More Granularity — Christopher Hipgrave’s Ambient Software

Christopher Hipgrave’s Ambient is a piece of software distributed by Audiobulb.

Ambient is based around granular synthesis of any audio file. It’s pitch shifted, delayed and filtered, and there are several controls you can tweak to control the sound, though ‘explore’ probably makes more sense in this context than ‘control.’

But it’s definitely worth 10 Eu especially if you aren’t a musician, but want to play with a cool audio toy — load anything and then fiddle with knobs, or just hit the random button for hours of crazy sounding fun.

It’s not perfect — there isn’t any way to map the knobs to midi, and the design of the user interface encourages exploration over purposeful control. It also has a tendency to turn any input into 100 buskers playing at the same time in the Berlin Hauptbahnhof. But it is a lot of fun — something you could turn a 5 year old loose on and they’d have a blast.

Quarry Process

This is Amibient chewing up a version of Meredith Monk’s Quarry Weave, as arranged by me using ImageLine Harmless as a sound source. It sounds like part of a the soundtrack for a Wim Wenders movie to me:
[audio:|titles=Quarry Process|artists=Chaircrusher]

Quarry Weave

The source audio fed into Ambient:
[audio:|titles=Quarry Weave (arr. Chaircrusher)|artists=Meredith Monk]

Granular ‘Shoot Out’ — ArgotLunar,Discord 3,Granular-to-Go

I’ve been rather taken by using granular effects the past couple of weeks. Sure I should courriel that to Circa 2000 Twerk/Kit Clayton/Taylor Dupree, but whatever. I find things at my own pace. In particular, I like the idea of playing with a harmonically useful subset of the granular effect domain — In particular sending pad sounds through granular effects with pitch shifts like an octave or a major fifth.
The contenders:


Argotlunar has the advantage of being free. Beyond that it does have it’s own distinctive sound — it has a large number of parameters, all of which can be varied randomly. The best effects to my mind require limiting the number and range of random variations, since you can only control their depth, not their speed.


Discord3 is only partially a granular delay, being pitched more as a pitch shifter. It has 3 modes — the ‘vintage’ mode based on AudioDamage’s earlier version Discord2 (and the oldest and crustiest of the Eventide pitch effects), a ‘modern’ mode, and a grain mode. Their grain mode seems to produce more sustained output from sustained input, and at least for harmonic material, its ‘chaos’ control quickly makes a mess of its input. Not that it’s a bad thing.


Granular-To-Go is part of the discontinued Pluggo plug-in suite by Cycling74. Presumably it lives on in Max For Live, but I’ve resisted the siren call of Max thus far. The range of sounds possible are similar to ArgotLunar, but the grain length range and offset are specified in samples, which isn’t a useful rhythmic value. The sound possibilities are quite nice, ranging from clattery washes to completely mental screeching.

Which Is Better?

As Ali G once said, “which is betteh? in da sense dat one fing is better den anutha?”

Not straightforward. Getting ArgotLunar is a no-brainer because it’s free and it works great. Discord 3 is really a pitch shift effect with a granular mode thrown in. It has a lot of deep programmability and could be used for anything from a ping pong delay to a sonic mutilator. Granular-To-Go — if you can get it — shows its age, both in the ‘dot matrix printer paper’ user interface, and relative unfriendliness of its controls. But it can do it’s own brand of shimmery craziness.

[audio:|titles=Granular Test|artists=Chaircrusher]

First Harmless by itself, then ArgotLunar, then Discord3, then Granular-to-Go, then various combinations of the three in different orders.

New Chaircrusher Track “Amber Waves”

[audio:|artists=Chaircrusher|tracks=Amber Waves]

Had a track on the back burner, when i downloaded the ArgotLuna granular delay effect VST plugin. Slowed it down 50BPM, put ArgotLunar on the pad synth, and there you are.

