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The Discrete Charm Of The VCV Rack

Every so often I discover a piece of music software that makes me giddy with the possibilities it presents. That’s what I feel about VCV Rack. It presents the on-screen equivalent of a Eurorack modular. It has a large number of useful modules, some actually based on popular Eurorack hardware modules. It has a community of 3rd Party developers who are constantly adding new modules to the collection. And the application and most of the modules available for it are open source, supported by an enthusiastic developer community.

We don’t really need VCV Rack.  There’s Reaktor, Max/MSP, Pure Data, and a number of other tools. Propellerhead Reason also uses a rack & wires visual design, but most of it’s rack devices are higher-level objects than those presented in an actual modular, real or virtual.

What makes VCV Rack fun to work with is that it doesn’t have (as e.g. Max & Reaktor) a distinction between programming and presentation. There’s no “under the hood.” You insert modules and wire them together. There’s nothing wrong with Reaktor and Max, they just require more actually programming and debugging to get something working. I write code for a living, so when I want to make music, I don’t want to think like a programmer any more.

I’ve also found it very stable, though the documentation on using the user interface is lacking. Some tips:

  • To wire an output that already has a wire plugged into it, hold down Ctrl (Windows/Linux) or Option(Mac)
  • When you right click to add a module there’s a search box at the top of the dialog, something I missed completely.
  • To learn different manufacturer’s modules, try making an instance of each of them and play around with them.

A lot of exciting things are happening in the VCV world in the near future. The main developer, Andrew Belt is continually improving the user interface and making new high-quality modules. He’s also hinted at adding a ‘package manager’ so that you don’t have to manually download plugins and unpack them in the Rack directory. That’s the biggest drawback to VCV, that it hasn’t really been ‘productized.’ You can be a computer musician without knowing how to to do manual installs, and Belt is putting some effort into making it more of a polished product.

As a demonstration of the sort of thing one can do with VCV rack here’s an experiment I did today: http://cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/Chaircrusher-VCV6.mp3.

There are two Oscillators driven by JW-Modules GridSeq. The Gridseqs are stepped through randomly (and periodically randomizes the notes), but it more or less adds up because it quantizes the note values to a scale. So the 3 GridSeq instances might be constantly spewing more or less random notes, but they all fit in the same scale and key.

The other technique I use is to use logic modules and comparators such that if a note is playing on one of the oscillators, it won’t start a note on the other. This was an attempt at emulating what I hear in Autechre’s music of late, where there will be 2 or more parts that alternate chaotically, but stay out of each other’s way.

All the notes (and drum hits) are triggered or not triggered based on chance, but they are on a steady 16th note grid. So it wonky but there is a constant pulse in there somewhere. I muck that up a bit by having effects that are not tempo synced, but hey, that’s what the cool kids do these days.

Olive Kitteridge Music & the synchronicity of chord changes

The new HBO series “Olive Kitteredge” is great television, and the music, composed by Carter Burwell provides a lot of the moody atmosphere for the show.:
[audio:http://www.cornwarning.com/xfer/CarterBurwell-OliveKitteredgeTheme.mp3|titles=Olive Kitteredge Main Theme|artists=Carter Burwell]
But I was sure that I’d heard the main theme music before, or something very similar to it. It nagged me all day and then I remembered: The song “Paradise Circus” by Massive Attack, used for the theme of the British crime drama “Luther.”

This is also, in the form of a Gui Borrato remix, used in a 2011 car commercial in the United States.

This is a really simple chord progression:
F minor, A flat Major, C Major, E minor diminished.
ParadiseCircus

But quite evocative. You can never know for sure whether Burwell had heard the Massive Attack song, and incorporated that core chord sequence, or if he came up with it independently. I’m reminded of the Axis of Awesome’s “40 songs, same chords” performance:

Trailer for “Olive Kitteridge”

In which SoundCloud sends me a hilarious takedown notice

Anand and SchatarSo today I got this interesting message from Soundcloud:

Hi chaircrusher,

Our automatic content protection system has detected that your sound “Rubber Duckie (Wub Machine Remix)” may contain the following copyright content: “Get Some Fruit (Wubstep Dubstep Remix)” by Anand Bhatt, owned by Favorecido Productions. As a result, its publication on your profile has been blocked.

You can dispute this report, if you believe the copyright content has been mistakenly identified or if you have obtained all the necessary rights, licenses and/or permissions to upload and share this material on SoundCloud.

Please do so by filling out our dispute webform at the following link:https://soundcloud.com/settings/disputes/6512879

If you would like to learn more about copyright, please visit our copyright information page.

