Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Two New Live Recordings from Beautiful Radiant Things

Charles "Centipede Farmer" Hoffman has posted all of the live sets from the March 20 2016 Freemont show on Soundcloud.

I have also posted a bunch of excerpts from my recent practices.  Enjoy.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Final Prep For Tonight's Gig at The Freemont

I'm playing a noise/experimental event at The Freemont in Des Moines tonight.  I've spent a lot of time practising this week and tweaked my setup and how I am approaching the set.

The problems of making electronic music performances sufficiently live are well known.  My set tonight won't be perfect, but it will be live, improvisational, unique and in the spirit of Beautiful Radiant Things' recordings.

Here is what has changed in the last couple of weeks.  If you are not an electronic musician you still might find this interesting as I think it says something about how people relate to technology.

Setup 1: Computer playing spoken word recordings parallel to effects fed by Korg Korg Monotron DELAY

That looked like this.  I blogged about it a few weeks ago.

I thought this would work out well with our without a drummer.  When having a drummer join me fell through I became very worried that this was not going to be dynamic or "live" enough.  In my desire to compensate and make the whole thing much more rock-n-roll I decided to add guitar.  

Setup 2: Computer playing spoken word recordings parallel to 
              effects fed by guitar parallel to
              guitar  (played through separate amp--signal split to feed "noise" effects going into DJ mixer)

This had a lot of advantages.  I own a great sounding closed-back guitar amp and I am a competent rock guitarist.  It would have added a significant live and visually interesting (compared to watching me stroke my chin and tweak knobs) element to the performance.  

It also gave me a lot more to worry about.  If you think of the effects and computer as two different instruments the addition of the guitar brings me up to three.  I don't like the one-person-band thing.  It divides my attention way too much.  Three instruments, three effects chains--it doesn't sound like a lot, but a jazz musician improvizes on one instrument while everyone else in the band is taking care of everything else...one instrument per person.  I think that's the optimal musical arrangement.

Playing conventional electric guitar also gets away from my electronic MO of manipulating sounds (often pre-existing sounds) until they turn into something new and musically interesting.  Although I fully accept that the way I produce Beautiful Radiant Things recordings can't, unaltered, become live performance, live electric guitar was a BIG conceptual and spiritual departure.  That's OK.  I'm not saying it's a bad idea to combine them or that I won't do it in the future.  But was it what I wanted and worth the extra complexity?

As I spent more and more time getting comfortable with manipulating my effects in real time I started to wonder if I could create the dynamics and movement I wanted with a single sound source--no guitar, no monosynth--just the spoken words.  I plugged my computer directly into my effects and found that I could.  I don't even need to split the output of my laptop to be able to play an understandable version of the recordings to the audience.  The blend controls on the effects make this easy.

Setup 3: Computer playing spoken word recordings in-line with effects 

There are more physical pieces here than in the first picture but the experience of playing it is actually easier.  In addition to my increased familiarity with the effects this is a function of reduced parallelism[1].  The UC33 MIDI controller runs the software mixer in MIXXX (DJ software) on my laptop, where the spoken word recordings live.  The two outputs from the Digitech DL-8 delay pedal go into the right channel of one input and the left channel of the other input of the DJ mixer.  

In the picture my laptop is sitting on a Sony Minidisk recorder (MDS-JE510) connected to the tape output on the DJ mixer.  Maybe I can reuse some of these sounds later.

I think the best thing about the learning experience of developing this set has been realizing that I can take my love of turning one sound into another into the live performance realm.  I love playing guitar but I don't love the idea of adding guitar to my electronic music to compensate for some deficiency.  Tonight I am going to turn recordings of a 911 call from Madison Wisconsin into beats[2] in front of a live audience.

[1] I'm somewhat to reluctant to say that as I am actually a fan of parallel processing.  I would like to try doing something like this with a mixing board with lots of busses.  The granularity in how I could manipulate and mix the effects would approximate making a recording and potentially be really fun.
[2] Another thing I would like to try is tempo-syncing a similar collection of effects.  If I could add some sort of step sequencer, master clock and/or tempo-synced gates to a set-up like this I might be able to go farther with the rhythmic possibilities.  Currently I do some tempo-syncing of the delays and tremolo by ear, but if two or more effects were automatically synced it would free me up to listen for other things and make rhythmic changes quicker and cleaner.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Good and Bad Things for 2-21-2016

  • Bad
    • Base metal
    • Watch cases > 42mm
    • The violence inherent in the system
    • The Electoral College
    • The permanent, cumulative and irreversible nature of noise-induced hearing loss
    • Slush
    • Half of my fellow Americans
    • Gender-specific marketing
    • Law enforcement demanding to make everyone more vulnerable in the name of safety and security

  • Good
    • Direct democracy
    • Bass metal
    • Watch cases between 30mm and 40mm
    • Stainless steel
    • Tire width > 3 inches
    • Half of my fellow Americans
    • Local businesses
    • Dogs
    • Eggs
    • Watches that look awesome on men and women
    • Evil corporations occasionally doing the right thing
    • Pandas

Apple vs FBI: I Never Thought I Would Defend Apple Again

Apple Inc. is a despicable company that is absolutely in the right in its current battle with the FBI.  The short version of the story is that the FBI wants Apple to bypass and weaken encryption on its iOS devices to make it easier for law enforcement to access data stored on them.  Apple is refusing.  Apple is right.  