Argotlunar is pretty cool — I like especially automating the number of active grains because you can take it from a simple pitch shifted delay to a dense cloud with the twist of a knob. I adjusted the pitch shift to 1200 cents, which pushes the delayed grains up an octave. Due to the control resolution, it’s not precisely an octave which is actually better….

The main drums come from Audiodamage Tatoo. The other sounds were things I sampled in my studio and chopped up.

The name — “Amber Waves” of GRAIN — I kill me. It’s also (I just found out) the name of a porn star in Boogie Nights

Autechre “Move Of Ten”

As has been their wont, Warp released the download version of Autechre’s new album Move of Ten as a digital download in advance of the physical product. So I bought it yesterday.

I got the 24-bit WAV file version because, well, I have the hardware to play it and it was only a dollar more. I’ve spent a little time comparing the 320kbs MP3 file and 24-bit WAV files and it’s intriguing. I honestly can’t hear the difference — but then I only have a $500 playback system and nearly 53-year-old ears.

I messed about a bit with the track Rev(1) comparing the 2 files audibly, and then figured screw it — let’s get scientific. I loaded both the WAV and MP3 files and mixed the inverse of one with the other, trying to get as close as I could to do it 100% in phase. Then I normalized it.

This is the result:

The apparent difference between the WAV and MP3 is some white noise with a pretty wide stereo field. Interestingly, it’s not clear to me whether that’s what’s missing in the MP3, or what was added to the MP3. I suspect they added additional mastering processing to the MP3 to try and match the WAV and MP3 by ear.

If that’s the case, then the residual difference between the two could be the application of a digital exciter process, whose job is to subtly distort the signal to make it sound brighter and more ‘in focus.’

The Album itself is pretty ace, too, audio geeking aside.

PaulStretch 2.0 — OS X PPC Build!


My PaulStretch build was unfortunately Intel-only, and probably would only work with OS X 10.5 or later.

Now, a friend who shall be known (at his request) as “the anonymous benefactor” has done the build on a G5 PowerMac, running OS X 10.5.8:

This is supplied with no warranty, express or implied, and no doubt, it will NOT run on some PowerMacs. I have no idea how binary compatibility works OS X and the PPC chips, except that it does not, as Apple is wont to say “just work.”

Again, if you download either of the disk images and they do not work, feel free to follow these instructions in order to build things for yourself. According to the aforementioned Anonymous Benefactor — the instructions do, in fact “just work.”

PaulStretch — New Build For the New Decade…

EDIT: If you want the latest & greatest go here

Judging from the WP Stats, my posts about the PaulStretch extreme audio timestretching application are by far the most popular blog posts I’ve ever made, indeed I think people will be downloading it after I’m dead if this domain outlives me.

Well, today I took the time to ‘refresh’ the PaulStretch stuff. This means I updated all the libraries it depends on to current versions and rebuilt the program. I don’t mess with the program source code itself — nothing has changed in appearance or tools.

The one thing that has changed — and it’s a biggie! — is that it now can load MP3 files for processing without crashing. Huzzah!

If you want to know what I’m talking about, check the original post here. I’ve updated the build scripts but the instructions here still apply.

The application:

The build scripts: EDIT: I had the link wrong. Sorry — one letter off.

The Disclaimer

I did this for my own amusement. I don’t want to be the guy providing tech support on Paul Stretch. So try and take care of yourselves. As far as I know no one has bothered to try and use my scripts to compile it for themselves, which I find annoying because A) people are so damn lazy and B) there should be hundreds of people around the world capable of building this program and troubleshooting any issues that come up. That’s why there’s no PPC or Snow Leopard build avaiable — not one damn person stepped up.

And as to the functioning of the program itself, or any new versions, that zynaddsubfx dude who wrote it went AWOL shortly after releasing the program. He’s never responded to any of my e-mails.

Does the world really need any more virtual instruments or effects?

… or do I really need any more?