Thanks,

The SoundCloud Copyright Team

FYI I didn’t even remember uploading it to Soundcloud — it was just a joke that took about 5 minutes to put together. I kind of love how it turned out, since Sesame Street is embedded in my DNA. If you need to hear it:

[audio:http://www.cornwarning.com/xfer/RubberDucky-WubMachine.mp3|titles=Rubber Ducky Wub Machine Remix|artists=chaircrusher] http://www.cornwarning.com/xfer/RubberDucky-WubMachine.mp3

There are several things that are awesome about this:

  • Soundcloud’s automated copyright infringement detector did NOT detect my actual ‘infringement,’ which was against Jeff Moss and Jim Henson, who wrote and performed the original Rubber Duckie.   I claim this is fair use, but I’m not going to the wall on that; this was a JOKE track, it isn’t worth it.
  • Soundcloud’s audio fingerprint software did detect that there was some common source material in the Rubber Duckie Wubstep remix and that track by Anand Bhatt. That common material is there because Bhatt and I did the same thing: Took an audio file and fed it to the Wub Machine, which is a neat hack that ‘converts’ any audio file into bad dubstep.  Feed the Wub Machine random songs, traffic noises, outgoing voicemail messages yadda yadda, and hey presto! Bad dubstep! it’s hours (well, minutes) of fun.
  • The most hilarious part of this debacle?  This guy Anand Bhatt has released a digital EP which you can buy here on Amazon.  Bhatt took what sounds like random crappy songs, ran them through the Wub Machine and released them as his own original ‘remixes’!

What conclusions can I draw from this?

  • Soundcloud’s audio fingerprint software is able to detect common elements in two songs.  That’s great, but it can’t distinguish between one song sampling another, and two songs containing common source material.  So it’s going to generate thousands of false positives.  I guarantee that the worst-paid people at Soundcloud are the poor shmoes who have to wade through all the people contesting false positives for copyright infringement.
  • Anand Bhatt is a complete tosser.  Don’t believe me?  Visit his mega-awesome website, or his Amazon Store.  All those pictures at the Grammies are curiously absent of any other people, as though he snuck in after hours to get his picture taken in front of the Grammy background.  This man has been spending his time inventing an imaginary international rockstar career.

Here’s the transcendent, timeless, original “Rubber Duckie”

Chaircrusher Live @ Gabe’s October 11th 2012

I had a fine time, though it would have been great if more people showed up — I mean I’m used to playing to mostly empty rooms, but we had guys in from out of town who hit a deer trying to get there. But hey, Thursday night at Gabe’s — hard to draw a lot of people. Anyway Moldover sounded great. I particularly liked the a cappela song he opened with, and his guitar playing, which always drove the songs and sounded great. Exaltron has evolved a unique approach to live performance, combining voice, trumpet and guitar, live looping, expertly programmed sampled drumming and crazy electronic messing about.

I was mostly happy about my set, which may have come from working myself into a tizzy for weeks getting read to play. Mostly new stuff done in the past couple months, some of it bespoke for the live set.

[audio:http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/2012-10-11-Chaircrusher-Live.mp3|titles=Chaircrusher Live @ Gabe’s 2012-10-11|artist=Chaircrusher] http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/2012-10-11-Chaircrusher-Live.mp3

Even More Granulosity – PaulStretch

GO HERE FOR LATEST AND GREATEST

When I did the OS X build for PaulStretch, it became the most popular and enduring blog post I’ve ever done.

Paulstretch has kind of a funky user interface, but the way it sounds, and the sound variations it is capable of are fantastic. And it’s free. It also can take a 3 minute song and turn it into a week-long ambient drone. The dude who wrote it (Nasca Octavian Paul) shows up on the web every 5 years ago and drops a piece of interesting software, then disappears again. He’s never returned my e-mails, and I’ve maintained the OS X port!

Anyway, this is Paulstretch operating on “Mal Hombre” by the legendary Lydia Mendoza
[audio:http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/LydiaMendoza-MalHombre-PaulStretched.mp3|titles=Mal Hombre (PaulStretched)|artists=Lydia Mendoza]
http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/LydiaMendoza-MalHombre-PaulStretched.mp3

The original. I should mention that Lydia Mendoza is absolutely fantastic. A pioneer of Norteño music, the popular music of Mexican-Americans in the United States, she plays that music kind of like what’s playing in Mexican Restaurants, only she’s as fearless a singer as Aretha Franklin. She can bring me to tears, and I don’t even know Spanish.
[audio:http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/LydiaMendoza-MalHombre.mp3|titles=Mal Hombre|artists=Lydia Mendoza]
http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/LydiaMendoza-MalHombre.mp3

Waking The Dead — Kickass Sound Design

Waking The Dead is a BBC Crime Drama that I watched a lot of last weekend. It is basically the UK version of “Cold Case” but is a lot less gimmicky and a lot more hard-boiled. It’s not quite Prime Suspect but it’s rather good.

