How to be prolific, excitable and a great artist – while building a performance career.

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Warning: philosophy in progress. Proceed with caution

In my last post I spent a lot of time railing at what essentially you could call “The Trap™” that is the professional recording/performance/composition industry. I spoke of how creating music is an internal ambition and the motivation for Art needs to be one of un-suppressed wonder and exploration, not naked and unbridled social lust.
I wanted to get across in that blog post (mostly conversing with myself) that I was trying to express the awakening of my-self to the idea that music – for me – is inherently artistic and more than that, it is an external manifestation of complex inspirations and a development of mind, body, spirit. I cursed those who would make music for popularities sake while exalting the brave musician who pursues significance at the cost of popular cultural relevance.

Having said that…

There may come a time when you are sick of your bedroom studio or your alcove in the corner and mayhap you feel ready to express. Perhaps it is an eloquent soliloquy, a thumping beat, or perhaps an epic soaring counterpoint. Deep down it may come to you as a fever, a primary energetic urge, but mostly likely it will emerge as the need to exhort the gods of good fortune to allow you the slimmest of chances, so that you, like all the rest, will get a moment where you can deliver a climactic emotional experience through the revelry of sharing creative works with a larger audience.

I think this is a point that I am reaching and it is one that I am keen to explore. I have dwelt in the cave of deep personal exploration (not like that 😛 ) and I feel stressed at the seams, ready to explode (not like that either). I feel ready to spew forth my individualism and seek social interaction in an ecstatic orgy of human connection through distribution and performance.

Ahem… let’s just Stop. Hammer time. (Mrs Hungee – *facepalm*)

It sounds really contradictory doesn’t it? Here I was railing at the social lust of others while exhibiting a similar sentiment. Naturally I am going to defend my position but before I do, I would like to ask a question that I will get back to later in this piece.

“If there is no purpose to a piece of Art, is there value in the Art? Or is an Artwork’s value defined by its purpose and also by its relative success in fulfilling that purpose.”

Heady words… But let’s move on for the moment and consider something else.
I used to believe in the idea that “Music is only valuable once it is played to people. Music requires receiving ears to be worthwhile.” This quote seemed to me to be a very sensible and logical statement and since it was a paraphrasing of a quote by a Metallica band member it was also quite self-serving. If you are one of the most listened to bands of all time you will probably see artistic merit as an extension of that most powerful of metrics. But what else can the humble and quiet back-of-the-bus muso use to judge and refine their work?

Friends and family? Sure… If you want people that say they love it. What else? The opinion of peers, teachers and other humans can seem worthwhile but in actuality is it really that valuable to you as an artist? It might improve your craftsmanship, but is that what you are asking for? Are you wanting to improve craftsmanship, or artistic-ness? To be perfectly straight, If you are a truly great artist most of the good praise will come after you are dead and that is of no use to anyone who is trying to improve their art. What about other metrics? Maybe the way it looks, the way it sounds, different audiophile environments or emotional response in chimps? What about how it inspires or emotively touches small children or large children or adults (who are also at times… children?)
What possible metric can you personally use to judge your work objectively? It seems to me an impossible task because music is inherently a subjective item. Think about it. My old teachers would ask my classmates and I, “What is music?” and we would all say,

“Music is organised sounds.”

(Groaning as we did from the repetition) 

Yet that statement is actually very profound and not just because it opens almost any sound combination up as music. In fact let us really dig in and re-word that statement more specifically. Let us instead say,

“Works of Music are; More than one sonic impulse organised by a conscious being, in a way that conscious beings can interpret as organised and integrate into a contiguous set of sonic impulses that make sense as more than their separate parts.”

Hmmm… That is of course a very long sentence and one that my teachers would naturally have not wanted to explain / teach. I can see the hypothetical head scratching in the classroom as I write this post.  However for the sake of argument we can say that this statement is the full unabridged version of what that original statement entails and it is from this that we can draw a couple of interesting logical conclusions.