So my arsenal for music production comprises

  1. NI Komplete 6 (Reaktor, Kontakt, FM8, Massive, Guitar Rig, Absynth, Battery)
  2. Ableton Live Suite (Sampler, Tension, Operator, Electric, Collision, Analog)
  3. Older NI synths (Pro-53, B4)
  4. UAD-1 plugins
  5. Xils (VCS3 emulation)
  6. Xoxos drum synth suite
  7. TRackS mastering plugs
  8. Most of the AudioDamage plugins
  9. AAS Ultra Analog
  10. Image-Line Harmless
  11. A few other free or cheap things
  12. Ableton Live 8 Suite Built-in effects

I’m not rich — a lot of these pieces of software were Not For Resale review copies, or Audiomidi ‘No Brainer’ Deals, or (in the case of the UAD-1) insane blow-out deals. Others are incremental purchases, like the Audiodamage stuff.

I actually have licenses software I don’t actually have loaded on my computer right now.  When I got to add a compressor to a track I don’t even know how many choices I have — I have 4 I use regularly — UAD-1 1176LN-SE, UAD-1 LA2A, AudioDamage Rough Rider, and the built in Ableton compressor.  If I want an analog synth sound I have 8 or 10 choices, and that’s before I go to my outboard real analog synths.

I follow the usual suspects (KVR et al) for news on new virtual synths and effects, and only rarely do I ever see anything I’m moved to investigate — even if it’s free! And I haven’t even begun to mention sample sets, and doing my own sampling, live guitar playing, location recording, and screwing around in Sound Forge doing sound design.

Which raises a couple of questions:  Given the glut of different software synths & effects available, does anyone really need to make more?  When was the last time someone came up with something that pegged the ‘Oh Wow’ meter?  Honestly, there seems to be a lack of imagination amongst the people writing audio software.  There just haven’t been very many things introduced in the last 20 years that are great leaps forward.  We’re still living in a world based around analog and analog-esque synths, digital FM, samplers, delays, flangers, compressors, reverbs, and distortion devices.  And most of the people involved in electronic music production barely make good use of those.  In fact, most of them use all those tools, and all the computing power that was unimaginable 20 years ago, to make complete shit.

And a lot of electronic producers spend big bucks essentially recreating Herbie Hancock’s studio circa 1975, only with a computer instead of multitrack analog tape.

Which leads me to an inescapable conclusion — I can’t keep up, and it’s a distraction to even try.  I have enough stuff at my disposal to make it ridiculous to ever want more, and to the extent I am an actual musician/producer, every second I waste dinking around on the tools as opposed to actually making tracks is a waste of time.  Basta!

Not that I’ll actually follow that advice. I’m already excited to see what happens next week at Winter NAMM!!!

HOWTO: Upgrade XP (32 bit) with the downloadable Windows 7

I had a real adventure last night, installing Windows 7. I ran into a problem so infuriating, and yet so completely boneheaded and ridiculous that I had to laugh. It’s described here. In essence, if you bought the EDU $29.95 Windows 7 Home Premium from Microsoft, the download file won’t actually work on 32-bit Windows XP. It unpacks all the files, and then tries to run a 64-bit
executable. Then it claims it can’t write to the install directory, instead of telling you the real problem — it can’t run the installer program.

Thank Jebus for the Internets — googling the error message turned up the forum discussion linked above and these
instructions on building a bootable Windows 7 Installation Disk.

I ran into another problem then — it might have been my issue, selecting the wrong install option from the menu, but I tried installs onto an existing Windows XP partition, and both ended up in an unbootable disk. Finally I punted — in XP, I deleted the partition on my new Windows 7 boot hard disk, and told it to do a full install. I was concerned this wouldn’t work, since I had the Upgrade and not the Full version, but apparently having a bootable XP disk elsewhere in the system let it do a clean install on an unformatted disk. Huzzah.

So I’ve spent several hours installing hardware drivers and my working set of software. Windows 7 feels faster than XP on the same hardware, but I’m not sure how much is actual performance improvements, and how much is having my main hard drive be a newer, faster hard drive.

