well, I am here again to talk about ios applications, which have become such a part of my life, that I can hardly recall the fact that four years ago, I knew absolutely nothing of them.
one of the first and most lasting of ios applications, has been the subject of a quiet revival over the past few months for me, and that would be, the remarkable scape, by brian eno and peter chilvers.
scape was one of the first applications of any kind that I downloaded (at some point in late November 2012!!), and I proceeded to work with it, following it’s “hints”, watching my tools and palettes grow organically, and recording scape after scape after scape after scape. every time a new tool arrived – I would record new scapes. a new “background” arrives – and I must records scapes, including, a scape with just that background, nothing else, in it. and – some of the most incredibly minimal and amazing scapes were created that way.
in fact, I was so incredibly excited about the app, that back in the day, the I authored no less than three blogs in a row that were mostly about…scape; scape week one, scape week two and scape week three…followed by a fast forward to week five of scape! during scape week two, I noted that in the short time of just two weeks, that I had created something like 146 scapes. most of which did not see the light of day until very recently, in early to mid 2015.
in 2012, and during early 2013, though, still feeling my way through the scape processes; I would take a new tool, and mix it up with the familiar, to see what kinds of crazy combinations of instrumentation I could come up with, mixing bells with synths with basses with just plain strange sounding samples. some times, I would work in a very, very minimal space, one or two objects, very quiet, super ambient – on other days, I would load the scapes to capacity, hmmm, let’s see, what happens if I insert 20 or 30 bass guitars into one scape? interesting!
so this went on, for a number of months, perhaps, six months – until, one day, abruptly, I stopped. I had made around 1100 scapes by then, and at the time, I did take the time to record the first 30 or so, so that the world could hear how beautiful this app truly is. I published those 30, I think I added a few more later on, and there they sat – until 2015. for some unknown reason, I got the idea into my head, sometime near the beginning of this year, that I should capture ALL 1100 scapes, record every single one of them, capture each and every scape image (and, of course, it’s that “image” that “is” the music – the shapes, generate the music)…I would record them all.
this became then, the great project in the background. I would work on my progressive rock song – still unfinished – and then, record a few dozen more scapes. I would spend a Saturday working on my data, or cleaning up my music data – and, the whole time, I would be capturing dozens more scapes. I developed tools, in SONAR, a special scape “template”, or actually, two of them – one that covered the first 50 numbers of a hundred, and the second, which covered the second 50 numbers in a hundred – which then meant, you only had to choose the appropriate template, and change the prefix from 101, to 401, or whatever you were “up to”. soon enough, my prefixes started looking like “801”, or “901” and eventually, “1001” – and I then knew the end was in sight. a few more weeks, and finally – they were all recorded.
of course – the work doesn’t stop there. each file, has to be lovingly trimmed, removing the header and the tail, and then normalised to -3 db to match all of the previously released scapes – all of which have been normalised to -3. basically, it’s the simplest mastering job in the universe, because I don’t add EQ, I don’t add reverb (tempting though THAT might be!) – I leave them untouched, exactly the way they come out when the app generates them. they sound good enough, without me tinkering with them. however, even though that’s a simple job, I still work on them file by file, one file by one file, to make sure there are no problems (a few stray “pops” have had to be removed from one or two captures – and occasionally, I may have to go and re-capture scapes if they have significant problems – try again – although thankfully, I’ve not had to do that yet…) and that they sound as perfect and as pristine as they can.
the best part of it though, exceeding all, has been HEARING them again. and looking at the images used to create them, and remembering my thought processes – for example, one thing I loved to do, was, create a “basic scape” – a scape with certain elements, and then, simply copy it over and over again, each time, just changing one aspect of it – which was almost always, the “effects” – the coloured icons on the right side of the GUI, which add flangers or tremelo or chorus or whatever. originally, that was maybe four or five different “treatments” of the same scape – but towards the end, some new effects – bright orange, and a pale blue, if I recall correctly – arrived, so towards the end, if I did a full sweep, you might get seven or eight “versions” of the same scape.
and – if it was a particularly lovely scape in it’s initial incarnation – then – you ended up with eight absolutely outstanding scapes. so it was a good technique – take something that is proven sounding good, and then “treat” it seven different ways – and then, pick your favourite of the eight, too. often, for me, that would either be the deep pink effect, or, the dark, mysterious green – and the green effect, whatever it is, is definitely my favourite.
I could “see myself” thinking up these processes, I could “see myself”, just by looking at the icons, the paintings that I did, that powered the scapes, what I was thinking – here was a section, where everything was COMPLETELY about minimalism. a single effect, with nothing else. a single background, with nothing but an effect. two backgrounds, mixed together. a single “E” yellow “note”, playing atop a single “mountain” or pyramid. I could see, that often, I was stuck in “minimalist mode” for days at a time, and then, I would go back to much louder, much crazier scape designs, especially those that contain far too many bass guitars, and yet, still, somehow, work, others, where I intentionally used the most dissonant “elements” possible, to try to create a more “index of metals” vibe, and in fact, I have made a note somewhere, that one of my scapes does sound a bit like “an index of metals” sans Fripp.
as I recorded them, I would occasionally note down the names (of course, I mean the “numbers” of the scapes, since none of them have names!!) of certain scapes that I particularly liked. then, when I moved into the mastering stage, I would do the same – so I now have a document that I’ve officially started, that is my “scapes of note” document, and once I have completed the mastering (at the rate I am going right now, that will be sometime in 2017 but who knows?) I will publish that list on the music for apps: scape eternal album on the bandcamp site – because believe you me, if you sit and listen to those “chosen” scapes in one sitting, it will blow your mind – it will be like hearing a lost, super excellent super ambient eno album that you never knew about.
for me, in the real world, it’s the equivalent of getting the remastered “neroli”, so that I could get the previously unreleased second disc – a “new”, long form eno ambient piece called “new space music” – which is right up there with “neroli” and “thursday morning” and “music for airports” in terms of being supremely beautiful and supremely ambient. hearing those chosen scapes, will be not unlike, the first time I heard “new space music” – 50 minutes of previously unheard long-form eno ambient music – it does not really get a lot better than that.
if you had a LOT of time, my recommendation would be – listen to them ALL, from the beginning. basically, I’ve just done that….listened to over a thousand scapes, and it was the most relaxing, beautiful experience…really relaxing. with the odd moment of dissonance.
why? because in my innocent, quiet way, I followed their rules – I did not jump ahead like so many scape users did – and in fact, when I found out there was a hack that allows you to expose all of the instruments, sounds and treatments in one fell swoop – I deliberately didn’t take note of it, and I have never ever done that with any scape install – I would NEVER spoil the journey of discovery that eno and chilvers worked so hard to create. that’s just me…some want to get to all the toys right away…I was happy to wait.
the advice that the app gives you, and the way you keep receiving more and more amazing sounds, all the time, and the excitement you would feel, when you realised you had just got a truly beautiful eno fretless bass line, or, an amazing floating eno synthesizer riff – every other day, every 20 or 30 scapes – you would get another “present” – it is an amazing way to grow with the application, instead of “cheating” and going to the end…OK, for some, that’s the way, I get it – but, I can tell you – if you listen to these 1100 scapes – what you will hear, is first, a limited palette of sounds. that directly affects the sound of the resulting scapes, and for a while, it was almost impossible to create a loud or annoying scape. as you got more voices, and you had more ability to mix voices – then the chances of cacophony or dissonance, or both, increased significantly.
in the middle period, in the 400s and 500s, you get a medium to large compliment of instruments, and, the scapes get more complex, denser – although, I still go on self-imposed minimalist streaks, using the newer tools to create new minimalist scapes even right up to the very end. and of course, during the last few hundred, I am finally, using ALL of the instruments, and I was receiving no more new updates – I had at last, revealed all of the instruments, backgrounds, and treatments – and then, I kept going…until one day, I just…stopped.
and then, three or four years passed, and I thought – hmmm, I really, really wish I had recorded all of those scapes. and then that other voice, the one that thinks big, says “well, why don’t you…” and that was that.
four, five months down the road from that internal conversation – and I have them all captured and recorded.
I have, as of a few days ago, mastered 187 of them (which took me up to scape 200 – the numbers don’t match because several scapes were lost, i.e. when you erase a scape, you lose it’s auto-generated “number” – so the track number no longer matches the scape number), and as time permits, I master more and more and more and more.
Until I finish. And then, once mastered, I upload. Actually, as I master, I try to upload, because the more I upload, the clearer the decks are for more scapes, to upload later…to date, about 118 of them have been uploaded.
So the sound of scape, and the musical DNA of brian eno and peter chilvers, has been filling the studio monitors for many, many months, weeks and days, and it’s so strange, I’ve listened to well over 1000 scapes this year, all recorded in late 2012 / early 2013. and just hearing them – it was so mesmerising, it was so, so incredibly relaxing – I would have scapes playing all day long, all weekend long – as I captured them – and after a day or two of listening to scapes being captured, I would be so chilled, so relaxed – they really are like a tonic, I swear – there is something about them, they are ALL so incredibly reminiscent of brian eno’s music, no matter what weird things happen in the scape – it just sounds like eno…they ALL sound like eno. even the really strange ones – eno.
normally, it’s the ambient eno, but occasionally, you get the really strange, really dissonant eno – or other eno’s – not always pleasant. but most of the time – you get real ambient beauty – with the very occasional journey into slightly more alternative types of ambient. it’s a trip worth taking, and if you don’t mind waiting – well, the first hundred and some are up there, free to listen to, on bandcamp – so go have a listen – those top secret never-before-heard brian eno ambient albums are just there waiting – it’s uncanny, how after you hear 20 or 30 0f these scapes, that you get the uncanny feeling that you were just privy to a top secret performance of an unreleased eno ambient masterwork – they just sound great, to me, it will always be the best of the best generative music apps, and it’s difficult to believe sometimes that it IS generative – that the songs are literally created, by creating a visual input, of shapes, colours, backgrounds and effects that are colour-based. but – that is how it works – you paint a picture, or, you randomly throw shapes onto a canvas – either way, it works if you spend hours meticulously building something very visually appealing, or, if you very randomly add different shapes together, or even on top of each other – or whatever, no matter what the input – it ALWAYS sounds good.
often, I would spend time working on carefully composing and arranging the shapes, more often than not, there would be a plan, a purpose, a desire to make a beautiful visual piece of art…that also happens to generate really beautiful music.
Only very occasionally would I work randomly, when I did, I’d still get good results, but I always preferred creating something beautiful and intentional, trying to make a good piece of art. scape always rewarded me with interesting, challenging ambient music no matter what the input; I do like to think that taking time to create more meticulous art resulted in better scapes, but I can’t prove it.
and now for something completely different.
I told you last time about my frustrations with Notion. It seems to be working again now, and I have managed to salvage and finish my interrupted recording, but, I am still not going to publish it yet – as I want to move it from the iPad to the desktop, to see if I can get some better instrument sounds for it – I am just not happy with some of the sounds in Notion for IPad, and I am hoping that via some process, I will be able to create a new mix of the track, using BETTER sounding instruments – so the song is on hold, I won’t release it until I’ve had time to research this. it’s complete, it’s alternative / jazz, it’s about 8:00 long, and I’m really really happy with it – working title “abstraction distraction retraction”. though it will be delayed, I hope to have it finished one way or the other and published this year – it’s a good track.
I have started a new track in Notion, another guitar quartet, but this time, steel string guitars rather than nylon strings, as the last guitar piece I did (“fantasy no.1 in d major for four guitars”) was. it’s only a few bars long, but it’s off to a good start, it’s in 7/4 time to start, so that makes it unusual. working title (likely to be changed) is “relentless refraction of light”.
now that I think of it, I have a number of new tracks in various stages, from embryonic to complete; besides one complete Notion track and one just started, there is also a new proggy piece in Gadget, which is coming along nicely, and a very interesting piece, featuring vocoder vocals recorded in Attack, my new favourite drum machine, I love it!
so there is a lot of music in progress, but given my commitments over the next two months, most of these tracks wont appear until November or December – but, they will all get done, and they will all come out…
and of course there is my song made with real instruments, “the complete unknown” which is probably about 85% complete, that one may need more time, because I am in the middle of real guitar overdubs, which do take time.
I’m very happy though, that one of my very best works in a long time, “abstraction distraction retraction” is done, I do want to see if I can improve the instrumentation, but if I can’t better it, then I will just do the best I can with the existing tools.
in fact, I would dearly love to re-record ALL of my non-classical Notion tracks, with better instruments – I really would. But – we shall see, time will tell…and all that kind of stuff…
so setting the problem of improving the instrument sounds in Notion for a while, I want to talk about two newer apps that I’ve been playing with, that are both in their own way, quite exciting.
the first one is a free app (well, it was temporarily free anyway) called “YouCompose” and at first, I scoffed – when I realised what it’s premise was – this is it:
you record a melody using a keyboard to input it, and there are various templates you can use, I used a stock quartet of horns, so my solo instrument was a saxophone – so, I played a sax melody to the best of my ability – and then, I pushed the “harmonise” button – and, in just a second or two, literally – it produced three horn harmonies – and damned if they didn’t sound half bad !!
I tried again, with a longer, more complex melody – and again, the almost instant four part harmony – well, three part harmony to your input melody – came out quite well – almost palatable. With some difficulty, you are able to edit the parts, you can erase bad notes, change notes with the wrong durations, and so on – it’s not too bad, although it’s no Notion when it comes to editing !
today then, I had a second session with it, and I did a session with guitar harmonics, bass guitar, clean electric guitar, and distorted guitar 2. I did the harmonics part first, and let the rest be created by the master of harmony, YouCompose. this time, it was quite a flop – it couldn’t seem to really figure out what to do with just harmonics for input.
so – to give it a better chance – I took command of Distorted Guitar 2 – and recorded a fake “lead solo” with no accompaniment. pushed the magic “harmonize” button again – and this time, it produced the goods – bass, guitar and harmonics, that accompanied the lead solo really quite well.
it’s fine for free, but it does leave a lot to be desired – I tried to copy my harmonics clip into the bass slot, and it refused to paste it where I placed the cursor – it would only paste it AFTER the two existing clips of harmonics – not alongside or on top of them, as I was wanting to do (I wanted to create some counterpoint, by having the bass “follow” the harmonics – but the app simply would not let me.
so until it’s a bit more flexible with editing, moving, copying, and manipulating clips, I will continue to view it as a fascinating toy – sometimes, it does an AMAZING job of harmonising, but, there is an equal or better chance, that it will produce something quite plodding, or quite inappropriate, that does NOT sound good – and I found that I tended to delete more of it’s harmonisations than I ever saved – I only saved a few, where it had worked particularly well. And even then – I would probably go into every clip, and make changes, to make it a bit more…human?
It is, however, an amazing experience – to play a series of notes, a melody, on your own, and then, literally two or three seconds later, you have a fully notated set of complex harmonies. The rules for this thing must have been an absolute bastard to write, and it does operate in different keys and time signatures, as well as having some basic tempo controls (I kept selecting “lethargic” – the slowest tempo – which resulted in some dire and terrible four part harmonies, going by at dirge pace – yuick!) but I do admire the sheer bravado of it – it is hit or miss, but for me, it’s just fun, it’s kinda like spinning the wheel of fortune – will it come out beautiful, plain, or awful? will it be OK, but flawed in places? will it, and this is very rare – will it be achingly beautiful? maybe, once every 100th attempt.
I don’t think that ANY computer can make up harmonies as well as a human computer, but – it can sure do it FASTER. And if you don’t like the “detail” work of having to write out harmonies for your melodies – well then, this may be the tool for you.
