Andrulian's blog

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Review of ‘A Fixed Point’ album by Petridisch on I Heart Noise label — December 1, 2017

Review of ‘A Fixed Point’ album by Petridisch on I Heart Noise label

This album was released in the I Heart Noise label back in June, the CD and cassette have sold out but the digital version is still available.

I really like how this album is difficult to define in terms of style, which gives it such a great sound.

The arrangements and layering are excellent, there are contrasting ambient / uptempo elements and subtle unexpected chord changes which add a great tension and often an edge to the songs.

The Unknown Rabbit
A great edge of tension to the song from drone bass, synth and swirling pad which has vocal qualities. The drumming pattern gives a momentum leading into an organ riff which adds a great tension with vocal background sounds.

In the Red
Opening vocals have an ethereal slightly disconcerting quality. There’s a great contrast between the laid back kick rhythm and more uptempo arp.

Operation Interlude
There’s a contrast between the ambience of the pad sounds, synth and more uptempo drumming pattern. A subtle edge of tension too which works really well.

In the Black
Opening vocals have a great tension to them accompanied by bass and synth riff. The song is quite edgy and has a great flow.

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Review of ‘explosions in technicolour’ album by Espher — November 29, 2017

Review of ‘explosions in technicolour’ album by Espher


 
This is an excellent album, quite hard to pin down a particular style but that’s what makes it such a good album. There are elements of trance, downtempo and future garage amongst others which creates a great sound with an edge of tension between uptempo and more laid back elements.

It’s engaging, just as you drift away the layering of contrasting elements grabs your attention back. It’s an excellently produced album.

To the sky
There’s a great vibe to this song. An atmospheric, evolving opening leading into a kind of trance / progressive feel with a nice edge of tension. Great contrast between the uptempo drumming pattern and bass and evolving atmospheric pads. Vocals add a great element.

Goya
A short song which is an atmospheric soundscape with drone qualities and subtle movement in sounds.

Flux
An atmospheric opening from layering, I really like the reversed sounds. The bass gives more of a defined momentum, further defined with the kick drum. Great interplay between this and more laid back percussive sounds. A great contrast between ambience and a more uptempo feel.

You are loved
A great edge from opening percussive sounds and vocals. A kind of future garage feel, it’s downtempo with an excellent laid back groove.

Haptic
Another excellent vibe, there’s a great contrast between a trance and ambient sound. I really like the change in feel towards the end.

(mir)
A piano melody with brilliant use of reverse elements, a captivating song.

Sacrifice
An evolving opening leading into a great rhythm and contrasting bass and atmospheric sound effects. Melody adds a great element and there’s an excellent change of feel.

 

Review of Softube Modular and Buchla 259e twisted waveform generator add-on for Modular — November 28, 2017

Review of Softube Modular and Buchla 259e twisted waveform generator add-on for Modular

Linköping, Sweden: Softube is proud to announce the first ever officially licensed Buchla plug-in: The Buchla 259e Twisted Waveform Generator for Modular. Unique and desirable, this dual oscillator is guaranteed to add some real spice to your Modular patches.

The Buchla 259e Twisted Waveform Generator plug-in for Modular features all the digital waveshaping, aliasing noise and fold over frequencies of the original hardware. Enjoy the self-modifying, screeching, snarling responses from the original’s downright odd inner workings. The 259e is truly a unique addition to the Modular ecosystem.

Requirements and Availability

Buchla 259e is an add-on for Softube’s popular virtual Eurorack synth Modular. It should be noted that you require a Modular licence from Softube to use the Buchla 259e add-on. Whilst the hardware unit is typically sold for $1599, the plug-in is typically priced at $99.

Web page with more information:

YouTube video

Softube Modular

Because Buchla 259e is an add-on and not a VST in its own right, you need a licence for Softube Modular in order to use it.

If like me you don’t have the money nor space to invest in a hardware modular system, Modular by Softube offers an excellent virtual solution. It’s a cross-platform plug-in featuring authorised emulations of well known hardware Eurorack brands.

The basic system is typically priced at $89 and includes 6 Doepfer modules (A-110-1 VCO, A-108 VCF, A-132-3 Dual VCA, A-140 ADSR, A-118 Noise/Random, A-147 VCLFO) and 20 utility modules (such as MIDI to CV/gate, mixers, slew, sample & hold, switches, multiples, delay, offset, sequencers, clock dividers, logic and signal tools, as well as a Polyphonic MIDI to CV/gate module).

A number of bundles are also available and other modules available for purchase include Heartbeat drum synthesis, TSAR-1 and TSAR-1R reverbs, 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator, Intellijel Rubicon, Korgasmatron II, uFold II plus many more.

A 20 day demo version is available.

As you’d expect the system requirements are quite high:

  • Mac OS X 10.9 or newer (Note: Testing for OS X High Sierra has not been completed at this time)
  • Windows 64-bit, versions 7, 8 or 10 (Note: Testing for Fall Creators Update has not been completed at this time)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo, AMD Athlon 64 X2 or newer
  • Screen resolution larger than 1280×800
  • 1 GB RAM or more, and at least 6 GB hard disk space for installation (individual plug-ins take less space)
  • Any VST, VST3, AU, or AAX (Pro Tools 10.3.7, 11.0.2 or higher) compatible host application
  • Softube/Gobbler account
  • Gobbler application to manage license activation and plug-in downloads
  • Broadband internet access for downloading installer and registering licenses

All Softube plug-ins support both 32- and 64-bit hosts, although a 64-bit OS is required. Supported sample rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 and 192 kHz, in both mono and stereo.

