It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on this page. In the past year, most of my postings have been as part of the Brooklyn Digital Conservatory which I founded a year ago. I wanted to share my latest project which I’m beginning to perform live with.
Generative music is a term coined in the 1970’s by Brian Eno and it refers to music generated through an algorithm in a system. The artist then grabs what the machine generates and does their best to make art from it. I find to the concept fascinating because I see it as a metaphor for life and improvisation. Time and chance throw event and people at you and each day you essentially figure out ways to take what you’re given and make the best from it. Sometimes it’s beautiful, many times it’s not, but it is always truly original.
The instrument I’ve come up with (pictured above) I call a digital electronium in honor of one of the great musical geniuses of the 20th century, Raymond Scott. Scott’s electronium was an analog machine designed to generate patterns that the artist could capture and alter and create a kind of duet between the composer and the music. This is my goal for this live set – to essentially compose electronic music so rapidly that to any listener it sounds like a live performance, and yet every single sound is generated either through random algorithms in the machine, synth parts I play in live and loop and external audio, from my own voice or that of other musicians, I sample into the computer.
The rules I made in creating this set are the following:
1. Absolutely no pre-recorded audio can be used at all.
2. I must begin with an empty Ableton set with no clips containing either audio or MIDI
3. All sounds can only come from the following: 1. Sounds by random algorithms generated by computer-based synthesizers. 2. Sequences on computer-based synthesizers that I play live into the computer. 3. External audio including vocals, electric bass, any other live instrument, a transistor radio etc. etc.
I have two purposes in creating this set.
Firstly to push the boundaries in regards to live electronic music performance and move away from pre-recorded audio towards sound created for the place and time of the performance. I say this without any disrespect for DJs. In fact, I would like my set to sound at times like a great DJ set. DJs are some of my biggest inspirations and it is an incredible art, but I am and have always been a live musician and have been making music on instruments since the age of 4.
Secondly, to learn to produce and make music so rapidly with Ableton that I can compose in real time. I’ve always wanted Ableton to become a true instrument – just like my bass – one that I can use to rapidly create music on my own and with collaborators.
I will be doing a series of performances at Brooklyn’s ShapeShifter Lab this summer and fall and hopefully getting ninja on this new instrument.
I’ll be doing a live set tomorrow night at 9:00 with Comandante Zero at the MediaLab Dance Party in downtown NYC. Live electro-funk and some PUSH.
I’m a big fan of the Shapeshifter Lab. It’s a great space run by a great artist – Matthew Garrison who was also my former bass teacher. Matt has a very forward thinking concept with music, especially when merging the digital and instrumental worlds, so I’m really happy to see that Shapeshifter is looking to become a center where NYC’s electronic music culture can intersect with its deep jazz/improvisation culture. Next Saturday, May 23, he will host an electronic underground event. I’ll definitely be there . More info here.
Here’s a recent video of tips on producing and performing with the Ableton PUSH’s drum sequencer.
Beginning in September, 2015 I will be teaching Ableton courses at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. I will remain at Dubspot as well as the Director of International and on the faculty as well.
For the last couple of months I’ve been working on a new Ableton PUSH set up for live performance. I’ll write a more extensive piece on this in the next couple of weeks, but this is briefly what I’ve been working with:
I’m seeing the whole set up as a complete instrument. It’s a hybrid – a DJ set up and live instrument matched together. In my left hand I have the DJ controls – volume faders, a cross faders and knobs controlling filters, delays and the sounds of the TB 303 emulator that I’m running. In my right hand are the live instruments I’m playing. I use the PUSH to program beats on the fly, use the step sequencer and play lead lines and bass lines. I also trigger samples with this hand and “play” the filters of the Moog Minitaur
My goal with this set up is to essentially improvise a dance set. Start with just a couple of sounds and loops and rock a dance floor for an hour. No set can or will ever be the same – it will depend on the night, crowd and how everything comes together.
I also have a random acid house generator spitting out patterns when I really want to take a completely unplanned detour and see what I can do with it. Kind of like life – taking what’s handed to you and doing the best you can with what the universe has given to you. : ) More on some of the details of the set up and tips on live performance with PUSH to come.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Here’s a piece I wrote in 2012 that I’ve been thinking about as 2015 begins…
Two weeks ago I went and saw the film ‘Jiro Dreams Of Sushi‘. It’s a documentary about Jiro Ono, an 85 year old chef considered to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. The movie is a beautiful piece and is really a study about what it takes to become a master artist. In the film, a well-known Japanese food critic lists the attributes of what makes Jiro a master. I thought they were a pretty good summary of what it takes to be an excellent producer/artist as well, so I wanted to share them. Here they are….
1. He Takes His Art Seriously – This is, believe it or not the hardest part to being an artist. Most of us grow up in a world where we are told that sitting in an office and entering numbers into a computer is ‘serious’, but making a piece of music is just for fun or even frivolous. So when we desire to make music many of us,including myself, struggle with our inner parents/teachers/friends etc. who tell us that it’s just a phase until we get decide what we’re really going to do. If you plan to be a producer/artist, change this attitude now. What you do us the most important thing in the universe. You create beauty to give people joy, ecstasy or sadness. You give them the fleeting moments of their life to make them know what being human truly is. And in our journey on this plane, we need these spiritual moments as much as food or water to make this existence meaningful.
2. Willingness To Work Hard – This goes without saying. I’ve been in NYC’s music scene for over a decade and the one constant that I’ve noticed is that talent is maybe 10% of the reason an artist does well. Work ethic and perseverance is about 90%. I really don’t believe in luck, except for the fact that you’re lucky to be be alive and in good health. Otherwise you make your own opportunities.
3. Absolute Cleanliness – In ‘Jiro Dreams Of Sushi’ absolute cleanliness is considered a virtue, because if the restaurant was in the slightest bit dirty, it would impact the taste of the food. In the world of production, absolute cleanliness is a virtue because it speeds your work flow. By cleanliness, it is not necessarily being able to do a white glove test on your console (although, if you can maintain that level of cleanliness in your space, your equipment will love you). It’s about the organization of files, of projects, of sessions. It’s about maintaining your tools in top working order. All of this will unclog your workflow and let the creative spirit pass through you without interruption.
4. Command And Leadership – As a producer, especially as a DJ/producer or performer producer, you are in charge. Even though this may not be the case in every project, there will come a time when you will have to take command of a project. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be a collaborator – all musicians should. It means you should have a strong vision, be clearly competent and have the other necessary attributes of leadership – responsibility, punctuality and the habit of keeping commitments.
5. Impatience – On one hand, patience is a virtue in music and art in that it takes time to practice, acquire skills and have them fully realize themselves. By impatience, an artist realizes that they have something to say and that there is no time to be wasted in acquiring the necessary skills, practicing them and then producing what has to be produced and getting it out to the world. Often, it can seem like there’s so much time to do what we’re going to want to do, but, there’s really not…
Finally a last piece of wisdom from Jiro. In the movie, he tells his son: A great chef must eat the best, so that they will always have better taste than their customers. This is true with music as well. Listen widely and listen to the masters. Listen deeply to outstanding musicians of all styles. It opens the mind, fills you with ideas and makes you to channel some of that mastery into your own work.