Author Archives: mjl

About mjl

New Bandcamp Release: Ghosted

Finally had a chance for final mastering and upload of this, my second bandcamp release:

This is best described as a self-remix piece.

The core sound materials were produced in the period 2001-2004. Some of these were fully-formed pieces in their own right (e.g. a version of comes pale horse, from 2002; and an unused mix of Outside, from 2003). Others were sound snippets that had no home, or other unfinished pieces like enoch and march (many of these may still be on the SoundCloud site: I don’t link to any of them here, since I’m sure I’ll eventually have to clear out some space over there, I’m running out of minutes). All told, something like 12 existing pieces were used to generate the track given here.

Some background: In early 2006, I had started wondering what it would be like to potentially play a piece like this live. How on earth would one do such a thing? Would it even be possible to do such a thing? So I had loaded the materials into Ableton Live, treated the various sounds, and (after a few sessions of rehearsing) improvised an overall piece that ran a little less than 50 minutes total. At the time, I thought of this of an experiment in re-purposing available recorded materials into a live, improvised piece of music. Essentially just a remix, but that’s not a term I would have used in 2006. This session generated the core of what ended up being recorded.

I was reasonably happy with the result, but (again) at the time, I saw no practical outlet for a 50 minute long instrumental/collage piece (at least none that was available to me), and no local venues that would ever be interested in having someone perform something like this live.

So I shelved the project. And essentially went into musical retirement. What was the point, really? I had a profession to pursue, a day job. I owned a house now. An adopted family, too. And the musical landscape just didn’t seem friendly to the kind of sounds and music that I wanted to make. (And, in hindsight, buying that stupid Xbox 360 in 2007, as my go-to ‘stress reliever’, was probably a terrible mistake).

Fast forward to mid 2012. I had already started to re-assemble my home studio (or what was left of it– some of the hardware had failed and had to be replaced, and some of my software licenses had expired, or been lost altogether), and started to get back into playing guitar, if only for old times’ sake. An impulse buy of ACID Pro let me explore archived electronic music projects, some of the first I had ever done– and before too long I had gotten the distinct feeling that I was picking up right where I had left off a few years’ prior.

I had just re-committed to making music, gotten the studio/workspace up and running again, and promised myself to try and make at least one piece of music a week when I stumbled onto the Disquiet Junto. And I do mean stumbled. I had started to follow a few blogs, experimental/ambient music sites, online zines, netlabels, twitter feeds, etc. to find out what had been going on while I had been ‘retired’… and all roads, somehow, led to the Junto.

But back to this release, in particular. In keeping with the ‘pick up where you left off’ theme, I did not substantially alter the makeup of the original 2006 live remix. Some re-balancing of the sounds was done, and also some post-processing and envelope leveling to make the piece more listenable. So this is material from 2001-2004, remixed ‘live’ in 2006, revisited and remastered in 2013.

This release gets made as the aforementioned marriage comes to an end (amicably, but still…), the stepdaughter launches into adulthood with reasonable success, and the job and house and landlord duties are no longer overwhelming responsibilities, but rather just Things I Do. End of an Era, as the old cliche goes.

Nice time for a Final Remix for the era 2001-2013. (Which equals one orbit of Jupiter, oddly enough).

Time for the next orbit…

(Released under a Creative Commons license, Attribution, Share-alike, derivs ok).

Disquiet Catch-up (#77, #78 and #79)

Real life has been brutal, frankly, so I haven’t been updating the music blog even though I’ve managed to participate in a few Disquiet projects since the last post.

First, #77, ‘disquiet0077-netlabelsplice’:

This project gave us links to three deriv-friendly netlabel tracks, and specified a time range for each of them. We were to take material from these, and use them to create a deriv-friendly track of our own. This track was done in Ableton Live.

The next week, #78, ‘disquiet0078-minusmusic’:

An original Edison-era wax cylinder recording of an old-time orchestra was provided, and we were to ‘subtract only’ to create a new piece. Like most, I interpreted ‘subtract only’ to imply filtering and volume/mute changes. I attached mutes and filter controls to MIDI events in Audiomulch, and recorded the piece live.

The third week, for disquiet0079-juntofate, had us participate in a remix contest using the (apparently public domain) soundtrack to the MST3K favorite, Manos, the Hands of Fate:

We were instructed to go ‘downtempo’, but unfortunately my random choices pulled track #24, “Chaos”, which as you could imagine from the title, was not the most downtempo track in the source set. Typical ‘crazed saxophone’ noises familiar from movies of the late 50s and early 60s (probably already a dated sound when Manos was made in 1966). I did manage to find a nice syncopated hook inside one of the breaks, and decided to build the bulk of the track on that.

