Designing Sound: Artificial Sounds – Max patches

I enjoyed reading Andy Farnell’s excellent Designing Sound book a few years ago. While working through the Practical Series examples he provides, I decided they would be more useful for me as Max patches. When it comes to coding and algorithms, I also know that I learn better by going slowly and working step-by-step, so I decided to port the patches from Pd to Max.

A few disclaimers and caveats:

  • Many of these patches rely on abstractions that Farnell or I created. Download the Sound Design Practical Series helper files
  • Some of these patches require gen~, particularly to realize the rzero and rpole filters.
  • Filter topologies differ between the programs. My goal was to get something working in Max, not necessarily to exactly match Parnell’s Pd patch. Therefore, some patches could benefit from a close comparison with the Pd version and from tuning by ear.
  • Not everything initializes properly. Consult the text for reasonable starting values, or experiment to find your own.

Download the Sound Design Practical Series – Artificial Sounds

Sonic Frontiers Presents Holland Hopson and Justin Peake

I’m excited to perform next week as part of the Sonic Frontiers season. I plan to play a set of pieces for banjo and electronics drawing from the material on Post & Beam, adding a few new twists, and hopefully including one or two “sound bug” pieces from my Radicans project.

Also on the bill is Justin Peake, a New Orleans based percussionist/composer known for his work as Beautiful Bells. Justin is a Tuscaloosa native, so this will be a homecoming performance for him.

I think it’s going to be a great night!

Thursday March 7 2013 at 7:30pm
Bama Theatre Greensboro Room
600 Greensboro Ave.
Tuscaloosa AL
Admission is Free.

Justin Peake – Workshop at Badabum Atelier from Michelle Ettlin on Vimeo.

Zicarelli Shout-Out for Post & Beam

David Zicarelli (the main man behind Max) just wrote about Post & Beam on his Cycling ’74 blog.

Holland Hopson’s Post and Beam was released last year, but I stupidly didn’t fall in love with it until recently. I guarantee you’ve never heard anything like it — beautifully performed original and traditional folk songs set against an electronic dreamworld. I can’t think of a recording that provides a more powerful study in contrasts — heartfelt and alienating most of all. Check it out and see if you don’t think the Maxified banjo is not the up-and-coming instrument of the decade!

Cage/Gould

Cage’s Inlets will be performed using his original shells

Saturday’s Cage/Gould concert at RPI’s EMPAC in Troy NY is the next in a long line of John Cage centenary tributes happening this year. Featuring the Rensselaer Contemporary Music Ensemble directed by Michael Century, the program includes works by John Cage juxtaposed with a recreation of part of Glenn Gould’s final piano concert.

Saturday, November 17 8pm
EMPAC Theater
Rensselaer Contemporary Music Ensemble
Cage Gould
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy NY

The french philosopher Elie During knits it all together in a pre-performance lecture (5pm) with the help of a vacuum cleaner (no kidding!) or at least the metaphor of a vacuum cleaner or the memory of the sound of a vacuum cleaner or the memory of the experience of the obliteration of all other sounds thanks to a vacuum cleaner… I guess we’ll have to go to the lecture to find out for sure.

I’ll be providing some electronic dialogues in the concert between Cage and Gould using recordings of their voices. I put together a Max patch to trigger the cues and quickly found that my old-school use of Max’s “coll” object wasn’t quite cutting it. I looked into Max’s new “dict” object as a replacement but hit a limit recalling nested hierarchical statements. So I delved into SQLite and Javascript to put together a relational database of cues and associated tags. Now I’m able to query and sort the cues at will. I can also change the content of the database (add cues, edit tags, etc.) without munging up the patch itself. Lovely!

Wind Whistling in Overhead Wires: Soundtrack Companion to The Observers

Wind Whistling in Overhead Wires is a collection of field recordings and outtakes from my work on Jacqueline Goss’s film The Observers.

This is a pay-what-you-wish (starting at free!), digital download release on Bandcamp. I made the field recordings during our two amazing shoots at the top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire (see these previous posts). I processed some of the sounds using custom effects developed with Cycling 74’s Max software and added a few instruments in the studio. I chose my favorite sounds and sketches that didn’t make it into the final film and sequenced them to create a continuous 20-minute piece (though some of the tracks work well on their own, particularly Downslope Flow). Enjoy!

Music for Folding Chair

I made these 4 short pieces to celebrate the new folding chairs ASAC has provided for the UAG. One folding chair, two contact mics, a superball mallet, a cheap cello bow and Max–the pieces practically made themselves.

Science Fair Video

Cycling ’74 has posted a new video from the Science Fair they hosted as part of the recent Expo ’74 event in Brooklyn. I show off my extended banjo instrument (along with my unashamedly geeky enthusiasm). My segment runs from 2:16-3:13, but watch the whole thing and marvel at the wonderful, strange things people do with Max (and their own geeky enthusiasms). Other videos in the series can be found here.

And a big shout out to Eric Prust who built the fine fretless banjo (minus the electronics) in the video.

Studio Gets the Treatment – Part 2

This is the second of a two part post about my recent studio remodel and acoustic treatment. Read the first part here.

