Installation in Collaboration with Little Forbes and Performance with the Iride Project at Sonic Dreams Waterford, 25th and 26th of September

Alison “Little” Forbes and I will spend a few days ahead of the festival in Waterford to record found percussion sounds, similar to what I have for my Cork City Gamelan. An installation which I call a Gamelbot™ will compose music from these sounds – hopefully responding to people moving around inside the space … which is the Hive Gallery. This interactivity will depend on whether we can get everything safely wired up and then calibrated in the short amount of time we have.
But most definitely: there is going to be an interface for musicians to plug in and jam along with The Thing, and the output can be recorded.

Bernard Clarke's Soundcloud profile picture

I am also going to play the Waterphone with the Iride Project: Massimo Davi and Monica Miuccio… along with Denis O’Sullivan on electric guitar and Katie O’Looney on percussion and allsorts … and fronting us all will be Bernard Clarke, reading “The Delight of Being Misunderstood”, a crazy story written by Monica. It is an hour-long improvisation, and the piece of music which will evolve is called “Here No Pain Only Adoration”.


News just in: Bernard won’t be there – he hurt his back. Get better fast, Bernard!

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World Listening Day Event in Waterford

Little playing the Whaler Waterphone

Little playing the Whaler Waterphone

I am teaming up once again with Alison “Little” Forbes – this time for the Sonic Dreams Festival in Waterford towards the end of September. In advance of the festival, for World Listening Day (of which the theme this year is water) on Saturday the 18th of July, Mick “Mixile” Shanahan is organizing a day of activities with the Hive Gallery in Waterford as a hub.

There will be a sound walk where participants are encouraged to make recordings, talks by Mixile on field recording and by myself on recording “found instruments”, a workshop to review the recorded sounds, and a concert in the evening with Mixile playing music made from the day’s recordings and Little and I playing Waterphones. Genuine Waterphones are about as rare as genuine Stradivari instruments. An opportunity to experience two of them in one ensemble is quite uncommon.

Yourd Truly posing with the Megabass Waterphone

Yours Truly posing with the Megabass Waterphone

The concert will finish early enough for participants in the day’s activities to engage in other Saturday night entertainment … and for our friends in Cork who may wish to come and support us to catch the last bus home.

We would like to do it all for free, but using the Hive Gallery requires that you should make a small donation  – perhaps about 5.00 Euro for the day. Mixile is going to make an “official” announcement on Facebook.

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Playing at Pigtown Scratchings, Dance Limerick, 7th May 2015

Alison "Little" Forbes conducting

My first live gig this year – expanding the Cork City Gamelan into Limerick – and the most enjoyable one since I started playing live again.

I played the Waterphone under the baton of a very capable conductor: Alison “Little” Forbes is an artist and musician with whom I have been friendly ever since I first came to Ireland, but this was actually our first time performing together. The performance was a “pretend concert hall event”, and Little was “conducting” with paint and brushes.

Pigtown Scratchings is something like an inter-disciplinary avant garde improvised in flux … etc … cabaret show. Check the link to find out more about it and about the amazing artists we shared the bill with…

Dance Limerick was perfect as a venue: a converted church with a real dance floor. Room acoustics don’t come much better than THAT.

playing the Waterphone


I had composed a graphical score for a “Concerto for Waterphone and Pigtown Scratchings”. On the day before the show, we used some gates and bins and things around the city to record sounds for making a backing track. Between one thing and a few others, we ran out of time, so I changed the second movement a bit. I left out the introduction and the coda … making it just one long improvised cadenza – that’s ok, things like this are part of the Spirit Of Pigtown Scratchings.

What gives Pigtown Scratchings its unique character, its reason for existence, even, is the interdisciplinary All Stars Jam at the end. What an experience, to be jamming with a dancer and a storyteller … and Roger Gregg, one of the first people I jammed with when I first came to Cork … full circle, 30 years later!

It was a great night – thanks to everybody for their generous help around all the difficulties we were facing.

A special Thank You to Gareth Stack for allowing me to use his photos!

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Back In The World of Those Who Communicate

Inside CUH

Photo by Denis O'Sullivan

Cork University Hospital may well be one of the coolest hospitals in the World, but still, it is a hospital, not at all a creative environment.

Almost seven weeks “inside” was enough for me … all the time itching to get back to my main projects: a tribute to William Burroughs for which I obtained permission from his estate to use the Text of Nova Express, and a (for me) very special “Love Live Music” show at the Crawford Gallery next year. There are also some little ideas that came to me, and a very exciting collaboration with Massimo Davi and Monica (Iride Project) which I am itching to get back into.