My current setup is a 2Ghz dual core pentium with 4GHz memory. I decided to install modular using the Gobbler software which was straightforward and really easy, in fact at the point of publication of this post an update to Modular was available and the Gobbler software implemented the update quickly and efficiently. After the initial installation, Modular opened but wouldn’t run. The support from Softube was excellent, very quickly identifying the issue (related to OpenGL) and providing a solution. As you’d expect some of the polyphonic presets with lots of modules struggle to run but generally Modular runs surprisingly well although does use a lot of CPU at times as expected.

The interface is very intuitive and it’s easy to learn the basics. Modular comes bundled with a large number of presets with excellent sound quality, Modular has a warm sound with a solid bass. It’s important to point out that this is a very faithful emulation of a hardware environment. When you launch Modular you are presented with an empty rack. You can of course load a preset and modify it to your requirements but if you want to create your own sounds you are starting from scratch. This means you will need to load all the required modules and start patching everything together in order to start using it. If you’re the sort of musician who likes experimenting and creating your own sounds this is ideal. If you prefer to open a VST, load a preset and use it straightaway then it’s probably not the best option as you won’t get the most out of it.

Adding modules is easily done using the ‘add’ button on the central menu. This brings up a list of available modules.

The first one you’ll need is midi to cv so you can control the sound with a midi keyboard. A very basic setup uses the note output from the midi to cv convertor to feed a VCO module. This outputs to a filter which in turn outputs to a VCA. An ADSR module is used to control the VCA and the VCA output is sent to the main audio output so that we can hear it.

From this basic setup you can then start adding additional filters, sequencers, mixers etc and streamline the appearance using performance panels. Patching is very easy, you simply double click on the desired output and drag, all available connections are shown in green. I really like how the cable colours change colour with each patching to make tracing easier, it can be easy to make a wrong connection and it’s a simple case of double clicking and dragging away from input to ‘unplug’ the connection.

Although the basic setup may seem limited from a hardware point of view, the virtual environment allows you to load as many instances as your system can handle so there’s more than enough to get started with. The modules available for purchase include licensed versions from manufacturers such as Intellijel and 4ms so there’s loads of room for expansion as your budget allows.

Buchla 259e twisted waveform generator

The Buchla 259e twisted waveform generator is one such add-on module that is available for purchase. It is simply awesome.

The 259e consists of a principal oscillator and a modulation oscillator that can be used either to modulate the principal oscillator or as a separate generator of audible notes. Furthermore, the sine wave generated by the principal oscillator is simultaneously applied to two of the eight available waveshape tables. A morph voltage pans between the two tables and a warp voltage varies the amplitude of the sinusoidal (driving) waveform. Both these functions can be modulated by the modulation oscillator. Three of the waveshape tables are actually not tables in the classical sense—they are simply portions of the 259e operating program, full of unpredictable noise and frequent silences. This is the innovative Mem Skew mode, possibly the most unique feature of the Buchla 259e. When these tables are selected, the FM controls are re-assigned to table scanning functions and the FM inputs become table modulators. Essentially it is using the internal memory as a wavetable that is controllable with an external signal.

In short, while the Buchla 259e can certainly be used for more traditional sounds, it excels at creating otherworldly twisted digital sonic landscapes. Which is why it is one of the most coveted synth modules on the market.

First impressions are excellent, it looks fantastic. The GUI is a faithful representation of the hardware version. The principal oscillator is located towards the lower right hand side and has warp and morph controls located above. The half red / half green button to their left is a split button control which selects the wavetables 1 -5 or a, b, c mem-skew function shown by a corresponding red and green LED on the wavetable list. The red LED is the principal oscillator and the green LED is the modulation oscillator.

The modulation oscillator has three different shapes and can be used in low or high range or pitch track mode. There are also three modes of operation – pitch, warp or morph or combinations of one, two or all three. The modulation index of the modulation oscillator and the warp and morph controls of the principal oscillator can also be controlled by a cv input.

When you select the a,b, c wavetables the mem-skew function is enabled underneath the principle and modulation oscillators and these can also be cv controlled.

Not only does it look fantastic but it sounds awesome too. It produces a fantastic range of sounds from deep basses and drones to higher pitched metallic sounds, glass type sounds to harsh digital artifacts and screeches. I have spent hours experimenting with this unit and each time I seem to discover something new and very cool sounding.

I’ve created an album embedded above which is primarily experimenting with the Buchla 259e add-on to highlight some of its potential. I have to say these recordings are not perfect, I was pushing the laptop to its limits and there are some glitches and audio dropouts at times but these are one-take live recordings which capture live tweaking and adjustments to the sound. The tracks are presented as they were recorded without any editing, they’ve had a basic mastering in MuLab using Elevate and Stage.

There are a couple of tracks with a basic setup highlighting some of the sounds it can produce. There are also four jam tracks, the first two use a couple of external sounds in the background whereas jams 3 and 4 are just using buchla 259e. I’ve not used any external effects, jams one and two use the delay in modular.

I’ve used the heartbeat drum add-on for all tracks.

In summary, this is a brilliant add-on to Softube Modular that adds a unique element for sound design and creation. It is so much fun to use, there’s a lot to learn if you’re new to modular synthesis but that’s part of the attraction, you can easily get lost in Modular for hours whilst having great fun – those happy accidents from experimenting to see what happens when you patch modules together, creating strange and unusual sounds by just getting stuck in – it’s really easy to use and encourages you to experiment and very quickly create some cool sounds. Just remember to save your creations, often. You will need a pretty decent setup to get the most out of it – and that goes for Modular as a whole – but it has excellent sound quality and is an excellent software interpretation of a hardware feel at a fraction of the cost.

