Making Tracks for the TrackBox

I saw this “cyber” Monday special from Nomad Factory’s Blue Tubes Trackbox for $15 (expires Sunday 12/6). I downloaded it to see if it might replace the TubeMP 12AX7 tube preamp I use between my banjos and audio interface. I use the preamp to soften the tone of the admittedly harsh piezo contact mics I use on my banjos. Driving the tube a little harder provides some welcome compression and the limiter helps tame the spiky sounds from a piezo on a frailed banjo.

In my initial tests, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well the TrackBox nails the tube sound–a little goes a long way. And the 4-band parametric equalizer seems eminently usable. Testing it as a VST in Max 5 it used about 7% of my CPU (an aging PowerPC G4) with all the bells and whistles turned on and was closer to 4% with only the tube and EQ running.

I’m not convinced I’ll leave my tube hardware at home just yet–without a hardware limiter in front of my audio interface I  have to drop the input level significantly to avoid clipping. By the time I’ve pulled the level back up I’ve also introduced some noise. The tone-shaping potential of the EQ and compressor might be worth it, especially if I need to travel light. In the meantime, it’s nice to have another channel strip color.

Tax Refund

Here’s your tax refund from The Field Guide: two new recordings from my recent Albany Sonic Arts Collective performance at the Upstate Artists Guild. See photos from the show here.

The first piece features an in-progress version of my Fender Telecaster morphing into an electric 6-string banjo. I replaced the lowest string on the Tele with another high string to serve as a drone. Soon to come are railroad spikes so I can change the pitch of the drone string more easily and my usual allotment of sensors added to the instrument. This piece is played in a traditional thumb lead two-finger style using a modified mountain-minor tuning (dG’DGcd) run through a loopy MSP patch.


Spring Dissent (Bubbling)

The second piece is a modified version of a work for banjo and electronics with the banjo replaced by my Base On, a circuit-bent walkie-talkie. Not much of the circuit-bent sound is heard, though, since it drives an elaborate resynthesis process in MSP that simultaneously retunes the pitches to just-intonation and smears the transitions with glissandi. A touch of feedback in the process opens up slightly unstable areas where the algorithm fights with itself to settle on a consistent pitch.


Wichita Mind Control – Estate Capital

Live Gets an Edit Button from Max

Cycling ’74 and Ableton have provided a peek at Max for Live, the fruit of their partnership announced a few years ago. No specific release date or pricing information is available.

Cycling 74’s David Ziccarelli writes about the origin of the project and reasons for both Live and Max users to be interested. Read it here. My favorite quote:

Ultimately, it came down to this: my Cycling ’74 co-workers and I have come to believe the unique thing we have to offer the world is fundamentally about programming. In other words, we want to make edit buttons, and if we can put them in places where they have never existed before, all the better. It was clear to me that Ableton understood what it meant to have the Max environment work with their software. They weren’t just talking about more plug-ins.

Turns out that many of the new features in Max 5 were a result of Cycling’s collaboration with Ableton, such as the new timing system and presentation mode.

Check out the teaser video here.

I’m not a Live user but I have long admired the Live interface. So Max for Live may be just what I need to finally give it a try.

Merry Christmas from The Field Guide

Did you ever ask Santa for a pinball machine? Did you ever hope to find a drum machine under the tree? Now both of your wishes can come true (sort of) with Pinball Drummer, a simple, standalone drum machine that uses lo-fi pinball machine samples.

Pinball Drummer Screenshot

Pinball Drummer Screenshot

Download Pinball Drummer (.zip file: 11.3 MB)

I made Pinball Drummer as a birthday gift for my friend Bruce. I created it using MaxMSP. The sounds originated from Bruce’s Coney Island pinball machine. It should be a cross-platform application. I’ve tested it on Macs; no experience with running it on a PC, yet.

Happy Holidays from The Field Guide!

One 4 One on 8/4/8

I’ve just added a new album on One 4 One is a live recording of interactive electronic music from a performance at the Impulse/Response series in Troy, NY. The title of the album is a play on the direct, one-to-one relationships between performer and computer that I was deliberately avoiding. Plus, the performance took place on January 4, 2001, hence the title. Every 390 days since (give or take) I’ve been meaning to do something with the recordings. Luckily I got around to it before 2013. (Drop me a line if you figure that one out and I’ll send you a special little something.

Check it out on amiestreet, or listen to the tracks below.