Additional process details (and links) are available at the respective SoundCloud track sites. I just wanted to update.

feelings, nothing more…

Andrew Sullivan has apparently chosen neuroscience as a pet topic for the past few weeks. Key quote:

Without religion or a shared culture, science has assumed a role it is not qualified to play: a judgment of the whole, not just of its relevant area of inquiry. Don’t get me wrong: science is a vital mode of human thought; it is also just part of it. History, aesthetics, prudence, morals, virtues: these it cannot understand; and when it tries to explain them, it is not wrong, so to speak. It’s just irrelevant.

What strikes me so much here is that, out of that list in the final sentence, only ‘History’ is something that arguably takes place (mostly) outside of the human head. The rest are essentially all subtly-colored synonyms for ‘feelings’.

Aesthetics is concerned with shared sub-cultural tastes and values, which are, at their root, feelings-based. Imagine two people: the art professor trying to develop a new formal theory of aesthetics, and some random person in their car choosing a radio station for the drive to work: Whether they realize it or not, each is trying in their own way to answer the same essential questions on some level: What sub-cultural tribe do I identify with? What am I supposed to like or dislike, based upon that? What makes me feel good? What makes me feel uncomfortable, or in territory unfamiliar?.

Tell me your socioeconomic background, age, gender, marital status, where you’re from and your religion, and I’ve got a pretty good chance at guessing your taste in movies, books, art, music and politics. That is ‘aesthetics’.

“Prudence, morals and virtues” have even less essential substance. The study of ‘Morals’, as Nietzsche pointed out over a century ago, is largely a subset of aesthetics (you inherit your initial set of morals from your originating tribe, perhaps modifying them as your tastes change over time as you interact with and move between different sub-cultures), so the above applies. I’d argue that ‘Prudence’ is essentially the urge to avoid public shaming or other consequences. And I’d argue that ‘virtues’ are ultimately derived from pride, both private and public. Prudence, when it works, is the thing that keeps you from getting shunned or expelled from the group. Virtues are the things that will help you to acquire social capital (and therefore status) within a group.

Feelings, all.

Emotional life is of course a valid mode of human experience… but we must remember that nothing is more easily manipulated than human emotion. And if you can control that, then you control almost every other aspect of a person’s psyche. I’ll just post my favorite Richard Feynman quote here:

The first principle [of the scientific method] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

I pick on Sullivan here because he’s a kind of ‘cultural canary’, quite canny at sniffing out overall trends, and this general anti-science backlash is definitely something I’ve noticed coming back into prominence over these past few years.

The slow, inexorable move towards post-scarcity economics seems to be driving two general trends. First, more and more goods are becoming positional goods, i.e. things that derive their value mostly from their artificial inaccessibility to the general crowd. And secondly, the increased prominence of social capital in the lives of ordinary people.

Up until a few centuries ago, only the ruling class and their courtiers had to worry much about social capital: the so-called lower orders, generally too busy surviving to indulge in much intrigue or social games, tended to derive all their value from their originating tribe. Move forward to the present, and the Everyfolk now seem to spend much of their of time displaying cultural signifiers and tribal identifiers to one another on Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, YouTube, etc. Much like the old Courtiers at Versailles, (though minus the scented handkerchiefs), and frankly not too different from Baboons flashing their red haunches at each other– we are primates, after all, and it’s just part of what we do. There are even forums like Kickstarter now, which give the Everyfolk a chance to actually monetize any social capital they acquire to fund a new product or service.

My point: We seem to be moving from the old American notion of ‘Every Man a King’, towards a new aesthetic (there’s that word again) of ‘Every Man a Courtier’. And I do think this is a big part of what’s driving the anti-science movements, because the notion of objectivity threatens this new culture.

Essentially, you discriminate between tribe A and tribe B by what they believe– but if there is only One Right Answer, that distinction disappears. A positional good rarely has any objective excess value of its own (the $10K Rolex and the $10 Timex are objectively equivalent in function, for example). And most of the baubles of social capital are either matters of opinion (i.e. aesthetics), or have no essential substance at all (i.e. they are completely inside our proverbial heads).

Small wonder, then, that there’s so much anti-scientism in popular culture: If you derive almost all of your personal value from these things, you will unconsciously see science, with its potentially corrosive truth-seeking, to be a dire threat to your very self.

IMO this will only get worse as time moves on: But this tension between our tribal primiate natures, and the new global machine-culture that’s being born as we speak, will be one of the primal forces driving everything from our art to our politics for at least the next few decades.