Analogue Solutions introduces Mr Hyde and Dr Strangelove synthBlocks signal processors — November 23, 2017

Analogue Solutions introduces Mr Hyde and Dr Strangelove synthBlocks signal processors

StrangeloveHyde

KINGSWINFORD, UK: British boutique electronic instruments innovator Analogue Solutions is proud to announce availability of Mr Hyde and Dr Strangelove — introducing its synthBlocks series of small and affordable desktop signal processors with two tantalisingly-named new products squarely aimed at laptop and audio plug-ins-focused digital musicians wishing to apply analogue, hands-on hardware processing to their sometimes sterile-sounding computer- based creations.

The synthBlocks series represents an all-new range of small and affordable desktop signal processors produced by British boutique electronic instruments innovator Analogue Solutions, an acclaimed company with over 24 years of designing serious-sounding synthesizers featuring fully-analogue audio paths with analogue LFOs (Low Frequency Oscillators) and EGs (Envelope Generators) to its notable name. Similarly, synthBlocks are all-analogue affairs — albeit with some lo-fi digital effects thrown in for good (musical) measure. Menus and software are all eschewed in favour of a hardy hardware approach. As such, synthBlocks are squarely aimed at laptop and audio plug-ins-focused digital musicians wishing to apply analogue, hands-on hardware processing to their sometimes sterile-sounding computer-based creations. Cue simply plugging the synthBlocks in question into an audio interface’s I/O connections, then routing drums, synths, vocals, or whatever out of the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and through the transistors and op-amps of the synthBlocks and recording the results back into the DAW. Something similar can be achieved by connecting the synthBlocks to the auxiliary buss of a mixing console — just like any other effects processor. Whatever the workflow, turning the dials and flicking the switches by hand of course changes the sound in realtime — often with radical results. Results of course can be radically different — depending on which of the two available synthBlocks are applied to any given sound signal.

Many might have heard of Mr Edward Hyde, an abominable alternative personality of Dr Henry Jekyll, a fictional character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde gothic novella first published in 1886. However, hearing Analogue Solutions’ Mr Hyde in the here and now is something else entirely! As announced, Mr Hyde was the first out of the starting blocks in its synthBlocks series as an analogue filter effects box bringing subtle to extreme filtering and modulation effects to the analogue processing production table. To further aid ease of use, Mr Hyde has quarter-inch input and output jacks on its rear, so can be connected straight to an audio interface or mixer without the need for adaptors. The topside of its distinctive blood-red panel features minijack sockets to patch with a semi-modular synth, such as Analogue Solutions’ relatively recently released Fusebox — an aptly-named, three-VCO (Voltage- Controlled Oscillator) true analogue monophonic synthesizer that favourably fuses the company’s characterful vintage sound with an advanced choice of modulation and melodic possibilities (in a beautifully-built box); ever-popular Eurorack small-format modular systems; or other modular systems.

Specification-wise, Mr Hyde doesn’t disappoint by boasting a two-pole 12db/octave analogue multimode filter (featuring lowpass, high-pass, band-pass, and notch filtering options); resonance with a Q BOOST feature to make it SCREAM (self oscillate); LFO with triangle and square wave signals; and a range switch (to bring the modulation speed into audio frequencies). Hands-on control comes quickly, thanks to a selection of switches and knobs — not least the largest knob of all: FREAQ (filter cutoff frequency). Furthermore, the smaller Q knob sets the resonance level, CHANGE changes the frequency range of the LFO from SLOW to FAST at the flick of a switch, SPEED sets the LFO modulator’s speed, and LEVEL controls the modulation level/depth that affects the filter cutoff. More meaningfully, Mr Hyde can change sounds subtly, such as satisfying sweeping filtering, right up to mangled FM (Frequency Modulation) mayhem — perfectly in keeping with its naughty name!

Dr Strangelove is an altogether different character, both literally and figuratively speaking — Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 political satire black comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, anyone? Actually, Analogue Solutions’ Dr Strangelove is a compact, high-quality analogue ring modulator (with two audio inputs) and an analogue LFO capable of going into audio range (with two waveforms), plus a lo-fi echo (giving an ‘analogue’ bucket brigade-style sound). The ring mod itself does not have any controls as such, since a ring mod does not have parameters that can be altered — other than input and output levels. Just plug in audio cables and it does its thing! Ring mods do need two audio sources, however — namely, the main signal to be processed (carrier) and the signal that will modulate the carrier (modulator).

In the strange case of Dr Strangelove, one of those sources, the MOD (modulation) input, can be audio or a low frequency signal (from, say, an LFO). Literally switching switches — HARD/SOFT (selects between square and triangle wave modulation signals — triangle resulting in softer modulation while square results in sudden, harder changes) — and turning knobs — CHANGE (sets the modulation depth or ‘loudness’ of the modulating signal fed into the ring mod’s modulation input), RATE (sets repeat rate), and MIX (sets the mix level between fully dry and a 50/50 balance between wet and dry) — makes music mangling child’s play. Other controls clearly allude to the aforesaid film: FALLOUT alters the speed of the analogue LFO modulator while HALF LIFE sets delay time. All told, then, Dr Strangelove is ideal for subtle or extreme modulation effects. Like its Mr Hyde synthBlocks sibling, Dr Strangelove includes minijack (Eurorack-accommodating) audio and CV (control voltage) I/O for direct connection to modulars.

Mangling music setups sonically while adding analogue warmth is a synthBlocks speciality, so why not consider adding one or more of them to your music setup today? And all without breaking the bank while fitting in the palm of your hand! Hand built, having been designed and engineered in England by Analogue Solutions, surely it’s time to wave goodbye to those sometimes sterile-sounding computer-based creations by saying hello to some synthBlocks?