And, of course, I am all on again for live performance and jams.

Ideas, lots of ideas … and for a while I feared that I had run out of time and my progressive disability was getting on top of me. Thanks be to Goodness: it was “only” a massive chest infection which could be fixed with an operation.

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A Complex Music Composition Project based on Nova Express by William S . Burroughs (part 1)

This is my first post since last summer – but I was not idle – too busy, actually, for spending much time writing articles.

I built an installation at the Hilltown New Music Festival, based on the subject of what was still my most recent post until earlier today.

I then went on to program my own tool kit for Granular Synthesis, which widened the scope of what I can do with my Cork City Gamelan samples – the Cork City Gamelan can now play drones and melodies live.

I also started working with Massimo Davi on one of his projects – very exciting, and an important practical learning experience – it snaps me out of my common “self-centric” mode … which I _do_ enjoy, nevertheless, there _is_ a lot of inspiration to be had from collaborations. It actually works a little like genetics, I reckon, or evolution, even.

But most importantly, I prepared my main music composition and fixed media production project for the year: a substantial piece of work based on Nova Express by William S. Burroughs. I am doing it all with Granular Synthesis. I shall explain in a future article.

My first experience of listening to Granular Synthesis was Riverrun by Barry Truax – a 1980s piece of music, but I did not get to hear it until a few years into the current century… and I knew immediately that I had to learn how to do it.

Riverrun is based on Finnegans Wake (I never knew, and I just double checked it: without apostrophe is actually the correct spelling). For years (decades, even) I had wanted to do something based on Nova Express, and here was THE obvious technique for doing it. Shooting for something on a similar scale, I did several tests and attempts over the years, using all kinds of programs and plug-ins, leading to lots of false starts, however: in order to match and exceed what Truax had done, I needed to program my own tool kit.

I had to learn some basic Max/MSP patching – a daunting undertaking at first, and I tried to get by for a while using AudioMulch for processing and playback with Max for custom MIDI applications … but only for a while. The work of Barry Truax was the minimum benchmark for my own efforts, and the minimum requirement for achieving it was to learn MSP processing. The results I achieved took me nicely beyond what Truax did – they HAD to – considering that HE did it over 30 years ago!

I also got permission to use readings of the text as a source for some of the sounds. I don’t believe anybody would have sued me for making “fan art”. Dozens of people publish similar work every week. But there is a feel good factor attached to being able to say something like: “lyrics © William S. Burroughs, used by permission” … and to have offered and paid a token fee for it. It is the “proper way”. I was dealing with a large agency. It took me more than five weeks to get somebody to listen to me, and then I felt I was being put on the spot, being asked to make an offer. Thanks, Bernard and Ian, for your help with it.

Unusual for my music: this piece has no title yet. Usually, I have at least a tentative or working title before I start sketching or recording. Anyway, it is mainly about control, manipulation, and about the instruments of control.

I made three related pieces along the way and posted them to Soundcloud:

Escalate, Walk Away … And Say Nothing

Subliminal Entrainment

Phun with Phil Spector’s voice reading from Nova Express


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Pierre Schaeffer: Sound Is The Vocabulary Of Nature

It is this year’s theme for submitting recordings to the Hilltown New Music Festival.

I felt an immediate urge to respond: “That’s dogmatic nonsense, Mr Schaeffer”. Then I reminded myself of the infamous out-of-context Stockhausen quote about the Nine Eleven Attacks … and I looked a little deeper into interviews with Schaeffer. His view of Nature appears to be philosophical and quite different from my own mainly scientific approach to understanding the World.

I see mathematics as the “language” of Nature. To indicate that I have not yet explored this analogy in any great depth, I enclosed “language” in quotation marks. I use it merely as a figure of speech. Mathematics holds the key to understanding what goes on around me… but it may not “really be” a language. Strictly speaking, a language needs a vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and semantics.

In the context from which this year’s Hilltown theme quote was taken, he compares the way in which noises are articulated and defined to the way words are well defined in a dictionary. He then goes on to say that the world of music opposes the world of sound. This is very different from my own view, and the view of most (but not all) of the musicians whose work I follow: “Make sounds, and discover that you are making music” and “anything that can make a sound can be used as a musical instrument”. To Schaeffer, making music is about navigating a course between noises and instruments.

