Video: 70 Crowdsourced Scores Performed in 9 Hours

On June 13, 2015 I collaborated with a team of nine students and nine musicians on a project I directed for Northern Spark, an annual, all-night, art festival In Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. We titled the project, Instant Composer: Mad-libbed Music and the intent was to engage the audience into instantly writing musical compositions for an ensemble of improvising musicians.

I discussed the concept here in-depth and also announced the project last June. I had no idea what to expect, but was thrilled with the outcome. Around 115 crowdsourced scores were entered into a database via our mobile application. During the nine hour performance we interpreted nearly 70 of those pieces for the audience.

ICMLM Sandwich Board

This video should give you a sense of what went on that night, but no media can fully represent an event like this. I can say that it wouldn’t have happened without the student collaborators, our collective of excellent musicians, the Northern Spark organizers, Art Institutes Minnesota, and the hundreds of people in our audience willing to engage in the process. Please see the video for the full project credits.

Interview: The Mind of Video Artist Chris LeBlanc

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Chris LeBlanc is a video artist who I have been collaborating with frequently for the last year and a half. The body of work that he has produced in this short period is remarkable. His improvised visuals for musical performances include mash-ups from rare VHS tapes of bizarre B-movies; usually of the sci-fi, horror, or fighting genres. He augments these mix tapes with circuit-bent Nintendos and a vast collection of other analog video devices to produce uncanny, audio-responsive, visual experiences that enhance musical performances and draw in listeners. Recently he added a modular video synthesis system to his rig and salvaged a nine-by-nine CRT video wall for display.

On Thursday, October 22nd Chris produced visuals for a solo performance of mine at a club with a projector and fifty-one flat screen monitors dispersed throughout the venue. Chris managed to display his video art on the projector and all of the flat screens during my performance. This lasted for about half the set until an irate bar manager found him and made him put the hockey game back on a few of the flatscreens. In addition to his performances he creates music videos and stills using the same equipment and similar techniques. After our most recent show I thought it would be great to share a discussion with Chris here on ACB. I interviewed him on what drives his decisions as an artist and how he makes his analog imagery so engaging while using content and technology from a bygone era.

Read on for the interview with Chris LeBlanc plus more videos and still photo examples of his work. Continue reading

MNKINO Film Fest: Familiar Pavement with Aaron Marx

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On August 13 I had the pleasure of performing an original film score to picture at the Landmark Center in St. Paul for MNKINO Film Fest 2015. The event featured more than twenty short films with original scores. Most of the scores were performed to the films by a talented orchestra assembled for the event. I wrote and performed the music for the film Familiar Pavement by Aaron Marx.

Performing my four minutes of electronic to the film in real time was quite challenging. I did not use any time lock, relying on the original BPM and finding a good starting point to get the timing right. What made the timing critical (and a little tricky) was that I had processed the original film audio with filters and reverb so that it sat well within the arrangement. However, once I found a good marker in the film and practiced it several times I was well prepared.

The original score used the DSI Tempest for all the drums and the Elektron Analog Four for bass, pads, and an arpeggio. The melody line was sequenced on the Analog Four control voltage track and played on a Korg Monotribe (if you didn’t know that was possible read this). At the event I added the Moog Sub 37 to the setup so I could harmonize and embellish the melody lines.

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 maxforlive.com. 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.

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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!

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How Kindohm Makes Wicked Breaks in Tidal

It you’re familiar with live coding (performing music through the process of writing code) then you’ve probably heard of Mike Hodnick (aka Kindohm). Mike and I have had the pleasure of performing together on several occasions and I’m thoroughly impressed with his technique and aesthetic. In this video Mike goes in-depth on how he creates breakbeats using Tidal, one of several languages commonly used to do live coding.