Disquiet Junto 0073: Faulty Notation

The Disquiet Junto project for this week assigned us an excerpt of a geological/topographical map of the San Andreas fault line. Mine is below:

a san andreas fault map excerpt

san andreas fault map excerpt

There were many map excerpts, but this one was mine. I started out with no real idea as to how to approach this, but soon found myself making a detailed markup of how to bind the maps’ characteristics to tones, etc:

Collected the map areas into eight ‘categories’ (to keep it tractable– I lumped together two separate yellows as one tone, for example) and did what I could to read it as a score. Six MIDI instruments (mostly processed Korgs softsynths), keyed in by hand. The “score” was complicated enough that it was best treated like a comp sheet. In addition, two samples of my own were drawn in by hand in the proper places (relative to the other sounds/features).

If you look closely at the markup, you can see that I had originally planned for 5 minutes (300 seconds) because that made the pixel-to-time math easier. I soon realized just how grueling this would be, so it ended up scaling to 3 minutes.

Enjoy. Creative Commons, no commercial use, derivs ok.

(ETA: This one was done in Ableton Live).

disquiet #0069 : the four elements

This week’s Disquiet Junto project had us downloading four sound sources from, one for each of the classical elements (earth, air, fire and water).

I used Audiomulch for this one, along with a couple of the Korg Legacy Collection VST plugins (specifically, the filter bank section of an emulated Korg M-20 –which I find myself using more than I’ve ever used the emulated synth– and the Korg MDE-X effects plugin, which IMO has a nice soft/clean reverb). Each sound was given a specific ‘character’ through the use of effects, and I set up the MIDI Controller to manipulate the mix and effects in real time. The final patch ended up looking like this:

screen capture of audiomulch

As before, the size of the patch is limited by my ability to control the beast in real-time. The new controller (a Novation zero mkII) does seem to make it easier to control larger patches. And while it can be a confusing and finicky thing to use with Ableton (sometimes I have to reboot to get the two talking through Novation’s Automap S/W), with Audiomulch it’s just another MIDI controller, and the learn function works just fine.

I do wish I knew how to manipulate the Zero’s little LCD screen (through MIDI, presumably) to put my own customize info there. It must be possible in theory, because apps like Logic, Ableton, Cubase etc can all do it. But (as far as I have been able to tell), Novation doesn’t publish any info on how to do this for ourselves.

disquiet #0067: odysseymachine

Last week’s Disquiet had us perform another set of random processes to determine which Line from which Book of this translation of The Odyssey (well, technically Ulysses… this version uses the Roman names). We were then to use speech synthesis and processing to render the line we had chosen:

This is from Book 7, Line 24:

But ere he enter’d yet the pleasant town,
Minerva azure-eyed met him, in form
A blooming maid, bearing her pitcher forth.

Minerva is, of course, what the Romans called Greek Athena. Goddess of Wisdom. And here she is, shape-shifted into ‘a blooming maid’ to welcome him to this podunk town he just made landfall near, and to make sure he gets to the local boss-man in one piece so he can get a proper meal and some rest. (I didn’t read much further than that, so I can’t tell you what happens next).

I also note that Athena/Minerva is translated as ‘azure-eyed’ several times in that Book. In English, azure is ‘the color of the sky on a clear summer’s day’. Yet I’ve also read that the ancient Greeks had no specific word for ‘Blue’. A little searching tells me that they had the word glaukos, which (I hereby guess) is probably what is being translated as ‘azure’ here… but that word could also mean grey, green, yellow or even bronze.

Bronze-eyed Athena. Grey-eyed Athena.

No, ‘Azure-eyed’ does sound much better.

marathon memories, in no particular order…

For the first handful of years to my life, Patriot’s Day just happened to be the Monday of April vacation week (most Massachusetts schoolchildren have this week off, and most businesses are closed today as well). There was a Marathon or something, it was a Boston thing, it was all over the local news. It often rained, but once in awhile it was the start of true Spring weather. Sometimes it fell on the day after Easter. It was just part of the rhythm of the year. Last vacation before summer.

My first adult year living in Boston (this would be April 1990), I was struck with this sudden irrational urge to buy and set up an aquarium. I decided to walk to a nearby pet store (found in the yellow pages, which were still a useful thing back then) to get a tank, filter and some gravel for initial setup. I had to cross Beacon Street to get there, and it turned out… oh, Marathon. That’s right, it’s today. That year they had kids in uniform (ROTC kids, I think; from local schools, probably) serving as escorts to help noisome pedestrians like myself across breaks in the (surprisingly distributed– as you cross it, the street is actually eerily empty) pack of runners so we could get to the other side of the street. So I crossed in one direction, an awkward anonymous grad student all alone. And a half hour later I crossed in the other direction, the same awkward anonymous grad student bearing a 10 gallon aquarium tank with 3 bags of gravel and a filter inside of it, on his way home to fill said tank up with water so he could let it sit for a week to settle before he could add some fish to it.

