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unexpected gear behavior (was: improvisation and performance)
> loop) or your
> gear suddenly throwing weird unexpected things at you (which seems to
> to me an inordinant amount
> of time).
There is a distinct charm in gear doing unexpected things, and a few
methods to create them:
(Note that in this discussion, I will treat anything which is
"pseudo-random" (e.g. random numbers created by a computer) as random. I
will also not focus on how to work with these things in a performance,
only on the technical aspects of how to effect this behaviour).
Most of the tools (instruments, effects including loopers) we use are
deterministic (i.e. a certain action or set of actions will trigger a
certain response) and a lot of them are also time-invariant (meaning the
response to a trigger now is delayed by five seconds if I trigger it five
There are basically two ways to obtain unexpected behaviour from our tools:
a. make their behaviour (their transfer functions, i.e. which output
they generate from a given input) statistical.
b. introduce time variance.
c. make their transfer functions "weird" (highly non-linear).
ad a.: use a keyboard that does sometimes not react to key presses, or
plays notes without keys being pressed, or induce a random delay between
key press and sound. Use effects which change their behaviour randomly.
Use a sampler that randomly selects new samples, etc. etc.
ad b.: If you put a pitch shifter controlled by an ADSR envelope into your
signal chain, the amplitude of which is controlled by an LFO. Although
this behaviour is strictly deterministic, the outcome will be rather
unexpected most of the time, especially when the function controlling the
parameter is very complex.
ad c.: Say you got a pedal to control the frequency of a filter in your
signal path (e.g. a wah pedal). Normally, heel down means frequency
minimum, toe down means frequency maximum. You could change that
characteristic linking the pedal position to the filter frequency into a
very complex function with lots of up and downs in between and perhaps
even a edge-time dependent component (pressing the pedal faster gives a
different result). Again, although this is strictly deterministic, and you
may stil retain some "base camps" in your curve (e.g. by retaining heel
down=fmin, toe down=fmax), this will also give way to some pretty
Also, using a never-heard before effects device with telling patch names
like "023" or "323" would fall into that realm.
So, how to do that?
For all of these, some modularity in the device you're using is really
helpful. One (hardware) piece of equipment which comes to mind is the Nord
Modular series of synths (which also work great as effects btw). You get
random signal sources, you get envelopes and LFOs, and you can patch about
anything to anything. In the computer/software realm, all of the modular
things are king: Reaktor, MAX (at least I suspect so), Bidule.
Some other very specialized plugins also allow for that kind of fun,
though mostly only for case a). The VSTi Sun Ra and the VSTs SupaTrigga
and the dfx VSTs are great examples here. SupaTrigga is an especially nice
example: it's a VST effect meant to hack/break up beats. It does so by
slicing a bar into a number of segments and then rearranging, repeating,
reversing them, playing silence or doing some kind of "turntable stop
effect". For each of these six ways of affecting the signal, you can
In Ableton Live, there is also the possibility to define propabilities for
different clip transitions, e.g. you can assign propability whether a
certain sample or MIDI clip keeps playing or just jumps to another
(randomly or deterministically selected) one.
Btw, has a "random" function been integrated into the Mobius script
Another way is to integrate new sensors into your devices.
Photoresistors/transistors, RF circuits a la Theremin, stock quotes
transmitted via internet...
Is this also possible with more "traditional", analogue gear? The short
answer: it's much harder to do, and takes up more space. What is true in
the computer/digital world works here, too, though: using modular analogue
And now, I decided also to write about how to integrate it into your music.
For a lot of those effects, I found it works best with my way to make
music when I have quite high a degree of randomness, yet am able to turn
the randomness on or off (or fade in/out) at will. So while normally I
play rather deterministically, I will sometimes hit a few "Chaos" buttons
and hope that something interesting happens. Examples? Again, I'll point
you at some moderate weirdness on the y2k6loopfest.com web page - in my
track "The Streets", you both hear Mobius' "Shuffle" function and the dfx
"Skidder" plugin on the loop taken of the initial guitar theme, and later
on, the drum breaks are created using SupaTrigga. And on some of the
kybermusik tracks available on Krispen's site (www.krispenhartung.com),
you can hear Sun Ra in the background let loose on some hardcore porn