I do find myself gravitating towards it when I don’t feel like working on serious music – hoping, I guess, that the magic three second harmony creator button, might create something truly amazing…and very occasionally – it does.
now, to my final recent discovery, I ran across this last night on the old app ticker – it’s called, I kid you not, “play the golden gate bridge” – and again, at first, I thought – this must be a joke – but it’s not, it’s actually a project by the San Francisco Synthesizer Ensemble (which you can buy on CD) where they have literally, sampled the bridge (and, the app has a special page with nine of the original samples, which are simply amazing) and then there is the actual app, which allows you to play the cables of the golden gate bridge in the manner of a harp – but, using a selection of more than a dozen possible sounds, including “fog horn” (my personal favourite), “waves”. “railing”, “lamp post”, “cable thock”, “cable click”, “south tower”, and another favourite “reverse hit” – you can select any of these amazing voices, which are developed from the original samples – and that sound becomes the sound you play on the “harp” – which is of course, the golden gate bridge, set against a cloudy sunset sky – a lovely image, and it makes beautiful, beautiful sounds.
it also allows for recording, and in fact, it has a little second page where you can record up to four different parts – so it’s like having a four channel TEAC tape deck or something, right there in your app, to overdub parts with – I think that is really excellent, and I can see myself writing pieces for this odd “instrument”, and doing videos of performances with it, too, because it is an absolutely unique way of performing (the only other app I have that is anything like this, is “VOSIS”, where you “play” a marble statue) and it’s actually a lot of fun to play.
also, some of the sounds are so beautiful, really ambient, really natural, strangely – even the metallics, all of them have a wonderful, organic feeling to them – and to me, this is such a beautifully made app – you can just about feel the love that went into it’s making – and, it’s apparently a long-standing tradition with this ensemble – their CD, celebrates the 50th anniversary of playing the bridge, while the app, celebrates the 75th anniversary – so these samples are clearly, in their blood, but also as clearly – in their minds and hearts. there is also a beautiful art film of the bridge featuring the Ensemble’s music.
this app gets my vote, beautiful, useful sounds coupled with excellent design and playability, I can see myself performing and recording with this app for many years to come – it will especially be great for live performances.
what a wonderful sounding app, and so much fun to play, too!
suddenly, I found myself there again, after a long, long pause – a two year pause – I’d acquired the “Scape” application very, very early on, worked with it over a very, very intense but quite short period of months, and just as suddenly, stopped creating scapes when I reached about 1100 in total approximately – I found myself listening to “scapes” again, every day. In 2015.
back to 2012 for a moment, then – after the fairlight and scape, I moved on to learn about, and explore other ambient, generative and synth apps, from the wonderful mixtikl to the equally fabulous drone fx (huge news – drone fx for the desktop – awesome news!) and on and upwards and on to some of the truly strange apps, the VOSIS and the TC-11 (huge news – TC-11 is at V2 now – MORE awesome news!!) and so many weird and wonderful apps to learn about, attempt to master, make recordings of…
“Scape” was my second “long session” with an app, my first “long session” was with the fairlight, or what is now known as the peter vogel cmi – but to me, it will always be “the fairlight” – “the fairlight” of peter gabriel – [this link is to a pretty interesting video of Peter and The Fairlight, and how he used it on the song “The Rhythm Of The Heat”] – and kate bush fame [and this link it to a very rough but very interesting Kate Bush and The Fairlight clip] .
but “Scape” was the first ambient app I worked with – and what a great place to start – an ambient app, where BRIAN ENO was one half of the design team, and, where he played some of the samples and worked with his app-making partner musician PETER CHILVERS to design, produce, and market scape – a device that has a wonderful simplicity to it, you have an empty palette, and you have tools – which you can drag out onto the canvas, and when you do – music begins. each tool is a different sound, or background, or filter for the whole piece. there are bass sounds, synth sounds, melodic sounds, dissonant sounds, buzzing sounds, just your general sound palette that you might find on many a BRIAN ENO album.
in other words, sonic heaven in an app. the app reveals itself to you slowly, so, you start with a few instruments, a few backgrounds, a few filters. as you make and save more scapes, the app then present new tools to you, which you can then use to create “scapes” with new sounds in them, or, use them in conjunction with the older sounds that you are already familiar with. OK, yes, it is very, very simple, but, once you work with it for a while, at least, for me, I began to approach working with it more compositionally. sometimes, I would draw scenes, you know, mountains and clouds and bushes just to see what a “painting” would sound like. then, I began trying symmetry, then, asymmetry – to see what results that brought.
later on, I tried minimalism – just one background, say, and no instruments. I also developed certain techniques of my own, my favourite of which, was to create a scape I liked with one filter, and then copy it over to the next “slot” and change just the filter, then do it again, so I would have the orange version, and the green version and the blue version – the same basic “scape” – but through completely different filters. I would often record these one after the other, and it’s truly interesting to hear the differences between the filters (those being the tools on the right hand side of the palette, that seem to control what is done to the whole piece, so I call them “filters” – and that’s another wonderful thing about scape, there is no standard terminology, therefore, everyone calls the objects by different names! which is fantastic, I think. awesome.
working with “scape”, for the three or four months that I did, was a remarkable time. to have produced 1100 “scapes”, I would never have dreamed of – but, that is what I did – and I was quietly amazed, privately amazed, at how incredibly complex and wonderful some of the later creations became, when there were perhaps, double the tools that you start out with – when you have, finally, the full selection of tools, and there are, no more new tools – then, you can combine things in amazing combinations of the old and the new, the new, the middle period, and the earliest – whatever your heart desires. want dissonance? bring in one of the “crosses” – they all sound horrible! wonderfully horrible. want a nice sounding scape? use a lot of the “letter shapes” “E” “H” “I” etc., the yellow melodic shapes, and use the green or dark pink backgrounds. green is the nicest background of all. dark pink, a wonderful second. some of the other backgrounds are a bit more active, including some quite “jittery” ones, so it really does make a difference which background you run your “scapes” through.
but that is all getting a bit into the history, I wanted to recount to you the events that lead up to this sudden re-surgence.
at the time I began working with scape, in late, 2012, I had a decent enough home studio. I worked out a reasonable way to record a scape, and to this day, that is the single-most asked question that I get “Dave, how do you record the scapes”? It wasn’t easy to figure out. But it wasn’t hard, either!
I later on learned, that Eno and Chilvers intentionally didn’t leave a method for scape to be recorded (which also explains why it’s one of the few apps that is NOT Audiobus-compatible) – in fact, I learned, they didn’t mean for people to even “keep” “scapes” – but of course, many of us crazy musicians, wanted to keep them anyway. I don’t want to let Brian and Peter down here, and I always feel like I have disappointed them, by not just enjoying the “scapes”, and then throwing them away – but I will tell you know, why I can’t do that. Because they are so incredibly beautiful.
It’s that simple. These scapes are such unique, precious pieces of music, and to me, they are amazing in so many ways, because of the high, high quality of the samples, because of the brilliance of sample selection, because of the genius programming of the app – I could go on. No matter what – it boils down to this – even the strangest, most dissonant of “scapes” – is a unique thing of beauty. For a very, very intense several months, I experienced from one to several of these amazingly lovely songs almost every single day. And I was mesmerised. I wanted people to HEAR this beautiful music, to hear what I had heard, to be able to experience my four month trip with “Scape”, for themselves.
I set out boldly, to record and upload as many “scapes” as I could. at the time, that turned out to be just 41. at first, I made videos for each one. very quickly, as I reached the 800s or something, I realised, I was not going to be able to make 850 videos. I really enjoyed making those videos, and I used the single screen shot of the art for each scape, as the starting point of each video. So then I worked on audio only, but I soon ran into space issues, I didn’t really have the set up or the disk space, to record unlimited numbers of “scapes”.
Until 2015, that is.
Now, with larger, faster, better hard drives, a much better client, SONAR X3, and a good, fast system – I can record scapes en masse.
I hadn’t really thought about it, but for some reason, a few weeks ago, I started to think – I would really, really like to recover, and record properly, the “rest” of the 1100 “scapes” that I had recorded all on my first decent ipad, an ipad 2. so one evening, I set up a 24 track session, recording 24 bit 48K audio, and began recording.
It takes time; “scapes” run anywhere from 3 to 4 t0 close to 9 minutes, and what I tend to do is, the moment I get in, I set up the session, and start recording, while I am going about other business. and when I can, I stop by, stop a recording, and start the next recording.
Every few weeks, I sit down, and trim, master and produce the tracks, and then, as time permits, I upload them to the dave stafford “music for apps: scape – an eternal album” eternal album. I recently uploaded a handful of these “newly recorded old scapes”, and I think it’s lovely to finally, be able to hear the work I was doing in 2012 / 2013, now, in 2015 – it’s about time.
Over the next several weeks and probably months, I will continue to upload as many of these as I can master, and if we are all lucky, I will actually make it to the end this time – maybe. We shall see…
If I can stay the course, and, to be honest, I do not know at this point, if I can – then, eventually, I should think, maybe I might actually “finish” the job. I would love that, because if I actually could finish – well, two things would come out of that: you would get to hear a thousand plus scapes done at all different stages of app “growth”, from simple to more complex to most complex and back again, and, I would be free, after discharging my duty to myself to complete the work I began, I would be free to make NEW “scapes” in real time, in 2015, to add to the collection.
And I think that might be the most interesting thing of all – to start all over, and go through the process again, and see what happens “this time around”.
But right now, well, it’s early days yet – at this moment, I am recording “scape” 138, which is an impossible construction that has 18 bass players and 13 yellow letter melodic events – and it’s a cacophonous mess, but oh, so incredibly unique! some of the scapes I’ve heard over the past couple weeks of recording, have blown me away – they are either so strange, so weird, so unique, so powerful, but often, just so, so intensely beautiful, usually in an ambient way, but sometimes, in a fairly active way, too. This particular scape is ever so slightly overloaded, and I know the app has protection against this (if you reach the max number of instruments, it begins to remove the earliest instrument as you add the latest) but I actually managed to create a “bass overload” in this case, one of the few times where I beat the system – my poor JBL monitors are baffled because they have never had 18 eno or chilvers fretless bass riffs all starting within microseconds of each other, and it’s overwhelming for the poor speakers!
but it’s an utterly unique “scape”, and I can’t wait to see if I can even make a usable master with that much bass content…we shall see, that one will be a test of my skill, it truly will. terrifying bass overload! power, power, power – and you just don’t expect a piece like this, it’s truly out there, but – ANYTHING can, and does happen, when you are “scaping” – trust me. I’ve been there. what an incredibly strange piece of music, which is now receding gracefully into the land of fade out…
so for the past two weeks and a few days, I’ve been hearing “scapes” again for the first time really, since 2013, when I actually uploaded the 39 existing scapes many months after they had been recorded in late 2012 and early 2013 – the scapes came before the bandcamp pages did. but now we are somewhat caught up, we can now return to this arena, and see what we can see, or – hear what we can hear, rather.
I’d like to talk for a moment, though, about the visual aspect of “scapes”, which isn’t something that many folk speak about, for me, when I was heavily into this process, how I constructed a “scape” visually was very much an art, I tried to use the skills I had as a musician, to “compose” my “scapes”, and I was particularly enamoured of using symmetry, or putting instruments in long, diagonal rows (as in the next “scape”, “scape” 140, that I am working on now… see below). I just wanted to say, you can follow what is happening in the music, by looking at the image of each “scape”. In the early days, you can see that I drew nice little scenes, trying to make art, and trying to make that art into music, and, it worked, to a degree, and then, as more object become available, you can “see” the “scapes” getting more complex, you can see my experiments with symmetry, and as you identify the various instruments, you will learn, just like I did, what causes what. a square turned to have it’s corner pointing up, is a bass instrument of some kind – several different kinds, from normal bass guitars to fretless guitars, to some longer fretless phrases, and so on. so you will be able to “see” in “scape” 138 and in “scape” 140, where I have lined up a whole series of basses into a long, diagonal line – and the resulting chaos that this approach brings.
I am now onto scape 140, which is apparently, another “bass overload” test, this time, with 13 bassists, two melodic events, and one descending arrow complex synth event. the cascading bass players are just amazing, a single, slinky, throbbing, ever changing bass note, made up of 13 horribly overlapping notes, grinds across the musical landscape, while bell-like melodic tones appear and disappear randomly in the background…it’s madness once again, but a beautiful, mental landscape.
Carrying on with the discussion of the visual aspect, you would then be able to see, and hear, for example, in scape 141, that there is only ONE bass part, which plays occasionally, and the three melodic letter shape instruments carry this tune instead of the basses as in 140.
Scape 141 is fairly minimalistic, but there are others even more so, so when you run across a truly minimalistic scape, it will be obvious, again, from the “track” image I upload, which is actually, the map or the “artwork” that created the sound of that scape – you will see an empty workspace, with just a speckled background – that is literally, just a background, with no instruments, so you end up with a very, very ambient, minimal piece. So if you look at each piece of art, that comes along with each uploaded scape, you will be able to literally “see”, the journey I took, see the paintings I made, to produce the sound you are hearing.
That means, that when I get to one of my “filter series” – where I take the same “scape”, and run it through five or six or nearer to the end, perhaps seven different “filters” – the exact same painting, except the filter is a different colour, and you will see that – first the pink, then the green, then the grey, then the orange, and so on – until I’ve run that one “scape” through every possible filter. you will also be able to HEAR the differences, and realise, that green filter makes one sound, while pink filter, makes a different sound, while orange filter, maybe, is a delay or whatever. you get to know them, and you get to know what they will do “to a piece”, and this is the best test of all – try the same song, through each one of the various filters, and see what happens then…
Another kind of series, involves using the same “background” on different filters, or, different backgrounds against one type of filter. The combinations, and the possibilities, are actually, almost limitless, they really are.
So for me, the fact that a visible artefact, a “painting” that I did – that’s actually, a huge bonus, and this is why: I sometimes struggle to describe music with words, but, describing it with a piece of artwork comes pretty naturally to me, so I love the fact that if someone asks me, “hey, how did you make “scape” 844, anyway?” my answer is right there and I can say – have a look at the track art for the piece, that is the actual piece of art I made, which creates the sound of “scape” 844…that uploaded track art, IS the answer to the question “how was this track made”? – answer – “this is what I drew, in “Scape”, to get that sound that you are hearing…”.
Additionally, if you really, for example, fell in love with a beautiful, ambient “scape” that I have made (something I do regularly) there is nothing on earth stopping you from buying “Scape”, the app, looking at the track art that I used to create the beautiful, ambient scape, and then, recreating it in your “Scape”, on your own ipad – by mimicking what I did in my “painting”. I am sure that as long as you got it close, that it would end up sounding very, very similar to my version – very similar indeed, but not identical. Very close.
At the same time, if you like my unattractive, sonically bizarre and / or dissonant “scapes”, you can easily “see” the tools selected to get that sound – and in no time, you will be able to control what “Scape” does, in the same way that “I” control it – although “control” is a dubious word – you will be able to do similar things, if you copy the art in my track art, the uploaded artwork for my “scapes”. Or if you like my super minimalistic “scapes” – you can easily re-create those, as they are very simple to make!
A whole lotta nothing. But sometimes, small input means big output, in terms of beauty. Some “scapes” are not particularly beautiful, but then, they may have other charms that appeal to other senses, so it’s not a requirement that they BE beautiful. A constantly ringing bell might actually remind one a bit too much of that early morning alarm, and when you have several of these admittedly, more melodic alarm clocks going off at once, it can be a bit overwhelming. But – still beautiful in it’s own way, in the way the bells land within the composition, how they fit together, and so on. Scape 145 is a perfect example of that, it’s all bells all the time, ringing incessantly, but – there is still something about it that I really like, a freshness, a randomness, and sometimes, those bells hit some nice accidental harmonies. then, they start to fade away…only, it’s a false alarm (get it?) and then they are back, ringing like mad again…over and over, you think the piece is about to end, and it’s not – it’s just wonderful repetition, and scape always does whatever I don’t expect it to – it’s full of surprises. you just never quite know what you are going to get, but, I can guarantee one thing – it will ALWAYS be interesting! always.
I don’t know exactly how many “scapes” I have recorded over the past couple of weeks, in this new burst of scape activity for 2015, but I do know one thing, I’ve been astonished at the quality, the variety, the different moods, the different techniques, the different results, that this remarkable tool can produce, and while I’ve maybe heard something like a hundred scapes, in two weeks or so – and there has been such an intense variety of music, from the most ambient to the most incredibly overbearing to the most powerful to the most jarring to the most fantastic of melodic, beautiful, ambient composition – it’s really just an amazing success, and it proves that generative music is here to stay, it proves too, that the inventor of ambient, is also, one of the master practitioners of ambient – because, decades have passed since those groundbreaking Eno ambient records – Discreet Music, Music For Airports, Thursday Afternoon, Neroli (to name but four of my favourite Eno titles) and there it was, 2012, and out comes “Scape” – which to my ears, SOUNDED like Discreet Music, Music For Airports, Thursday Afternoon, and Neroli all rolled into one beautiful set of ambient samples, and each “scape” I created, sounded like a new track from a new, unpublished Eno album – priceless, beautiful, unique.
To add gravitas to my words, I am now recording “scape 146”. which features what was then, the “new” filter, a very squelchy filter, so this scape, which is bells playing in waves, over this amazing distorted, squelchy backing – is like alien music from the future, I’ve never heard anything quite like it, and it’s a remarkable and unique composition – generated by this app, based on my instructions – but, guided, ever guided by the ambient hearts and minds of mssrs. Eno and Chilvers – what an amazing juxtaposition of sound sources, I can’t explain it in words, but when you eventually hear “scape 146” – you will know exactly what I am talking about…
I really do hope that I can make it through all thousand plus recordings, for one thing, after a two year absence, it’s really, really been interesting to “re-live” my intensive several-months long experience, but without the intensity of actually creating, hearing it at leisure, as I record it two years later – it’s a very, very nice feeling indeed, it truly is. If you don’t own the scape application, I would heartily recommend it to you now, and I would also recommend – don’t cheat, don’t do what some people do, which is find out how to expose all of the tools at once, and begin using the maximum toolset from the beginning. I strongly urge you instead, to do what I did, to discover the app in the same way I did, one new tool at a time, this gives you a chance to get used to each type of tool, gives you time to play with each type of tool, and then, you recall better too, what each one does, whereas if you start with the whole lot exposed – which is an option – then, you lose the fun and the excitement of being presented with new tools periodically, and you also lose the experience that Eno and Chilvers wanted for you – they felt that the full toolset was too much to start out with, that learning “Scape” in the “slow learn” mode was the best way to learn the toolsets thoroughly, and give you the best, least overwhelming user experience – so I strongly recommend doing it that way.