I usually watch TV and pay attention mostly to whether I enjoy it, without a lot of deep interest in the craft of how it was made. But I watched the first 2 minutes of the Episode Deathwatch and the sound was so badass I backed up and played it again. Every detail of how this is put together — the slamming of doors, the sliding of the cabinet between the waiting room and the gallows room, the occasional sub-bass drop added for drama, and most of all, the faint, subliminal bird calls in the background.

I heard this and immediately thought ‘there’s an entire track in those samples!’

[audio:http://www.cornwarning.com/xfer/WakingTheDead-S2E2-Opening.mp3]
http://www.cornwarning.com/xfer/WakingTheDead-S2E2-Opening.mp3

i beat the internet

Since going to my sister’s wedding (a week ago today) I have yet to ‘catch up’ on all the blog feeds & such I have in Google Reader. And this morning I just started marking ‘all read’ entire categories.

I feel like I no longer have the appetite to ‘keep up.’ Of course, the Internet is a giant time-sink, and makes newspapers (which were derided as ‘fish-wrap’ back in the day) look like engraved stone tablets by comparison.

It’s all so ephemeral. When I was going to sleep last night, I was thinking about this, and also about quantum physics (and no I’m by no means deep) and all the fizzing and nattering on the Internet made me think of virtual particles in a vacuum, that keep popping into existence in particle/anti-particle pairs. They only exist for the tiniest moment before annihilating each other.

Now unlike protons and anti-protons, all this gabbling on the net actually tries to mean something, and insofar as the Internet is the public commons for this age, and is where everyone carries on political discourse, it’s important.

But even as I have some desire that people pay attention to ME, out of vanity or whatever, do I have any particular obligation to pay attention to the Internet? Any more, I think I like listening to NPR better — no commercials (well …) and precisely one person at a time is talking to me.

Of course, you can’t beat Björk the bear shaking her cub out of a tree.

He sweat so much, he could keep fish alive in his armpits…

I had a not-enough-coffee moment this morning, where I wanted to look up something about Traktor and instead went to Traktor.com which is a company of film-makers who among other things make commercials. It’s worth going to the site for the demo reel that plays automatically. It’s structured as a movie trailer, but since it packs in “trailer moments” from something like 50 short films, it makes your head reel to construct a mental model of the non-existent movie it promotes.

And their individual films are pretty great too. This one tells a story that needs no words:

Liaisons Dangereuses – Los Niños Del Parque

I noticed DJ Pierre tweeting about “Los Niños Del Parque” by Liaisons Dangereuses, and checked out the Youtube video that was making the rounds. This is apparently a miniature Twitter phenomenon, so I’m jumping on a bandwagon yet again. Oh well…

Anyway, I went looking for some place to buy the music, and it turns out Hit Thing has re-issued it, so I ordered it. In the meantime I found it on the Internets. Below is my ‘refix version’ — I tweaked the EQ and compression for modern DJ’ing, and warped it to steady 116 BPM. The original was a fairly constant 114, but I think there are a couple of clumsy tape edits or stretches in it to throw it off here and there.

[audio:http://www.cornwarning.com/xfer/LiaisonsDangereuse-LosNinosDelParque.mp3|titles=Los Niños Del Parque|artists=Liaisons Dangereues]
http://www.cornwarning.com/xfer/LiaisonsDangereuse-LosNinosDelParque.mp3
LiaisonsDangereuse-LosNinosDelParque.flac

Ableton Live Cheap Trick — Transient Stretch Mode Abuse

1. Load some audio into a slot.
2. Select ‘Beats’ for the warp mode.
2. Select Transient mode for the Grain resolution
3. Select ‘Off Mode’ for the Transient Loop Mode — icon looks like ‘->|’
4. Dial Transient envelope down to zero

It ends up sounding like a gate effect, but it can be further confused by, for example telling it to use 16th notes instead of transients for the Grain resolution.

The track below is entirely comprised of Ableton Live time stretching abuse of various sorts….

[audio:http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/Chaircrusher-MessedUpStrings.mp3]
http://www.cornwarning.com/chaircrusher/Chaircrusher-MessedUpStrings.mp3

Lackluster “Portal EP” — CC Net Release – Free Download


Lackluster “Portal EP”

This is a collection of tracks that was supposed to come out on another label that closed up shop. I offered to do a Creative Commons release for Lackluster. He located the masters (on backups, and backups of backups!) and I mastered them.

Lackluster has been one of the most well regarded artists in the genre known (controversially) as IDM. With a discography going back 10 years, he has released music on Merck, Monotonik, deFocus and many others.

Graphic design by Matt Seeman