Music 220C - Spring 2022
- Best video here*
Look at the code of my visual set (and play around with it) here
See my modular synth sessions here! Some fun goodies inside here but it's a lot to listen to. This is my process of exploring how to make sounds, and I did so in different mind states. This is my process, journey, and growth in modular over this quarter.
The rave went amazingly, I couldn't have asked for a better performance (save for when someone's foot broke the HDMI cord). The performance was natural and the set went very well. Some things I've learned:
- it's hard to find my mouse on a windows machine when a lot of visuals are going on
- i wont be using hydra for live performances again, it just runs too slowly and has too many glitches that are not acceptable, such as google chrome failing to load anything other than a black screen
- secure the HDMI cord on the floor! have lots of slack! or better yet: secure it along the wall to preclude any tripping.
- live coding on the projector screen is an awful idea when all the audience wants to do is make shadow puppets with the projector. Sorry guys; I can't fix my bugs if you're in the way.
A great quarter, and a great end to my Stanford career. I did my best, and I did good. Thanks to everyone for the help.
I finally *finished* my set. I may add a couple more features but it's pretty much finished, nailed the order, too. I've put the images down below. Apologies for the wonky formatting, and keep in mind that each of these has multiple parameters I can modulate, so the images capture only one moment of like 1% of what each pattern is able to accomplish. Click HERE to see a the list of my set and follow the links to check out what each pattern is capable of, and all the parameters im modulating.
Did another modular sesh, recorded like 10mins of it, it was pretty good! First up is like I'm out of soundcloud space so will prob have to upload to CCRMA servers so I can link it on this wiki. Second, I'm kinda wondering what form I want to share these performances. They do sound improvised and they are not really "compositions", maybe I should keep them as-is and just cut out some parts in Audacity? This runs the risk of getting out of sync/off-grid each time I make a deletion. I got invited to SF A/V Club's meeting this thursday at Syzygy--I hope to be there and meet more people doing VJ stuff! One of my primary questions is, how does one make money doing VJ stuff.
Trying to log more of my work; hanging out in the Hydra Discord I learned about some code that fixes the screen ratio of stuff you display! this is especially useful for shapes (eg circles). Did an hour-long modular sesh, and it was awesome.
11 Days until our rave. Been analyzing our practice sesh and learning more about hydra. I've created my setlist!!!! So basically im not just fully improvising; i know which songs to expect and am now honing my ear to hear for the best transition moments, fine-tuning that. This was made easy when I realized I LOVE the setlist that i just improvised in our practice sesh and will iron out my transitions and integrate some awesome cool technology stuff ive been learning like using pads as well as knobs (this adds a percussive element to the modular video synthesizing [why dont more audio modular synths have this?]). Cant overstate how much more fun that lets me have--it's like my #1 request. My friends have done a great job w their set, i continue to discover, and i think my work is 80% done. I also want to continue looking at hydra tutorials via hydra book, familiarizing myself with my patterns, and adding more set-list appropriate features to each pattern in the set. Things are going very well. We're almost there.
See my hydra practice sesh here.
I got maybe halfway through (or less) in the hydra book, but the most important part was that I modified and upgraded each of the hydra patches in my set, and now feel like I have a qualifying "set" to play, with a little more features than I can show in one show. This was done by thinking about the practice sessions we'd done and trying to make sure that I had more directions in which I could play with each of these patches--and much upgrading was done during these live-coding jam sessions.
Our live session was AWESOME, totally surpasses the bare minimum for what we want for both of our parts. What I want to do this week is spend more time finishing the hydra book, and especially finishing the linked video tutorials including Feedback tutorials #2 & #3, and the modulation tutorial. The more skill & flexibility I have with Hydra, the better and more extensively I will be able to design my sets, and the better I will be able to improvise the live coding to match vibes!
Now that Linda is busy with her thesis, we won't have any more practice sessions up until right before our event May 25th. Next week I'll probably do my own practice run again with the .wav recording of our practice sesh (which sounds good & crisp, and Michael & Linda did such a great job). In a week or two as well I will noodle around with the modular synthesizers some more. I might not have time so I dont want to make any promises, but the mixer is working now that I got a new power adapter and I will definitely get around to some more noodling before the quarter is over, at least after May 25th. Job interviews and figuring out housing post-graduation may also take time away from this.
I was getting bored/uninspired just going thru the hydra book (you know that feeling when you read the same sentence over and over again, and realize you can't force yourself through this one?), but then I tinkered and came away with a BAD-ASS modular kaleidoscope feedback system after toying around with inputs and modulating them just right so that the feedback felt good. And good it felt, I can't believe I got so many parameters to explore with this one! Now to work on getting the color right with it--colorama() isn't doing justice.
I want to keep going through the hydra book and building my fundamentals as much as possible this week. Then around friday/saturday I will start practicing with particular songs to get better at VIBE-MATCHING and being curationally reactive to the music that's playing.