The one big boo-hiss goes to M-Audio, who don’t have drivers for the Midisport 2×2 for 64 bit Vista or 7. WTF guys? Everything else seems to work great!

More from The Finger: And Now For Something Completely Awful

The way that Tim Exile’s “The Finger” is capable of completely destroying an audio source is intoxicating. I keep trying to use it ‘reasonably’ and end up doing things like this. Believe it or not, this started out as synth pad, a bassline, and a steady beat.

Then I started resampling the output of those things running through the Finger, then running the resampled audio back through the Finger, with the Finger automated with a lot of random keymashing. Then, while the mixdown was being rendered (in realtime, because there’s a juno 60 playing in there) I started randomizing The Finger’s patch, choosing different snapshots, morphing between snapshots …

I used to wonder how Rich Devine used to come up with some of the messed up sounds he did, and now I know: It’s a matter of Piling Things On Top Of Things.


Apple’s Blind Idiot Genius

So I downloaded the new ITunes last night, and tried out the Genius playlist feature. It is kind of amusing. First thing — it doesn’t know obviously, but it does a pretty good job if a track is in it’s database. For example if I chose Martyn’s “Vancouver” it puts together a playlist which is pretty much all dubstep — Scuba, 2562, Boxcutter, TRG, Burial, Blackdown, etc…

But I tried it on DJ Pierre’s “Box Energy”, and it starts out kinda OK — it grabs a couple Phuture tracks, some disco like Loleatta Holloway’s “Love Selection”, George Krans “Din Daa Daa”… but then it starts adding MGMT(?) Radiohead(??) , The Shins(???), Muse(????) and finishes it off with a healthy dose of Bloc Party.

As it happens, I at some point added my son Lucas’ ITunes library, as it existed about 3 years ago, so there are some things I don’t normally listen to. What the playlist really says is “OK here’s some old dance tunes, but dood that’s so 1989… let me play some shit I like.”

One of these things is not like the other!

Pace Copy Protection — Still Bullshit After All These Years

I built a new computer.  I installed Windows XP SP3 on the new computer.  I install my working set of music software plus a few other essentials.  Everything works perfectly.

Except for 2 packages of VST plugins.  Every VST host application stalls when it tries to do the initial plugin folder scan.

I’ve been getting good support from the software vendor in question, who I won’t name for several reasons.  What it comes down to is that PACE has for some obscure reason decided my installation of the Operating System doesn’t meet it’s standards. Apparently, by preparing an XP disk with the service packs and device drivers — the process known as slipstreaming — confuses it.

What’s more the vendor of the plugins says that they can ask Pace what the problem is, but Pace won’t tell them. I’m a big fan of this plugin vendor, but I rate using Pace CP as one of their least good ideas. Pace is famous for fucking people’s computers up, failing to work, and generally being a pain in the ass. I’m just the latest in a long line of law-abiding customers who have been prevented from using the software I’ve paid for by a bunch of thugs peddling an idea that is long past its sell by date.

Motherfuck Pace and John Wayne.

Bargain Guitar-to-MIDI converter at Audiomidi…

The Sonuus G2M Converter is, at $99 almost cheap enough for me to impulse-buy. But I’ve played around with guitar-to-midi converters from time to time and I’ve always been disappointed, and besides, after paying bills I’m already broke for July.

This thing is, of course, monophonic, and who knows what it does if you play a chord. That is usually pretty comical, and not musically useful with this sort of device. What I liked is the way the sales copy seeks to turn the drawbacks with audio to MIDI conversion into a virtue:

“For optimal MIDI conversion, your guitar playing needs to be clean and accurate. Accidental notes, resonating open strings and other sounds can often be converted into undesired MIDI notes. Often you don’t hear these when playing guitar yourself, but can detect them easily when listening live to the generated MIDI.