Firstly, music is subjective and so is Art. There is no objective truth inherent in these works that we create. By necessitating a subjective filter this statement defines Art itself as subjective. On this we are on solid philosophical ground. Naturally therefore, it is only in the interpretation of the Art into organized patterns that these sounds have purpose.

Furthermore, it is only in the complex process of pattern recognition and interpretation that these artworks create meaning for the listener. (Pattern recognition, which is defined by a person’s experience)
In a very real way you can say;

Experience = Brain filtering = Response to stimuli = Experience = Ad Infinitum

Secondly, of great interest is the idea that due to the individual nature of each mind (itself a unique creation), the work of Art is, due to the very nature of the thing created anew in every single individual as it is filtered through a unique set of processes and memories to create an emotional response. In effect we can then take a leap and say:

“The art is not the work, but rather the individual response.”

Let that sink in for a moment… Fucking deep, isn’t it?

.

……

Ok, take a moment and a deep breath and adjust your brain pants from stretching due to (what Mrs Hungee calls) a “thought boner” that I just gave you.

At this stage it is now important to return to my earlier seemingly random and isolated statement and also to conclude my opening statements.

“If there is no purpose to a piece of Art, is there value in the Art? Or is an Artwork’s value defined by its purpose and also by its relative success in fulfilling that purpose?”

To answer this, please indulge me in a final thought experiment.
Imagine that you create a piece of music, a single tune that has no overt craftsmanship or style, the order which the sounds play is chosen by throwing darts at a board covered in pitch symbols so that even though it may appear chaotic, it was in fact organized (via your throwing arm) by a conscious being and is therefore by our earlier definition, “music. You were not inspired, it has no perceivable social value and it has no specific meaning to you. Does this piece of music have purpose?

My answer is No. (except for the added value of throwing pointy things at a wall)
The question therefore is now,

“Does it have value?”

My answer here is, yes.

Why?

Earlier, I stated that “The art is not the work, but rather the response.” – which may be taken to infer that in the case of purposeless music that may produce indifference, is still at some point in your life filtering through your conscious, informing every other work you will ever hear in your life and also creating stimuli that inspires emotion and thought. It has meaning because it creates a subjective response. Not because it is defining an objective truth or because it is a killer dance track.

It has value without having purpose because the Art is the response not the object that causes it.

To conclude this post I must finish by addressing my opening statement:

Am I a total sell-out to want to perform my music live, to desire the opportunity to express my creative works to a crowd larger than one?

After all this philosophizing and thought experimentation the answer I arrive at is no, I don’t think it is vanity, or social yearning that drives me. I think it is the natural urge to create again and again, and to yearn for my Art to create a multitude of responses, each unique, different and more wonderful than the last. Perhaps it is my Egoic self, lying to drive me towards the dark places of my soul. However I think I can balance that argument by thinking about the juicy tantalising thought that;

“Art is never finished as long as there are more conscious filters to process the Artist’s creations.”

 

So there it is. A delicious thought with much potential and one I personally intend to pursue… Cautiously.

Editor’s note: And a final thought boner for you Mr Hungee, the Art is also in the creating. The beauty is in the creator’s expression as well. You yourself(Hungee) have experienced this – Mrs Hungee

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Electro-acoustic History – Theremins and moogs.

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So in my posts I am going to jump around a bit and as a result chronologically these posts probably wont make make sense. However what I am looking to cover is the broad strokes of how various developments came to be.

In that sense what II am going to delve into today is Synthesis.