UK pricing for the Mr Hyde and Dr Strangelove synthBlocks is £255.00 GBP (including VAT) apiece, available from dealers and Analogue Solutions directly.

North American availability of the Mr Hyde and Dr Strangelove synthBlocks is being handled via Voltage & Company — full-service reps of high-quality manufacturers from around the world — with a retail price of $279.00 USD, while (most) EU distribution is being handled by Sonic Sales — one of the largest full-service MI (Musical Instrument) distribution companies in Europe — priced at €279.00 EUR (including VAT).

For more in-depth info, please visit the dedicated Mr Hyde webpage;

Watch Analogue Solutions’ Mr Hyde audio demonstration video;

For more in-depth info, please visit the dedicated Dr Strangelove webpage;

Watch Analogue Solutions’ Dr Strangelove audio demonstration video.

Review of Erlanger Programme album by Rainer Straschill — November 14, 2017

Review of Erlanger Programme album by Rainer Straschill

This is an excellently arranged and produced album, there’s an ambience with a subtle tension and cinematic qualities at times. The instruments are often processed in innovative ways to create a very interesting sound which is layered really well with complementing and sometimes contrasting sounds.

a
A short song comprised of an atmospheric electric piano riff against a background drone.

A
Lovely ambience from a strings type sound and electric piano. The percussion adds an excellent element and there’s a great change of feel to a more urgent sound. It has a cinematic quality, great variety of instruments and changes in feel.

b
Percussive impact sounds give a kind of haunting quality to the opening. I really like the layering of the string and percussive sounds. There’s a great tension to the song.

B
Great interplay between the bass and synth bass sounds, the drums give an excellent momentum. There’s a kind of urgency to the sound and a tension from the dissonance.

c
A freeform jazz feel to the opening with fast looping piano riff, bass and drumming which fades to leave the looping piano riff.

C
A field recording to open with a background drone, there’s a sinister feel from the layered effects and reversed organ sounds. Great development of the sounds with the introduction of different elements. It’s a cinematic soundscape, excellent build and release of tension.

d
Very atmospheric opening from drone, wind and dripping water type sound. The brass type sound adds a melody which really holds your interest. The strings at the end add an excellent element.

D
Laid back jazz infused groove to open from bass, percussion and clarinet type of sound. It has a jam quality. Great use of different instruments including organ and piano. The accordion type sound is accompanied by an excellent change in feel with a great release to end the song.

a’
The accordion sound and organ create a sparse melody and a great way to finish the album.

Review of Familiar Haunts album by Jason Simon on Cardinal Fuzz — November 13, 2017

Review of Familiar Haunts album by Jason Simon on Cardinal Fuzz

Jason Simon is best known for his work as the guitarist and singer for the seminal heavy psych band Dead Meadow. Familiar Haunts is a solo release on Cardinal Fuzz as a black vinyl and streaming via the Bandcamp app. At the time of writing, there are two copies left according to their Bandcamp page.

For customers in the USA, a vinyl and cassette release is available from Jason Simon’s Bandcamp page which also includes a digital only (streaming + download) version available to all.

There’s a strong acoustic guitar theme underpinning this album. It’s a wonderful melting pot of influences such as alt-country, singer-songwriter and country blues underpinned with a laid back psych vibe, great vocals and an excellent jam feel at times too.

The arrangements and production are excellent, the album has a superb, natural sound.

The People Dance, The People Sing
A blues infused vibe from the opening riff with natural sounding percussion, the vocals are laid back and there’s an excellent psych feel with subtle background effects and a building tension to a heavier, more distorted sound.

Without Reason or Right
A laid back reggae type vibe from the riff and muted strummed chords, excellent use of delay on the vocals and the organ adds an excellent element.

Now I’m Telling You
An Eastern feel to the opening which has a more distorted riff to open, the percussion builds gradually and there’s an excellent jam feel to the song with bass and improvised riffs. The vocals have a laid back feel.

Pretty Polly
A shimmery feel to the opening is propelled by picked riff, vocals and drumming. It’s a great sound, difficult to pin down but there are alt-country and rock influences. The blues harp adds an excellent element.

Seven Sisters of Sleep
Excellent tremelo riff and strummed chords to open, the vocals have a great laid back psych feel. The song has an excellent slow groove.

Hills of Mexico
There’s a great momentum to the opening of this song and an edge of tension too, especially from the vocals. The bass and drums enter to give a more defined groove. The song has an excellent jam quality.

Wheels will Spin
Another excellent opening groove from bass and trem guitar, there’s a great change between a chord vamp and more open sound. Some great solos too with a slow building tension to a release followed by a very slow groove to end. Excellent vocals again too.

I Found The Thread
Some excellent sound effects and reversed guitar to open, this song has a different feel to the rest. It’s another great vibe, some really trippy sounds at times.

A brief essay on history of music in China — November 12, 2017

A brief essay on history of music in China

I first published this on my long-defunct website back in 2006. I’ve been looking for the original for some time with no luck, however, I finally found a backup copy that enabled me to reproduce the essay here.

Writings on music in China can be traced back to the 4th Century BC. To the Chinese, as with other ancient civilizations, music had the power to influence people emotionally and physically. This power was a free energy that could be used or abused dependant upon man’s free will.

