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A blogzine about music experiments, design, modular synthesizers, and life without presets


Coding the Modular

<a href="http://www.horizontalpitch.com/2015/07/coding-the-modular/" title="coding the modular"><img src="http://www.horizontalpitch.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/coding-small.jpg" alt="coding the modular" /></a> Usually when you ask a modular user about why they decided to embrace this instrument, you’ll hear something about being [...]

HannesHannes

[ecko_youtube]-BVkqFzlxac[/ecko_youtube]

Here comes another chosen wave, but this time we have something unusual: Kentucky Route Zero, a game, an independent one from a small company called Cardboard Computer. There’s certain analogies between indie games and modulars. Both are mostly being made by small companies for a niche audience, so it’s only fitting that the soundtrack to Kentucky Route Zero was partially created using a modular. As a sidenote: the instrument employed is no eurorack, it’s an old EMU system owned by the Art Institute of Chicago, but I think my point is still valid.

The above video shows Cardboard Computer’s Ben Babbitt working on the score for the XANADU sequence in Kentucky Route Zero. As the notes on the youtube video say, the “line-out recording got corrupted, so this is audio from the room”, nonetheless it’s beautiful to see the instrument that produced this wonderfully organic sounds.

For comparison, here’s a video of the XANADU scene in the game (it’s a playthrough video, so it might contain spoilers!).

[ecko_youtube]7w5ewoFkpwk[/ecko_youtube]

… and finally, this is the same track from the soundtrack album:

It’s interesting how different the music sounds in the game from what we have heard in the live video at the beginning. We got in touch with Ben Babbitt and asked him how this score was produced and talked a bit about electronic music and modular synths.

Horizontalpitch: Why did you choose to work with a modular, and especially an old one like that EMU system?

Ben Babbitt: Working with a modular synthesizer happened mostly because we were trying to create a sense of time relative to when XANADU was made in the game world. That particular EMU system was built around 1977 for the sound department at the college we all went to. Using that EMU specifically rather than another analog synthesizer was a bit of a coincidence, because I happened to have access to it around the time we were working on that scene.

HP: The EMU system at the university, was right next to what appears to be an old Moog modular, what made you choose the EMU over the Moog?

BB: I chose the EMU rather than the Moog simply because that was what I had experience using. I took a class on the study of analog synthesis that used the EMU to demonstrate the concepts and put into practice what we were learning about. I did have a chance recently to mess around with some of the new Moog reissues of their modular systems from the 70’s and they’re amaaaazing.

HP: What was your process when recording the music for the XANADU scene? Did you record the music in one take or was a lot of editing and production involved?

BB: The process for making the music for XANADU involved recording long instances of improvisation and then going back and constructing compositions in a collage-like way, for the most part. Finding interesting and suggestive moments and then building upon them. Although, some of the pieces were also more immediate than that.

HP: Would you like to work more with that kind of instrument in future soundtracks?

BB: I really enjoy working with that kind of instrument and would love to do more of it, yes.

HP: What were your main sources of inspiration for the KRZ soundtrack and, more specifically, for the XANADU scene?

BB: Hmmm…for XANADU specifically, 60’s/70’s institutional electronic music was a main reference. Composers like Delia Derbyshire, Laurie Spiegel, Daphne Oram, Eliane Radigue, Karlheinz Stockhausen, etc. The visual and narrative elements of the game are also usually the main instigators of any creative decisions I make. Broader influences on my work are many because of the various instances of music performed by characters in the game.

HP: Do you own a modular system… or are you thinking about getting one?

BB: So this is probably completely sacrilegious to say on a website about modular synthesizers but I’ve been really into this software synth called Bazille that’s designed with a modular interface. I always love it when I can get my hands on a hardware system, but actually Jake Elliott [one of Ben’s associates at Cardboard Computer, more about him at dai5ychain.net Ed.] is much more active in that world and has quite a rig built up that he plays with regularly. He performs every Sunday with it on an internet radio station.


