hors du troupeau — “music for strange elevators”
(December 11, 2021) — I’m obviously interested in the dynamics of large canvas / long-form audio composition. One way to explore those dynamics is through the extended development characteristic of generative processes. But I’ve also been struck by the real success of a number of projects that build music that feels long-form out of short, but relatively complex loops. Quite a number of the one-minute pieces in the Thesis Recurring app, for example, somehow really manage to avoid feeling repetitive.
In order to explore the possibilities more seriously — after some enlightening, but not terribly successful manipulations of material from my Wotja experiments — I decided to work with midi tracks generated in the Piano Motifs app. As the name suggests, the app generates short piano pieces, which can be tailored in various ways through the settings, and it can export midi files for the melody and accompaniment it concocts, as well as a pad file, suitable for arpeggiators, synth sounds, etc. The result is a simple, but generally well-matched set of midi patterns, which can then be arranged in various ways and voiced with whatever instruments are available.
I’ve been playing with the possibilities for a couple of days. The track marked “Ⓖ” in the “draft tracks” below is from a set of loops assembled together, all with the same key, scale and tempo, which I then mixed and matched a bit recklessly as I tried to find my feet. I began by keeping the pianos, even as I recombined the midi tracks in various ways. That instrumentation kept the developing dynamics of the pieces easy to follow, until I was pretty happy with the results. And then I diversified the sounds.
As I worked on the tracks, I was really thinking of some particularly maddening, but amusingly glitchy “on-hold music” that I had suffered through over the last couple of years trying to deal with insurance issues. My goal was something slightly less maddening — although I’m almost always open to more glitchy. The results so far have been surprisingly nice, if unconventional, and I’ve let them whirl away in the background while working with pleasure. There are a couple of the segments that I really want to spend the time with in order to get them into a more finished state.
The other other two tracks are from a second batch, undertaken after I made the rash move of reading all the way through the Piano Motifs manual. Like the others, they have started as piano tracks, although they have then undergone considerably more substantial transformations. Unlike the others, the material for each segment has been limited to the three midi files for a single generated motif. The better-matched materials allow for more flexibility in the composition process with less risk of creating problems I can’t easily solve in the roughly two minutes I’m allowing myself for each segment.
I’ve made fairly heavy use of Spitfire Audio’s LABS in this second set of tracks. There is a lot of soundtrack ambience mixed in with their quirky instruments — and both are obviously easy ways to coax quite different sounds out of a fairly small amount of midi data.
— One of the more interesting sets of lessons coming out of this work is some knowledge of how various players handle looping. I feel safe saying that I still have quite a bit to learn.
(December 15, 2021) — I have completed eight loops in at least rough form. They vary from fairly straightforward instrumental tracks to compositions heavy on not strictly musical effects — but they are all, to my ear, surprisingly listenable. And with just a bit of tinkering it appears that they will work as tracks in a short album as well.
— Yesterday was a day filled with real-life responsibilities, but I shoehorned in a session getting familiar with Leafcutter John’s Forester 2022 software and started to cobble together some strange elevators using some samples from Free to Use Sounds. Lessons were learned. We’ll see what emerges from those two experiments. One possibility is a mix using some of the loops, some elevator ambience and some “live” processing. I’ve been looking at imagines of ruined, deserted shopping malls and skating rinks to put myself in the right mood to move forward.
— At the end of the day, Piano Motifs dished up a ditty in D# phrygian that is going to be a joy, I think, to play with. I may alter my practice a bit and produce two loops from this source material, one more conventionally musical and one considerably less, just because I’m so taken with it.
(December 17, 2021) — I have the sixteen loops prepared and have uploaded them. They are set to loop by default, although the built-in audio player stutters more than a little as it loops. Perhaps it’s best to treat them here as a series of short compositions — with additional possibilities suggested. The posted mixes are stripped of any reverb and delay not built into the patches used.