I can’t imagine doing it the other way, it just doesn’t feel right to me, I guess I am more patient than some, and I’d rather get new tools every few days, along with the lovely, lovely written suggestions, which are of course, modified oblique strategies – I found those suggestions to be gold, and I did indeed, try many of them out, exactly when and how they suggested that I do – and I was always very, very pleased with the results. the tips are good, they are good ideas, and I suggest paying heed to them as you are able to – it makes for an even more enriching experience.
I personally, though, doubt you could have a “bad” experience with “Scape” – because it’s a good tool ! You can’t really go wrong. I think it’s well designed, and if you start slow and build up your instrument library as suggested, you will learn what each tool does, what each instrument does, what each background sounds like, what each filter sounds like – and you can then, tailor your “scapes” to use all of the backgrounds, instruments and filters that you love the most! I think that is brilliant. It’s almost easy to forget, too, that this is a generative instrument, one of the first of it’s kind, a very different generative instrument compared to something like “Mixtikl”, which gives you perhaps, too much choice, whereas, “Scape” limits your choices somewhat, but there is so much scope for inventiveness, and the generative programming is far superior to anything previously seen – so that scape can create music so complex, so unique, that almost no other generative instrument can compete.
Many months after I finished my first go-round with “Scape”, and, after I’d had time with “Mixtikl” and “Drone FX” respectively, I wavered a bit on what generative app I love the most. In “Mixtikl”, I created 61 quite complex utterly customised pieces of music over a several month period, which I think stacked up comparably to the much more prolific 1000 plus that I did with scape in the period previous to that one. At the time, I slightly favoured “Mixtikl” over “Scape”, but in hindsight, I would have to say, “Mixtikl” requires some knowledge of mixing at least, and music, preferably, while “Scape” requires neither. All “Scape” requires is that you can draw a picture with shapes, and backgrounds, and filters – and just about anyone can do that. The other requirement is that you listen…
So for ease of use, for amazing programming, for the most amazing samples, and for the overall best generative app, after hearing just the first hundred or so of the 1000 plus “scapes” I have recorded – I absolutely would say that “Scape” is the “better” app, although, having said that, they are BOTH utterly remarkable and amazing, and on some levels, I don’t really think comparing them is truly fair – I love them both, I will hope to make more music with both as time goes on, and, once I put right the “wrong” of not releasing these scapes, then we can see where we are with ambient apps, and where we are with generative apps, and indeed, where we are with ambient, generative apps…and, really, who knows what the future may hold???
I certainly do not !
the ios universe of applications…is heaven for synthesists and musicians alike. as a guitarist, I appreciate guitar applications, but my passion is collecting synthesizers…also, real synthesizers were always big ticket items, and I couldn’t afford the nice ones.
pre-ios, I had a limited number of hardware and software synths, and the soft synths mostly had to be run inside my DAW, or in some cases, as a standalone application on the PC, but still, I had no access to an almost limitless array of synthesizers – and now, with ios and the amazing developers who populate it, I have more choice than I can deal with!!
or, how it all started…
imagine if you will, then, a guitarist who has been working on music for many, many years, and during that time, dabbled in synthesizers – in the early days, I had an arp odyssey (a mark I, no less!), surely one of the most difficult to tune synths of all time; I had a wonderful serge modular system, and to my everlasting horror, I foolishly sold them off many years ago…
then, by chance almost, I picked up a couple of classic yamaha hardware synths: a dx7s, and a dx11s, and the dx7 saw service in the live set up of the band bindlestiff, where I played synth on stage as well as ambient loop ebow guitar – and my partner played a korg, so that was a great contrast of two fantastic synths – and if you listen to some of the pieces we did with that combination, yamaha and korg, such as “the wall of ninths” or “pacific gravity” you can hear what two classic synths can do in live performance.
so – during the first thirty five or forty years of my career, I owned at most, five hardware synths, and now, I am down to three – and that was it. then came pro tools and sonar and soft synths in general, and I have a reasonable selection of those, which made recording much easier – in particular, having a decent grand piano, “true pianos”, was very useful, and I’ve used “true pianos” for a lot of projects, from my own songs to covers of peter hammill and van der graaf generator. I picked up the wonderful “m-tron pro” mellotron software, which inspired one of my best solo albums, “sky full of stars”, and I also have “BFD2” a dedicated drum program, which allowed me to have professional sounding drum tracks when making the rock / prog / ambient album “gone native” – and if you take your time with it, you can make really great drum tracks with, such as this one, “wettonizer”, from the “gone native” record.
LEARNING SYNTHESIS, ARPEGGIATORS & SEQUENCING
having owned such a limited range of hardware synths, I never really got the chance to expand my knowledge of synthesis by owning and playing a variety of synths, and I certainly never would have been able to afford most of the desirable synths (I remember playing a korg M1 when they came out, and just practically drooling with desire – but I simply could not afford it) – so I never bought a modern synth. I do love my yamaha dx7s, as eno has noted, it has a few really great sounds, it does certain things very, very well, and there’s nothing quite like it.
but overall, besides a modest collection of standalone and DAW-based soft synths, I really felt like I didn’t have much chance to understand, for example, the differences between additive synthesis and subtractive synthesis, I never really felt like I totally understood the magical relationships between oscillators, filters, modulators, and amplifiers, because I didn’t have examples of the many, many various hardware devices with their wildly differing approaches to synthesis. arpeggiators and sequencers were largely mysterious to me, but after working with the fairlight app (now called peter vogel cmi) for a year or so, I really “got” how sequencers work – which then meant I could use them with better clarity in many, many other synths that feature them.
then came ios. the apple platform, and, when you look at what is available for music – well, that’s what made me decide which tablet to get, when I saw what I could get on ios, at the time, compared to the relatively modest selection of apps on android – it seemed a no-brainer. I realise that over time, android is catching up, but I still don’t know if they will ever match the range, scope and incredible diversity of synths and near-synths that the apple store boasts – it’s astonishing what is available, and it’s astonishing that you can buy a massive collection of the world’s best synthesizers for a fraction of what the hardware versions cost – a tiny, tiny fraction.
FIRST GENERATION SYNTHS & THE FAIRLIGHT
so I went for the ipad/ios combination (despite not being a huge fan of apple in general!) and it was the wisest choice I ever made. within minutes, I was beginning to collect that massive set of synths that I could never in a million years have afforded in the hardware world – I started out by buying something that would have normally cost me about 20 grand, the great 80s sampler, the fairlight – and I spent about a year and a half, learning how to build sequences the slow way – and it was a fabulous learning experience, and I came to understand how the fairlight works, and how to arrange the instruments into sets, and create music in a way I never had done before (step by step) – quite inspiring, and very educational – and as I said, I could then transfer my new sequencing skills, to many, many other devices that support sequencing and sequences.
MOOGS & KORGS – GREAT EMULATIONS
another early purchase was moog’s “animoog”, and even now, when I have more app synths than I know what to do with, I am constantly returning to this synth, with it’s ever-expanding library of great sounds. the korg “iMS-20” soon followed, and that was probably the synth that I truly started to learn from, because it’s so visceral, and so visual, with it’s bright yellow cables in the patch bay, and it’s utterly faithful graphics… the first generation synthesizers that were first available on ios were already excellent, emulating hardware synths that would have cost me thousands, now mine just for a few quid on ios. unbelievable – because I never would have owned any of those in my real life, because the hardware versions are so incredibly expensive – well beyond my means. for example – the fairlight cost about ten thousand dollars more than my annual salary the year it came out. now – it’s mine for a pittance…
AND ARTURIA TOO…
other early device purchases were my beloved “addictive synth”, the very, very capable “n log pro” – a great sounding little device; “mini synth pro”, and another real favourite, the arturia “imini” – a mini-moog style synth on an ipad !!
between arturia’s “imini” and moog’s “animoog”, I was set to go for that style of synth. also, synths like the great bismarck “bs-161”, the very capable “sunrizer”, “cassini”, the amazing “alchemy” synth; the list goes on and on and on….
TOUCH CONTROL – THE REMARKABLE TC-11 SYNTH
then you get unique and amazing synthesizers like the touch control “tc-11” synthesizer, which takes real advantage of the ipad’s large screen, and delivers a synthesizer-playing experience that is unmatchable – you place your hand or hands on the screen, and by moving your fingers and hands in various ways, you “play” the synth – there’s no keyboard, but this shows you that you don’t necessarily need a keyboard to make beautiful synthesizer music (something I’d learned once before, when I got my first korg kaossilator – amazing hardware device!) – and you can produce truly beautiful music using a non-traditional interface like this – “tc-11” is simply, one of the highest quality, most remarkable devices that’s ever appeared on iosios – I absolutely love it. one of my very favourites, I do like synths that don’t have keyboards, but out of all of them, this is the most fun, and most creative, to work with and use to produce startlingly different synth music, often of great beauty – the remarkable “tc-11”.
SECOND GENERATION AND MISCELLANEOUS SYNTHS:
very quickly, I became a true collector of synth applications, and guitar applications, too – but it’s those synths that I keep going back to – and now, the second generation of application-based synthesizers are here, and they are beyond fantastic, with features and sounds that are incredibly complex, mature and amazing: the mighty “thor”; the incredible “nave”, “magellan”, the korg “ipolysix”, arturia’s amazing “isem” – the list just goes on and on and on.
the “dxi”, “epic synth” (1980s style synth), “launchkey” plus “launchpad”, “modular” (similar to my lost serge system, but reliant on in-app purchases to make it truly useful), “performance synth”, “sample tank” (the free version only so far), “spacelab”, “synth”, “synthophone”, “xenon”, “xmod”, and “zmors synth”….the list goes on still…
then there were the generatives…mostly ambient in nature, and therefore, extremely well suited to the type of music that I generally make, so I happily adopted and became an adherent of “scape”, “mixtikl”, “drone fx”, circuli and so on…I worked with and continue to work with generative synthesis, which is a fascinating branch of synthesis, with it’s own quirks and interesting ways of working. mixtikl in particular holds my interest very well, sure, anyone can make sounds on it, but if you get into it deeply, you really have an enormous amount of control of how it generates the finished product…which is endlessly changing, never the same, constantly mutating according to the rules and conditions that you control…
“scape” is just purely beautiful, the sounds, courtesy of brian eno and peter chilvers, are simply top-notch, and using art works to create your generative pieces is a stroke of genius – and it’s very simple, just…drag geometric and other shapes onto a canvas, and see and hear your generative piece grow. more recently, I’ve picked up “drone fx”, which to my mind, is very nearly in the same class as “scape” and “mixtikl” given that you can set it up to create generative pieces, and the results are excellent – it’s a very ambient flavour, which suits me just fine, so I am very happy to add “drone fx” to my arsenal of generative music applications!
then there is “noatikl” (obviously, a spin-off or product related to the great “mixtikl”) – I don’t have much experience with this tool, I would call it a “sound design”-based generative music app, where you create loop-like pieces by connecting different sound generating nodes together – it’s quite odd, but it makes lovely music, and I hope to learn more about it and gain some skill in using it in the future.
THE LAND OF AMBIENT
this category includes most of the generatives, so please see “GENERATIVE DEVICES” above, for details on “scape”, “mixtikl”, “noatikl”, “drone fx”, and “circuli”. there are other really, truly important synths in this category, in particular, the brian eno-designed “bloom”, which was the predecessor to “scape” – “bloom” is a generative player, you select wonderfully named style and “bloom” then creates them on a grand piano for you – it’s really lovely, I can sit and listen to it for hours.
then there is another from the “mixtikl” family, the lovely ambient music player “tiklbox” – this one is really simple, it has a die in the middle, and you roll the die, and it then randomly selects or creates a piece of music based on the number you roll. It’s mostly very pleasant, I like the music it makes, but there is very little user interaction possible, you just turn it on, roll the die, and…listen. but – that’s cool, too.
then you have the slightly strange synths, two more in the semi-ambient category being “circuli”, which is literally, circles that grow and collide, and those collisions produce music, and the somewhat similar “musyc” that makes it’s music with bouncing objects – again, virtual objects collide to produce notes, chords or percussion sounds. “orphinio” presents varying sets of intersecting circles, each set to a different tuning or modality. both of these “shape-based” synths have truly great potential, but you have to be patient to get the kind of sounds you want out of them.
then there are the “grid” devices – visual sequencers with massive grids that scroll past, and you merely “click on” some of the buttons as they pass, and note events begin. one of the best of these is an old favourite of mine, “beatwave”, which I have used as a background for guitar improvs, because you can very quickly “build” a good quality backing track (it’s very similar to looping, really) and then just let it run, and solo over the top of it for live performance purposes. a similar and also very enjoyable device, “nodebeat HD”, works in a very similar way, and in fact, there are a good number of these “grid” types of synths out there, most of which sound very good.
MICROTONAL GRID SYNTHS
then…again…you have the static grid types, such as the classic “mugician” and “cantor”, which use a static grid that you play by putting your finger on the notes you want to play, and “cantor” in particular, has a great “auto octave” function which means that if you want to go up very high, you just swipe a big diagonal line upward – and the device leaps up through four or five octaves – and a reverse diagonal, takes you back down to the lower notes. “cantor” is more note based, although it does have microtonal attributes, you mostly use real notes, whereas “mugician” is totally and utterly microtonal, you can “hit” notes, but it’s more about being able to play in a microtonal fashion – something that takes practice to get good at.
early on, I used “mugician” to play microtonal indian-style melodies over the remarkable “itabla pro” (one of my very, very favourite music apps of all time – I could write an entire blog about “itabla pro”; how good it is; and how much I LOVE it!) and that was great fun – it works really well as a lead instrument in that kind of musical situation.
slightly different in design to the “mugicians” and “cantors” (which while sounding very different, do have very similar interfaces visually at least) is the most excellent “sound prism pro” which features it’s own unique grid design, that is similar but different from the other two apps mentioned. “sound prism pro” has it’s own unique musical vocabulary, and is a bit more melodic / harmonic, whereas “mugician” and “cantor” are essentially solo instruments – melody only.
then there is the “vocal section”, which on my pad, share a special page with my audio utilities – in this category, we have some great tools for creating vocal harmonies and effects: “harmony voice”, “improvox”, “vio” and “voice synth” – each boasting it’s own slightly different way of achieving vocal harmonies – some very innovative and good sounding tools in this category, a lot of fun to sing into, too.
RECORDING STUDIOS – AUDIO, MIDI, HYBRID
just outside of the land of synthesizers, there are also a broad spectrum of recording studio applications, such as “auria” (professional audio multitrack studio), “cubasis” – professional AUDIO + MIDI studio, “nanostudio” one of the oldest and most respected MIDI studios, and a personal favourite (and it does qualify, because it has a synth in it – a GREAT synth, called “eden synth”, which I absolutely love), “isequence”, “isynpoly” and “synergy studio”, midi studios all; and the unique yamaha “synth and drum pad” which is a bit different from the rest and is a lot of fun to experiment with – some unique sounds there, too.
the most recent entrant to this category is korg’s groundbreaking “gadget” – an incredible studio with fifteen unique korg synthesizers, bass synths and drum synths (yes, fifteen) that you can combine in endless variations to produce some amazing music. I’m currently working on my first three pieces with gadget – and of course, I feel another eternal album coming on…
on the same page as the studios, I also have a couple of standalone arpeggiators, “arpeggiognome pro” and “arpeggio”, which are very useful for driving your other synths, and unusual apps like “lemur”, which I purchased at half price for future development projects.
DIY SAMPLE PLAYERS – NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY
I also have a few of what I term “idiot synths” (no offense to anyone) because you need know absolutely nothing to run them, they are really just sample players with controls to modify many samples running in parallel. the “groove maker” series are really quite good, I love the “groove maker rock” version especially. I also have “session band rock” which is similar, I’ve made a couple of nice “metal” backing tracks with “session band” – the “rock” version, of course!