A bit like in Louis and Bebe Barron’s soundtracks, Babbitt’s work on the XANADU scene fuses underscoring, music that happens in the scene and sound effects into one glorious sonic construct! The analogies actually go a bit further than that. For instance, there’s a similar approach to composition, both in Ben Babbitt’s and the Barrons’ music: both worked by recording longer passages with the machine and then assembled them in a sonic collage. Finally, the organic computer XANADU in the game is, in certain regards, similar to the Barron’s “self-destructing machines”, so perhaps this could only lead to a similar approach.

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If I got you interested in this game and want to get a copy (it’s really worth it btw!), I suggest you buy it from the Humble Bundle Store, you’ll get it DRM-free and cross platform. Plus, and this might be the most interesting aspect, you’ll get the OST bundled with it as a bonus!

www.humblebundle.com/store/p/kentuckyroutezero_storefront

Of course if you only want the soundtrack, it’s available directly from Ben Babbitt here: benbabbitt.bandcamp.com

Thanks to Konstantine for pointing me at this game/soundtrack!

In case you were wondering, Milton Babbitt of Columbia-Princeton fame (who worked as a composer with the RCA Mark II synthesizer in the 1950s) really is Ben’s distant relative.

Chosen Waves 002 – Kentucky Route Zero

[ecko_youtube]-BVkqFzlxac[/ecko_youtube] Here comes another chosen wave, but this time we have something unusual: Kentucky Route Zero, a game, an independent one from a small company called Cardboard Computer. There’s certain analogies between indie games and modulars. Both are mostly being made by small companies for a niche [...]

HannesHannes

titolo

What I Am Made Of by Elizabeth Busani.

When we defined the main concept behind Horizontalpitch, the main idea was to make something closer to a magazine, than to a blog. For this reason, we really like the idea of having a cover that changes periodically.

This new cover photo comes from Elizabeth Busani, who is an illustrator and photographer from Italy. While not making any music herself, she happened to marry a man affected by incurable modularitis, and hence came into contact with the wonderful world of Eurorack.  You can see more of her work clicking on the links below:

www.flickr.com/photos/elisabethbusani

www.behance.net/sbrizz


You can submit your own pictures if you want, if we like them, we might publish them as the next cover!

Cover Photo, Summer 2015

What I Am Made Of by Elizabeth Busani. When we defined the main concept behind Horizontalpitch, the main idea was to make something closer to a magazine, than to a blog. For this reason, we really like the idea of having a cover that changes periodically. This new cover photo comes from Elizabeth Busani, who is an illustrator […]

HannesHannes

Interview with Mark Verbos

<a href="http://www.horizontalpitch.com/2015/06/interview-with-mark-verbos/"><img src="http://www.horizontalpitch.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Verbos-06-700x467.jpg" alt="Mark Verbos - Photo by Seze Devres, courtesy of Mark Verbos" width="700" height="467" class="size-medium wp-image-1005" /></a>

MarcoMarco

We’ve launched this blog only two months ago, so we’re basically in what you could call “beta” phase. Things are subject to testing and revision. As part of these revisions we decided to change Some Exciting Examples Modular Music into this new series called Chosen Waves. We didn’t just change the name, we also tweaked the concept a bit: we’ll usually feature only one track/video at a time and in exchange for that we’ll hopefully post more often. Sometimes we might add a little interview.

So let’s get this started with this recording of a live performance of the French project amnésie. Here’s what he says about himself on his soundcloud page:

amnésie is the solo project of Wilfried Thierry.
It began back in 2001 with lecollectif17ans a noisy and iconoclast crew. At that time he released some tracks on various compilations (Skam, Idwet) and won an Autechre remix contest.
He then joined Ego Twister Records and released his first EP, Redken Style.
After that he released many tracks and remixes on various compilations, mixing weird electro and ironic vocals.
Now he’s back to what he loves most : mixing noise influences with electro, digging into synthesis using his modular synth.