Later (1995-9 or so), it became a day when there was no point in trying to take the train to work. I’d take it off, hide from the crowds. It signified the beginning of the end of the Winter Funk. I developed a habit of going to the local package store (along the route) in the late afternoon on Marathon day. Most of the crowd had dispersed by then, but standing in the littered streets were always those last few Spectators, and they’d be cheering on the ‘stragglers’ who were at that point just running to finish it. To this day, when you say “Marathon” to me, that is the image that comes to me.

By now, I live well north of downtown, and I know how to get to work without running into Marathon issues. It’s just another day. But then I heard sirens, and heard planes flying over Cambridge, and checked twitter etc and found out what had happened only a few minutes after it had.

So, Now?

Ask me in a year. Or two. Or a few.

For today, so close to home… barely two miles from my office?

I have nothing.

Upload: Three Pure(ish) Tone Studies in Audiomulch

I’ve been playing around with Audiomulch for a couple of months now, to the point where it has managed to replace my aging copy of Ableton Live (v5.2.2… get off my lawn!!!) as my go-to environment for electronic noodling.

I like the ‘level’ Audiomulch inhabits– it’s not the ubiquitous high-level, strip-chart style DAW– it’s not really a DAW at all, and it doesn’t want to be. But on the other hand, it’s nowhere near as low-level, deep-down-in-the-details as Pure Data or cSound, so one can get productive quickly. AM has ‘just enough’ limitations to keep me focused (ie undistracted), so I can generally make a piece of music with it in just a few hours. It’s the closest thing to the good old days of guitars, tapes, pedals and patch chords that I’ve been able to find in the digital world (thus far).

A few weeks ago, Disquiet project #62 asked us to create a piece using pure sine tones. I had never worked with pure sine tones before, but this was easy enough to accomplish with Audiomulch. The result is here, and the full project for the group is here (looks like 44 of us participated in that one– go listen, right now… it’s good stuff).

After that project was done, I found myself still playing with sine waves, and then some. In particular, I wanted to find ways to mix these sine tones with other sounds, derived from those tones, using a controllerist approach to make “live” pieces that were interesting to me. Eventually, I came up with this patch:


The “10Harmonics” contraption generates harmonics for a given root tone (additive synthesis). Harmonics 2 through 9 are attached to the eight sliders on a Korg nanoKontroller, so the timbre of the core drone can be manipulated in real time. Ring Modulator #1 is programmed with 4 possible tones, also made selectable by a knob on the controller. RM #2 is set to a fixed (and, by compositional convention, dissonant) tone of its own.

The DLGranulator (a simple but flexible granular synth, in this case processing the output of the 10Harmonics contraption) has been programmed with 6 interesting Presets, selectable by a knob on the nanoKontroller. Each of these signals can be faded in and out of the overall scene in real-time, using additional knobs as volume controls. Two knobs were left over, so I assigned those to the min/max delay times in the DLGranulator, making the grain delays for any given preset alterable in real time.

So, even though this patch is pretty straightforward (perhaps even simplistic by AM standards), It has a total of 16 control points: 8 knobs, 8 sliders. Which is not only the physical limit of the nanoKontroller, but probably close to the upper bound for the number of control points a live musician can reasonably handle (at least this one). The delays are set to ping-pong with interesting delay times, so that a single action by the “performer” results in several seconds of movement in the piece.

Having arrived at this setup last weekend, I then spent some time learning how to use this “instrument” to create pieces of music “live”. (Note how I can’t resist using scare quotes around “live” and “performer”– there was no audience, but these pieces were indeed made in real time, each following an unofficial Score that I had scribbled down).

To define a particular piece, a root tone (ie the 10Harmonics primary frequency), was chosen, as well as several subordinate tones for the first Ring Modulator, and one oddball ‘dissonance’ tone for RM #2. The idea being that this ‘oddball tone’ could be brought into the mix from time to time, to serve as a kind of lietmotif.

I stuck with “standard” (Western) musical tones for now– not quite ready to start playing with microtones and/or exotic scales at this point (though I’ll confess to being fond of detuning a note or two, as I like the way that sounds when you push it through a delay).

And so, the result: Three Studies.

The first study/etude is based on {A, C, E} with a slightly-detuned D as the dissonance tone:

The second of this series is based on {E-flat, B-flat, G}, with E-natural as the dissonance tone:

The third and final of this series is loosely based on an Fminor chord, with some detuning (hence the title, “Fminor-ish”):

I’ll post this set-of-three on the bandcamp site for download later this weekend, as well.

In other music news, I somehow managed to close a car door on my own left hand. Through some miracle, no knuckles or fingertips got crushed– just some nasty bruises on the middle phalanges of the middle and ring fingers of that hand. I apparently hit it ‘just right’. Most of the function has already returned…

I’ll consider that Luck.