PIANOS, ELECTRIC PIANOS, ORGANS, MELLOTRONS
then there is the more traditional section of keyboards, which features a variety of grand pianos, regular pianos, upright pianos, electric pianos (“iGrandPiano”, “iElectric Piano”, “EPS”, mellotrons, and a couple of really, really great emulations of organs – “galileo”, “organ+”, and “pocket organ c3b3” – I love all three of these! I am really pleased in particular to have the organs available, and the work that’s gone into them, right down to the quality of that leslie speaker emulation – I love the “slow to fast” sound and vice versa, and all of these do a good job of that. the sounds are simply beautiful, and, they are a lot smaller, lighter, and cheaper than real organs 🙂
DRUMS & BASS – AND PERCUSSION, TOO
this section of my ipad has really expanded of late, and there are a lot of great apps available for very little cost. starting with the basses; we have a large variety of very innovative and interesting-sounding devices, from oddities like “amen break” to more practical devices such as “bass drop hd” and”bassline”. the drums section, by comparison, is massive – old faithful “korg ielectribe”, “dm-1”, “drumatron”, “easybeats”, the unique “impaktor” (which makes a drum kit out of any ordinary surface), propellerhead’s quintessential “rebirth” which of course, handles bass and drums, and is enormous fun just to play…”synth drum”, “virtual drums”, and a million other drum kits and machines too numerous to mention…
my absolute, all time favourite drum app, however, is not any ordinary drum machine or drum kit, rather, it’s the extraordinary “itabla pro” – one of the most excellent applications I own. full on tabla samples, with several playing styles for each template; and an extremely large range of templates in all time signatures, it’s as much an education as it is a drummer. also featuring tanpura and other supporting instruments, it has two completely tunable tanpuras, the tablas and the two tanpuras are all tuneable within an inch of their life, and it makes outstanding music for interacting with other ipad instruments. I’ve been working for some time using synthesizers with “itabla pro” as accompaniment, and it works equally well with microtonal synths such as “mugician”, as well as ordinary “western” synths such as animoog – on my ipad right now, I am working on a new piece that features two animoog solo melodies over a tanpura and tabla backing – and it’s sounding very, very good so far.
notably, while not a percussion instrument, there is also an excellent free app, called “samvada” that does tanpura only, it’s beautifully made, sounds great, and is excellent for use either in conjunction with “itabla pro”; or, for situations where you want a tanpura drone but you don’t need tablas. sometimes, I just gang up the tanpuras on “itabla pro” with “samvada”, for the ultimate in rich, deep drones – fantastic.
ODDS AND SODS SYNTHS
other oddities include “tabletop” which is a sort of…table top, where you can arrange midi synths and drum modules to make music with, with a lot of in-app purchases if you want the really nice tools. it is possible to make decent music with the free supplied tools, but it is limited unless you are willing to spend a lot on IAPs.
there are so many in this “category” that I cannot possibly list them all: “76 synthesizer”, “moog filtatron”, “catalyst”, “cascadr”, “dr. om”, “noisemusick”, “figure”, “lasertron ultimate”, “samplr”, the list just goes on and on and on…
and as time passes, more and more synthesizers will arrive on ios, each more powerful than the last, it just seems like a never-ending process, there are so many excellent developers out there, as well as such a hunger from musicians (myself included, I am not ashamed to admit) for these synths – especially the vintage ones, the ones that emulate the classic keyboards that we all lusted after, but most of us simply could never afford. ios, and the availability of cheap synth apps – gives us what we could never, ever have in the real world.
armed with this vast array of synthesizing power, I feel like there is no sound that I can’t make, and no requirement I can’t meet – if I need a sound for a project I am building on my ipad – I will, absolutely will, already have a synth – or two – that can make that sound.
I am utterly in my element here, I hope the synths never stop arriving, and as long as developers keep creating them, I will absolutely, absolutely – keep playing them. rock on.
I will leave guitar applications for another day – suffice to say, they are equally diverse and fascinating, and several of them are putting serious challenges to existing stomp box and other guitar processing hardware items. I love my guitar apps, and it’s a whole new world of guitar playing – instead of my traditional set up; instead, I have a guitar to ipad to sound card set up – and I can get a whole world of excellent tone just using ios ipad guitar applications…
in the meantime, synthesists unite, and developers, please do not stop working on new and better and more innovative synthesizer apps. something needs to feed this addiction, and that’s truly what it has become – but in the best possible way, and I get so much enjoyment, hours and hours and hours of enjoyment, from just playing the various synths, to making various recordings using them – it’s created an entirely new application-based world of music that I did not realise I had in myself – and it’s an absolute joy to play these innovative instruments, and to try out new combinations of devices either by using them in a multi-track environment such as “auria”, or, for simpler set ups, the very practical “audiobus” (another game-changing device) and now, we have the new inter-app audio as well, so options for tying synths together via MIDI, or for triggering other devices from within one device, just grow and grow – it is truly amazing. I feel truly blessed to live in such times, technology at work for good, for the sake of sound, and the sound quality of most of these apps far exceeds expectations.
for that, and for the massive number of free, inexpensive or even expensive synthesizer applications, I am truly grateful, and truly happy, that these exist for me to collect 🙂
today I want specifically to talk about perception, in this case, my own perception of the music that I create, and some observations I’ve made regarding this.
first off, I’d like to suggest that I think all musicians may experience what I am about to describe, namely, that feeling, while you are playing, performing with, or recording your instrument(s), that what you are playing is possibly:
a) not as good as it should be
b) not “right”
c) going horribly wrong, but you carry on anyway
d) is a “disaster in the making”, but you carry on anyway
e) sometimes, that bad feeling is so strong, that you actually abort the take (or worse still, stop the performance!)
I don’t know about you, but all of the above has happened to me; most of them, many, many times. blessedly, the last one, not too often 🙂
but, based on some listening and performance experiences of my own, I would like to suggest that if we are feeling this way when we play, that we are maybe doing ourselves (and therefore, our music) a huge disservice.
a case in point, is a track I recently mixed, that I had recorded live in the studio on september 30, 2012, entitled “into the unknown”. this track, a lengthy improvised piece (an 11:48 scape and energy bow guitar duet), is the perfect example of what I am talking about here, in that, while I was recording it, I really didn’t think it was going well at all.
I had concerns about the tuning of my guitar; concerns about the ambient guitar parts I was playing; and concerns about the solos I played. those concerns stayed in my mind, from the day I recorded it, september 30, 2012 – until february 10, 2013, when I finally sat down to mix the track!! all that time – I held a very, very negative view of this improv in my mind – I was pretty sure it was not going to be a good experience to hear or mix it.
how very, very wrong I was (thankfully).
much to my amazement, when I mixed “into the unknown” – while it wasn’t perfect – to my everlasting astonishment – it’s actually a very, very beautiful and good track, with nothing particularly “wrong” about it !!!!
but, at least for me, as it so, so often does – my “self-criticising circuit” just kicked in automatically, every tiny imperfection I perceived as I played it, magnified a million times, until I was sure it would be a waste of time come mix time – and boy, was I ever wrong – it’s a gem, and I am now very excited about this track – I really enjoyed creating and publishing the video of it, because it’s a unique and unusual scape and guitar synthesizer duet – a very, very unusual, (and quite lovely, too), piece of music indeed.
surprise number one: when I sat down to mix the track, the first thing that struck me was how very beautiful the underlying “scape” was, and that meant immediately, that 50 percent of the track is automatically “good” and beautiful, too.
surprise number 2: the other 50%, which is what I “live looped” and played live with the guitar synth – OK, some of it required a little work, I did have to “treat” a couple of the guitar synth solos to make them sound better – but mostly, there was nothing much to do, except trim the track, add a tiny bit of reverb overall, and master and produce it.
and with fresh eyes and fresh ears, that nasty (mental) list of problems and complaints, looks slightly different using my february 9th, 2013 “ears” – I’d say that list should really have read this way:
a) song is better than I thought – much better
b) it’s very right – the scape is great – the guitar synth is good – the solos are acceptable
c) it was going well, and I was right to carry on – a good decision
d) not disastrous at all, and I was right to carry on – a good decision
e) luckily, I did NOT abort the take, because if I had, it would have been a tragedy – a travesty, as it would have meant throwing away a really, really interesting, utterly unique, and perfectly good piece of live music!
so this is how the perception can change, and of course, now, being aware of all this, I do make a serious effort to look more positively upon music I’ve recorded, because much of it is probably (but not necessarily!) much better than I initially think it is.
what I take away from this is at least twofold: one: I need some time, a significant amount of time, to pass, before I “pass judgement” on any of my recorded works, and two: I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.
another track, “escape from the death star” (a seven minute scape and ebow loop/live duet recorded on october 20, 2012) proves the same point – for a different reason. I had the usual mental list of “what is wrong with this track” – as above, but in this case, this track came from a truly disastrous session, where things really DID go wrong, and badly wrong, on the first fourteen of fifteen tracks recorded total (now THAT is a bad day in the studio!).
so, based solely on it’s presence within this “disaster session” (unfortunately, an accurate name for it) – I think I just assumed that this track would somehow be tainted by the failure of the other tracks, harshly judging it by the same criteria with which I rejected tracks 1 through 14 – which again, is a ridiculous assumption, and again, I was quite surprised on first playback, to find that it is a very intense, very powerful, ebow and scape loop – and, to be honest – it’s not bad at all!
once again, I placed a mentally “negative filter” over this piece, which was unfair and incorrect – needing to measure the piece based on it’s musical merit rather than it’s inclusion in a set of bad music. time seems to be what I need, hindsight I guess…that seems to be the main catalyst for me swapping my negative view for a much more positive one. I am hopeful though, that since I’ve written this article, and discovered these behaviours within myself, that I can be less negative at the time of recording, and shorten the time needed to achieve the correct and positive view of these improvised pieces of music.
now, I am not saying that you should automatically assume that every take you make is golden! you do have to be critical, and even ruthless, and remove takes that are less than inspiring, have substandard solos, or are too much like one another. I’ve never had too much trouble with that, although there have been occasions where I felt like I really had to publish many, many examples from one session, just because the quality was high overall, and the different takes reflected different aspects of the improvs that were important musically.
but that is a rarity; very few sessions produce a 50, 60, 70 percent, or higher, success ratio (for me, anyway) – most sessions end up with one or two very good takes at the most, a few decent takes, and several that are not taken further. very occasionally, 90 percent are good. very, very rarely, all of them have merit – very rarely indeed – but it has happened.
but otherwise, it’s actually the norm for me to record a dozen or more pieces of music, and then in the end, only publish perhaps three or four of them. sometimes, maybe just one or two…or in the case of “escape from the death star” – maybe even just one! depending on the session, it may also be that I might publish eight or nine out of 12 tracks, or 14 out of 20, or whatever makes sense to me from a strictly musical point of view. some days, you are fortunate, other days, not so fortunate.
as always, though, it’s about finding balance – finding the sweet spot between being fairly and justly critical, but not automatically assuming that everything you record is really, really incredible – just finding the right pieces, the ones that reflect well on you, that express your musical ideas well but not too overtly, regardless of if they are understated or “over the top”, the ones that represent “you” as composer, musician, performer – but, at the same time, trying not to be too critical on yourself, giving yourself some slack! give you a break… 🙂
now – I can just imagine you all scuttling back to look back at those tracks you recorded four months ago, six, seven months ago…desperately hoping that they have miraculously turned from bad to good while you were busy elsewhere – but you may be disappointed. or, you may find a hidden gem or two…
I just know that for me, I can often be very, very overcritical at first, especially at the time of recording, just after, and probably for a few weeks afterwards – but interestingly, as I found, after a few months, when you listen (with fresh ears), you may well find that you were too critical, and you have perfectly viable music sitting there just waiting for that final mix and master.
while we are on the subject of behaviours and perception, I’d like to mention another curious behaviour that I’ve noticed in myself recently, and I wonder if any of you have ever experienced this – it’s what I now call the “I don’t want to know” syndrome.
a very current and very real example of this is my current and ongoing relationship with a peter hammill song entitled “the siren song”. over the past several months, I’ve had several recording sessions devoted to this very, very difficult-to-play, difficult-to-sing track from “the quiet zone/the pleasure dome” album, by van der graaf, from 1977 – and I have struggled mightily to get a take that I am entirely happy with.
some of those sessions ended up yielding absolutely NO candidates (usually due to unrepairable and disastrous and horrific errors in my piano playing – it’s devilishly difficult to play!); others, perhaps, one or two at the most, and those with too many faults, although I will say, as the months marched on, my understanding of the song (and particularly, the piano parts) has grown immensely, and the last few sessions with it were far and away, the closest I had come to getting “a take”.
but here’s the interesting thing. I love this song; I am absolutely determined to capture a good quality version, completely live, at the piano, and, I have done a lot of work, both in learning the piano part much better than I ever knew it before, and in recording the track over and over and over and over again, slowly getting better at it in the process.
as you know, because I record so much music, using so many different instruments or apps, that there is always a backlog of songs that need to have their audio assessed and mixed. I did a couple of sessions for “the siren song” several months ago, that went quite well, and I was even wondering, just kind of wondering…if possibly, one of the takes in that very last session MIGHT be “the take”. but – I couldn’t face listening to them back, to find out if a good take was present.
eventually, after months of dread and procrastination I finally went and listened – and there it was. a good take!
however – for some reason – for a long time, I absolutely, steadfastly, and repeatedly, AVOIDED going back to listen to those last two “siren song” sessions! because…I didn’t want to know! I did not want to find out whether I “had a take” or not! what a strange thing to do, but for some unknown reason, I assessed the first few “the siren song” sessions, up to a certain point in time – and then, fully intending to carry on the next time I mixed – I just STOPPED – utterly inexplicably. I kept avoiding it, until eventually I had to face it – and much to my surprise, that good take I was looking for – was there…with very, very little wrong with it. a minor miracle, in my experience 🙂
instead of continuing the seemingly never-ending sessions devoted to capturing THIS song, and this song alone, I could then move on to other projects, and at last, let go of the seemingly endless search for that elusive “good take” of “the siren song”. 🙂
I think as musicians, we do sometimes do strange things with regards to the music we create, we are in denial about certain things, we hope that certain takes ARE takes when we know deep down, that they are NOT, conversely, as described in this blog, we thing takes are bad when they are really OK…and so on.
I was really hoping not to solve any great problem here, but just to draw attention to some of the psychological aspects of recording modern music (as opposed to the physical challenges, such as dealing with computers, MIDI, soft synths, DAWs, digital noises, pops and clicks, and so on…), but mostly, how very important indeed it is to give yourself a break, let music sit for a while before you judge it too soon or too harshly or both – and also, I think you will find that the passage of time gives you different ears with which to listen, and when you do find the time to listen, you will see – and hear, more importantly – the work you’ve done in a whole new light.
I noticed certain behaviours during the creation and mixing of these songs and recordings, and I wondered if any of you had had similar or identical experiences, or, if there are other behaviours not noted here, that you indulge in that you may wish to share with us all – if so, please feel free to fill in the “comments” below – we’d be very glad to hear from musicians and listeners alike as to any issues they find with “the perception of music”.
as always, we encourage you to participate, and we do want to hear your views on this blog, so please feel welcome to comment on this or any of the blogs, we’re always happy to discuss / dissect / deviate from topic / whatever it takes to communicate, learn and grow. I think this is a very real problem for many musicians, yet I can’t remember ever hearing anyone talk about it – so I decided that I had better say something! 🙂
being overcritical may be another symptom of OCD, which I do have a mild case of, but I don’t really believe that. I think it’s something basic in my personal make up, I tend to focus on “what’s wrong” with each piece of music, rather than celebrating “what’s right” and being kind to myself, and letting go of “what’s wrong”. so being aware of this – I can make changes, and start to view things more positively. I do try now, to give myself a buffer zone of time, a week or two, preferably more – and THEN go back and listen…and invariably, things sound better once they been around for a few weeks – strange but true.
of course, I WILL go and fix what is “wrong” – even if it takes a week to fix 30 seconds of music. [does this sound familiar to anyone ????? 🙂 :-)]
happy mixing and mastering to all!!
peace and love
i never dreamed i would think or say this:
there – I said it. sacrilege!
don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love scape; it consistently produces truly beautiful, unique, ambient music – but for a musician, it is an odd experience – you draw a picture, and music comes out. that’s amazing, and it sounds great, but I like to have more…control over what happens in a piece of music that I am creating.
all of the rules are hidden, and as far as how much control the operator actually has over the app – in scape? none, basically. but over in mixtikl…the operator has almost total control – maybe too much control!
I made scapes for months and months until I had over a thousand of them – and then one day, I just stopped. I will make more at some point – but I’ve never really had time to listen to the ones I’ve made, in the main…so I will do some listening, and eventually, go back to scaping – because it’s fun, it’s a fantastic app…but.
mixtikl…gives me control. and I have to admit, I like that. I like the idea that I can select the sample (even create it myself, if I so desire) and that I can mix and match anything with anything…it’s the ultimate in creative flexibility. you can do ANYTHING! literally, anything.
as I tend to do, my first creations on mixtikl were ambient, mostly. after a few months, though, drums started creeping in, and then I found myself intentionally creating active pieces – and the results were just as satisfying, and sometimes startling, as the results were with the ambient pieces.
I recently did a new piece (not yet uploaded) comprised on mostly human voices, with a couple of synths added in – dropped it into a nice reverb, and it just sounds fantastic. then I turned around, made a copy of this very ambient track – added bass, drums and synth – drew the reverb back – and suddenly, I had a loud dance version of the same track – that really rocks – as time goes on, I find that mixtikl can do just about anything, limited only by your imagination.
so right there, that gives mixtikl a second huge advantage over scape: scape makes mainly ambient music. that’s what it does, and, it does it very well. but mixtikl – makes ANY kind of music. and that is freedom.
the first time I used a series of samples that were intended to be used together in mixtikl , I was absolutely amazed at how well it worked, the intelligence built into the samples – astonishingly clever. a bass, a beat, a guitar, a horn, a voice – all working in tandem, in harmony, in sync.
once you get the hang of the controls, then you can really start to work with mixtikl , in particular, I love the mixer grid, because you can have both repetitive and linear activities, so I can have a bass looping but at the same time, I can have four slightly different drum beats running in a linear sequence – so the bass stays the same, while the drummer changes things up in four different scenarios – brilliant!