This one is been sitting in my bookmarks for a long time and I keep getting back at it again and again. As you can see from the photo he performed this live with a lot of modular gear. The recording spans over 45 minutes and is a dense, brooding mix of distorted basses, noisy sounds and electro/techno beats. It’s one of those immersive and hypnotic sound voyages, best enjoyed in the dark, late at night. I suggest you listen to it in one go. Without spoilering too much, the best part comes at the very end, but how you get there might strongly influence its effectiveness, so don’t rush it.

If you liked the above track, amnésie recently released an 2-track album on the French label Ego Twister records

We couldn’t help but get in touch with Wilfried Thierry and ask him a couple of questions about his music and his approach to live modular performances.

Horizontalpitch: I know from personal experience that performing live with a modular synth can be a tricky thing to do. How do you approach this?

Wilfried Thierry: Yes it’s tricky, but I prefer things that are not 100% perfect but really done live. I’ve played electronic music for years and the modular is the first instrument that gave me a total freedom and control over everything.
I’ve had a duo with Yan [from Ego Twister Records, Ed.], called FUTUR and I experimented with him the use of modular on stage. We played improvised music, and as we were two, it was simpler for me to start this way. You can find on youtube a video in Le temps machine [Youtube link, Ed.].
The sound is also very important to me. I’ve been using analog synths on stage for more than 10 years. I don’t want to cheat the audience with fake analog sounds coming from a computer.
I feel more like a live guy than a studio one and want to use instruments that inspire me.

HP: The complicated thing might seem the inability to store settings or patches, which you can just recall during a live performance. Do you start with a patch and then work on that or do you have more “configurations” prepared and then just switch between those?

WT: Well that’s not a problem for me. My patch is mostly prepared and I can switch between different parts of the patch when I need different elements. But I also patch live when necessary. I rehearse a lot so that everything is under control, I know my instrument by heart, that doesn’t seem more complicated to me than when I play guitar.

HP: What else do you use in combination with the modular? Or is it just the modular?

WT: When playing with amnésie, I use my modular and a DSI Mopho X4 for chords. That’s all. I’ve built my modular as an advanced “groovebox”. I just sometimes regret I don’t have a third hand !!

HP: Final question, what’s your favourite module?

WT: My favourite module is the one that led me to eurorack : Make Noise René. It’s the first one I bought and I still love it as day one. Using it live is really great. For amnésie I have programmed two scales that I play in many different ways, I don’t know any other tools as versatile (except a very old MiDi sequencer I used when reedited by Cycling 74 : M).


So that’s it for today’s Chosen Waves, we might talk a little bit more with Wilfried Thierry about his music and modular synths in the future.

In the meantime, if you have tracks or videos you’d like to share with us, leave a comment below or send us an email using the link on top of the page!

Chosen Waves 001 – amnésie

We’ve launched this blog only two months ago, so we’re basically in what you could call “beta” phase. Things are subject to testing and revision. As part of these revisions we decided to change Some Exciting Examples Modular Music into this new series called Chosen Waves. We didn’t just change [...]

HannesHannes

Interview with Meng Qi

<a href="http://www.horizontalpitch.com/2015/05/interview-with-meng-qi/"><img class="size-medium wp-image-956" src="http://www.horizontalpitch.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/140921-By-Li-Huajun-1-700x525.jpg" alt="Meng Qi, photo curtesy of Meng Qi" width="700" height="525" /></a>

HannesHannes

[ecko_quote source=”Louis Barron (on Keyboard Magazine February 1986: 54-65)”]This life-like quality makes our approach very different from what’s called the classical electronic music studio, which uses oscillators, filters, equalizers, and other laboratory instruments, […] Luening and Ussachevsky were getting started with that at the same time we were. I felt that that was the wrong direction, because laboratory instruments are made to be very precise and very definite, and people aren’t. Art isn’t.[/ecko_quote]