I'm going to keep this brief because the reasons Apple is right are very simple and the details of the current FBI case don't matter[1].  Encryption is good for everyone.  Privacy is good for everyone.  The only things better than encryption and privacy are better encryption and privacy.  When it becomes easier[2] for the FBI to get past Apple's encryption it becomes easier for everyone to get past everyone's encryption.  That makes all of us more vulnerable, not just to embarrassing revelations about our personal lives but to crime.  

Although I certainly believe someone within the FBI would eventually abuse[3] the ability to crack an iPhone that speculative argument it not needed for Apple to be right and the FBI to be wrong[4].  We are not, in the long run, safer if law enforcement and governments gain the ability to more easily access our personal information.  Doing it in the name of solving a recent, horrible crime does not change that.

[1]  This is not to say the crime in question was trivial.  It was not.  People died.  
[2]  I also believe the FBI can, eventually, get what they want without Apple's help.  There is no such thing as unbreakable encryption.  Circumstances often make it extremely difficult or impractical to break, but that is exactly what we want.  Let the FBI do it themselves, if they must.  Apple will be complicit in all the damage that follows if they cooperate.
[3]  For any authority a coercive or legitimate power not worth abusing is not worth having.  
[4]  It is worth noting that while Apple does not have a perfect record on privacy they have gotten a lot better.  Observe the difference in their 2013 and 2015 Who Has Your Back scores from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How Spoiled Are Your Animal Companions?

How Spoiled Are Your Animal Companions?

Lower answers score higher.  Be Honest!  Your cat is reading over your shoulder.

  1. Do you have nice furniture?
    1. Yes, quite nice, in fact.
    2. I have some nice furniture.
    3. I used to have nice furniture.
    4. Mitzie has nice furniture.  She sometimes lets me sit on it.

  2. Do you ever buy "people food" specifically for non-humans?
    1. Duh! That's why they sell "cat food?"
    2. Only on Felix's birthday.
    3. As treats or for health reasons.
    4. It's all "food," isn't it?
    5. I saw the looks on their faces the first time I gave them raw Kobe beef and I knew I was doing the right thing.

  3. Have you ever denied yourself to provide for a companion animal?
    1. No.  I'm the human.
    2. Yes, I run a pit bull rescue.
    3. Yes, to pay for lifesaving medical treatment.
    4. Yes, for special treats.
    5. Yes.
    6. I no longer have an independent existence identifiable as "self."  In fact, I'm not really comfortable saying "I."

  4. Do your friends think you are nuts for any animal-related reasons?
    1. No.
    2. They chuckle occasionally.
    3. Only when I start telling stories about Buster and his squirrels, or they see the leather ottoman I bought for Squishypie.
    4. Yes, all of them, all the time.
    5. Human friends?  Who cares?

  5. When an animal I live with destroys or damages something I…
    1. Dispassionately investigate and implement a reasonable and humane way to modify the animal's behavior or otherwise prevent such things from happening in the future.
    2. Grit my teeth, make plans as described in (a) but follow through poorly.
    3. Sigh, say to myself "Well, I did choose a predator as a pet," move my more valuable books to higher shelves.
    4. Chuckle and make half-hearted plans as described in (a).
    5. Say "awwww….." with a dumb smile on my face.  Do nothing else.
    6. Reward them.

  6. I feed my animals...
    1. Reasonably priced dry or canned foods available at grocery and pet stores.
    2. The "best" dry or canned foods available at grocery and pet stores.
    3. Individualized diets based on their age, health, breed and consultation with a reputable veterinarian who sees them regularly.
    4. A diet developed by 5th century breeders of fighting dogs in Poloma, even though I have only chinchillas and guinea pigs.
    5. Whatever they demand in that horrible recurring dream, set in a courtroom.

  7. Are your personal food choices influenced by sharing food with your companion animals?
    1. No.
    2. Rarely, as a treat.
    3. Yes, in that I sometimes make more of what I was going to have anyway, provided it's healthy for them.
    4. Often. They beg if I don't.
    5. Ya. I know. I'm a pushover.
    6. We all eat a diet developed by 5th century breeders of fighting dogs in Poloma.