“Striving to improve MIDI note accuracy, encourages clean picking and accurate fingering, with good control over non-sounding strings by damping them.

“Not only will your MIDI output be more accurate, your normal guitar playing will sound clearer and more professional. It’s like having a tutor sitting beside you giving you advice. It’s also great fun!

In other words this thing is no better than any other attempt to extract note & pitch information from audio, and you’ll have to practice to build enough technique for it to be even marginally useful…

How little does Google Chrome OS means to Musicians & Producers?

The big buzz (and trending Twitter topic of the day) is Google OS. This will apparently comprise a minimal Linux Kernel, a graphical rendering engine, and Google Chrome. It will be perfect for what people spend 95% of their computing time on: dicking around in a web browser, and running web applicaitons.

This is all well and good for 99% of users, and not so good at all for people who actually do CPU-intensive computing. That means any sort of scientific computation, CAD, Image Processing, Gaming, and Music Software. All those applications require optimized native code processing, and are usually written in low level languages like C++. While the average person had enough computing power 10 years ago to satisfy their needs, those applications have no trouble soaking up all available CPU bandwidth.

If you read Slashdot or any mainstream Computer publications, they run articles every 6 months or so about how “Today’s software doesn’t take advantage of new Multi-core processors.” That might be true for applications (like Web browsers or Word processors) that spend most of their time waiting for a user to hit the next key or click the mouse, but it is not true of music software or any of the other applications mentioned above. I write software that routinely saturates as many processor cores as it can, and software like Cubase and Ableton Live do so as well.

When Google talks about the browser being the only interface to Chrome OS, and only portable web applications being available, it seems like a missed opportunity. They should allow native development, and expose an API for presentation, because it would allow people to write computationally expensive software that will run very well on their platform. A minimal Linux core and a streamlined GUI platform would be perfect for e.g. music software, and Google has the market presence to finally make Linux a viable commercial software platform.

But once again, as with Microsoft and Apple, the needs of musicians, graphic artists and scientists come last after the unwashed masses who just want to watch kittens play piano, and send nude pics of themselves to their innamorata or innamorato. This seems really short-sighted.

NI Komplete blown out at $399?!? What does it mean?

So this NI Komplete Special is definitely the talk of the music production blogs today. It’s a great deal IMHO, but it raises some questions…

Q1: It kind of makes everyone who dropped $1200 on Komplete recently feel like a chump, doesn’t it?

Q2: Does this mean NI is hard up for cash?

Q3: Is this an indication that NI is no longer as relevant as it once was?

Personally I use all the NI stuff much less than I once did. I paid for Reaktor and several upgrades, before I started getting NFR review copies — the only instruments I don’t have are Massive, Absynth, Elektrik Piano and Akoustic Piano. Those might justify buying Komplete, but like a lot of people (I think) who have started doing most their work in Ableton Live, there aren’t a lot of reasons to go beyond the instruments built into Live.

The Live Instruments are by no means the be-all and end-all of virtual instruments, but they’re good enough to get the job done, especially when you’re putting something together whose musical charms aren’t primarily a matter of sound design.

Who wants to build Paul Stretch for Power PC????

My posts about Paul Stretch may be the most widely-read thing I’ve done on this blog. I know that my build for Intel/OSX has been downloaded many times.

Unfortunately I don’t have access to a PPC Mac and I can’t be arsed to figure out how to cross-compile a PPC build, or do a universal binary version. I know that there are probably some actual Mac programmers out there — if you want to tackle doing a PPC build, I can host the install.

I really don’t want to get involved in supporting this — I’ve not heard back from the original developer at all, and if he’s not listening all I can do is provide the work I’ve already done as-is. The best I can say is that it’s worth every penny you pay.

#Ableton Q: Start a track before 1.1.0?

Notice my clever hash mark — because my posts get forwarded to Twitter … I’m becoming a blog/facebook/twitter whore.