An article in the December 1986 issue of Electronic Musician magazine illuminates what he means a little further: “You have two sources for sounds: noises, which always tell you something — a door cracking, a dog barking, the thunder, the storm; and then you have instruments. An instrument [only] tells you la-la-la.”

Even though I believe that my own way of thinking is more contemporary and relevant, I say: It has been a tasty bite of Food For Thought, and, while looking up the context of the Hilltown theme quote, I gained some interesting insight into the mind of one of the pioneers of what I am trying to do.

So, will I explore my own notion that mathematics is the “language” of nature any further, in order to get rid of those quotation marks? Not now, anyway. My ideas are quite well formulated inside my own mind, and the quotation marks are o.k. for now. I’d rather  get on with making music.

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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Experimental Chamber Music for Waterphone, Synthesizer And Two Delay Lines

Here is a little experiment to explore an interesting observation I made. I would like to believe that this development is quite original.

Experimental Chamber Music for Waterphone, Synthesizer And Two Delay Lines
(5:30, 5.1 MByte, .m4a/AAC “iPOd” format)

What my Synthesizer and the two delay lines are doing is entirely the result of my programming in MaxMSP, leaving me free to play a Waterphone along with it. It is algorithmic rather than sequenced, continuously making up musical motifs for two players according to a set of rules and changing the settings of the two delay units. Depending on the programming, algorithmic music can be intricate, pleasant, intense, easy listening … but after listening for a while, it often becomes clear that it lacks some kind of intelligence, that it is on the intellectual level of trivial smalltalk.

I have run such algorithmic music and watched other musicians jamming along with it for some weeks now, and I have observed that human interaction sometimes creates musical conversations, which sound similar to group improvisations. It doesn’t sound mindless at all any more. I made this piece to explore a little further what is happening and how it happens.

It began as a project to develop a hardware and software combination to help me to continue making music while dealing with my progressive disability.

The “nerdy stuff” starts here feel free to skip the next few paragraphs (the grey text) if the technology does not interest you…

Instead of a Digital Audio Workstation, I use AudioMulch as a software hub for putting everything together (“com-posing”) and recording it on multiple tracks while performing live. It suits my non-linear and layered approach to composition much better than the sequencer and multitrack recorder DAW metaphor.

A little anecdote: When I enquired about certain features which would have helped me to speed up the development, Ross Bencina, the programmer told me that it was the wrong software for me. He is enthusiastic about his work, both, as a programmer and as a performer, and it seems to me that he felt I was somehow corrupting the spirit of it (mainly as a tool for live performance) by trying to use it for MIDI sequencing.

Anyway, improvised live performance is my main goal, but I do have special needs which don’t always make sense to others … and I am almost certain that Mr Bencina will “forgive” me once he sees what I am trying to do. His “telling me off” has resulted in the need for me to speed up my efforts learning how to program using Max/MSP software.

Max/MSP, AudioMulch, and my Modular Synthesizer are now tightly integrated with each other. It works like this:

I use MIDI for sending information between the different components of my set-up. AudioMulch supplies the MIDI clock. Everything which uses timing can synchronize to the clock in AudioMulch. If I speed up AudioMulch, everthing else, including the Modular Synthesizer, follows.

MaxMSP makes up algorithmic compositions as MIDI events. It sends some of them to a module which converts them to Analogue Synthesizer control signals, and others to AudioMulch. It also passes the MIDI clock to the Synthesizer.

On the Synthesizer, I make patches to route the signals just as if they originated on the synth itself or on a sequencer. I can have up to four lines of notes and up to eight algorithmically controlled low frequency oscillators or envelopes of arbitrary wave shape and complexity coming from MaxMSP. If required, I can also convert analogue control signals to MIDI, which allows me to have voltage controlled software (VST, etc.) effects (!).

Up to six audio outputs of the synth go to AudioMulch via a Firewire Audio Interface connected to my computer, along with microphones and pickups.

In AudioMulch, I process the incoming Audio with effects. The effects parameters can be controlled via any number of oscillators and envelopes coming in from Max as MIDI controllers … and these can originate as LFOs and envelopes on my synth, resulting in voltage controlled software effects.

I currently also play my Cork City Gamelan samples in AudioMulch, using MIDI sent from Max to control the file players. I am working on more complex sample players and live processors which I shall program using MSP, playing directly in Max, sending the Audio via Soundflower to AudioMulch for the final live mix and recording.

… and this is the end of the technology section … but not the end of the article yet.