I also love the fact that of course, you can insert the same sample many times, and alter the pan position, the time, the effects…so for example, in one track, I had these beautiful guitar harmonics – and I wanted a LOT of them, so I just dropped six or seven of them in, left one mono, made the rest stereo, set them at different levels, etc. – and the results were fantastic.
sure, it takes a bit of work sometimes – and some days, nothing sounds right, I am importing, then deleting, sample after sample – but more times that not, I can simply import a few sounds, get them working together, drop one or two maybe, then, carefully add sounds until the piece builds up to whatever sounds good…and it really does sound good!
I still consider myself to be a beginner at mixtikl, and when I read the mixtikl operator manual, I feel immediately humbled and I realise that there is so much I don’t understand or even begin to understand – but, armed with my tiny bit of knowledge, I just forge ahead creating many, many pieces of music – right now, I have four that were just mastered and uploaded, and another four or five waiting to be mastered, so a small backlog is building up…and whenever that happens, I can tell I am falling in love with yet another brilliant application – and this time, it’s mixtikl.
I find that I like to let mixtikl pieces play out “long” when I record them, and a few of my recent pieces have been approaching, or even over, 30 minutes in length. this is really a semi-conscious decision to “go long” as in the old days of ambient, in 1995 and 1996, when I was working in the ambient looping band “bindlestiff”, we tended towards longer loops, because for one thing, any repetition becomes quite hypnotic, so that’s one reason why I favour longer pieces, but the main reason is, the loops and samples sound so wonderful when assembled into these generative pieces, that I love to listen to them unfold over a decent period of time. they sound good if you play them for ten minutes. they sound GREAT if you play them for 25 minutes…
strange eddies of quiet appear – odd bits of music that you don’t expect, but that create wonderful atmosphere when they suddenly appear from nowhere…and then disappear again – back into the main loop, or whatever it is.
generative music is really good for ambient, because odd things happen in ambient, unexpected things, sure, there are repetitive events that your ear “expects” to hear each time they repeat, but sometimes, other events may intrude that temporarily disturb that flow – and it’s a complete surprise to the ear – which is wonderful – and then, you are back on track before you even know what hit you. I tend to have a pretty busy “grid”, even on ambient tracks, strangely, sometimes, “more is less” with ambient, because you get different voices coming out of nowhere briefly, and then disappearing for a while, and then eventually returning…
sometimes, having a lot of different events is helpful, because it gives the brain variety and repetition, and I think we as humans like both of those things. the beauty of it is, though, I just put the samples into the cell, I decide if it’s looped, linear or whatever, I might then add a compressor or eq or some track effects – and that’s about it – the tool does the rest. mixtikl decides when it will play the sample, based on the tempo and key I’ve told it to, of course. it does all the work.
it’s been noted before, and I find it to be true, sometimes, some of the most ambient pieces, have a lot of music playing, a lot of events, they are technically a bit “busy” – but the effect when you hear them: totally ambient. It’s very strange, but very true – some of the very best ambient pieces actually have a pretty high level of musical “activity” – yet somehow, that distils down to something very pure and clean, and very, very ambient – I think this fact will always be a bit of a mystery, but for me, it’s made me less afraid to add in more, because I find that even with more, the pieces still, often, come out supremely ambient – it’s brilliant.
mixtikl is fast becoming my go-to tool of choice for generative ambient music, and latterly, active music, too – it’s a blast for drum and bass-based pieces, really fun to work with – and that’s something you can’t do in scape, too – play the drums!
I promise, right now – my next blog will not be about scape or mixtikl 🙂
dave stafford, august 2013:
“neither is “best”, neither is “better”, both are amazing in their own way!”
advantages of scape:
- visual work area is extremely easy to use
- extremely fast creation time
- no experience or musical ability required
- consistent, beautiful sonic results
disadvantages of scape:
- limited number of possible sounds (although a generous amount are included!)
- user is very limited in how much detailed control they have over mix & effects
- no method for export or sharing – except to record the audio during playback
- some scapes can end up dissonant if too many sound elements are dragged into the image – the “kitchen sink” effect (although scape does have a limit on the number of objects allowed within one scape)
advantages of mixtikl:
- very flexible interface allows for incredibly complex sound designs
- unlimited samples and sounds available, including your own content if desired
- advanced mixing functions, advanced effects functions – cell level and global
- built-in visualiser for visual realisation of audio tracks
disadvantages of mixtikl:
- more complex design can be difficult to learn
- creation time can be considerably longer than with scape
- experience or musical ability is very helpful; you may struggle without it
- some mixtikl pieces can end up dissonant if too many sound elements are added into the cells – the “kitchen sink” effect
I’ve had the unusual experience over the past couple of months, of being able to compare and contrast the user experience and output of both “scape” and “mixtikl” because I’ve created, in both cases, an on-line album (on bandcamp) for music I’ve created using both applications.
first, I worked through the first 40 or so scapes of some nearly 1100 I’ve created over the past year and a half. the consistency of the pieces produced; the undeniable and incredible beauty of the samples; the instantly recognisable sound of brian eno built into a very user-friendly application; the genius of the behind-the-scenes “rules” as envisioned by eno and chilvers, and programmed in by peter chilvers, all add up to an undeniably fantastic app, one that I would recommend to almost anyone who wants to create beautiful, generative music by drawing pretty pictures with pre-defined “shapes” – which represent instruments, sounds, riffs, effects, etc. an absolute corker of an app, and a great music creation for anyone of any age.
then, I worked through a smaller group of mixtikl pieces I had created, just seven pieces, but all of them saved as “long form” ambient works – and in the case of mixtikl, I was again, amazed by the consistency of the pieces produced; the undeniable and incredible beauty of the samples; the fact that you can add many, many sample “packs”, which means your sonic arsenal can be increased and increased over time; and the beauty and complexity of the music, both ambient and more active, that mixtikl produces…means that this very different-to-scape application creates beautiful, generative music via a system of sounds and musical events placed into “cells”; with rules that the user controls down to the tiniest detail – an incredibly complex and very capable generative music application. I would tend to recommend this more for musicians, but there is no reason that anyone can’t work with it – it just has a longer “learning curve” than scape does, because it’s by nature, far more complex – but that complexity, in some ways, allows you to create music that is far more under your control than the music you create with scape – so a different experience, and, the complexity and incredible attention to detail – are necessary and right. mixtikl is a thing of beauty, and the music it creates is every bit the equal of the music scape creates – although it sounds quite, quite different.
well, the samples for scape were made by just two people, brian eno and peter chilvers; one of them, a musician with a very, very recognisable palette of sounds, that are instantly recognisable as being “eno” – while mixtikl uses a huge, huge range of sounds created by many hundreds or even thousands of different musicians – a varied and remarkable universe of sounds.
mixtikl’s real advantage is the “tiklpak” – you can get packs that are mostly bells, or drones, or percussion, or beats, or techno, mostly genre-based – there is a massive list of “tiklpaks” that are included with the app – one of my favourites is “ambient 100c” (from “al collection 3” – one of three additional free packs you can download from the intermorphic site – that used to cost money) – a great selection of ambient sounds (hence the name) – but, sounding nothing like the ambient sounds in scape – which are mostly authored by eno, with a few from peter chilvers as well.
actually, mixtikl has two kinds of sound pack: the “tiklpak”, which is an audio pack, and also “paks” – which are zipped content – and can include your own samples – so actually, you can actually add any sample that you own or have access to – so your sound library in mixtikl is pretty much infinite – and therein lies the real advantage it has over scape – whose sample library, while incredibly beautiful…is finite.
intermorphic offers various paks for various platforms, including “noatikl” and “tiklbox” as well as the aforementioned “tiklpaks” and “paks” – and just having the “tiklpaks” gives you so many sounds your head will swim – adding in more “paks”, and eventually, designing your own zipped or audio content and adding it to your library – I can see a time when I might, for example, sample some ebow notes, and add those in, or sample in some of the more spectacular synth voices from my m-tron pro mellotron or other high quality synths…why not? or maybe I will download the amazing, utterly distinctive layered backing vocals from 10cc’s “I’m not in love” – which are now available via eric stewart’s web site, and use those in mixtikl compositions – why not??
but you can go back and forth – because ease of use is also a huge issue – scape; incredibly easy and quick to create really beautiful music, mixtikl; big learning curve, and you have to work hard to make your tracks sound really good. so it’s not really a fair comparison, it’s definitely apples and oranges, or maybe, uh, oranges and lemons, not really sure – scape; really really easy to use, mixtikl; not as easy to use – scape; small, finite batch of incredibly beautiful sounds – mixtikl; massive, unlimited selection of very beautiful sounds – plus, add in your own – so – no limits…
a recent piece I worked on in mixtikl, a 27:00 piece entitled “I always gild before”, well, this piece really surprised me– I feel that this track is one of the best pieces of ambient music I’ve ever produced, across the board, in 25 years in the field of looping and ambient – and along comes mixtikl, I sit down with the “ambient 100c” sound pack and design a new piece of music…and out comes something so beautiful, so relaxing, so soothing – so bright, positive and wonderful – that it’s just utterly remarkable – I feel so fortunate that this piece of music appeared. I literally cannot wait to create more with mixtikl – and with scape, although I have a healthy backlog of scapes at the moment, thanks very much!
my preference though, is absolutely…both. I can’t imagine life without these two premier generative music applications – at this point in time, to me, these two are clearly the market leaders, and I think any other manufacturer considering moving into this market will find it incredibly challenging to design something to compete with these two world-class music making applications.
generative music is just about fully mature now (although who knows what the future may hold!), we are way beyond the koans of this world, and with both scape and mixtikl running on my tablet device, I can create generative music to my heart’s content, using two amazing tools that are two of the most powerful reasons why making music on an ipad is the only choice, and also, two of the most innovative, yet very different, designs I’ve ever seen – but both achieving virtually the same thing – generative compositions of very consistent quality and beauty – and that’s the true test of any music making device – does it make beautiful music?
since I am just now returning to active duty in terms of working on music properly again, just beginning to resume work on videos, audio mixes, and web tasks including a lot more uploaded music both past and present, I wanted to take a moment to talk about a process that to me, is pure creative joy.
as part of the ongoing work, I’ve been reviewing the recordings that are slated to be published on video in the near future, and in particular, I am listening to a session from 20120930 which is…most unusual. (update september 22, 2013 – the first of these two videos, “into the unknown”, has now been uploaded to you tube).
this is my first successful “scape & ambient guitar” session. I had really struggled, I really, really wanted to capture the magic of scape, and of course, the purescapes channel, and the dave stafford all-scapes eternal album “music for apps: scape” both present the scapes in their purest form, as they happen, one by one – sure, those are great outlets for my scapes, as created…but I also wanted to use them in a live improvising context – which, if you think about it, it’s every ambient musician’s dream – it’s like playing live with brian eno and peter chilvers. what an amazing feeling…
but this is a far more difficult and challenging proposition than you might think – and the first few sessions when I tried to play live with scape – were not satisfactory. they just did not…”work”, and I couldn’t really put my finger on “why”. I believe now that part of the issue is that scapes are such a complete entity unto themselves, that it’s difficult to “add” anything of value to them. they stand up well on their own, so they don’t “need” any help from me or anyone!
once I realised that, I could relax a bit, and work out a way that I could play along to scapes, that made sense for me. after a few false starts, a few early experiments gone wrong, on september 30, 2012, I finally “got it” – and I am so pleased to have captured these ambient experiments on video!
this session is comprised of just two long tracks, and scape works best when it’s a long track; the first track of two is entitled “into the unknown” (11:48) – and, (update – september 22, 2013 – as promised, now that the video has been uploaded, I have made this a link so you can see the video and hear the track) – and the scape works wonderfully in this track, and happily, the overdubs I do – which are quite, quite atypical – work well too. I play ambient guitar, sure, but in a way I’ve never really done before. I use three or four different roland gr-55 guitar synth patches, including one of my own custom patches, which is just wind chimes – and “playing” wind chimes, from a guitar fretboard, is surely one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had as a guitarist – you strum the strings…and out come the wind chimes. brilliant!
I can tell you – playing live wind chime guitar to a brian eno scape is a heavenly experience. I do use other more standard guitar sounds, and I play a few solos too, using a really weird sounding synth voice – but over all, I try to just add to the general ambience of the piece. there are even sections in the song where I just stop and listen – and then, scape takes over, and really mesmerises me – I love how it picks up the slack, it’s just beautiful, and it gets even more beautiful with repeated listening…
it was such an unusual experience, listening to this scape, adding in wind chimes by strumming the guitar synth, playing the occasional guitar solo using some strange roland gr-55 patch…a wonderful experience! and it was definitely scape that steals the show, that is the star on the day – my contributions are nothing – scape just sounds so, so beautiful.
the second of two tracks for the day is a bit more challenging, but again, it’s a unique and remarkable experience for me as a guitarist, trying to play ambient guitar – the track is entitled “discern” (19:58) and at almost 20 minutes long, it’s the first long form ambient piece I’ve done since “sky full of stars”.
again, the mellow organ tones of the scape, that peaceful, peaceful drifting chord, dominates the beginning of the track, and I am just sitting back, waiting, not playing – just listening to the beauty of the scape. then those beautiful, stereo wind chimes start to work their way into my consciousness…
I think I had also forgotten about that wonderful, mesmerised feeling you start to get in a longer ambient piece, where repetition starts to get caught in your brain, and new patterns start to emerge on the later iterations…you get caught up in the loop, and the repetitions within scape alone are beautiful and compelling.
I use the guitar synth for ambient noise, just making a lot of delay noises, interspersed with wind chimes, and these just shimmer atop the droning organ chords, balancing atop them – an unlikely pairing, but somehow, it just works – it brings to mind, to me, the work of david sylvian and holger czukay, “plight and premonition” and “flux + mutability” – two albums I dearly love – but this is the first time I’ve ventured into those kinds of sonic territories.
a very odd guitar synth voice enters at around the four and a half minute mark, which maybe seems a bit obvious at first, but I like it’s oddness – it’s just weird enough to work, after four minutes plus of delay noises and wind chimes, I think you need something more “ordinary” to re-focus on…soon enough, though, I return to my beloved delay noises and wind chimes – and “discern” rolls on and on and on.
at just around the 6:00, a sitar-like voice enters, again courtesy of the roland gr-55 guitar synthh, and I take a fairly active solo, which again, works very nicely with the ongoing scape, I love these two tonalities together, and while again, it’s a bit of an unexpected voicing, it dovetails nicely with the scape – and I end the solo on a crashing chord.
then – back to that very odd guitar synth voice again, solos bouncing about using one or the other of these two voices, with a lovely five note descending theme emerging slowly – this shorter solo ends on a very strangely bent whammy bar guitar sound…and then I am back to the delay sounds again – always returning to those.
I set up a rhythmic sound that washes over the scape’s wash, and suddenly, the piece goes from melody over wash, to rhythmic – over which I play – you guessed it – more wind chimes. I think the rhythmic delay sound is a short loop that I created, and then I am adding more content on top of it – reiterating the five note theme, and taking some pretty active solos as well.
a more normal guitar solo starts, just distorted guitar, with the five note theme being repeated at diffferent points at different places on the guitar neck…and then I kill whatever loop is going, and things quiet back down again to the sort of “baseline” that’s been established: delay guitar on top of scape. with wind chimes.
both of these pieces are technically, quite active, with real solos, but because of the presence of the scape, the fact that I am also playing some ambient sounds like the delay guitar and the wind chimes, plus the fact that sometimes, loops of these live sounds are running as well – all of that turns what could have been a very active piece, into an undeniably ambient one.
then, quite suddenly, at 12:25, it happens: the quiet zone. the whole piece quiets down dramatically, which is quite unexpected – at this point, the piece is really just flowing along, alternating between “solo sections” and more “ambient sections” – but, with a fairly decent level of “activity” – until the hush occurs.