The traditional Chinese philosophy of music was Confucian. Confucius condemned several styles of music that he thought were morally dangerous – “The music of Cheng is lewd and corrupting; The music of Sung is soft and makes one effeminate; The music of Wei is repetitious and annoying; The music of Ch’i is harsh and makes one haughty.” Conversely, Confucius said “The noble-minded man’s music is mild and delicate, keeps a uniform mood, enlivens and moves. Such a man does not harbour pain or mourn in his heart; violent and daring movements are foreign to him”

According to Confucius “If one should desire to know whether a kingdom is well governed, if its morals are good or bad, the quality of its music will furnish the answer”

The following two paragraphs from Yueh-Chi also illustrate the Chinese philosophy to music –

“It is the tao of Heaven and Earth that if cold and heat do not come at the right time there will be epidemics; if wind and rain do not come in due proportion there will be famine. [When the ruler] teaches [what is required by means of ritual mimes], that is the people’s cold and heat. If his teaching does not come at the right time he may blast a whole generation. [When the ruler] acts, that is the people’s wind and rain. If his actions do not observe due proportion they will be without effect. That is why the former Kings organised [the ritual mimes accompanied by] music, and so governed by force of example [i.e. by sympathetic magic]. If these were good, the activity [of the people] mirrored his moral power.”

“Therefore the ancient Kings did not initiate rituals and music for the mere purpose of satisfying the desires of our senses [“the mouth, the stomach, the ear and the eye”], but rather for teaching the people the right taste and the return to normality”

Cosmology became integrated with Confucianism towards the end of the first century BC. The Chinese believed that all audible sound was a manifestation of the Primal Sound – known to Hindus as OM. Primal Sound was present everywhere as an inaudible Divine Vibration. Audible sound on Earth was considered a manifestation of the Cosmic Tones – an “undertone” that conveyed supernatural powers. Music was often performed at the same time as mystical ceremony to align man with the rhythm and harmonies of the universe. According to Li Chi “Music is the harmony of heaven and earth while rites are the measurement of heaven and earth. Through harmony all things are made known; through measure all things are properly classified. Music comes from heaven; rites are shaped by earthly designs.”

There are twelve Cosmic Tones or lu that emanate from the Primal Sound and according to legend, imitate the cries of the phoenix. Each Cosmic Tone was associated with one of the twelve zodiacal regions of the heavens. Furthermore, six of these Cosmic Tones are yang (male, positive) in nature and the other six yin (female, negative). The five notes Kung, Shang, Chueh, Chih and Yu that first appeared in Kuan-Tzu (4th century BC) are generally considered to be the earliest Chinese pentatonic scale. The number 5 had cosmogenic significance, and the five notes were often associated with planets, animals, colours etc. Some of these associations are shown below.

tableONE

The concept of yang and yin is an integral part of Chinese philosophy and consequently was also an integral part of the Ancient Chinese philosophy towards music. The Chinese believed that everything in the universe consisted of different combinations of these two fundamental opposite forces. These different combinations are symbolised in sets of three lines called Kua, where an unbroken line represents yang and a broken line represents yin. There are eight different combinations representing all matter in the universe. Musical instruments would therefore invoke the spirit of a particular season or element by association as shown below.

tableTWO

Early classics such as Yueh-Chi supply rich sources of music theory.  The emphasis on a world view of music had a lasting influence on later theorists.  In the Six Dynasties period (220-581) and the T’ang Dynasty (618-907) when China was under the cultural influence of central Asia, a great number of foreign musical practices were received and assimilated.  By the Sung Dynasty (960-1279), these foreign elements had been incorporated into Chinese music theory and, together with the doctrine of neo-Confucianism, became part of the orthodox teachings for many centuries.

The earliest complete account of the intervallic relationships of the 12 lu first appeared in Lu-shih ch’un-ch’iu (3rd century BC).  The method of their calculation is the simple application of the Pythagorean (cycle of fifths) method. The names of the 12 lu first appeared in Kuo-yu (4th century BC), but discoveries of accurately tuned stone-chimes suggest that the system could have been known as early as the 2nd millennium BC.  The method for calculating the twelve lu is as follows; after the length of the vibrating string, which produces the fundamental note (known as huang-chung, “yellow bell”) has been determined, the next note is obtained by multiplying the length of this string by a factor of 2:3.

This process is called san-fen-sun-i (“divide into three, take away one”).  The resultant note is a perfect 5th higher in frequency than the huang-chung and is called lin-chung (“forest bell”). This process is repeated to form the series of 12 notes.  Similarly, a factor of 4:3 could be used to calculate lu using the cycle of fourths.  If C is taken as huang chung, then the twelve lu are huang-chung (C), ta-lu (C#), t’ai-ts’u (D), chia-chung (D#), ku-hsien (E), chung-lu (F) jui-pin (F#) lin-chung (G),i-tse (G#), nan-lu (A), wu-i (A#) and ying-chung (B).

Since the earliest times Chinese theorists have placed great emphasis on absolute pitch, as it was related to official standards of measurement for length, capacity and weight. The pitch of huang chung, which generates all the other notes, was naturally the most important and was always represented by the measurement of a string or pipe.  Time and again attempts were made to “rediscover” the true measurement of huang-chung; a survey by Yang shows that there were at least 35 pitch reforms between the late Chou period (c. 3rd century BC) and the Chi’ing Dynasty (1644-1911) during which time the pitches used for huang chung varied between C and A.

The Pythagorean system of the 12 lu produces an untempered scale which means that pairs of adjacent pitches do not all have the same interval.  A further problem with this method results when the process of derivation is carried from the twelfth note, as the resulting 13th note is slightly higher than a perfect octave above huang chung.  To continue the calculation results in an endless spiral.