Max 5 First Impressions

Over the last few days I’ve begun to dig into Cycling 74’s Max 5. Here are my first impressions of the update. I haven’t yet performed with this version of the program or used it to run an installation, so I don’t have any information about stability or performance.

First the obvious change: the interface is bright and shiny–definitely not the clunky old Max look. I can’t say I’m immediately in love with it, but I do believe by the time I tweak the default settings a little I’ll be quite comfortable with the new look. I very much appreciate the options for changing the appearance of objects (even though some inspector windows are daunting when you first open them).

I love the usability features of Max 5:
• the search function
• the ability to double-click on a message in the Max window and be taken immediately to the part of the patch the message pertains to
• the keyboard shortcuts (damn, it’s so easy to get used to typing ‘n’ or ‘c’ or ‘m’ or ‘t’ or ‘b’ and having an object just show up). I suspect I’ll rarely use the gussied-up new object palette since the keystrokes are so convenient.
• support for long filenames (it’s the little things, really. OK, it’s the little, long things.)

I also love the new timing options, though I haven’t had a chance to use them extensively. I’m looking forward to creating polyrhythmic mayhem using a few transport objects all running at different tempi.

I like the idea of presentation mode, I just haven’t actually implemented it. I’ve always done something similar anyway: create a separate subpatch for just the controls I need, and since presentation mode only seems workable in a single subpatch I suspect it won’t radically change my workflow. Presentation mode would be more useful for me if any object in any subpatcher could be added to the presentation mode of a particular window. But that already sounds too complicated to manage (which object? in which subpatch? to which window?), plus the this is already possible using standard Max objects like send and receive.

I have mixed-feelings about the integrated documentation. I like the convenience of having help always at your fingertips but miss the portability of a pdf file. If you’re not running max, it’s tricky to get to the documentation. (Of course, you can always go to the Cycling 74 site.)

I’ve had a harder time with file-path issues and object conflicts in Max 5 than with other upgrades. This is likely just me and my convoluted setup. I have a bad habit of downloading almost every third-party Max object and freeware VST–not that I use them all. In fact, upgrades are often the times I evaluate the third-party objects that are essential to my work. The short list: LObjects, LitterPro, fiddle~, and a handful of others.

I’m looking forward to getting deeper into Max 5.

Max 5 Release Date Announced

From the Cycling ’74 Users Forum: “This new version will be available as a download on April 22nd, with packaged versions available shortly thereafter. Compatible versions of MSP and Jitter will be released at the same time.”

max 5 screenshot

Exciting stuff. I’ve got a few shows right around that time, so I’ll probably wait a week or two before upgrading. But I’m looking forward to digging in to a new version!

Maps Breaks $1. Maps is Free. Long Live Maps.

The price for my Maps CD on recently broke the $1.00 barrier (see below). To celebrate I’ve the posted the album in its entirety at Go here for complete information or use the link below to get it all in one swell foop. This is part of my pledge to make more of my music available for download in 2008. I’ll have more coming up soon, so stay tuned.

Download the full album including artwork:

Old Alabama

Here’s a video from my recent performance at LEMUR. It’s the first outing for this brand new piece, complete with all the hesitations, misfires, fuzziness and fun of a premiere.

I’ll be playing with the LEMURbots again in early April–details to be announced.Thanks to Nicole Peyrafitte for grabbing this video on-the-fly. Check out Nicole’s new blog, Collectages. (Yum…spätzle.)

Monkey vs. Robot

This month’s residency at LEMURplex is coming to an end which means the performance is coming up soon! Details are below. It’s been great getting to work with the robotic instruments. I’m looking forward to performing some new pieces for clawhammer banjo and robots, and hearing the other artists’ work, too. Lucky for us we get an extra day this month to work the wrinkles out, or at least to iron our monkey suits.

Friday February 29th, 8pm – 11pm
ReSiDeNt @ LEMUR: New Works, New Instruments, New Artists
461 3rd Avenue (between 9th and 10th streets)
Brooklyn NY
$5 at the door

  • Holland Hopson will bring Old-Time Appalachia to LEMUR by creating new pieces for the LEMURbots and Tru One, his clawhammer banjo/sensor interface.
  • Zach Layton will create a new work for improvising live trio plus improvising robots.
  • Percussionist Max Lord will perform on the Marimba Lumina with choreographer Ellen Godena in a work for robot percussion and spontaneous robot-inspired movement

Hope to see you there!