I must have removed another loop that had been running for some minutes, and we really ended up in a very, very stripped-back space, with just scape and a little live delay guitar…lovely!
after a minute of this “quiet zone”, I begin to build the loop back up, by layering bits of scape and more wind chimes, more delay guitars – and once it’s up to a more active state, I really take off, using the “odd” sound, I play a very short, quite unrestrained solo – and then stop just as suddenly – the loop that’s playing at this point is just so cool, I could listen to that loop forever – it’s really quite hypnotic by this point.
another odd, idyllic quiet section around the 15:00 mark, now, a sinister, minor key note has crept in, and the piece goes from fairly neutral to quite, quite menacing, I love the sinister quality it acquires after being so hypnotically mesmerising all along – the last part is almost a bit like the fripp & eno classic piece “an index of metals” – not musically friendly, quite, quite ominous – but ominous in a very beautiful way.
now what seemed minor, with more layering of the loop, is becoming downright dissonant…until I stop the loop again, and the “happy” wind chimes re-assert themselves, the delay guitars return, and the terrifying two minutes is over.
the last couple of minutes are fairly ambient, with a few uncomfortable, sinister sounds interspersed, so a mixture of light and dark musical elements.
the scape re-asserts itself by changing to a different constant chord, and taking the piece to another place, a really beautiful change which totally “makes” the last minute or so of this piece so remarkable – really lovely. the scape is on it’s own at the end, and then suddenly, it fades away without warning.
what an incredible musical journey this was for me, I’d never tried to play live ambient guitar for 20 minutes using a guitar synth before, and I was astonished to find that in the main, while not perfect, that it was possible – I can do it.
both of these pieces surprised me, because I found that using just four or five different sounds, I could sustain something fairly unique yet remaining pretty ambient (not entirely successful at that, but sometimes, ambient BECOMES active…for a moment, or for a few moments…but it’s still ambient!) without a huge effort on my part – I found it quite natural to “play” those delay guitar “sounds”, I found it quite natural to “play” the wind chimes as if I were the wind, making them sound…it just happened.
never, ever having played wind chimes guitar before, I am not quite sure “how” I know “how to” do it, but somehow, I did, and the end result is lovely.
a surprising and interesting day in the studio, and these videos are scheduled to be released at some point in the next few months – I think both of them are going to become videos, certainly “into the unknown” will, “discern” may need extra work, this remains to be seen.
I must do things like this more often, I really must – because it’s so, so enjoyable!
ambient guitar rules!
a reader in nova scotia, who is also a fellow scape user, has commented on one of my earliest blogs regarding “scape”, the generative ambient music creation tool designed and realised by brian eno and peter chilvers, and in his comment, he asked me a question, which was simply, could I tell him anything more about what the three “sliders” in scape, the ones that control “density”, “complexity”, and “mystery” – about what those controls actually “do”.
I have always made sure that whenever a reader sends in a question, that I will do my level best to answer it – but in this case, I was struggling a bit, because while I’ve used these three controls, I did not feel like I could speak authoritatively about what each one does!
so I wanted to first of all, throw this question out to the scape user community at large – can any other scape users throw any light on what, exactly, the “density”, “complexity” or “mystery” controls do?
I have a standard process when answering any question, if I happen to know a substantial amount about the topic, then I just answer from my own experience, however, if I know less about it than I would like to, I would seek out information on the internet, so I could learn as much as possible, so I could speak from an informed and enlightened position…before framing any anwer or framing an appropriate reply to the question.
however…even this “look it up on line” approach was thwarted; when I typed in the question into google; I got a number of hits back, but only the first two were actually about the three controls, the rest, were “off topic” – and I am afraid, that the first hit pointed to the original dave stafford blog post that our nova scotian reader was commenting on; and the second hit pointed to another blog post about scape that I had written – so the ONLY two references to these three mysterious controls, anywhere on the internet is…two blog posts that I myself had written!
at that point I then realised I would not be learning anything more about the controls from any internet search, even so, I’d still like to attempt answering the question from a sheer logical standpoint. but before I attempt that, I need to explain one of the peculiarities of “scape”: when you save a “scape”, the app saves the visual instructions that you created, and of course, you can “play back” the scape at any time. however…
the duration (or length) of a scape playback is set to “random”. so even though I created a scape that ran 7 minutes 32 seconds the first time I play it back; the second time I play it back, it might run 5 minutes 21 seconds. the third time, maybe 8 minutes 3 seconds. the fourth time, 2 minutes 35 seconds, and so on, ad infinitum – it’s never the same length, and, because of that, it’s never the same “tune” – it “starts” in a random spot, and it plays random sections, so there is just no repeatability whatsoever.
the reason I am mentioning this is that the only “scientific method” to determine what, say, the “mystery” control “does”, would be to record a scape with “mystery” set to 0 or off, and then play it back and listen to the results; and then, change the “mystery” control to 100 or full on, and play the scape again, and try to determine what the “difference” is – i.e. what is now happening in the second playback, that did NOT occur in the first playback – describe that, and you have described what the “mystery” control does.
but this whole theory falls apart – because you can’t play it back a second time and have it be the same entity it was the first time you played it back – so there is no way to gauge the difference with the “mystery” control set either off or on – it’s just not possible, because of the random duration of scape play back.
so this leaves us with pure, logical conjecture as our only remaining possible way to answer this question (barring the unlikely event of eno or chilvers reading this and offering to explain to us what each of the controls does!) – so here is what I believe, based solely on my internal logic, my understanding of the three terms used, and my experience with ambient and other rules-based music:
1) since we do not have eno or chilvers to explain what these three controls do and
2) since we cannot test the controls scientifically, since scapes never play back the same way twice – we cannot gauge the “difference” between a track with zero “mystery” and “full” “mystery” – as we might with other devices – we cannot compare an “effected” scape with a “non-effected” scape which would have allowed us to understand what the controls actually “do”
3) logic, based entirely on the name of each control, might dictate the following (your opinion may differ):
“density” – I would suggest that density, like the other two controls, does exactly what it says on the tin – it controls how dense the scape is – and density must relate to the sheer count of musical events in the piece. I suggest that a “not very dense” scape might have, say, 10,000 musical events or “notes” in it, but a “very dense scape” might have, say, 50,000 musical events or “notes” in it. of course, on a more basic level, “density” is controlled by how many “objects” the user places into the screen (and there is a limit on that, if you place too many objects, scape removes older objects to compensate), but I suggest that this control will ADD more density, it will create extra musical events that wouldn’t normally be there, making the piece more musically “dense”.
“complexity” – I would suggest that this is similar to “density”, but will have more to do with the complexity (or difficulty) of the musical events – so when “complexity” is set to zero, the piece will be “baseline” complex – as complex as the normal scape rules allow for, no more; but, when you increase the “complexity” towards “full”, the rules are altered to create more complex melodies, more intricate harmonies, more convoluted bass lines, etc – the music becomes “trickier” – like taking a normal rock piece, and transforming it into prog rock by adding complex passages, odd time changes, etc. – in a scape, simply making the melodies, harmonies, bass lines, drum parts, etc. more complex than they normally would be. it might introduce time changes, or extra / difficult melodic, harmonic, or percussive information, that we don’t normally get in a normal scape – more complex forms than usually occur in an “un-effected” scape.
“mystery” – I would suggest that “mystery” is all about randomness; possibly involving random musical events occurring that normally wouldn’t, so with “mystery” set to zero, there are no surprises, the scape operates “normally”, and nothing unusual happens. when you turn “mystery” up to “full”, then unusual things begin to happen, odd events that normally would not occur, occur and occur frequently, and again, it’s just what it says on the tin, mysterious events occur, increasing the scape’s “mystery” – of course, this assumes that we actually know what to expect when we build a scape, which isn’t necessarily the case anyway!! “mystery” is my personal favourite, I just love the idea of a control that controls “mystery” – I think that is genius!
so, these are my “guesses” at what these three enigmatic slider “controls” do – and with no owner’s manual, no information regarding these controls forthcoming from eno or chilvers – there isn’t really any choice but to guess.
I’d say, based on how very difficult that question was / is to answer, that this was a very, very good question from this particular reader (thanks, Evan!).
I’ve done my best, but my guesses are just that – guesses, so we’d love to hear from you – what do you think the “density”, “complexity” and “mystery” controls do?
original question submitted by “evan” from nova scotia, whose scapes are posted here:
my own scapes are now beginning to be collected into a large album, which is located here in high quality audio formats:
a partial collection of specially made dave stafford scape videos, using scape screen shots as video material, is here:
and for you soundclouders, another small collection of audio scapes is here:
with the recent release of my first “eternal album”, “music for apps: fairlight pro” I’m now moving much more publicly into the realms of app-based music, so far, I’ve kept most of my application-based music just in the world of you tube videos, with musical activities such as the purescapes channel, which is a you tube channel dedicated to music I’ve created with “scape” – the generative ambient music application designed by brian eno and peter chilvers… I’ve also done the odd live improv involving applications on some of my other you tube channels such as “applicationHD” and “synthesizerHD” but this is my first actual full “album” of application-based music.
I should take a moment and explain the “eternal album” concept; this is an idea I’ve been working on for about one year, I’ve mapped out a series of these albums to be made using existing and future music recorded with applications – and application-based music is like science fiction to me; I still can’t really believe that it exists, and that for the last year and a half, I’ve been able to create music (and, a lot of music at that) on a tablet; using a myriad of music-making applications – to create music of incredibly varied styles, from super ambient (scape, mixtikl, bloom) to frenetic, heavy, synth music (nanostudio, imini, animoog, addictive synth, thor, nave, n log pro, magellan, sunrizer, and so on…) to almost anything in between (launchkey, loopyHD, cantor, mugician, sound prism pro, beatwave, and so on…) – five years ago, I would not have thought this possible. however, a practical problem has emerged, that the “eternal album” solves – how to present a large number of finished compositions (far too many to assemble into ordinary “albums”) in a way that makes sense for both artist and listener. the “eternal album” solves this new world, application-based problem.
so, after 41 years of making “normal” albums – i.e., for release first on cassette, then on compact disc, and eventually, online (a mixture of downloads and compact discs), but this…this is a new “kind” of album, one that recognises that the album concept has become slightly outmoded. of course, I will still continue to make normal “albums”, where I collect songs together (such as “gone native”, my recent collection of active music, or ambient albums such as “sky full of stars” and “the haunting” – and many others, too) – this will continue, and it will revolve mostly around music made with electric guitar, or guitar synthesizer – I still feel in particular that for ambient music, the normal “album” full of songs is the best presentation method. there are many reasons for that, the foremost of which is that by selecting a group of songs, and ordering them in a particular way, the artist can control the “mood” of the ambient album experience – so I think a defined set of tracks, carefully sequenced, is very often a good idea, and in ambient music, it’s particularly effective.
but…not so for music made with applications. since to me, with my old-fashioned brain, this is futuristic music, science fiction music, music that I never dreamed could be made, mixed and published on a tablet device, in vast quantities (example – in just about one year of creating “scapes” using eno and chilvers remarkable application, I’ve created in excess of 1000 scapes) – and, the majority of them are of a quality I would absolutely publish – so – I feel that this music, in these quantities and at this level of quality (there is really no such thing, for example, as a “bad scape”) – this music deserves a new kind of album – the “eternal album”.
the concept is simple:
1) there is no finite number of tracks – tracks are added as they become available. we begin with existing, completed tracks, and add new tracks as they are created and completed
2) there is no ending to the album itself – it’s end is dictated either by the disappearance of bandcamp, or by the disappearance of myself from the planet (both will happen eventually – this is inevitable)
3) customers can download any number of tracks and construct their own “versions” of the album, from a single track to hundreds of tracks if available, or anywhere in between
4) customers can either use the suggested running order or create their own, four seconds of silence has been added to the end of each track for this specific purpose
5) there is no album price, as the “album” is whatever the customers want it to be, from one track to hundreds of tracks (if available) in any order they please
6) a word about track pricing, because of the nature of the “eternal album”, we have set the track prices at a special low level to compensate for the higher track count
so what this means for me as an artist, is what I need to do to present the work for a particular application, is to create a normal bandcamp album, in this first case, the album is called “music for apps: fairlight pro” (in fact, all of these albums will have similar titles, such as “music for apps: scape” and “music for apps: nanostudio” and so on) and I then upload the existing, finished master tracks that I’ve created with that application. that might be just a handful of tracks, it might be many, but once uploaded, I would then add to the album at any point in time over the next 30 or 40 years, many, many more completed tracks – as they become available.
this might mean that if I have a very prolific period of composition next year, that I might add 20 or 30 new tracks during 2014, to the existing fairlight pro tracks that are already part of the album. or, if I do not have the urge (or more likely, the time, due to other commitments) to work with the fairlight, it might be that no tracks are added until 2017, when I finally find the time to record new fairlight sequences…the input is totally flexible. note: if customers indicate a demand for more tracks of a certain type, i.e. they ask for more fairlight sequences, or more scapes, I will do everything within my power (and my schedule) to provide same.
so any “eternal album” can have any number of tracks at any time, more tracks can be added at any time, or, they might remain static for many months or years depending on what apps I am currently recording with. it’s the ultimate in flexibility for me, the artist, but it’s also the ultimate in flexibility for the customer for these reasons:
1) the customer can listen to all of the available tracks before making any purchase, and decide if they like none, one, a few, many, or all of the tracks
2) the customer can download only the tracks they like, ignoring those tracks that do not appeal to their “ear”
3) for completists, they can own every available track and get the full musical impact of perhaps a decade or two decades’ worth of the artist’s work in that particular format – perhaps, a hundred or more songs recorded over ten or twenty years – something that most artists do not necessarily make available to their listening public (but I wish to as much as is humanly possible)
4) having many “eternal albums” to listen to and choose between, gives the customer a very good idea indeed “which” of the applications that he or she likes the sound of, so some folk, for example, who are more used to my ambient work, will favour the scape and mixtikl “eternal albums” while others who perhaps like the louder, more active side of dave stafford, will opt for the “eternal albums” created with the fairlight, nanostudio, or other active/synth tools. it provides a much greater range of choice, which appeals to me.
it’s really all about choice, and to me, having a range of albums, sorted by application, with a comprehensive catalogue of tracks created within each application available to listen to at no charge and no risk, gives customers the chance to listen, compare, and decide which applications they feel drawn to or that resonate with them, and, which applications do not appeal to them at all. it might be that one customer only likes the sound of scape and mixtikl, and does not enjoy the fairlight pro or nanostudio albums. or, the complete opposite, or any mix of styles/apps – but the beauty is, as with all albums presented in bandcamp, you can listen, compare and contrast before making any purchase decision.
since I have just been through a complete review of every single track I’ve ever produced using the fairlight pro (peter vogel cmi) sequencer, I wanted to take some time to talk about the joys and frustrations, the highs and lows of creating music with the fairlight pro app in particular, since it’s the subject of the first dave stafford “eternal album” and is our featured application today.
whether you call it by it’s current official name, “peter vogel cmi”, or if you are a bit lazy like me, and you call it “the fairlight” or “fairlight pro” – this is one of the most unique applications that appeared in the early days of the ipad tablet revolution. despite it’s high ticket price, it was one of the very first applications I purchased, because I wanted that sample library – the one that kate bush and peter gabriel used in the early eighties, I wanted those sounds!
I had a bit of a learning curve, I am first a guitarist, second, a pianist, and lastly, a synthesist – and despite playing both guitar and keyboards, sequencing was a skill that I had really never got the hang of…until the fairlight pro application appeared in the itunes store. it took me a few weeks to really understand and take advantage of what the app can do, but once I got the hang of it, my skill set just skyrocketed, and within a few months, I found that I was creating pieces of music that really surprised me in their complexity for one thing, but at the same time, it was the sound of the pieces…and that takes us right back to those incredible samples.
in uploading the tracks to the album, I’ve taken the unusual step of defining in full, in the attendant metadata, a detailed description of each piece, it’s duration, tempo and the instruments used in the creation of each track, so for each track that is part of the album, there is a list of the eight instruments used to create it. the reason I’ve included this is because it’s so, so difficult, when listening to a completed, mixed, stereo sequence, to tell what the component parts are.
but even knowing what “went into” the piece is sometimes not enough, sometimes it’s more about unusual choices made with note durations, or adjusting the tempo to make a certain melody sound a certain way, a lot of the fairlight “magic” is in the combination of instruments used – and sometimes, strange things happened, and instruments that sound one way juxtaposed with three other instruments, suddenly change their sonic character when paired with say, two other different samples.
there is something about the fairlight that you can’t explain in words, and at that point, you can only listen. the samples are just classic, and I love the quantity and diversity on offer, but even more important, the insanely strange combinations of instruments you can achieve by mixing and matching across categories, and if you think about it, each fairlight “instrument” consists of (a maximum of) eight instruments, so just how many combinations of eight can be made from the many hundreds of samples there are??
what amazes me, too, is that I can create a new instrument, and it always, always sounds completely different from any other instrument I’ve ever created! no matter how many I create, each instrument seems to create an utterly unique sound, which you can’t replicate easily using other applications.
yes, you could physically collect those eight instruments (although it might be difficult, for example, to get ahold of “jetpasso1” – mosts musicians do not have a jet in their studio) and record with them, but it would be utterly impractical in a lot of cases, again, I don’t have a digeridoo in my studio, but with the fairlight – well, I do.
listening back to the sequences I created beginning in february 2012, and then moving up to the present moment, it’s a journey of pure discovery, a joyful, joyful journey, with a few moments of frustration, a few paths that I shouldn’t have gone down, but mostly, it’s just one of the most unique, interesting and entertaining bodies of work I’ve ever had the pleasure of creating and being the composer of. I’ve created silly sequences, sequences composed of bird song, classical music, pop music, heavy synth music, rock music, progressive rock (quite a bit of prog in there), it’s unbelievable the variation of tracks I’ve created over the last year and a half – I even have one sequence that accidentally sounds a bit like an obscure XTC b-side…
I think that this unassuming little app, with it’s amazing set of classic 1980s samples, has a remarkable power – it allows you to play eight very diverse instruments together, in an impromptu “band” that you then arrange measure by measure…creating completely unique pieces of music with these one of a kind “instruments”. I love spending time creating with it, and I hope that you’ll enjoy some of the fruits of this labour, it’s always an amazing feeling when you push “play” for the first time, and a remarkable and very unique piece of music plays back…which was built literally, note by note.
so – I think it’s appropriate that the music made with the fairlight pro application is the subject of my first “eternal album”, it seems right, it’s both a classic synth from the 80s but also, one of the first high quality sequencer/samplers to be made available for the ipad and iphone, so therefore, it’s part of our past and our present and our future. I love working with this tool, and I recommend it highly to anyone who plays keyboards, that wants to learn how to sequence – it’s how I got started 🙂 note by beautiful note !
as one of our readers recently pointed out, the ios is a fantastic place for generative music to blossom and grow. already, we have a surprisingly high number of generative music applications available, and I am sure that list will grow over the next couple of years.