The first attempt at creating an equal tempered scale was made by Ho Ch’eng-t’ien (5th century BC) who lowered the frequency of each of the notes of the Pythagorean series by a simple factor so that the 13th note was exactly twice the frequency of huang-chung. By this method he not only completed the cycle but also reduced the differences in intervals between adjacent notes.  Chu Tsai-yu (16th century) finally created an equal-tempered scale of 12 notes by successively dividing the fundamental number (i.e. that of huang-chung) by the 12th root of 2.  Kuttner’s study shows that Chu discovered the calculation of a tempered scale not through a theoretical understanding and calculation of the role of the 12th root of 2, but by a numerological manipulation which gives an identical solution.

There is little evidence that tempered or other theoretical scales were really put into practice. The just intonation was apparently applied by ch’in performers as early as the 6th century.  Studs marking the stopping positions placed at simple divisions of the strings show that harmonics were used widely; but ch’in manuals from the 16th century have also indicated certain adjustments that seem to bring the intonation closer to equal temperament.

The five notes making up the Chinese pentatonic scale that first appeared in Kuan-tzu are also the first five of the Pythagorean series.  When arranged in an ascending order they are equivalent in terms of relative pitch to C D F G A.  However, the series F G A C D which is discussed in the much later work Shih-chi, seems to have been the more common pentatonic scale.  The concept of a scale may well have been recognized at that time because the names of the five notes, kung, shang, cheuh, chih, yu were listed according to ascending pitch although the ordering according to the Pythagorean series should have been kung, chih, shang, yu, cheuh.

The heptatonic scale of F G A B C D E referred to widely in later theoretical treatises is formed by the first seven notes of the Pythagorean series. It was first discussed explicitly in writings of the 2nd century, although an earlier work, kuo-yu, mentions it vaguely.  Furthermore, the concept of transposition could have been formed early as li-chi (c. 1st century BC) mentions the successive use of each of the 12 lu as kung, the starting note of the scale.

The term tiao is used widely by musicians for different purposes, probably the most important being the classification of melodies.  Names of tiao appearing as headings to musical pieces serve as a reminder of the melody to be adopted for new texts.  However, many theorists’ definitions and presentations of tiao can be equated with the Western term “mode”.  Earlier writings vaguely allude to a modal concept, while Shen Kua (1031-95) and the authors of Tz’u-yuan and Shih-lin Kuang-chi Chang Yen (1248-c1315) and Ch’en Yuan-ch’ing (c1270) respectively) described modes in exact terms.  According to the two latter works the heptatonic F mode can be constructed by using any of the twelve pitches within the octave as the tonic, and each of the seven notes of the scale can act as the final note of a melody.  A mode is thus defined by the pitch chosen for the tonic F and by the choice of the final note.  Theoretical definitions and descriptions of modes must be a drastic simplification of what happened in practice, where recognition of melodic identity undoubtedly involved much more than a mere mechanical use of beginning and ending notes. For example, analysis of ancient music manuscripts and of dramatic and instrumental music still performed shows that pieces belonging to the same mode tend to have similar melodic fragments.

The complete list of 84 modes derived from the heptatonic scale on the 12 pitches is of course only a theoretical one.  Although presented fully in the 13th century works mentioned above, not all of the names appeared in connection with actual musical pieces.  Shen Kua, who did report from factual observations, listed only 28 modes; his list even shows slight variation in the range, and omits certain notes in the scale.  Ts’ai Yuan-ting (1135-98) allowed only F G A C D to act as final notes; his set therefore consists of only 60 modes for the heptatonic scale.  He also initiated the use of the first as well as the final note of a melody as a criterion in determining its mode.  Codification and listing of modes continued to interest later theorists, but the Sung Dynasty (960-1279) can be considered the highpoint of development of modal theory in Chinese musical history.

The question of fitting music with vocals has been of special interest to theorists partly because the Chinese language has many elements analogous to music and also because words were of special interest to the literati.  Many theoretical works on singing and songwriting are really studies of Chinese phonology.

The outstanding characteristic of Chinese language is that it is tonal, with some tones moving up or down, others remain on a fairly even level. From ancient times Chinese syllables (each represented by a character which is usually a lexical unit) were grouped into four classes “even”, “rising”, “going” and “entering”, the last consisting of syllables ending abruptly in a voiceless stop consonant.  In some dialects, each of these classes is subdivided into higher and lower pitch categories.

Actual examples of Chinese vocal music show that the degree of correlation between word tones and melodic contours differs according to region, style and genre.  For example, many folksongs have low correlation, as is evident in songs which use the same melody for various stanzas of text which differ considerably in tonal patterns.  In operas and popular and narrative songs using the cantonese dialect, however, melodies closely imitate the word tones; furthermore, tonal imitation is used constantly.  In contrast, the Peking opera usually employs close imitation of actual speech tones only at selected moments for dramatic accentuation.  Most of these musical practices are virtually subconscious and are handed down among performers through oral tradition.  Theorists who have written on vocal music have usually concentrated their attention on the more sophisticated genres such as k’un-ch’u opera; their works are always prescriptive and do not describe the performance itself.

Despite all the philosophy behind ancient Chines music,it appears that theory was only put into practice on a few occasions. Because musical theory was written down, it was vulnerable to censorship and often represented the opinions of the authorities at the time, rather than the consensus of contemporary musicians and scholars.  For instance, theory says that music should educate people, regulate society, strengthen the government and above all, exist in harmony with nature.  Music that does not do this i.e. stimulates sensual pleasure was “immoral” and therefore undesirable.  However, this “immoral” music would have been enjoyed at all levels of society, although discussion would have been limited to “proper” music such as ceremonial and court music.

Source: Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians (most of the text)

Other References: The Secret Power of Music by David Tame (tables and some text)

Keith McMillen Instruments introduces BopPad – a smart sensor electronic drum pad controller — November 9, 2017

Keith McMillen Instruments introduces BopPad – a smart sensor electronic drum pad controller

splash

“For years we’ve been asked to make a drum pad with our patented Smart Fabric Sensor technology — a control surface that would integrate seamlessly into a standard drum kit or work perfectly on its own, so we made BopPad, the smart sensor electronic drum pad controller… time to give the drummer some!”