The Theremin

1928 – The Theremin, patented by the Russian engineer Léon Theremin… funnily enough, was a device that while no great synthetic masterpiece was one of the first to really start breaking the box on interactive methods. Up until then people where plugging in weird instruments to weird electrical amps and getting weird results but Léon broke the mold by devising a way that a performer could interact via the two major properties of sound. Frequency and Amplitude.
Interestingly Leon was an engineer and not a performer so he sucked at playing it. I have embedded a link below to show someone who could play it. A lady by the name of Clara Rockmore. Pretty virtuoso huh… 🙂

Anyways, It is a pretty cool instrument and these days you can pick up one (or a kit) for very little. It is a fun instrument I can assure you.

 

The Moog

ah… the Moog. Arguably the most famous synth brand in the world, named after Robert Moog (pronounced “Mohg”) – although I often slip up and say it phonetically. oops
Anyway Mr Robert Moog started out making Theremins… funnily enough and then decided to get a bit more into the synthesis game.
Around the 50’s he started making the moog modular. A (possibly) gigantic room filling thing that was awesome for many reasons. The first reason (that is especially important to those who use Propellorhead’s Reason) is the idea of patching cables.

Moog_Modular_55_img1

The Moogs were giant things that sometimes filled rooms. 

The second reason – These modular synths (and others like them) Introduced discrete sections such as Generators, Filters, and Envelopes. In fact any time you look at your Soft Synth plugins within a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), you will see a layout that was standardized back in the 50’s. Pretty cool huh. 🙂

It was pretty cool and all the experimentalists loved it. Up until these modular systems you really needed an engineering degree to make electronic music and this system put the music in the hand of musicians. However there was a problem. Because of its size there was an inability to perform with it. Musicians could not take it on stage. At the same time, Electronica was a pretty new genre and people thought it was all very weird! So as a result the most common use for Electronica was Sci-Fi movies.

Now. Next time I will talk about portable synthesis and how that drove electronic music into the mainstream.

Stay Tuned…

The Android Music Platform – Is it worth it?

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So as tablets have become a common tool and touted as a viable music creation option, iOS apps for music have multiplied and slowly started to become more intricate moving beyond the original amateur do-it-for-you apps, to more complex professional solutions. However, those of us who think the Apple value proposition is poor, (e.g. iPad mini $425 vs N7 $250) or that their “elegant” user interface design is… well childish, have despaired to see android solutions stagnate and remain the province of indie developers. Not that there aren’t some very viable options (there are), but large developers such as liine, propellorhead, Imageline, moog, et all have seemingly resisted investing in developing for the droid eco-system.

In this post I am going to try and answer some questions about why this is and have a realistic look at the problems and also the solutions that are being presented.

 {  before I do, here is a link to a website which lists the current music apps available http://www.androidmusician.com/  }

Android – Pre Jelly Bean –

    I am a long time fan of Android, I like its open ecosystem which drives choice up and prices down. I also like the general methodology with its semi-open interface. However, there have been serious issues with Android devices in the realm of music making since its inception. Up until Jelly bean, using android as a real-time performance device was, well… you basically couldn’t. The commonly used audio API (Audiotrack) before Jelly Bean had a maximum recommended audio latency of 100ms which is essentially equivalent to the amount of time it takes for me to boil the kettle and make a coffee. By equivalent, I of course mean that it is just as useless…. Mostly this is because it is Java. Which is poop.

    Secondly, Android has a much larger processing and graphics footprint than iOS or even WinPho 8 and as such resources are tight. Best case, music app development tends to be sparse and include very little in the way of ‘pretty’ design. A basic case in point, Caustic 2, which is an excellent little program for making minimal tunes but one which looks pretty fricking ugly and boxes you in to feeling like your creativity is blocked except beyond minimal composition and about 8 different (simultaneous) tracks. 😉 Even more so, if you consider Alexander Zolotov’s SunVox – which is an excellent software to consider and is compatible (and free) with linux & windows, is well adapted to touch, but looks like the dark pit of hell you will definitely descend into if you want anything more than a basic psytrance or minimal techno track. It is not exactly the epitome of variety that is the modern DAW.

So what is a droid fan to do?