I’ve expressed before that I am a late arriver onto the generative music scene, but as with every new music that I discover, I tend to jump in head first, and continue to dive in as time goes on. my purescapes channel on youtube is one example of this ambition – to eventually, over a number of years, to publish all 1100 scapes (and counting) so that the world can hear what an amazing, ever-changing, ever-surprising generative application brian eno and peter chilvers‘ “scape” is. I could sit here and wax profound for paragraph after paragraph, trying to describe what a beautiful, generative, ambient sound “scape” has, but I realised early on, that the ONLY way to describe “scape“, would be to simply capture and publish every scape I’ve ever created.
and across those 1100 plus scapes, there is such a huge variance in sound, composition, approach, ambience, melody, dissonance, mood, atmosphere – and I allowed scape to “grow” organically, so I started out with the minimum tools, and allowed the app to “reveal” new sounds as I went along, so for many, many months, every few days, I would “get” another new element, which I would then experiment with, on it’s own, in multiples, with existing elements, through different “mood filters” – until the next new sound arrived.
so the scapes in the 300 range, will have double or more the elements of the first 30, and those in the 700 range, more elements still, until now, in the 1000s, where I have all of the elements and backgrounds exposed and at my disposal. I had deliberately set scape aside for a few weeks, until last night, when I picked it up, and within 10 minutes, another 30 scapes are added to the ever-growing catalogue, and – the sound of a completed scape, with carefully chosen backgrounds and elements, based on my now many-months of experience – still does not fail to UTTERLY delight me – the sound of scape is mesmerising, I can and do listen to scapes for hours; creating them is a joy, and my only regret is that I cannot produce the next 1090 videos fast enough – I would give anything to be able to push a button and upload all 1100 scapes to youtube, just so the whole world can HEAR this music – it’s like I’ve made 60 new eno albums over the past several months – which in an odd sense, I have, since I am merely assembling, re-assembling, breaking down and building up, a lot of sounds either found or created by eno, and chilvers – so of course, that does make most scapes sound a LOT like…the music of brian eno.
and that, my friends, is a good thing. I would go out on a limb and say that in some regards, out of some hundred or so music apps I now have (that in itself is gobsmackingly astonishing!), some of them absolutely incredible – that scape is possibly, my single favourite music application, and the one I probably get the most enjoyment out of. but – I tell you what REALLY excites me – the idea that within a few years, I will have uploaded hopefully at least the first few hundred scapes, so that you can hear this amazing music – I feel like I have this secret cache of eno music, that I really want everyone to hear – so – hence, the purescapes video page – slow going I am afraid, but in time, I hope it will become a point of reference for anyone interested in acquiring and using scape – which I unreservedly encourage and recommend most highly. if you are even thinking about downloading scape – I urge you – do not hesitate, just do it – you will have hours of fun, and, you will create your own library of “new” eno compositions – to enjoy now and for always.
and scape, of course, led me to it’s predecessor, mixtikl – an application that I am just now becoming familiar with. and what an application it is! massive sound libraries of the most astonishing weird and wonderful sounds; create your own sounds (I am dreaming of recording many, many samples of long, long ebow guitar notes, and then assembling them into strange mixtikl creations…) – and then load them either by design, or by using the random generator, into wonderful pieces of generative music.
mixtikl, despite sharing a founding father figure in mr. brian eno, is the polar opposite of scape in terms of elements being exposed and available. scape is entirely hidden, the rules are hidden, control of volume, eq, effects is primitive or non-existent, but in mixtikl – well, you have almost TOO much control of what is going on. every cell, every sound, every effect, can be adjusted, tweaked, and modified to your heart’s content. while scape creates it’s pieces using a very tightly limited set of elements, mixtikl allows any sound imaginable – and yet, both apps, create wonderful, ambient, generative music.
it’s true, that in mixtikl, you can easily create very noisy, very active pieces, but I am not particularly attracted to that – although I have used it to create a great quasi-ambient drum-driven backing track for ebow guitar – I tend to steer mixtikl down the ambient path, because, to my mind, that is what it does the best. I am sure active music creators might disagree, and I am sure it’s extremely capable of creating great active music – but that’s just not my interest. but what mixtikl can achieve in the ambient realm – well, I am just getting started, and so far, the pieces I’ve created do not disappoint – you do have to tweak things quite a bit to get it to sound truly ambient, but it’s worth the effort.
in scape, it’s almost too easy to make a good sounding piece – the samples, and the rules, just automatically add up to a great sounding, eno-sounding, eno-soundalike – almost every time. very rarely, I produce a scape that is not quite eno-like, but – that is rare indeed. in mixtikl, it takes much, much longer to assemble and tweak a piece of ambient generative music, but it’s always worthwhile, because once you do get things sounding good (usually, by removing elements and turning elements volume DOWN…) – it sounds REALLY good.
I feel as if I’ve been short-changing bloom this entire time, but for some reason, I always felt like bloom was a prototype for scape (which in many ways, it was), and while bloom can make some really lovely sounds, it just doesn’t seem like an instrument to me – it plays back some really beautiful eno-esque sounds, but when scape came along, with it’s infinitely more varied sound palette, plus the ability to capture scapes very, very quickly as finished pieces of generative music…it kinda knocked poor old bloom off the charts. which is a shame, because bloom is a really lovely app, well worth spending time with.
I tended to just create a track in bloom, and listen to it, rather than capture it – so even though I’ve created many, many bloom tracks – I’ve never recorded one – which is a real shame, as some of them were downright beautiful. I think though that eno went back to the drawing board, and came up with scape – which is a million times more capable – I just like the sound of scape a little bit more than I like the sound of bloom.
even though I am singularly unqualified to say, since I really have only had experience with a few of the many, many generative music creation tools that have come along over the past decade or so, I really believe that the next few years may be a real game-changer for generative music. if I just take the toolsets of the two generative music applications that I am personally most familiar with, scape and mixtikl, and I think about the power and choice on offer to create beautiful, or dissonant, generative music, it’s difficult to imagine where things might go next.
the change from bloom to scape was like a quantam leap, and the strange, secret complexity of scape’s hidden “rules” is most impressive. since it’s been expressed out loud that folk would like a version of scape where they are able to, a) load in their own samples and b) create their own not-hidden “rules”…to which chilvers basically replied that it was very unlikely that eno and chilvers would produce such a thing, simply down to the way the programming had to be done, it’s not readily adaptable to either the use of user-created samples OR users being permitted to set and manipulate “the rules”…so knowing that eno and chilvers won’t do it, it’s my hope that some other enterprising application writer will.
the future: imagine then, if you will, a sort of open-source app that is like scape in design, but with one staggeringly different difference – the samples are created entirely by the user; the rules are written and set by the user, the coloured filters/effects are set by the users – like scape with a mixtikl-like level of control. that would really be something, and I would imagine too, that the visualisation, regardless if it mirrored the scape “screen” or the mixtikl “visualisation” screen – probably this new super-generative app would allow for either approach – and all the VISUAL content would be user-generated.
this would mean, for example, instead of assembling a scape using the “shapes” the eno and chilvers created and related to a musical event, that multi-media artist/musicians could create entirely unique, and utterly personal, multi-media artworks, where each musical background, and each musical element, relates to a user-created music sample, and all aspects, from the visual design of the artwork, to the relating of the artworks’ elements to sound events, to the final EQ, mixing and filtering – the application of effects – all completely controlled by the user.
sort of an amalgam of mixtikl, bloom and scape, but with complete user control. maybe no one will build it, but, because somebody asked chilvers the question, and he said no, scape isn’t going that way – then maybe, just maybe someone will pick up the fallen standard and carry it forward to a brave new world of generative music that right now, I can barely imagine, but then, three years ago, I would never have dreamed I would have 100 amazing sound creation applications on a tiny tablet from which I can produce world-class music of not just ambient, but of any time, that I would be able to play my guitar through virtual amps, cabinets and effects in an application such as ampkit+, and that audiobus would revolutionise recording of synths and other sound sources in the ios.
so the whole thing is impossible, so a future with super-generative applications that are far, far, beyond koan, mixtikl (and all it’s “-tikl” brethren, too many to mention!), bloom and scape – is totally and entirely possible – and I will actually be surprised if it DOESN’T happen.
I am continually astonished by what happens in the ios – someone conceives and then invents audiobus – and suddenly, every music app creator worth it’s salt, immediately adds audiobus capability to their apps (the latest entrant, addictive synth – that make me so, so happy, because that is one of my top three favourite ipad synthesizers of all time!) meaning that a huge number of sound producing apps can now be used together under audiobus – which, if you have something like auria or cubasis installed, makes professional multi-track recording a reality, not just for synths and MIDI devices, but also for guitar apps – that is astonishing. I would never have dreamed, a year ago, that something as clever as audiobus would free us to make recording on the iPad very simple indeed.
a few weeks ago, there were at most, a dozen apps on the input side of audiobus. today – there are 25, and more being added every day. some music apps have taken audiobus support so seriously, that they have configured their sound-generating app to work in all three audiobus positions – input, effects, output. that’s dedication!
so when I see growth like that, I can readily imagine that generative music apps might go through similar startling adaptations, and great leaps forward, audiobus-style, which might eventually make the very, very complex and capable mixtikl and scape, seem simple by comparison. I do not know – I could be wrong – but the ipad’s ios is clearly the place where developers come up with startling, innovative concepts like audiobus, not to mention several miraculously life-like and sound-perfect recreations of classic hardware synthesizers, or incredibly high quality amplifier, speaker, microphone, and effects modelling in a product like ampkit+ or stomp box (my absolute two favourite ipad guitar apps – hands down).
to me, all of that is magic, magic of a high order – and what it’s done for me, since I never had the money to invest in a lot of music hardware, I never could afford a moog of any kind, or a korg, and I absolutely would never have had the money to buy a hardware fairlight! – yet now, I “own” all of those instruments in the incredibly low cost application version – and more importantly, I can now have the experience of creating music with those tools that were always beyond my reach – because I can afford to pay twenty quid for a fairlight, but twenty grand – no 🙂
I think that music making on the ios has already exceeded our collective expectations, but I shiver to think what the future might hold, not just for amazing, super-generative music apps, but for all music-making, not wanting to particularly paraphrase the carpenters here, but I have no choice: we’ve clearly, only just begun.
I can’t wait, I am so, so looking forward to the next five, ten years of music development on the ios. the sky is the limit!
today I am giving some thought to generative music, which is a kind of music that I don’t have enormous personal experience with (save, perhaps, with “scape”), but at the same time, I feel a close affinity to generative music because it seems to resonate with me in a similar way to the way that looping and ambient do.
a lot of generative music is ambient, so that may be why, but it can also be quite active, so that can’t really be it. maybe it’s the fact that you have limited control over the elements – well, depending on what you are using I suppose.
the first generative app I used, was an early version of koan, that I must have had in sometime in the mid to late 1990s, and I remember finding it to be most strange, but also, quite wonderful, because you could literally set off several odd sounding music generators and the pieces would “make themselves”. I did create a few pieces using koan, but I am not aware of any that ever got mastered, released or even survive. I may eventually find some of my koan pieces somewhere, when I finally sit down to go through all of my reels and cassettes (when I retire!) – maybe. of course, it might also be better if I don’t find them, because I doubt they could compete with the generative music apps of the present!
starting with the one I am least familiar with, “mixtikl” – I had long wanted to purchase this, and when the price was lowered recently, I did. I immediately kicked myself for not buying it sooner, despite some vaguely negative feedback I’d heard and read, I personally find mixtikl quite easy to use, and the quality of the sounds is extremely high – a lot of great, great sounds, which of course makes it very easy to make some great sounding music. in fact, just a couple of days ago, mixtikl put three of it’s sound packs up for free download, so I absolutely took advantage of that.
the addition of that rather massive library of super high quality sounds put “mixtikl” into a realm of it’s own, I was trialling some of the sounds and I found them to be exquisitely beautiful, or odd, or weird – which suits me just fine – and I feel very impressed by mixtikl – they have worked very, very hard to make an app that just lets you create.
I’ve completed a few tracks in “mixtikl” (see below), but have yet to publish any – that’s simply down to my schedule. I have two or three that are probably in their final mix state, so I do need to try and finish up some of those tracks so I can publish them. tracks completed so far are:
20121217 almost waking – a super ambient, shivering bundle of ambient nervousness (two versions, the completed one, and a prototype)
20121218 embellishment – very, very ambient piece made with modified bells (hence the title – get it?)
20121220 pulsating – a slightly more active piece, waves of ambient sound crashing on an ambient beach…
20121220 pulsating wisdom – an active track in the style of bill nelson, built on the ashes of “pulsating” (and sounding nothing like it – so titles will change)
20121220 pulsating wisdom – drum version – same as above, but with a drum track added – making it even more in the style of bill nelson
ABOUT THE NEW VIRTUAL ALBUMS (FORTHCOMING 2013 – 2015) – MUSIC FOR APPS series:
speaking of publishing music made with applications, I am planning on setting up a number of new “ongoing” albums up on my bandcamp account, to contain tracks made with mixtikl, scape, fairlight, nanostudio, korg ipolysix, korg iMS-20, animoog, iMini, and so on. so once mixed, the tracks above would be added to the never-ending-ongoing-mixtikl- virtual album, and then, as I create, I will upload more and more tracks, until eventually, these albums become large free-form bodies of dave stafford application-based music.
for my normal guitar based music, I will probably continue to record and release “albums” in the normal way. but I am finding that making music with apps, it’s so prolific, and at any time, I have a number of tracks “on the go” in many, many different apps – that the idea of gathering them together into “albums” just doesn’t make sense any more.
so I’ve designed this new, virtual album – it won’t have an album “price”, because the tracks will be added over time, ad infinitum. in this way, too, customers can pick and choose – they can listen to each track, and only buy the tracks they like, instead of having to buy an entire album, it will just be an endless series of tracks…
so, if over time, say that over the next 20 years, I end up making…245 tracks using “mixtikl“, then, the virtual mixtikl album will start out in 2013 with one track, and end up in 2033 with 245 tracks.
one virtual album per application.
MORE ABOUT MIXTIKL
but I digress. getting back to mixtikl for a moment, I find the way you construct your pieces to be quite excellent, it’s so easy to add content into your composition, and the mix tools are excellent as well, I think that given the complexity available, they have done a great job with the GUI, I love that you can have track effects OR cell effects, I love how easy it is to insert sounds (and now that I have those three new, free sound packs (or tiklpaks as they are called)…my hardest decision will be WHICH of these amazing sounds to use…) it’s a really well thought out tool.
I believe that one of the main reasons that mixtikl appeals to me is…that in mixtikl, unlike in scape, you have a modicum of control. you have control over what sound sources you select, what level they play at, what effects they have, you have control over tempo, key and EQ. there are global effects as well – which is important to me, because often with ambient music, you may wish to drop the entire track into a bit of reverb, to further the ambient feel of a piece.
it’s interesting, because I bought scape first, and used that for many months, and then when I finally picked up mixtikl, it was such a shock – the level of control you have in “mixtikl” is really freeing, you can take any number of sound sources, drop them into your mix, and adjust the level, eq, and effects of each one – treat the whole piece with effects, make alternate copies and add or subtract sounds (as I did with “pulsating wisdom” last december) – so much control !! so with mixtikl, I can make a lot of decisions that I cannot in scape, I can decide if a piece will be very, very ambient or very, very active – I can decide if it will be very present, or drenched in reverb.
and with the number of awesome sounds now available to me, that means an endless variety of percussive, keyboard, sound effects, bells, god only knows what, is available as sonic building blocks to build generative masterpieces. I hope to find time in the near future to create new works of generative music, using this most excellent of tools, the mixtikl application.
and lest I forget, it also comes with a really well thought out visualiser, that creates truly beautiful graphics to accompany your mixtikl compositions, including a word generator that you can put your own words into (or use the default sets). even though it serves no real purpose, it’s inclusion I think is excellent, because it provides a beautiful visual representation of the music that you have created. an excellent visual addition to an excellent music creation tool.