– Keith McMillen Instruments Founder & CEO Keith McMillen, 2017

BERKELEY, CA, USA: having successfully smashed its Kickstarter campaign goal several times over to help bring the thrilling project to life, innovative hardware and software developer Keith McMillen Instruments is proud to announce availability of the production version of BopPad — broadening the company’s considerable product appeal as a smart sensor electronic drum pad controller like no other with an appealing price point to match — as of September 26, 2017.

BopPad is a USB (Universal Serial Bus) powered expressive electronic pad controller for drummers, percussionists, and producers alike. As such, it advances accurate hit detection via velocity, continuous radius, and pressure sensitivity with a fast playing surface to die for. Faster than you can shake a stick at? Absolutely — as attested to by its incredible latency of under 3ms! BopPad’s advanced architecture allows for an innovative instrument that ‘sees’ every gesture, hit, or tap to truly respond to the nuances of any percussive performance, perfectly measuring strike velocity from the softest hand-drumming actions to the most brutal percussive assault.

At its core is a robust tuned elastomer surface covering a 10-inch circle of Keith McMillen Instruments’ patented Smart Fabric Sensor technology. Independently programmable Quadrants — helpfully highlighted by clearly visible guide lines on the production version — output MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) notes, velocity, pitch bend, pressure, and location CCs (Control Changes). Creatively, this serves to provide performers with a traditional feel and adds a dimension of expressivity, enabled further by BopPad Editor. Available as a desktop download and a web-based editor that uses new Web MIDI API technology to create and save presets from the browser, this allows each of those simultaneously-playable Quadrants to be assigned to play up to six simultaneous notes with six expressive timbre maps, meaning that BopPad can not only be played like a traditional drum by triggering a single sound from its entire surface but building out a drum kit by assigning a different sound to each of those Quadrants so that a single BopPad can comfortably handle several simultaneous percussive goals. Get this, though: smoothly varying radial sensing from centre to edge along with continuous pressure response can be mapped to any parameter, allowing for both traditional and experimental playing styles like no other! Once a preset has been saved to the BopPad there is no need to run the BopPad Editor software while using it.

It is easy to get started; simply plug and play via USB with any mobile device, laptop, or desktop computer. Critically, as a class- compliant MIDI device, BopPad works with all music software. Speaking of which, with the production version of BopPad, Keith McMillen Instruments has integrated full MIDI five-pin DIN hardware compatibility courtesy of its own MIDI Expander, enabling BopPad to be used in a standalone capacity with external drum machines, hardware synths, or rack effects by providing power and connectivity. No computer (necessarily) needed!

Whatever way users choose to work with BopPad, percussive performance is where its innovative heart is. It can comfortably operate as a conventional practice pad with realistic feel and a portable, lightweight design — robustness that has been made even more so, thanks to improvements in its production version such as an anodised aluminium USB guard with a finish that is as tough as the guard itself, so there is no chance of paint abrasion due to impact, never mind accidentally hitting the USB cable itself! In every sense, then, BopPad is rugged, ready to go anywhere and be played however hard the user sees fit.

For Keith McMillen Instruments, bringing BopPad to life in its final form is a proud moment — making something this sensitive, this rugged, and at such an appealing price point is very demanding. So who better to have his final say on what could conceivably be the last word in expressive electronic drum pad controller design than company Founder & CEO Keith McMillen, himself an acclaimed audio and music technology innovator of some 30 years standing: “For years we’ve been asked to make a drum pad with our patented Smart Fabric Sensor technology — a control surface that would integrate seamlessly into a standard drum kit or work perfectly on its own, so we made BopPad, the smart sensor electronic drum pad controller… time to give the drummer some!”

BopPad carries an MSRP of $199.00 USD and is available to purchase from any authorised Keith McMillen Instruments dealer or directly from Keith McMillen Instruments here.

For more in-depth information, please visit the dedicated BopPad product webpage here.

Watch Keith McMillen Instruments’ intriguing BopPad overview video here.

I haven’t tried this out but the demonstration videos look excellent. Although designed as a drum pad controller, I think with a bit of creativity you could also use it in many different ways. Looking at the editor, it’s easy to assign up to 6 notes and midi channel to a particular quadrant so there’s no reason you couldn’t use it to trigger other samples, loops, synths or effects.

setup

You can create as many presets as you want in the editor, the BopPad can store 4 presets at a time. Your preset includes a ‘user table’ which is effectively a response curve to pressure and velocity, there are linear, logarithmic, exponential, light, medium, hard and dynamic. The beauty of these is they can be fine tuned to suit your needs or edited to more specialised data shapes such as stair-stepped or quantised.

user table

It’s not just these though, the editor allows you control over a whole host of parameters giving huge customisation options.

configure

Recording of inflexions #003 live set in Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3 — November 8, 2017

Recording of inflexions #003 live set in Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3

The recent review of Sensomusic Usine Hollyhock 3 outlined some of the patches and effects that I used during the making of ‘the prismatic effect of beaches on memory’ album.

Hollyhock 3 is equally at home being used for live performance and this is how I recorded inflexions #003 as a live set.

I’ve deliberately kept the number of elements small in order to produce a minimal type of sound and focus on editing a limited number of parameters which is easier to do during a live performance. One thing I need to look at for future performances is using a midi controller rather than the mouse. I really need a control interface with a lot more dials than trigger pads, a mixer seems a better option as keyboard controllers rarely have anywhere near enough dials. I could also set up an interface using touch-osc and control the key parameters using a tablet, this doesn’t have the same satisfaction as a physical controller but would provide a cost free alternative.

