Saturday, 21 July 2012

No Living Thing

I've been at the music again. This time a noisy live-in-the-studio performance with Audiomulch. 180bpm. The intention is to make you stagger away feeling numb and slightly sick:

As recounted in the previous post I recently bought a second-hand Thinkpad X60, as a dedicated music laptop. There's a cliché whereby laptop musicians always use Apple Macs (when I was a lad, a brace of PowerBook G4s, nowadays probably a pair of MacBook Airs), but they're staggeringly expensive for a dedicated music machine. And I've never been a dedicated Mac person, only a voyeur from afar. In contrast the old Thinkpads are cheap as chips, because they were sold in great numbers to businesses that subsequently disposed of them. The X60 has a 32-bit only Core Dual chip, which goes well with XP and will run Windows 7, although with a hardware limit of 3gb it's a bit pointless. This is what I was looking at as I did my thing (click for a larger version):

As you can see the X60's screen is very cramped; I expanded it to a second monitor, which is still very cramped. After assembling and tweaking I zeroed most of the sliders and knobs, took a deep breath, hit record, hit play, and hit it. First take, baby. Abrupt ending, just like being hit by a car when you weren't looking. That widget again with Flash, if the HTML5 version above didn't work:
No Living Thing by Ashley Pomeroy

This is Audiomulch, an eccentric audio processing / mixing environment developed by Ross Bencina of Melbourne, Australia. It's fascinating, flexible, but frustrating. With a staff of one (himself) Bencina's development of the software has been protracted. It's more advanced than the beta versions I used in 1999, 2000, but still lacks some key features. In part this is because Bencina has a distinct vision; it's his baby. And thus closed-sourced, so if he is hit by a car, Audiomulch dies with him. Whatever thunder Audiomulch might have generated was quickly stolen by Ableton, which was launched a couple of years later and went on to be vastly more popular. Admittedly that's like comparing chalk with... it's like comparing two different kinds of cheese.

The major difference is that Albeton is a sequencer with an emphasis on live performance, whereas Audiomulch processes audio; it has only the most rudimentary ability to sequence events. As a consequence it's not much use for conventional music with verses, choruses, fills and so forth, unless you render the musical bits first and essentially use Audiomulch to play sound effects against a backing track. In practice I can't be bothered with fills, I want the drums to start, and then stop. Drum or not drum. There is no fill.

In the rightmost window you can see MidiLooper, a freeware sequencing application that works within a VST client. This is an esoteric thing - most VST clients are sequencers already - but it expands Audiomulch's functionality and would be even better if (a) it was fully debugged (b) it didn't use up so many CPU cycles. But it's free (although you can donate, which I have done). The next-most-wicked thing is Shortcircuit - not visible in the screenshot - which is a flexible VST freeware sampler with a clever modulation matrix. The modulation matrix breathes life into otherwise static samples.

Elsewhere in the mix is Smartelectronix' venerable MDA Plug-in pack, which has been around literally forever, and Tweakbench's Cairo, which gaps. That's what a gapper does, it gaps.

Yesterday I went to see Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, on its first day of general release. Hans Zimmer's score was so macho that every woman in the cinema fell pregnant with his children, and nine months from now there will be an army - a new generation - who will call Hans Zimmer daddy. An army who don't remember when he was (true fact) a struggling keyboardist who wrote the theme from Going for Gold, the awful BBC daytime quiz show. The idea was that the contestants were from all over Europe, thus showing the British audience that Johnny Foreigner was alright, and yet all the questions were delivered in English.

And, yes, I kept thinking "is this the bit where the man opened fire?"