Tried to do some more Hydra book reading yesterday but I was sleep deprived enough to where I would end up completely forgetting about my intention to do the work. I was like an NPC yesterday. I hope to get more done with this today as I feel healthily rested.
I think I have an understanding for the power and complexity of modular synthesis, and why it's so hard to learn--it's an N-dimensional space, where N is the number of parameters/knobs you can modulate. This means that the possible space you can cover is extremely, extremely vast. Even for the modular synth masters, there is no uncompressed understanding of how to navigate the state-space of the modular synth world. It is simply too vast. The masters have probably just learned neat tricks to compress their knowledge (I can think of at least 5 routes out of this familiar neighborhood). Taxi drivers can memorize complex routes in 2D space--modular synthesis in N-dimensional space is perhaps only possible via guidance from the soul. 🤖
I played around a smidgeon with some of the other Moogs but haven't got the right power adaptor for the mixer so it seems that's off to a slow start. It looks like we're about halfway through the quarter, and I'm both very proud of my time at Stanford and scared and excited for what lies on the other side. I'm not quite prepared, but I'm not quite without options either.
I had another Hydra session with friends and it went swimmingly. We got a 4K 120Hz projector that's almost $1000. Wow. We couldn't get the Rhythmscope to work yet (we need an RCA to HDMI adapter), but we found out some things that do work and don't work with the audiovisual set we're planning. On the DJ side of things, a lot of the sounds were great but cohesion was lacking--they explored a bit too far and need to reel back their sound. On my end, I learned a bit more about the *kinds* of visuals that go along well with my friends' music; we want darker visuals, with emphasis on waviness, blurriness, and distortion. I was anxious I wouldn't find enough but it seems I have a good minimum number of visual patterns to employ and can start tagging their vibes to songmatch them and getting to know them really well. Feedback will be AWESOME to delve into (I already made some cool kaleidoscope stuff with it), but because it can cause some disturbing flickering unless youve taken the time to master it thoroughly, I'm going to spend time learning the fundamentals first. I'll start with the Hydra Book, and hopefully read all of it, which should give me the tools both to build my own premade sets and create the maximum amount of parameters to modulate, and to do livecoding improvisation. So my goal this week is to get through all of that. Stay tuned.
Other thoughts: I can't stop thinking about how vast the potential for this stuff is. Going further by adding lighting, doing GLSL shaders, etc. This is thinking far into the future, but I just want to craft the best possible experience!
Lots to talk about: I got 4 more synths from my classmate, including 3 more Moogs! I've been quite busy with job interviews so I haven't had as much time as I would've liked to actually set these synths up and start figuring them out. I'm super excited--this is everything I've ever dreamed of having access to. (though this puts pressure to make the most of what little time I have! I am grateful for the challenge.) I did a couple more Moog session with the Grandmother, particularly one where I went thru the different suggested patches to learn more about the ways these synths are commonly used. Hydra session with my DJ friends and some of my all-time favorite memories at stanford. Doing the hydra "modular video synthesizer" as an accompaniment to my friends' DJ'ing was wonderful. This went AMAZINGLY. Chris Chafe just mentioned we might be able to do a set for the Music 220C final presentation, which could be open to the public. That means, at the very end, doing an hour long dj set rave!! This would depend on their schedules once we get a date for that but I've been having so much fun being the visual interpreter of their music/visual DJ/co-performer that I am grateful for any opportunity for us to create.
Getting more into the algorave movement; I'm planning to have this person perform at my audiovisual rave event. And tbh this class has merged into helping me prepare for putting on this event, which I'm immensely grateful for. I'm spending a lot of my time preparing the visual Hydra performance for the event. I'm starting to wonder if I will end up making any music with the synths! I think I will need some more direct guidance/mentorship while messing around with my synths if i want to find the *kind of music* i want to make. It may end up more algorithmic or atmospheric, or even just sound like a fun modular session. I may do this and then do a co-performance on top of my music w Hydra. I will need to level up my synth skills a lot to be able to quickly navigate the specific kinds of soundscapes that i want. That said, there doesnt seem to be pressure for me to make synth music--my expectations now for this class is that I will create a set of 5-20 Hydra MIDI-controlled visualizations that I know very very well and am fluent in using to perform alongside some music. This will give me a stress-free environment to focus on the thing that I really truly care about and frankly am stressed about getting right. Once I have spent a lot of time on it and feel comfortable with it, I am sure I will naturally gravitate back toward working with the semi-modular synths and making something with them. The music will come when it comes.
Did another live synth session, this one came out the best so far. I've scattered my attention learning about the Grandmother between the user manual and various youtube videos, I should just stick to one to maximize my progress. Wouldnt hurt to learn via the user manual. So this week I'm going to go thru the user manual for the Grandmother and master it best I can.
