45 Delusions with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company

45 Delusions was commissioned by the Walker Art Center for an event with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) as part of the Common Time exhibit and performance series. The piece was performed and recorded with the dancers on March 30, 2017 in the Perlman Gallery at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. My setup included Rhodes, Moog Sub 37, PreenFM2, Korg KP3+, and a Moog Minifooger Delay. Graham O’Brien performed on percussion and electronics triggered from his drums.

John Keston's Setup for the Common Time Event

My Setup for the Common Time Event

The score is two pages. The first page (pictured at top) is the timeline for both performers. The timeline is vertical and made up of cells that last between one and five minutes each. Frequently the cells correspond with each player, but they are arranged so that at times they overflow. Rests are also included as cells. Each cell includes brief instructions and/or graphics that give suggestions to the musicians. Some of the instructions are expanded on the second page of the score.

Graham O'Brien's Setup for Common Time

Graham O’Brien’s Setup for Common Time

The second page also includes a list of forty five delusions. These include terms such as alternative facts, capitalism, corporate culture, equality, freedom, fossil fuels, greed, justice, and so on. There are also a few technical delusions such as erotomania (belief that a celebrity is in love with you) and lycanthropy (belief that one can turn into an animal). The second page explains the delusions and what to do with them:

DELUSIONS
Anything that might be considered or is delusional. These are not necessarily medical or technical examples of delusions and may involve individuals, societies, or organizations. Prior to performing the piece, each musician chooses one “delusion” applied to each cell within the score.

Take a look at the PDF at the end of this article to see the complete list of delusions as well as expanded instructions for some of the cells. Obviously this is an improvised piece of music, but this approach steers the improvisation in directions that would be unlikely to occur freely. Particularly the timing. As one performs or listens to the piece it is possible to discern distinct variations as the musicians transition from one cell to the next. If you are inclined to listen to the piece in full, try following along with the score and placing a SoundCloud comment where you hear the cells change. The timing on the recording doesn’t exactly match the score, but it’s pretty close.

The reasons I took this approach are multi-faceted: (1) It keeps the piece moving. Often free improv tends to stagnate as ideas are repeated and refined. With this approach the challenge is to express ideas with concision and then move on to the next (this is possible, albeit rare, in free improv – we call it channel surfing). (2) It is possible to strictly define the length. We used a timer that counted up to 30 minutes. One quick glance at the timer illustrates the need to move on to “High Speed Arps” for example. (3) Mood, dynamics, and theatrics can be injected to create a narrative with scope and meaning. It is a way to ask questions, discover sounds, explore, and experiment. (4) It enhances my musical engagement. I am influenced by my collaborators and surroundings, but I’m also interpreting the language of the score, and hopefully to the benefit of the musical output.

45 Delusions by John C.S. Keston (148K PDF)

Revisiting Dogmatic Music with the Novation Circuit, PreenFM2, and Moog Sub 37

I composed this track and performed it live while limiting myself to using three electronic instruments: Novation Circuit, PreenFM2, and a Moog Sub 37. Afterward I added a recording of a Tibetan tingsha bell that I captured using a matched pair of Rode NT5 condensers. The instruments were sequenced using the Squarp Pyramid, which might technically be considered a fourth instrument, but it is not a sound source.

I continually revisit dogmatic approaches to making electronic music and this approach in particular may yield some interesting results. The last collection I made like this was back in 2013 and can be found in the post Builders of the Fauxpocalypse: a Dogmatic Approach to Music Making.

Pyramid’s Euclidean Rhythms Meet Novation Circuit

In the spirit of #JAMUARY2017 (thanks to Cuckoo for having the stamina to do it everyday!) I have made a video track using the Squarp Pyramid, Novation Circuit, Moog Sub 37, PreenFM2, Rhodes, Minifooger Delay, and Korg KP3+. I’m not great at making these (hence the shaky video), but they’re fun to do every so often.

euclid

The track starts out with a Rhodes loop that I played into the KP3+ with an LFO sweeping a resonant high pass filter. Next I start to bring in Euclidean patterns on each of the four Circuit drum parts. These are generated through individual tracks on the Pyramid. I have it setup with four Euclidean patterns per track bank for a total of sixteen. This way I can mix and match all sixteen patterns on the Pyramid and even swap them or combine them with patterns on the Circuit.

I also use Pyramid to sequence the bass and synth chords on the Circuit. In addition I have a track for the Sub 37 that I mute while soloing, and a track for the PreenFM2. The Sub 37 is in “local off” mode, so whichever track I have selected on Pyramid determines what instrument plays. I find the keybed and flexibility of the Sub 37 perfect as a controller and sound source. Thanks for listening and check out my new album Isosceles for more like it that’s actually mixed and mastered properly. ;-)

The Most Powerful Tiny FM Synth: PreenFM2

PreenFM2

The purpose of AudioCookbook is not to promote or review musical instruments, electronic hardware, or audio software. This site is a more personal (perhaps narcissistic) look at music composition and sound design techniques. “Recipes for Sound Design” is one part of that, but experimentation also plays a significant role. I understand that some my experiments are interesting for ACB readers. My approach has been, if it’s interesting to me then I’ll write about it here. In this case I’d like to highlight an extraordinary, boutique, FM synth that has been unfairly overshadowed by the Korg Volca FM. This amazing musical device for sound design and experimentation is the PreenFM2 designed by Xavier Hosxe.

This synth is by no means new. I first heard about it in August of 2013 on CreateDigitalMusic.com. At that time I was fully invested in the Yamaha FS1R and didn’t see a need for another FM synth in my setup. However, more recently I started researching it because I wanted a portable polyphonic synth for live performances. I’ve brought luggable rack synths to shows including the FS1R and Roland MKS-80, but it’s expensive, awkward, and risky to transport them. I love the Korg Volcas for their sound and portability, but both the Volca Keys and Volca FM have a mere three voices available for polyphony.


The low profile and compact PreenFM2 can be purchased pre-built or in kit form with either a sturdy metal case or an elegant plexiglass design that shows off the inner workings. Either option takes up little space and is effortlessly packed up and transported. Its looks belie its broad feature set and massive capacity for sound design and experimentation. But one of the main reasons I recruited it for polyphonic duties is just that: polyphony. Depending on the algorithm the polyphony ranges from eight to fourteen voices. In comparison the Volca FM has a maximum of three voices.
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