Once all the acoustic treatment was installed and the furniture was moved back in, I took another series of audio measurements. All my measurements are quasi-scientific, using materials I had on hand: a Max patch to generate test tones, a home-built omni mic, a spreadsheet. I only tested the frequency response for lower frequencies (20 Hz to approximately 350 Hz). I made no attempt to measure the reverberant response of the room (RT60). Given these limitations, the data nonetheless show a clear improvement in frequency response in the room.

Test Results

My goal was to flatten the frequency response of the room, knowing that a perfectly flat response isn’t practical given the dimensions of the room (or of my wallet). The chart above shows a range of approximately 50 dB in the untreated room, with the lowest reading of 51 dB at 122 Hz and the highest reading of 100 dB at 151 Hz. After the treatment was installed the range is approximately halved to 26 dB, from 67 dB at 62 Hz to to 93 dB at 148 Hz.

One unanticipated difference between the tests is the difference in low frequency readings. In the untreated room, my sound level meter registered nothing below 35 Hz. Once the room was treated, the meter picked up readings beginning at 31 Hz. This bass extension may be due to my ad hoc test equipment, but I seem to hear it.

Listening tests in the treated room were revelatory. Overall bass response is noticeably more even. Much more striking for me is how much the stereo imaging has improved in the treated room. The soundstage seems more defined and both wider and deeper. I’m shocked by how much improved even older stereo mixes sound in the treated room.

Listening to the Beatles “A Day in the Life” in the untreated room I felt like I heard the hard-panned mix just fine, despite some muddiness and boominess in the toms. In the treated room, the toms are clearer and more even, as expected, but even the hard-panned stereo image is more defined. Many tracks in the untreated room suffered from the “hole in the middle” syndrome, whereas in the treated room the sounds are more evenly distributed. I noted that Miles Davis’ “So What” seemed to have good imaging between the bass and trumpet in the untreated room. Listening to it with the acoustic treatment installed I can hear more than just the separation between the instruments–I can hear the sound of the room the instruments were recorded in.

Not Going Back

Remodeling my studio disrupted my work and schedule, but the results are well worth it. Even though it seems pedestrian to spend time and money on acoustic panels rather than boutique microphone preamps or the fashionable plugin du jour, I’ll continue to choose the former over the latter. I’ll never work in an untreated room again.

Ten Years of One 4 One

One 4 One is now available for download at Bandcamp!

Today marks the ten-year anniversary of One 4 One, the live recording of a set I performed at the Arts Center in Troy NY as part of the Impulse/Response series. The album had previously been available via Amie Street (RIP).

One 4 One includes 5 pieces for extended soprano saxophone and computer, and one piece for sipsi and computer. All of the pieces involve some degree of interactivity–the computer responds to the live instrument, and the performer responds to the computer’s output–made possible by custom software written with Cycling 74‘s Max. The name of the album is a pun on the date, of course, and it also refers to mapping inputs to outputs.

Max Multitrack Mojo

I’m in the middle of recording a number of my pieces for banjo and electronics for a forthcoming CD. (Stay tuned for more info!) All of the works involve live, interactive processing of the banjo sound and sometimes the voice as well. This processing is done in Max and is driven by analysis of both audio inputs and sensor inputs. All of this is geek speak to say that every time I perform the piece it sounds a little different, and sometimes markedly so. This can make recording the pieces tricky. Especially since most of the music we hear is assembled like a layer cake: each part recorded separately and then mixed together after the fact (with yummy frosting…). Not a workable option for my process.

Straight to “Tape”

My previous approach to recording followed a “live to 2 track” design. I would play the piece and capture the input sounds along with whatever sounds were generated by my Max patch. The results were certainly true to life, represented my live performances well, and usually sounded fine. Occasionally, though, I’d wish for more flexibility to tweak the sounds, particularly the vocal or banjo sounds since I don’t have the luxury of recording in the world’s greatest sounding room. So I looked into ways to expand the number of available tracks.

Multitrack Multitudes

I played around with Soundflower, Rewire and Jack in various combinations and sometimes got things working pretty well. But the setups never completely gelled for me–partly because I felt constrained by the number of available outputs on my aging MOTU interface, partly because I needed as much available CPU for running my patches and couldn’t spare enough to run my DAW at the same time. So I eventually went back to recording everything in Max using a very slightly modified version of the quickrecord utility. This turned out to be a great way to break out individual tracks for further EQing during the mixing stage. One drawback was having to split the multichannel file into individual stereo or mono files. (Audacity and ProTools both do this very well. If only AudioFinder would support multichannel files…) But mostly I still felt constrained by the limited number of outputs on my audio interface; I often resorted to creating submixes of individual elements in Max in order to cram all the sounds into the available channels. With 10 outputs available I’d use the first 2 for monitoring while recording, 3 or 4 for live mics, leaving only 4 or 5 for sounds generated by Max.

Aggregrate Device – Duh!

Just the other day I had a breakthrough realization: I could use a Soundflower aggregate device to address many more output channels than are physically available on my interface. Now I’ve got channels to spare. I’m kicking myself for not thinking of this sooner. The biggest drawback? Now I’ll be spending much more time in mixing mode. I wonder when I’ll ever get this CD finished…?