There are a variety of approaches to the material represented. Particularly with the later tracks, I varied the length of the motifs generation considerably, so that there are compositions built both from very short and rather long melodies. In most of the later tracks I continued the process of “locking” the accompaniment, generating two melody-tracks and then forcing myself to make sense of the resulting chaos. I certainly didn’t use every motif I generated, or even every one that I exported to midi, but I didn’t admit defeat too often, once I had decided that I was interested in a melody or set of melodies. Some instruments are used on most of the tracks. I wanted to create some sense of cohesion, although I had to stop my revising process as it was starting to wash out some of the initial diversity of the experiments.
— I’ll probably let various tracks be my piped-in cheer for a day or two, but I’ve started to prepare for the second phase of the project — bears repeating — which will involve more iterations of the loops, more effects and ultimately some sort of soundscape constructed from combining the elements.
hors du troupeau — “relays and reconstructions”
(November 12-20, 2021) — See the linked project page for more than 24 hours of recordings, all built from instances of a single Wotja mix.
hors du troupeau — “extended reflections”
(November 11, 2021) — This one may remain a work-in-progress for a while. But the initial idea was to apply the same sort of rough-and-ready method that I have used in the last two experiments on some tracks based on a pack of “morphing drum and bass” patterns originally created for an earlier version of the software that would become Wotja. This time around, the initial mess was spectacular — and the reconstruction had to be a bit more selective.
I’m looking forward to completing some of the tracks as I started them, in all of the 160 bpm glory, but I can’t say that I have yet quite made my peace with the combination of breakneck tempo and somewhat random development — so, once I settled down to really make something of the new material, the tempo dropped down into dub territory and so did the (hopefully tasteful) effects.
In terms of specific processes, these were the tracks that demonstrated the limits of the recombination I had been playing with. Even when dealt with in downtempo form, some of the tracks were too busy to maintain much of the character of the Wotja mix. But what remained when those were eliminated gradually lent itself to a kind of ambient dub treatment. It’s not a lost Divination album, but, like the earlier experiments, these first two tracks seemed to have survived excessive extension pretty well.
I want to come back to this set of tracks, probably at both tempos, with a few more tools in my kit and a steadier hand on the virtual soundboard. But what isn’t quite right in them so far has been a good impetus to start a new set of experiments, involving significantly more fidelity in the transferring of the midi tracks, but with the same kind of reconstruction applied to the instrumentation.
hors du troupeau — “ramblin’ rounds”
(November 8, 2021) — There is an increasing method to my madness. This newest composition was assembled using a more conscious repetition of the process behind “falling back.” I built a new ambient track in Wotja, “Evening Ankara,” heavy on faux-strings and intentionally organized so that exporting the two different sorts of midi recordings would shuffle the contents in various interesting ways.
One of the questions that interests me is the extent to which the generative software’s attempts to harmonize the various complex tracks in Wotja produces midi scores that can withstand that reshuffling process. So, for the time being, I’m not bothering to reassign midi tracks. Eight tracks in Wotja, spread over four midi channels, produced one mixed audio file and twelve midi files, which Gargageband then did its clumsy best to assign instruments. And, again, it was initially a pretty horrible mess.
With unlike parts combined and like parts split or merged, the new tracks generally called for different kinds of instruments. The different instrument libraries in the two software packages necessitated some changes as well. So what had been an ambient track with a bit of a modern chamber music vibe was gradually reshaped into a kind of never-ending pseudo-jam-band drone. The electric guitar lead is the most jumbled of the reshuffled tracks — but also something I can just about see friends playing (though perhaps not for the better part of an hour) if I close my eyes and listen. You know who you are.
hors du troupeau — “falling back”
(November 6, 2021) — Consider this track a sort of continuation of “The Last Cloud,” employing the same mix of generative music software and less than complete command of new tools, but several experiments later. I’ve continued to play around with various generative music programs, each of which has given some clues about how best to fashion the “seed” that Brian Eno talked about, from which the processes established might create some good sounds. The most interesting product of some days of tinkering with Wotja was something the software decided to call “Bright zippy (2),” a mix of rhythmic and ambient tracks cobbled together using the internal instruments, without a lot of thought to any other application. It’s one of a handful of tracks that I have actually saved to play from time to time in Wotja — and I have made a couple of attempts, so far not particularly promising, to build up something more complex around it in Garageband.
