Experimental Electronics

Starting with bounces between cassette decks as a kid and later ridiculously long tape loops in Miami University’s basement music lab, I’ve always been fascinated with field recordings (and mangling thereof). I expanded on this during my master’s degree at the University of New Mexico, emerging with a custom performance setup for real-time sample manipulation that combined Max patches on a hot-rodded Mac SE with an Ensoniq ASR-10.

Over the next several years performing as a soloist and on sampler/live sampling with Out of Context and mJane in and around New Mexico, I settled on a laptop rig centered on LiSa from STEIM plus a custom Max patch. Particularly with OOC, where I was live-sampling 10 or so other performers, each on his/her own input of my first-gen MOTU 828, I’d occasionally route through Live or MainStage for compression on the way in.

Screenshot from my Out of Context setup
Screenshot from my typical OOC setup
My OOC Setup circa 2013
My OOC Setup and bandmates circa 2013

With OOC, it was vital to stick with a stable setup to develop some level of virtuosity – speedy response and artistry, really – so that’s what I did, with a midiman Oxygen 8 and a Logitech Extreme 3D Pro, both hijacked and customized in the Max patch.

As for the solo pieces, I’ve tended to use a different combination of controllers for each one  based on the piece’s theme.  At some point I put a lot of thought into why rock’n roll shows, of which I have done and seen my share, are so much more exciting to watch (typically) than experimental electronics shows. The answer I came up with was threefold:

  • physicality – It’s way more fun to watch a drummer pound away and sweat buckets than to see someone make infinitesimal movements on a trackpad, as if she’s checking her gmail.
  • risk – We shouldn’t charge money and then press Play and sit back. Boo. It’s a lot more thrilling if you know the whole thing could fall apart at any moment – and that the performers actually worked at rehearsing so that it wouldn’t.
  • a clear association between cause and effect in the performer’s actions, so that the audience isn’t mystified (or bored) by that part of it – When a guitarist screams up the neck, listeners know what to expect, and that’s part of the excitement. This ties closely with physicality, of course, but extends into making it possible for the audience to associate specific movements with specific (musical) results. “Ah, when she hits the drum pad harder, the pitch gets higher. Cool!”

Solo pieces include:

  • Elevator Music – manipulations of various recordings of elevator machinery, performed originally using the ASR-10 + Mac combination, but under development in 2015 as an iPad piece using ThumbJam and Samplr (see video above)
  • Gun Control – manipulations of a 3-second recording of a gunshot, performed using a drumKat and a Behringer FCB1010
  • eFfeM: Short Pieces for Vibrators and Radios – manipulations of recordings of various vibrators, performed using a Logitech Extreme 3D Pro joystick and a mini controller keyboard. The concept came from an invitation to perform at Tune(In))) Santa Fe, a micro-transmitter show in which the performers overlapped each other but were broadcast on different radio frequencies so that outwardly, the show was silent, but attendees received walkman-style radios on which they could tune in to the different performers as they pleased. It was at a museum of modern art, so the audience could walk among the sculptures and such while listening to music. I took the idea of FM (frequency modulation) from the show theme and thought it would be cool to explore that concept using vibrator samples – shifting from pulsing beats to discernible pitches and back – and of course using an appropriately phallic controller.
  • Land and Sky – manipulations of recordings from a hike to Nambe Lake, including footfalls, streams, insects and birds; performed using MainStage wrapped around Izotope Iris, with an Akai MPK Mini controller keyboard and an Edirol UC33-e fader box. Accompanied by processed photographs from the same hike, taken by Karen Milling.
  • Grid Management – manipulations of processed electrical sounds recorded in my house (an old tube TV starting up, a close-mic’d CFL, etc.), performed using LiSa, Nodal + a custom Max patch and a Wacom tablet. This piece is projected from my laptop so the audience can watch as I build a network of nodes in Nodal, each node triggering a sound. The thrill of performing this one is that I can’t at any point create a dead end in the node network or the piece will stop producing sound, and by the end I’ve produced a fairly complex nodal network that represents the electrical grid, color-coded by voltage levels, in the United States.