…and then there was scape.
scape is…the odd man out of generative music. unlike mixtikl, in scape, you have almost NO control. yes, you can select sound generating objects and add them to a mix that is purely visual…yes, you can pick a filter to run the track through…yes, you can add different background tracks to provide different ambient backings to your pieces.
but that’s about it – you don’t have any control over the parameters that you do have control over in mixtikl, so the design of scape is so, so different.
it’s almost ridiculously easy to use. basically, there are menus of sounds represented by shapes, which you drag onto a palette that “is” your scape. there are several different categories of sound generators: backgrounds, bass parts, synth parts, sound effects, and other quite difficult to explain sounds. since the entire tool is visual, as you use it, you begin to make up names for the different elements, like the blue spikey shapes, which sound like nothing on earth, very odd and atonal, or the pyramids which are like keyboards, descending luminous arrowheads make a beautiful, swooshing synth sound, bass parts are represented by squares turned on their sides and so on.
so learning scape is very easy, you just drag out backgrounds or objects onto the palette, and listen. if you don’t like the sound of the element you brought out, you can just drag it back off the palette and try another element. the placement on the palette also makes a difference, and the objects change size depending on the position they are placed in on the palette. you can lay objects on top of each other, but they will change size as you do – it’s very odd.
you might add four bass parts in, three of them would be pretty large, but if you place your fourth bass part on top of a pyramid, the bass part will shrink to a tiny size depending on how much it overlaps another object. there is also a feature that prevents you from adding too many objects to any one scape…if you reach the maximum number of objects (I don’t know exactly what number that is, perhaps 50 or 60 objects in total) – something very odd happens – you add an object – and scape removes a DIFFERENT object! I assume that feature has been built in to prevent scape from clipping, so it does make sense.
but this is the first instrument I’ve ever used where you, as the “player” of the scape, really cannot control anything except the background, the elements, and the filter that the track runs through – and that is about it. you can’t name your tracks, they are auto-numbered for you. you can play back any scape, you can also make “playlists” allowing you to play back several scapes in a row.
at first, I really had quite a time adjusting to scape, and how very, very much it’s a closed system, and how very little actual control you have over the music – you can drag shapes onto the palette, you can drag shapes off of the palette, and you can move existing shapes around on the palette to effect change, but that is it – there is not a dial in sight, volume, tone, eq, reverb – nothing. it bothered me that I couldn’t name the pieces, I couldn’t do anything to them – except change backgrounds, elements, filters.
so, the totality of your control over scape:
three actions; change backgrounds, elements, filters.
plus three sliders marked “density”, “complexity” and “mystery”.
ABOUT MIXTIKL & SCAPE
so scape really is the odd man out, a totally different animal when compared to mixtikl, the design approach almost polar opposite: scape, where the magic rules are hidden, in fact, almost everything is hidden, versus mixtikl where almost everything is exposed to the operator.
because scape is so very easy to learn, I found that I could create many, many very different and very wonderful pieces of ambient music with it. mixtikl is still new to me, but I know that over time, I will be using it more and more, for the simple reason that I want a generative music tool that I control, as well as the sort of “eno preset magic” that scape offers.
it is interesting too, the difference in output – scapes tend to sound a certain way, because of the backgrounds, elements, and filters chosen by brian eno and peter chilvers, plus the hidden “rules” – whereas the output of mixtikl, because you can add any number of randomly selected elements into any mix – sounds widely varied and wildly different from track to track.
while I have recorded well over one thousand scapes to date, I am only just beginning to work with mixtikl, so I have a long way to go there…hopefully, over the next year, I will find more time to create with mixtikl, and I look forward to releasing mixtikl tracks as they are created, alongside the scapes which already exist – those will also be released over time. but I must say – I am more than pleased with both tools; despite their polar opposite design philosophies, I am equally happy creating with either, because generative music is still an under-explored area of music – and I hope to change that 🙂
to hear the existing collection of dave stafford scapes, please visit the purescapes channel on YouTube.
audio only versions of the first 17 scapes also available on soundcloud.
well, I finally had a chance to do a “proper recording” using audiobus – and I am not disappointed in any way.
I made it simple – I just used one synth, albeit a synth with a huge vocabulary of amazing sounds – the recently expanded animoog.
I quickly gave myself a refresher in loopy hd, I re-taught myself how to use it, because I hadn’t really “got it” before (I had used it exactly once, a couple weeks back), and now have a degree of competence in it’s use.
then…I fired up audiobus, loaded and “woke up” my input (animoog) my effects (jam up pro xt) and my output (loopyhd) – and then, switching to animoog, recorded my first loop in no time. elapsed time: less than two minutes.
then I began to record overdubs on other loop channels in loopy hd, and within perhaps seven or eight minutes, I had all six loops populated and playing a very jolly little tune in the key of c major – bright and beautiful. five melodies, and one sort-of bass part/slidy thing.
I used five or six different voices from animoog, some from the standard menu, some from the metallic set, some from the richard devine library – all, very, very beautiful indeed – animoog is the secret synth weapon on my ipad, without a doubt.
another minute adjusting final volume levels.
another minute adjusting pan to get some nice stereo going on.
result, in less than 10 minutes, a beautiful stereo multi-track loop of the highest quality.
a final mix in audition, adjust it’s levels, and maybe a tiny spot of reverb (it already has some nice reverb and delay courtesy of the jam up pro xt, but maybe it would like a tiny bit of reverb – maybe). it’s quite, quite lovely the way it is, to be honest, so I may just leave it as is.
(note: in the end, I left it as-is – nothing added – no additives or preservatives used 🙂
based on my experience here, and thinking about all those inputs that are already compatible with audiobus, I am imagining using six different input devices, and recording six loops – each totally different, one with a bass line, one with a drum machine, and then four different synthesizers – to get four utterly distinctive melodic sounds…but that’s just in the world of loopy. when auria comes on line (note – it since has!)….then the sky’s the limit.
or, of course, guitar could be one or two of them, so maybe…bassline, drum machine, synth 1, synth 2, guitar 1, guitar 2. and of course, you can have more than six loops in loopy, so there is no limit – and the quality recording that came together so quickly by just using one synth…is brilliant, so I can see almost no limits to what can be done with this device.
the beauty of using loopy hd is that in this case, it actually brings the record button from loopy onto the animoog page, so I never had to leave animoog – I could trigger, stop and start loops without ever going to loopy !!. I did go there – to clear loops and try again, but mostly, I just stayed in animoog; trialled different sounds, found the one I wanted, hit record, recorded another good loop…what a great experience, and such a different experience to the last time I tried recording with several different apps (the synthraga orchestra sessions). much simpler, much easier, and – it just WORKS! brilliant.
in fact, I am kinda…stunned by how well it does work, and how quickly I adapt to using it – as if I’d had it all along. it just becomes natural – switch to the looper. do what you need to do. now back to the synth. play another melody. now play a harmonising part. back to the looper, adjust the levels. back to the synth – new voice, new part – and so on. smooth, beautiful, easy – and the results are stunning – a really, really nice piece came out of my ten minute six loop audiobus experiment – and that is perhaps, the most impressive thing of all – from this new technology – music has emerged.
and – even better – it’s quite beautiful music, too – always a plus. I have posted the piece on sound cloud just now, it’s entitled “the sixth sense” – six animoog loops working together to create a mini-symphony of looping synthesizers – all thanks to the miraculous and very, very clever idea that is audiobus.
creating this piece using audiobus, and realising just how quickly, easily, and painlessly I was able to build up a really nice piece of music, I feel very excited about the future – and about being able to just endlessly layer different sounds from different instruments, in such a fluid and live atmosphere – that is just brilliant. now that auria has come on line, over the past couple of days, I’ve been working on a new multi-track master – and it’s been an even better experience than my first try with loopy HD.
using audiobus, with auria as my recording device – I was quickly able to lay down a full length drum part using korg ielectribe, and then I set out to build a bass part – but, I wanted to build it in sections, using many different sounds – so I set up several tracks in auria in my 24 track master, and then, calling up different synthesizers, one by one, and adding, bit by bit, my “composite” bass part (which for the record, is comprised of magellan, animoog and korg ims-20 synths). a couple of hours work, at the most, over a few days, and I have now completed the bass part from end to end – and it all worked so well, so flawlessly – and now I have a great basic track, over which I can overdub guitars, synths, you name it.
I had a great time playing with loopy HD, which, after all, is a brilliant live looping device, really well designed, so there is no harm in learning the best looper I have on the ipad. but I am even more excited after having used audiobus to create a full on proper recording session in auria – that is just brilliant.
drums, bass synths, hell, real basses via jam up pro xt, stompbox and eventually, ampkit + (once it’s compatible), real guitars via same, any number of synths and synth-like applications, you name it – kaoss pad in the form of the ikaossilator – anything that a) makes sound and b) has been made compatible with audiobus. and now I’m even happier, because one of my very, very favourite guitar applications, stomp box – is now audiobus compatible! so I am looking forward now, to setting up some awesome guitar sounds in stomp box, and overdubbing my new drum and bass part with real guitars. I am waiting for ampkit plus, to give me that third set of guitar set-up possibilities – but I am well set up now with stompbox and jam up pro – that’s a great start.
I can’t believe that in the space of 13 months (the time I’ve used ipad applications), I’ve gone from having two synths, the fairlight pro and korg ims-20, to having a full on recording studio with more instruments than I have time to learn…the growth of music apps on the ipad has to be one of the most exponentially staggering growths of technology ever to have occurred. during this last year, we’ve been given things like ipolysix from korg; the amazing auria multi-track recorder, like jam up pro, like audiobus – and each one, in it’s own way, a game-changer…
first, it was multi-track recording. now, it’s being able to near-seamlessly move between inputs, effects and outputs during live performance or live recording via audiobus…not to mention the two amazing generative music tools, mixtikl and scape, as well as the super educational and extremely useful and beautiful itabla pro, which gives me tablas in a large palette of very real and very realistic presets and modes – and the drones, those beautiful, beautiful tanpuras…
and then I step back and realise, this huge, huge palette of instruments, effects, processing, recording, drums, tablas, bass lines, and synthesizers galore can now be ADDED to all of the other “normal” instruments I have available, so the combinations that are available to me, as a creative musician, haven’t doubled or trebled or quadrupled or quintupled, they have…seventeenified. I’ve seen the tip of this iceberg in my most recent studio set up, the “all instruments” set up, which demonstrated to me, during the last couple of sessions – that just about anything is possible now.
choices to the seventeenth !
or, to the thirty-fourth…
I used to be a bit skeptical about technology, but when I see what they have done with it at audiobus, for example, I just fall in love with it, it’s brilliant, clever, amazing. part of me thinks I am dreaming – I keep asking myself, how can a £7.99 synthesizer on a tablet sound so fucking GOOD? the answer is: it can. it does. it will.
In just over a year, I’ve gone from technophobe to technophile, and there is no looking back, take no prisoners, I can play hard rock/metal detuned guitar through a tablet – I don’t need that marshall stack I could never afford anyway – I can rock with a tablet – and now that I have two guitar apps, soon to be three –stomp box and jam up pro XT, hopefully followed soon by ampkit plus, please…I know I keep saying this, but…the sky’s the limit for guitar sounds.
so the old set ups are out, the new, in, guitar to ipad to auria, via audiobus – hit record.
I am also so, so pleased to announce the return of an old, old friend, adobe recently made version 3 of adobe audition available for free on their website, so how could I say no – after all, this is the direct successor to “cool edit pro” – the first audio multi-track I ever owned, and upon which I remastered all my analogue tape albums with – so as well as having the most tricked out ipad around, I also have my favourite audio multi-track recorder back, for free – a good price.
now I will be using adobe audition for pop and click removal, and also, removal of clipped audio, and especially for it’s FFT style noise reduction, which is a beautiful and very effective “old” technology. so – hats off to adobe for their very, very thoughtful free gift to us all. an old adobe program is probably better than a lot of very expensive NEW products…and for me, it’s like getting back an old friend – a friend named “CoolEditPro”.
I am so, so pleased ! 🙂
and recording with audiobus, using loopyHD or auria as the recorder – could not be easier or more fun – it’s absolutely brilliant.
audiobus rules, and if you haven’t tried it, I can heartily recommend it. it’s not perfect, very occasionally, auria will stall or crash, but I am running it on an ipad2, so some exceptions have to be made – and the code will only get better – they’ve just had an upgrade giving us buffering options in case of stuttering, so they clearly care about the user experience.
it works so well already, in it’s infancy, that I really look forward to using it when it’a a mature and robust application – I cannot wait!
music making has changed forever with the ipad, but the innovation of audiobus has now propelled both live performance and on-ipad multitrack or loop recording – into the distant future…right now. the future of ipad music making has arrived…and it’s called “audiobus”.
or so it seems to me. 🙂
another week with scape, the application…and somehow, not quite sure how, in such a short time, but I find to my astonishment that I now have no less than 502 scapes.
I hasten to add, though, that in a number of cases, if I ended up with a scape that I really, really like,,,that I might well save it multiple times – usually, selecting some or all of the different mood filters, so I can hear it in 7 or 8 different “ambiences” – or sometimes, I might leave the mood the same, and save it with different backgrounds or even combinations of backgrounds.
even so – even with these extra versions…there are still an astonishing number of unique, one of a kind scapes. what a remarkable instrument this is!!!
events this week, well, the usual musical ‘gifts’ have arrived – a new background, some new elements, and so on…and I find I look forward to their arrival with an almost childish delight…
two new elements have arrived in the “spiky blue elements” category, and these two are remarkable – one looks like the top of a music stand, the other, like an asterisk – but all of the blue spiky family of elements are especially cool – because they MOVE when they play back – they are animated!
these two in particular I am really liking, because I wasn’t sure about the first three in this series – they are a bit harsh, a bit more disturbing than any other elements to date. I really struggled to use those first three ‘spiky blues’ – I could and did manage to create interesting enough scapes with them, but – they are a bit…musically uncomfortable (??) compared to most. so it was with a bit of trepidation that I received spiky blue elements four and five – but I need not have been apprehensive.
In fact, unlike the first three, I think they are now becoming some of my very favourite elements of all – and I am living much more comfortably with the whole blue family of elements now as well. my initial discomfort is dispelled and I ‘get it’ now…
another really, really remarkable yellow note element also arrived, this one with the most amazing echo/delay pattern, vaguely something like a really clever delay set up by the edge, only using an eno synth sound instead of a guitar. it has a beautiful, pure tone, and if, for example, if you set just three of these into an empty mood – you get a really lovely cascading, echoing, delayed set of notes that I can just sit and listen to forever…
in fact, that element, and the last few elements (including the whole spiky blue element family!) have had really intricate, amazing delays – and used together, for example, a scape built with this new ‘the edge’ yellow note element and say, some spiky blue elements 4 and 5, yields a wonderful, cascading scape of great beauty,
then, the latest new element, an incredibly quiet, ambient and amazingly beautiful bass guitar sample – that again, on it’s own, just sound astonishing…this is a light grey coloured triangle with two vertical black lines in it – one of the most ambient of samples, has arrived right in the midst of all the dissonance and disturbance of the blue spiky family…fantastic!
last night, another new element made an appearance in the “bells” section, shaped and coloured uncannily like the sun in the painting which is the cover of phil manzanera’s band ‘quiet sun’, the album entitled ‘mainstream’…a really gorgeous delayed bell that I am now thinking of as ‘the quiet sun bell’…
which brings me to comment on eno’s strategy with this tool – everything is hidden. you can’t name your scapes, they are just automatically numbered, and the backgrounds, palettes, and elements don’t have names – so I find, as a user, that I have developed my own language to describe these musical objects. so where normally I might say ‘it’s a sort of basic sine wave synth sound with a lush and complex echo and delay’…
…instead, I find myself now saying “it’s one of the yellow note element family, a u-shape turned upside down, with a clear sine sound with a complex echo and delay…” so since there are no instrument or voice names, just elements represented by coloured shapes – the whole descriptive vocabulary of music changes – and it’s all about colour and shape, sound becomes almost secondary except as a point of reference – the bell sounds are all rounded, and all pinkish-red, where as the note sounds are all yellow, the bass sounds, all black, grey or white triangles – and so on.
when I write about scape, I find myself talking naturally in this strange new language, a scape language, and then I realise, probably, only another scape user will have any idea what I am going on and on about, when I talk about “spiky blue elements” – but if you are a user, you know exactly what I mean 😉
so – it’s been another brilliant week of scaping, a little uncomfortable during the early spiky blue element era, but it’s rounded out beautifully with all the amazing new tools that have arrived since then – and still, so much more to come – I cannot wait to see what will arrive next week…
keep on scaping…502 and counting 🙂