Well there is some good news and some possible better news on the horizon. Jelly Bean has created some new hope for developer engagement. Audio latency has shrunk to 12ms which is usable if not ideal, (ideal would be =<5ms). Also they have added support for USB audio which is a key step and USB midi is becoming more mainstream. “search midi monitor on google play” 

For more detail on recent audio developments for android check out the thread below

http://createdigitalmusic.com/2012/07/android-high-performance-audio-in-4-1-and-what-it-means-plus-libpd-goodness-today/

So Pretty…

   One of the issues with android tablets is the ARM standard “mali-400” GPUs that most android processors incorporate which are well… shit. 😉 Samsung is an especially bad actor in this space using the stock standard boring 4-core GPU which any enthusiast will tell you is, not the greatest amount of cores, nor even created by someone . In fact when it comes to GPU cores; more cores with less hz is better than less cores with more htz.

  In to this space steps Nvidia. The best graphics combination in the Android ecosystem and a top tier contender for best out of all the mobile ecosystems, their long experience as the top selling graphics card producer from the PC sector brings a beautifully powerful 4big+1little core CPU with 12 GPUs to their Tegra 3 offering and with the newer Tegra 4 chip (due in May) they multiply the GPUs by 6 for a ‘sensual grunt’ worthy 72 individual processors. 😉 oh yeah…

So good news then for current Nexus 7 owners and future TEGRA 4 purchasers.

So quick…

   Project Butter was a concerted effort by Google to clear out the cupboard of dusty old bullshit code and move into a more solid codebase and with that effort they have created a clearer, cleaner system.
Jelly bean has quickly succeeded Ice Cream Sandwich, and while the majority of cheap no name brand less tablets seem to stick with ICS or even gingerbread, it easy to pick up a tablet running Jellybean for less than $250.

Looking to the future…

The issues contributed to the Android system are associated with its open ecosystem, which means that there is always going to be crap products pushed by dodgy Chinese manufacturers which can’t be helped. Having said that; to tar them all with the same brush is ludicrous as Samsung has proven recently, by becoming the biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world. Apple apologists will tell you that this is “because of their many offerings” but the reality is for Q3 last year their two flagships the S3 and the Note II outsold the iPhone 4S and 5. ~ (note: the iphone 5 reaffirmed its dominance in Q4 but we can expect the two to trade No. 1 status back and forth in the future) ~ Add to this the reality that the half baked iPad mini was mostly a reaction to the Kindle Fire(and partly the Nexus7). In fact what Google wanted to develop with Android was a larger pie in which the larger slice will be Android; with iOS, WP8 and Blackberry taking specific corporate and hipster demographics. They seem to be succeeding.

 As well as this the latest Nexus offerings take direct aim at the iPads/iPhones, (finally) offering a mature product comparison at a fraction of the cost. e.g.

Nexus 4 16gb – 50% of cost of equivalent iphone
Nexus 7 32gb wifi – 59% of cost of equiv. iPad mini
Nexus 10 32gb WiFi – 89% of cost of equiv. iPad

So what does this mean?

For a long time iOS has been known as the ecosystem where most music & visual creatives like to exist, yet as time goes by and the major improvements in audio and user interface solidify, more people will become natives of the android system and with the low low price of the tablets it will mean more users for developers to target. Naturally, Android musicians are willing to pay for music apps just as much as their iOS counterparts, so it will become a must for developers to develop for both systems in order to maximise revenue potential.

So… Is it worth it?

Yes! As an example of this check out the progress on Imageline’s FLStudio android app below. It should be out in the next month or two(as of posting).

http://www.image-line.com/documents/android.html

Like Imageline, other Pro developers will (if not already) find the value proposition for developing for android incredibly tempting so I predict that very soon we will be seeing more pro developer options for android tablets and phones arriving with much fun to be had for us droid fans. 🙂

That’s it from me friends,

Feel free to post comments below and I will endeavour to reply asap.