ISSTA 2018 and Ableton 10 NRPN Morphing

Soon I’ll be on my way to Ireland for my second appearance at the Irish Sound, Science and Technology Association (ISSTA) annual conference. This year ISSTA will be held at Ulster University’s Magee campus in Derry, Northern Ireland, November 9th and 10th, 2018. Tickets are still available.

This time around my work is entirely rooted in FM synthesis. Particularly around my explorations of the amazing PreenFM2. I have designed a Max for Live patch that allows me to degrade, morph, and/or scramble sets of parameters on the synth. This is similar to a device I designed for the Yamaha TX81Z. This process creates an algorithmic approach to the sound design.

I have titled this series MODULATOR and recently made an album (unreleased) of material based on the technique. There is a lot to mine here, so I am finding that while I prepare for ISSTA a whole new range of material has emerged. These new compositions developed through a sequence of stochastic, deliberate, and arbitrary processes. Through algorithmic and improvised methodologies textures evolve beyond aesthetic considerations allowing peculiar, harsh, and even grotesque sounds to emerge. Have a listen to this series of clips I recorded while practicing for the upcoming performance:

Continue reading

Merce Cunningham: Common Time with John Keston and Graham O’Brien

Suite for Five


This Thursday, March 30, 2017 I will be performing two 30 minute sets of music with Graham O’Brien at the Walker Art Center as part of the Merce Cunningham: Common Time series of events and exhibitions. Our performances start at 5:30pm and 8:00pm in the Perlman Gallery and feature former Merce Cunningham dancers. Here’s a one minute teaser recorded during a recent rehearsal. The concert is free and open to the public. Visit the Walker Art Center for more details.

The Most Powerful Tiny FM Synth: 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 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.
Continue reading

Art + Music + Technology


Recently I had the honor and pleasure of having a discussion with Darwin Grosse for his podcast Art + Music + Technology. If you’re not familiar with his interviews I suggest that you check out his program. Darwin’s straight forward conversations with a broad range of media artists seem to fill a void that no other programs do. It’s hard to single out any of the programs specifically because they are all entertaining (and educational), but some of my favorites (sorted alphabetically) include:

Brian Crabtree
Richard Devine
R. Luke DuBois
Mark Henrickson
Andrew Kilpatrick
Keith McMillen
Ali Momeni
Pauline Oliveros
Gregory Taylor
David Zicarelli

TX81Z Patch Degrader with Interpolation

This quick demo illustrates how TX81Z Patch Degrader is interpolating between previous and newly generated parameter values. TX81Z Patch Degrader is a Max for Live MIDI effect that chips away at patches on the TX81Z by randomly changing (or degrading) parameters at a specified rate. What makes the process interesting is that it is possible to ramp up or down (interpolate) to the new value rather than changing it instantaneously.

To create the Max for Live MIDI instrument I started with TX81Z Editor 1.0 by Jeroen Liebregts who was kind enough to share his work on I added in the degradation process features and made some adjustments to the interface to make room for the controls. Once I get things shaped up I’ll be happy to share the patch if anyone is interested.

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 5.37.43 PM

The features I added are visible in the second panel of the TX81Z Patch Degrader Max MIDI effect. I’ll describe them from the top down:

  1. Level bypass prevents the operator levels from being included in the degradation process so that the sound doesn’t completely die out.
  2. When the interpolate switch is on new values (as long as they have an adequate range) are ramped up or down to the new value based on the rate.
  3. Loop causes the degradation to continue indefinitely by reshuffling after all 73 parameters included have been degraded.
  4. Free/sync toggles between changing the parameters at an arbitrary pace set by rate, or note divisions based on the project’s tempo (therefore sync will only degrade while playing)
  5. Rate adjusts the rate of degradation when in free mode, and the time it takes to ramp up or down to new values when interpolate is on. Rate is milliseconds and ranges from 15ms to 2000ms.
  6. Below rate are the note durations for sync mode ranging from a 1/128th note up to a dotted whole note.
  7. Finally the degrade button starts the process while interrupt stops everything so when you hear something you like you can save the patch on the TX81Z.

The TX81Z has a fairly small buffer for MIDI values, so spraying values at it too quickly will generate the “MIDI Buffer Error”. However, even after getting the error it will continue listening to the incoming data, so even though it might be skipping a parameter here and there it lets me keep throwing things at it. The video below shows how the LCD display responds to the stream of values coming at the machine.

TX81Z Patch Degradation with Interpolation! #glitch #fmsynthesis

A video posted by John Keston (@jkeston) on

I’ve saved quite a few very interesting effects so far and have nearly run out of the 32 patch positions available on the unit. Perhaps the next step is to add a library feature especially since I’m not thrilled about the idea of saving patch banks to cassette!

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 6.46.35 PM