This weekend, while doing more tinkering, this time with a new midi controller, I decided to see whether I might have better or at least different luck working with a midi recording of “Bright zippy (2)” — despite my lack of concern for most things midi in the composition, such as it was, of the piece. So I made a new recording, to the maximum length of 3000 seconds, with the simplest midi settings, without reassigning any instruments to new midi channels. That naturally produced one very sparse track and one that resembled one of the maddest of Noncarrow’s player piano compositions, if only in cluttered intensity — which Garageband naturally wanted to play with its version of a Steinway Grand. And then, after consulting the predictably cryptic manual, I also managed to record a midi version that reshuffled things into four separate tracks — which, of course, all got the Steinway Grand treatment as soon as I imported them. It turns out that I also already had a 50-minute audio recording of the track that I hadn’t made any use of. So that went into the mix — and things remained unpromising, at least for a while.
More tinkering ensued, with most of the grand piano swapped out for sounds closer to my usual sound-palette. In the end, I relented a bit and split things fairly evenly — three tracks of miscellaneous synth sounds, three with fairly conventional instrumentation (tuba, pianos) and one consisting of that unused audio recording — figuring that, if it worked, the development of the piece would at least present itself differently with that faux-Steinway at center stage than it had in my considerably more abstract previous recordings.
And perhaps it does indeed work — at least on a day when you really get some hour back (for the time being.) There are obviously layers and layers of chance involved in the “composition” of the piece, but the “seed” seems to have been at least good enough that the thing that grew from it, with some haphazard tending, might easily be mistaken for music.
Like the versions of “the last cloud,” I’m not sure it’s a kind of music I would ever have made without the intervention of some more or less random processes, but like those tracks, it seems to me a satisfying outcome to entertaining experiments. And that’s all I’ve ever really asked of my musical and noise-making endeavors.
hors du troupeau — “the last cloud”
(Octaber 17, 2021) — After a silence of nearly twenty years, it’s a pleasure to relaunch Libertatia Laboratories. The new project, hors du troupeau, undoubtedly scores low on the quirkiness scale, next to old friends like Guinea-Pig Fleet and Elephant after Elephant. But “the last cloud” came together in strikingly familiar ways. Late-night exploration of generative music software ultimately crashed my tablet, but not before I managed to record the “fragment” that leads things off here. And it is likely that the straw that broke the camel’s back was my at least temporarily successful attempt to add part of an E. Armand poem, “The Last Cloud,” to the text-to-music interface. I’m happy to attribute the virtues of that fragment to beginner’s luck—although it’s not exactly my first rodeo—and the virtues of the other tracks, a mix of processed versions and an exercise in layering, to the “good bones” of the fragment. It has, after all, become remarkably easy to produce lovely things with the simplest of tools—but those who were around for the first incarnation of Libertatia Labs might also recognize the taking up of dropped threads in some of this new release.
The Last Cloud
The sun is no longer visible, but there is still a brightness in the atmosphere. All the clouds melt into the indistinct sky, only broken here and there by a few luminous points. A small cloud, very high on the horizon, still remains colored by the multiple lights of the setting sun.
The last cloud!
Slowly, but irrevocably, night takes possession of the firmament.
Your minutes, your seconds are numbered, little cloud, seconds in which are concentrated all the expectations, all the illusions, all the perspectives and aspirations to which the dawn has given birth. In this ultimate instant, you are morning, you are noon and you are night. Your still-blazing flanks symbolize everything that the individual has loved, desired, coveted, feared and hated, from the time that they learned to number the days. You are the world, the palpitating life under the waves of light. You are heat, love, fertilization, thought.
One more reflection — one more flame.
The shadow has achieved its victory. And the little cloud has lost its individuality. It is no longer anything but a dark vapor in the somber army of the cloud-throng.
November 30, 1929.
E. Armand, “Le dernier nuage,” l’en dehors 8 no. 171-172 (début Décembre 1929): 5.