 My friend Dylan wrote “Here’s a problem I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now: say you want to drop a track in from the very start instead of fading it in  slowly, but it starts before the first downbeat. (This usually comes up when I’m messing with acapellas, but can apply to a full song as well I suppose.) Is there a clever work-around to drag 1.1 back beyond the start  of the audio file so it drops on 4.2, for example? Then I could trigger  it however many bars earlier as appropriate to let it come in synced.”

1.1 is a convenience point so you can drag the ‘start’ marker before 1.1.   That’s a time saving trick when you’re warping a track — find the first solid, unambiguous downbeat, and then set that as 1.1, warp from there (automatically or manually) and then drag the start point to the actual track start.

BUT — if you set the start marker NOT on a downbeat, you’re not going to get things the way you’d like.  What that seems to mean is ‘the downbeat is offset from what Live thinks is the downbeat.   This lets you play tricks like drag the loop to the middle of a measure, and then set the start on the downbeat, if you want to loop a measure, but combining the first half of one measure with the last half of the previous measure.

The only way I know how to do what Dylan wants is to always keep the start marker on a downbeat.  In Live 8 you can drag the start and end markers before and after the actual clip’s start and end. So you can warp the track starting at a logical place, and then drag the start marker to the downbeat before where you’d like the clip to come in.  In Live 7, you can’t go before or after the clip’s actual beginning or end, unfortunately.

Then, if there’s audio before the beat you want to come in on, use a volume envelope to mute it.  And you have to trigger the clip a measure before where you want the downbeat to fall.

Ideally there’d be a second type of start marker, that would mean ‘start here, but keep the downbeats in sync’ — but there isn’t.

Ableton Live How To: Re-clocking tracks

Someone asked me this on twitter: “Is it possible to fix a tracks tempo in Ableton and then export it for use elsewhere?”

The answer won’t fit in a tweet, so I’m posting here.

It’s not a big deal but it’s not 100% obvious how to do this. If you only ever deal with Live, once you warp a track, you don’t need to have the track at a different tempo — you can just use it warped. Of course there’s a whole world outside Ableton Live so…

  1. Warp the track as you would usually.  If you have Live 8 by all means set the warping mode to “Complex Pro” — this will give you the best possible sound quality, and since you’re rendering it to a new audio file, there’s no CPU usage penalty.
  2. Drag the clip for the track from session view onto an audio track in the arrangement view. The keyboard shortcut for this is to click and hold the mouse on the clip and hit the tab key, and then drop the clip on the timeline at 1.1.0.
  3. At the top of the arrangement view, drag the loop region to the complete length of the track.
  4. Set the project tempo to the desired tempo.
  5. Click on the loop region at the top of the arrangement view.  This will make sure that when you render, the entire loop region will be rendered.
  6. In the file menu, choose ‘Export Audio/Video’ and save to a wav or aiff file.

This is how you’d, for example, take an 118 BPM disco track, correct any tempo fluctuations, and make a new digital copy at 125BPM.  Of cource, once you have the track in arrangement view, you can edit the track to create a new arrangement.  Helpful here are Ctrl+E to cut a track at a certain point, and Shift+mouse drag to duplicate a region.  Also, you can select a track region, and then use the ‘Duplicate time’ command in the editor.

More samples — the hallway session samples

Objects involved: Screwdriver, Steel Thermos, Spraypaint Can, Rubbermaid Shelves, Sheetrock Wall, Stair Rail, Wooden Legs That Used To Hold Up Kitchen Island, Sniffing.

Recorded with a Pacific Pro Audio Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone, Presonus Tube Pre, RME Hammerfall DSP + Multiface, 24-bit, 44.1 Khz. All samples normalized, a few really quiet ones treated after normalization to remove 60 cycle hum.

It’s interesting how much variation you can get by banging on wooden things. Most of the samples are quite short but they all have some room sound in them because I wasn’t super close the microphone. You can use them as a percussion kit without them sounding airless.