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Ideas for creating dramatic compositional changes?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Modular Synth General Discussion Goto page 1, 2, 3  Next [all]
Author Ideas for creating dramatic compositional changes?
vrfats
So, I get frustrated by how my modular synthesizer often gravitates toward just ticking along. I enjoy making generative patches but find it hard to give them compositional coherence.

When I play and write music with my band (without the synthesizer) I dont have this problem because my relationship to my instrument is very immediate and it is easy to create jarring contrasts or coordinate multiple humans to change timbre, rhythm and tonality at the same time. Interesting and more dynamic results have been obtained triggering the synth with drums etc...

Much of the music I've heard made with modular synths suffers from a lack of intentional variation and compositional intent in my humble opinion.

I am curious how everyone approaches this problem in a performative sense. I imagine many solutions but none of them seem perfect...

very slow clock dividers or envelopes, the human hand, sequential switches, switching between completely different patches, slowly clocked sequencers used to send arrays of values to a large variety off inputs, mixers with mutes ?

How do you create go about creating dramatic and dynamic compositional changes in your patches?
lasesentaysiete
Sounds like you are not satisfied with the interface. Maybe search for a controller that does what you want? I always think of the touch pad controllers in the Buchla format, but it could be whatever you see fit. Something--or some combination of things--that allows to control the instrument to your satisfaction
cptnal
If much of the music you've heard made with modular synths suffers from a lack of intentional variation and compositional intent, are the approaches of the people who make it going to be of any use to you? hmmm.....

It's going to be interesting how people interpret this question, so I'm just posting so I get emailed when someone replies. Mr. Green
vrfats
Yeah, I'd like to try out some other controllers. I have a keyboard some expression pedals, a mixer w/ sends and mutes and a bsp. So far using an outboard mixer with sends and mutes in a pretty big revelation.


I guess I'm more interested in systematic / generative processes than interfaces at the end of the day.

More than being dissatisfied, I am just curious how people approach moving away from the clocked repetitive and monotonous characteristics of the technology. Boolean logic, sample and holds, crossfades and switches all get used pretty heavily in my system. I imagine Ken Stone's Threshold Gate Sample Hold module being great for the sort of thing I'm imagining.

A module that stores sets of voltages and programmably reroutes multiple signals with the push of a button or gate would be something very useful to me. I think I remember the touch sequencer/programmer on the serge doubling as a way to send stored voltages/presets places.

And to be fair there is some decent music that ticks along without many jarring changes...
cptnal
Have you looked through the generative patches thread? There's lots of stuff there that deals with the structural level. Some are more variable than others...
blipson
vrfats wrote:
Yeah, I'd like to try out some other controllers. I have a keyboard some expression pedals, a mixer w/ sends and mutes and a bsp. So far using an outboard mixer with sends and mutes in a pretty big revelation.

I guess I'm more interested in systematic / generative processes than interfaces at the end of the day.

If you're liking what a mixer does, I use WMD's Performance Mixer as a way of transitioning between different, but compositionally related musical elements I patch up. You have to have enough stuff to get two or three distinctly different things going, and I do like to have a large box of crayons in front of me because why not--that well-worn plaint of too much choice strikes me as an unfortunately common mental block. I don't have a problem looking at a box of 64 crayons and choosing three to work something up, then another three for another thing, etc., without having to exorcise the other 58 crayons. Maybe WMD's mixer won't do more for you than the outboard mixer--I do also sometimes use it for outboard gear because it's convenient that way--but getting yourself back into the rack from outboard might nudge you. On the other hand, if you use cv to control WMD's mix, that could land you back in another uni-form process rather than compositional transitions between musical elements.

Since you're still open to controllers, not just generative, I'll mention two instruments that I use to sing (solo, improvise, respond) to my rack: Zendrum and SOMA Pipe. I really like the sound of acoustic drum kits with synth, like ritchiedrums with his Buchla and drum kit on YT, for example. But these kinds of controllers are like conventional acoustic instruments (with full-spectrum dynamic response, and wide-spectrum tone production n the Pipe) so that you have to put in practice time-- it's like I'm in the effin' student practice room again half the time. I like that fine, but it's not fun or time efficient for everyone. I also really like Roland's Aerophone for acoustic wind instrument sounds, but unlike acoustic drum kits, natural wind instrument sounds to rack accompaniment just never work for me. The synthier sounding Pipe has been a boon.

cptnal wrote:
It's going to be interesting how people interpret this question, so I'm just posting so I get emailed when someone replies.