More messing around with Hydra! Since hydra was inspired by modular synthesis, I dont *think* it would be irrelevant for me to invest time in learning it, so i can come away with a performance at the end of the quarter. Ive been learning more about feedback in Hydra. I think I'm going to spend this week learning the Hydra basics (getting settled to be able to speak with my voice in the software) and maybe next week start on audioreactivity.
I've become inspired by the algorave movment which I've just discovered thru the community around Hydra. Seems so cool! I hope to get more involved in the algorave community, and maybe eventually perform at algoraves.
While mostly unrelated, I should also mention I'm proud to have excavated some lossless music files and imported them into my Oculus Quest 2, and begun practicing DJ'ing in Tribe XR. DJ'ing to me seems a very important modality to instrumentalize your music listening, finding your voice through what you appreciate, curating an environment of vibes. It's the other end of the axis of expression from music production like I'm doing this quarter, but it recontextualizes the work I'm doing here by helping me imagine the contexts in which all music might serve a function.
Goals for this quarter entirely revised, loosened to allow for the creative process to spring up uninhibited:
1. Make Some Kind of Music with Modular (no preference for Moog over VCV Rack)
2. Add accompanying visuals to the project with Hydra (the music should be informed by the visuals, and vice-versa)
I listened to some while(1<2) by deadmau5, and was surprised by how "modular"-sounding of an album it is. I didnt realize there was so much experimental effort to make modulation & sound design a core part of the music, from amplitude to filter, to ADSR. One thing I noticed that I want to remember to do later is to make anti-kicks (just duck the sound where the kicks should be)--I found it to be very organic + creative. I've been messing around with some patches on the Moog Grandmother, still very much baby steps. I have a couple recordings from today and yesterday I may put up.
I've also been thinking a lot about audiovisual softwares like [TouchDesigner] and Hydra. I will have to learn one of these for an audiovisual event I'll be putting on later this quarter so it would be cool if I could combine them with this project, too. Hydra is amazing for being a dead-simple live coding interface inspired by modular synthesis, and touchdesigner is amazing for being a monstrously powerful flow chart of video effects. TouchDesigner is able to have direct audio reactivity by integrating directly with ableton/vcv rack, while Hydra is able to analyze more indirectly by taking in your audio input. I'll probably invest my time in Hydra because it seems to allow the most efficient learning curve for the course of a 10-week project. So, all that's to say, this will probably end up being an audiovisual composition.
Messed around with the Moog grandmother a bit more and got REALLY inspired by this video. I want to spend a lot more time on the Moog Grandmother and figure out if I can get a synth odyssey that sounds kinda like him. Maybe semi-modular synths are my new jam? I can picture myself making some cool tunes with them. Something to think about.
This week I've been setting up the Moog Grandmother borrowed from a classmate and going through common patches with that. I will have to borrow an audio interface so that I can record this physical semi-modular synth into my computer. I am entirely open to the idea of combining the sounds of a physical synth with the virtual synths of VCV rack.
For the VCV Rack world, I've been thinking about base patches that might help me accomplish my musical goals.
My personal goals for this quarter:
- find modular workflows that work for me
* collect 10+ small vcv rack patches that each help me accomplish a particular goal * become proficient in basic sound/rhythm design with Moog semi-modular synths
- find + utilize interesting sounds
- make "good" computer music
Project Goals for this quarter:
- put out 3 tracks using modular & semi-modular synths that I vibe with. Tracks must feature semi or fully modular synths almost exclusively; using a synth to control an Ableton instrument is fair game.
Some creative possibilities for working with VCV Rack:
- Instrument design (synths, drums...)
- Note control (can mess with scales/pitches, or even alternate tunings like microtonal)
- Rhythm generation & modification (there are many modules to explore that work with clocks)
- Effects chain (reverb, delay, distortion, spatialization...)
I don't know if I will come out of this with listenable music, but this is going to be fun.
This project was inspired by the software VCV rack, which is a free & open-source modular synth emulator that lowers the barrier-to-entry for anyone interested in experimenting with modular synthesis. I am fascinated by the world of possibilities with modular synthesis and would like to learn from the greats while forging my own path with this. I also got funding to purchase VCV Rack 2 Pro, which will allow me to integrate the software directly into Ableton, making recording and composition that much easier.
Modular synthesis was one of the primary reasons I became a computer music student, and I am incredibly excited to use it this quarter. For some reason the ability to play with buttons, knobs, and wires really appeals to the experimental child in me who wants to create chaos and destruction, as well as the harmonic engineer who just wants to build something ephemerally beautiful. I've been messing around with VCV Rack off and on for about 2 years but never had the chance to dive head-first into it. I'm grateful for finally having this opporunity to dedicate my time to exploring modular, and am quite excited to see what I have gained when I come out of the other end of this quarter. VCV Rack website