easier with the inclusion of separate specific pitch shift objects without the need for a pfft~ shell however I still prefer to use pfft~ sub patches as they allow individual control over the FFT bin resolution.

GTR Harmonizer Patch wBorder

The patch also includes volume envelope control based amplitude threshold detection of the incoming audio signal and four individual delay lines (not shown in the patcher pic) routed to the two stereo output channels in pairs. In addition this post also marks a move towards recording video to document specific elements of the EP project.

The Artwork Of ECM

As this is the first post of 2015 I’d just like to wish everyone a very happy new year and hope things are going in the right direction for you all. As most of the EP track arrangements are ready for the tracking stage I thought I would take a minute to look at some creative decisions facing me with regards the finished physical product, mainly artwork. I have long been a fan of Munich based label ECM both for their boundary-pushing artists and the unique, distinctive art style featured on many of their releases. The muted colours and abstract imagery, has somewhat of an impressionistic quality that is indicative of the often highly improvised nature of the music itself.

Label founder and director Manfred Eicher personally marries each album release with the artwork he feels best suits the music, choosing from a personal selection of collated or commissioning new artworks with the music in mind.  A couple of articles probe this subject in more depth can be found here and here. I look forward to exploring the creative intersection between music and artwork in my own project and will be posting any art drafts or inspiration along the way towards release.

Patching Update 1: Distortion Module

I assembled this distortion/EQ module in an effort to achieve more natural and dynamic overdrive sounds whilst using electric guitar straight into Max. There are a number of controls still to add (including an actual drive control!) as it was largely designed for “switch on and wail” purposes. It is part of a larger patch currently in the works geared towards live improvisation and sound design for my upcoming EP. I was heavily influenced by Darwin Grosse’s guitar processing patch written as a tutorial for Max 5 in 2008. You can find the original tutorials along with some other guitar-based signal processing patches at: https://cycling74.com/2008/07/28/max-5-guitar-processor-part-1.

Distortion module GUI

Distortion module GUI