But, mostly this.
locust_locust
vrfats wrote:
So, I get frustrated by how my modular synthesizer often gravitates toward just ticking along. I enjoy making generative patches but find it hard to give them compositional coherence.

snip.

How do you create go about creating dramatic and dynamic compositional changes in your patches?


How is your music theory?
Can you harmonise the major scale, for example?
JediDJ
Tritonal substitute is a cool way to bring new tonality.
From Jazz theory.
BenA718
locust_locust wrote:
vrfats wrote:
So, I get frustrated by how my modular synthesizer often gravitates toward just ticking along. I enjoy making generative patches but find it hard to give them compositional coherence.

snip.

How do you create go about creating dramatic and dynamic compositional changes in your patches?


How is your music theory?
Can you harmonise the major scale, for example?

This was my thought as well. I would recommend trying different compositional techniques: functional and non functional harmonization, cadences, time changes, 12-tone matrices, irrational time signatures will keep you delving for a long time!!
BenA718
JediDJ wrote:
Tritonal substitute is a cool way to bring new tonality.
From Jazz theory.

This is a great composition technique, but a simple V-I has worked for many composers such as Hayden.
starthief
vrfats wrote:
I guess I'm more interested in systematic / generative processes than interfaces at the end of the day.

More than being dissatisfied, I am just curious how people approach moving away from the clocked repetitive and monotonous characteristics of the technology.


Clocking things with rhythms that aren't a basic pulse can bring a lot of life, even when the beats are still on the grid. Using something like Marbles or Teletype also lets you get it off the grid a bit.

It was once common to record sync tracks to tape and use that for multitracking while driving sequencers -- Morton Subotnick would sometimes cut and splice the tape with the sync track and use that to clock sequencers. One could run clocks through a delay and modulate the delay time, or use a MIDI sequencer or drum machine that has complex swing options (reverse, different cycle lengths etc.) Or a recording of a loop converted to triggers, or a MIDI recording of manually played triggers (or drum loops/REX files converted to MIDI).

Sequencers that can be driven by CV are nice, with LFOs or manual control or some of both. Using slower, out-of-sync clocks to trigger resets or a second dimension (on something like Rene or a sequential switch) can add interest.

For song-level structural changes I generally favor manual control over automation. Mutes and mixers, manual gates for transposition or switching sequences, playing some parts manually with a keyboard, starting and stopping sequencers and clocks, etc.
funkytransport
these are worth a read.. might be worth googling "steevio" as there are other videos where he explains how he does it quite well.

https://www.xlr8r.com/features/a-guide-to-modular-synthesis

http://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=196460&sid=2ec0dd6a0b 2301586884af35b4cee2b1
blipson
BenA718 wrote:
JediDJ wrote:
Tritonal substitute is a cool way to bring new tonality.
From Jazz theory.

This is a great composition technique, but a simple V-I has worked for many composers such as Hayden.

Tonal structures aren't really my thing with modular, but I do keep a IIm7-V7 in one of my Stillson sequencer's tracks as a frequent go to that keeps things moving more than a V-I. For the OP: if you don't already have it under your belt, you can get a lot of mileage from some basic harmonic progressions with just seven roman numerals such as you see in guitar chordbooks--without having to study four-part harmony. If you do already know those basics, using the tritone substitutions mentioned above will take you anywhere.
ayruos
How much drama is dramatic enough? hmmm.....