The system is rock solid and exceptionally simple and easy to use. It is literally “plug in and make a sound” after I launch two programs. I would like to take it somewhere to a public place, set up an algorithm (AlgoRhythm?) to play forever changing mindless trivia all day, and invite anybody to come and play along for a while, trying to insert some sense into the conversation. I am very serious about this, and I am looking for suggestions as to how it can be organized, where, when, etc …


Posted in Articles With Music For Downloading, Modular Synthesis, Music Making for People With Disabilities, Technology Reviews and Do-It-Yourself Tips | 1 Comment

Sound Spirits – New CD by Evelyn Glennie and Jon Hemmersam

This is probably no relations to the well known American West Cost Distillery …

I received Dame Evelyn’s most recent album in the mail today, a superb collaboration with the Danish guitarist Jon Hemmersam. The track listing on the Gracenotes Database calls the music Jazz, but I don’t believe you need to be a lover of Jazz to like this album. The guitar playing certainly sounds “jazzy”, but the music transcends genres.

All tracks are credited as improvised by the two players and very loose and free form. The music is outright endearing … but of course I must say that, because I am a fan – of improvised and abstract music as well as of Dame Evelyn, whom I have nominated the Patron Saint of my project.

To Dame Evelyn making music is the same as making sound. Harmony or tunes and rhythm are unnecessary academic subdivisions to her. Her advice to me – to pass on to others looking for advice on how to set about making their own music – is very simple: Just make sounds, and then you’ll find you are playing music. And this attitude seems to be the driving force which powers much of the music on this CD.

The recording is extremely lively – everything appears to resonate along with everything else. I have seen pictures of the sessions, where both musicians are standing at an open grand piano, with most of the instruments inside the piano. The resulting sound is incredible. I came across something like it done only once before, on an album by the flute player Bob Downes. It is the ultimate Prepared Piano, really. There are no enhancements or sweeteners of any kind added. As a consequence, there is some very faint equipment noise in evidence, like in the days before digital re-mastering. You’ll probably only notice it when the record ends, and not at all on headphones.

A new experience for me: Evelyn Glennie uses her voice! She doesn’t sing, it is more like … I don’t know, it is sort of sensual – listen yourself and tell me what you would call it. And she plays a Blues Harmonica on “Heart Cinema”.

The spectrum of gestures and motifs covers the whole range of musical expression: everything is there in a dazzling sonic fireworks display which seems to go on forever. Outbursts of high energy and passages of quiet meditation are held together in a framework of bubbling joy and playfulness. However, don’t look for beats, tunes or pads – you’ll be truly disappointed. This is some of the best abstract free form improvised music available, almost an hour and a quarter of it!

Track listing:
1.       Andalusian Dream (5:39)
2.      Sound Spirits, Part 1 (10:49)
3.       Sound Spirits, Part 2 (4:35)
4.       Heart Cinema (6:58)
5.       Touch (8:07)
6.       Water Crystals (8:52)
7.       Heart to Heart (5:21)
8.       Roundabout (9:38)
9.       Bloom, Part 1 (4:21)
10.     Bloom, Part 2 (2:17)
11.     Glass Mountain (7:09)
Water Crystals is my favorite – after listening only twice to the album

Available at Evelyn’s own Craft and Music Shop

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Drone Of The Week #6, 2013

Another little addition to my Drones collection, added to my Drone Of The Week page.

A short sort of spectral drone which I found at the end of a half hour meditation and improvisation on the theme of threads and clusters.

Drone Of The Week #6, 2013, in the iPod/iTunes format, 1.5 MB, opens in a new window

It is all played on my synthesizer, using a very short delay with high feedback levels, resulting in unusual timbres and filter effects … I am not going to explain, it’s already well documented (Wikipedia link opens in a new window).

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The Gas Of The Week: Acient Krell Speech Recording (Week 13/5)

2000 centuries ago, a delegation of the Ancient Krell visited Earth to collect specimen animals which might look cool together with the Krell in a 1950s Science Fiction movie. The well known time traveller Una Persson,, hiding behind a protruding spacetime discontinuity, recorded their conversation and deposited the tape with her publisher. She doesn’t know how many of them were actually there – it can be difficult to determine when looking at a Wriggle of Ancient Krell.

Had Ms Persson not been in the right place at the right time, the voices of the Krell would be lost forever: two weeks later, they all vanished without a trace. The animals survived, and their offspring looked great in the movie, even without the Krell.

I could have faked this recording with a ring modulator, two oscillators, a filter and one of my algorithmic music composition Max patches …

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