I started using fugue 2.0 with the Arreight Synth and Mogger Super Delay. This is a slightly unusual use for the fugue machine which is a midi based pianoroll sequencer and fugue 2.0 is an updated version of the original. You can use it to create some Bach sounding movements but I’ve used it here to produce more of a background drone type sound. The different parameters of an Arreight preset were randomised during the performance. You can hear an almost tape delay effect due to the timing of randomising the delay time setting.

fugue_arreight

I’ve used the U Drone synth with Mogger Reverb and Mogger Super Delay to provide subtle background sounds. I’ve triggered, looped and removed sounds a lot during the performance and tried to layer bass drones with swirls and higher pitched sounds to varying degrees.

udrone

Groove mangle provides a subtle rhythm and parameters were adjusted during the performance. I primarily changed the sample width, grain size and triggering pattern which had a big influence on the resulting sound.

groove mangle

I used the drum machine for the main rhythm starting with a randomised setting. I made some minor adjustments to the pattern before reducing it towards the end which is shown on the graphic. I made use of the freez, random and break settings during the performance.

drum rack

The gird I used was relatively simple, I used fade-in and fade-out settings for each of the elements and used timings to spread out and gradually layer the sounds but didn’t use any other automation as all the changes were done live during the performance.

grid

The only VSTs I used were the usual ‘pre-master’ of Ferric TDS and Density MkIII, the mix was mastered in MuLab 7 using Elevate by Eventide / Newfangled Audio. This was a trial run for a forthcoming review, initial impressions are very good, it’s feature packed, easy to use and produces a great sound.

Review of ‘Scatter’ – ambient glitch loops sample pack by Mode Audio —

Review of ‘Scatter’ – ambient glitch loops sample pack by Mode Audio

Mode Audio has introduced Scatter, a 590Mb collection of royalty free ambient textures and glimmering Downtempo rhythms that will sit joyously within productions ranging from House and Techno to film soundtracks and more. It is available in Wav, Rex2, Reason and Ableton Live pack formats from Mode Audio (£18 regular price).

This review is for the Ableton Live sample pack which features a total of more than 350 samples arranged in different folders. The ‘projects’ folder contains 15 live project files (.als); The ‘samples’ folder contains 3 sub folders comprising ‘Drum Hits’, ‘Scatter loops’ and ‘Scatter Tail samples’ folders; The ‘MIDI Loops’ folder contains the sub-folders ‘arps’, ‘basses’, ‘chords and pads’, ‘drums’ and ‘perc’.

The Scatter Loops folder contains 30 arp synth loops, 15 bass loops, 30 chord and pad loops, 31 drum loops, 14 noise loops and 32 percussion loops which are labelled by name, key and tempo.

The arps folder contains 2 arps for each named sound, ranging from 66bpm to 122bpm. I really like the difference in sound between the two arps, they give a really good variety of sound. The loops have been processed with a subtle saturation and a great warmth resulting in an ambient sound with a nice hint of glitch at times.

The bass loops folder contains a range of deep, rolling, subby, gnarly and dubstep type sounds which have a glitchy edge to them and a warm, solid presence.

The chords and pads folder contains an excellent range of chords and pads which have a warm, saturated sound with a glitchy edge. Some of these have soundscape / cinematic qualities whilst others have more of an upfront sound and complement or contrast with the arps very well. There’s often a subtle movement in these sounds which makes them more interesting.

The drum loops folder contains a range of downtempo loops which have a warm and punchy sound with a edge of saturation and glitch. There a great variety of different sounding loops and I really like how they are split into drum loops and hat loops which allows you to create a more stripped back feel as well as a fuller loop and apply separate processing if required.

The noise loops folder contains a range of vinyl, crackle and hum type sounds, some of which have rhythmic properties. These can be used to add a different element to your sound and are ideal for further processing in themselves.

The percussion loops folder contains a range of glitchy, percussive and impact sound loops which can add a third dimension to the drum loops or can be used with further processing along with the noise loops to create some excellent ambient, glitchy sounds.

The Scatter Tail samples folder contains ‘tail samples’ which are an addition we’ve seen in other Mode Audio packs. On the face of it they allow you to apply a natural reverb tail to sample loops which is really useful in itself. However, they are also excellent sound sources in their own right that can be manipulated and mangled to add interesting elements to your tracks or could even be used as a starting point for new tracks.

The Midi loops folder is a very welcome addition to the sample pack and contains contains 127 fully featured midi loops. Typically 4 bar loops, these can be used with your own sounds or edited to create subtle or stark contrast and variations.

The drum hits sub-folder contains 16 kick samples, 16 snare samples, 20 high-hat samples (open and closed) and 12 percussion samples. These have a great warmth, an edge of saturation and a very natural sounding reverb.

Verdict

This is an excellent value sample pack which contains a variety of sample loops and drum hits with a warm, saturated sound often with an edge of glitch. They provide inspiration for a wide range of styles especially ambient and glitchy type tracks and many others too. As with other Mode Audio packs there is potential to mix and match samples to create tracks but you can use also use these loops as a starting point to create something new and original. The sounds layer really well together and give options for a stripped back sound or a fuller sound and everything in between. The tail samples are an excellent addition and the inclusion of midi loops are also very welcomed to give even greater flexibility and potential. I really enjoyed using these loops and experimented with further processing to produce an EP titled ‘dissonant perceptions’ which was created using only sounds from the pack processed with various samplers, glitch and delay effects using Mulab 7 and is embedded above.