Things I like doing -> S&H/Precision adders to transpose the sequence (either planned/structured or with random voltages)... "rotating" the clock divisions or changing them... sending my gate sequence through A VCA with another gate sequence, both of them having different number of total steps, changing quantiser scales... and these are reasonably dramatic, I suppose?
Superaction80
I feel like MI Frames—or something like Frames if such thing exists—would be helpful for arranging purposes. Either as a voltage controlled mixer that brings in new elements and mutes the old, or by sending varying voltage levels to cv inputs so as to create a new set of timbres across different sections of a composition. Maybe a matrix with some offsets would achieve the same sort of result?
vonstirlitz
Yes, Frames is very good for mutating states, and paired with a sequential switch matrix, you can achieve a lot of structural changes (harmonies, melodies, drum patterns, filters, timbre, etc). Throw a planar in there as well for more hands on tinkering. Its not that hard to go dramatic or cinematic with some planning.

Of course, you can also go the eurodaw route with Vector, Nerdseq, FLXS, etc.

You can also go the harmonic route with Harmonaig, or melodic with any number of quantisers.

There is no end of options. Its really what the user wants to do with it, and their patience, that dictates limitations to be honest.
Agawell
branches is a good way of messing up a clock but staying on the grid - which can add some variation - I'm using this for either dropping hi-hat triggers or swapping between 2 different hi-hats
Keltie
Emblematic systems upcoming catalyst looks like a great way to change a bunch of sound params at once. I don’t see a reason that it couldn’t be applied to sequencing with some thought.

One or two things that work for me... sequencers clocked at very different rates, with seq a transposing seq b.... Trigger generators like grids clocking seqs, and then modifying the patterns, thus the sequence.

Quantisers such as intellijels that can be shifted, controlled, changed up with cv.

But for performing / composing a traditional arrangement, it’s either a hybrid with a daw, maybe via expert sleepers, or one of the big digital seqs such as Elo, Flxs, ER, etc etc, imo.
Rex Coil 7
vrfats wrote:
...I am just curious how people approach moving away from the clocked repetitive and monotonous characteristics of the technology..
Stop using technology and start using your emotions and your mind. It sounds to me that if you studied music made by those that understand music theory you'll find new inspiration. As long as you allow the machine to do all of the creation, you'll only receive mechanized creation.

Study deeper forms of music, perhaps Jazz, or Classical, or perhaps "Big Band" stuff from the 1930s and 1940s. Listen to the chord changes, and the way the music modulates (not the sound, the music). Listen to original progressive rock (which is heavily inspired by the classical greats).

One song that really depicts imaginative changes and chordal coloring (surprisingly so) is "The Boys Are Back In Town" by a 70s rock band named "Thin Lizzy". Disregard the lyrics, listen carefully to how the chords are changing, and how unpredictable those chord changes are. Especially so during the verses.

Avoid the use of bass notes that simply follow the root notes of chords.

You seem to be needing fresh input. Avoid the average stuff that people associate with modular synths. Listen to more complicated music ... don't worry about how certain sounds were made ... in fact don't listen to that at all. Listen to just the way the chords move, and how the chords are constructed. Learn what "inversions" are, and use them. Learn how "transistions" are used, and apply the newly gained understanding of them.

The more you spread yourself out, the more broad your tastes will become. Think of it as "if all you expose yourself to is 3rd grade grammar, you'll never think anywhere above that level ... you simply cannot think any higher than that, because you don't have the vocabulary to do so".

So work on expanding your musical vocabulary ... the more your vocabulary grows, the more you can express ideas of greater complexity. Complexity is more interesting, because there is more to observe.

So many people shun the thought of embracing or learning music theory. Which is precisely why popular music has become so boring. There's only so much that can be done with three chords, 120bpm, and the formulaic construct of "verse.. verse.. chorus.. verse.. bridge.. verse.. chorus.. chorus.. chorus" chordal palette, tempo, and structure.

Learn more musical "words" (a reference to the "musical vocabulary" analogy) ... you'll be able to express yourself in far more satisfying ways.

cool
vrfats
Rex Coil 7 wrote:
Stop using technology and start using your emotions and your mind. It sounds to me that if you studied music made by those that understand music theory you'll find new inspiration. As long as you allow the machine to do all of the creation, you'll only receive mechanized creation.

Study deeper forms of music, perhaps Jazz, or Classical, or perhaps "Big Band" stuff from the 1930s and 1940s. Listen to the chord changes, and the way the music modulates (not the sound, the music). Listen to original progressive rock (which is heavily inspired by the classical greats).


I could definitely benefit from more music theory but I don't think that is what I was after in this post. Learning more keyboard technique and being able to play polyphonically would help this along as I am a guitarist by trade.

I write complex polyrhythmic, atonal music with my band, know some music theory and jargon (probably bastardize other theory and jargon). Avant Garde Big Band Jazz, 21st century composers, weirder prog (like Henry Cow and lately I've been listening to Cluster a lot) and even Thin Lizzy are all big inspirations. I would very much like to study more jazz theory and itd probably be more productive to engage in that instead of obsessing over generative systems that recreate musical structures.

Ultimately I'm not interested in stopping using technology and just using my emotions and mind but interfacing my emotions and mind with the technology more effectively. Recently an AI generated abstract paintings that humans couldn't distinguish from real abstract paintings. Although this is a bit beyond me, I find the process involved in this very interesting.

While I use the synthesizer to other ends, I really enjoy making patches that imitate behavior of things (say an Anthony Braxton sax line more in the sense of a cartoon than being indistinguishable from the original). I feel like I would use a synthesizer recipe book (for making choral, bell, horn, sounds etc) as a jumping off point for stranger more unrecognizable sounds that occupy similar timbres. Would love some suggestions if anyone has any...

The Ornament & Crime has opened up a world of possibilities that I am excited to explore. The feedback shift register lends to controlled novelty and repetition which is great for creating more gracefully evolving changes. That is a really on point module. But back to the topic at hand....

Several people mentioned voltage controlled mixers. I was just looking at the Mutamix to suit these ends. I am thinking I should be using mults and stackables to send more parameters from a single source multiple places (including switches) and abruptly changing that voltage. A lot of people mentioned using irregular master clocks. I have found this interesting when combined with boolean logic etc. I often will set two LFOs up as clocks and send them to PLOG to create irregular alternating gates. I dont often like how my patches with Clock multipliers and dividers respond to irregular clocks.
Pelsea
vrfats wrote:

Much of the music I've heard made with modular synths suffers from a lack of intentional variation and compositional intent in my humble opinion.


So, pretty much like most pop music then?

Formal variety has to be designed into a modular system from the beginning. It requires the ability to quickly change the sound, rhythms, and tempo. In order to make this happen, you need:

Enough modules to support several independent voices of contrasting sound. (Bonus for modules with a variety of voltage selectable distinct sounds, like Braids or Korgasmatron.)
Switches, crossfaders and voltage controlled mixers to choose what is playing.
A master clocking system capable of producing several simultaneous rhythms and repeatable tempo changes.
Something to control all of this. The classic options are performance interfaces, sequencers, or a computer.

You'd think this would require a huge system, but 6 voices plus percussion are probably enough. That gives 720 possible combinations.

The system in my avatar was sequencer driven. The formal heart of the system is an 8 input sequential mixer. Each channel has an envelope with attack and release controls. The channels can be gated independently, as two four stage sequences, or as one eight step sequence. I also had* an 8 stage sequencer dedicated to tempo control and a lot of loose logic to generate rhythm patterns. Three other 16 stage monsters produced the pitches.
*The system was cut in half about the time Marie Kondo was born. The plan was to replace all sequencing with my brand new Mac 512. Like many plans, other things happened instead.

My new euro system is designed to be controlled by a wind instrument and a laptop running Max. I have five voices so far and expect to add a sixth and some sort of percussion module. The basic architecture for a performance will be several voices controlled by the instrument routed to a gated mixer, which then feeds one of four channels of my system output. (The gated mixer has big switches for manual control plus lights to show what's active. It's easy to change voices during a pause in my playing.) The other three will be available for accompaniment.

Rhythm and harmony are programmed in Max using a variety of techniques. MIDI from the instrument is sent to Max as well as the synthesizer so Max can react to what I am doing.
jcn7
I 'm a huge fan of using breath controllers with my various instruments including my modular gear.

I can acheive much more nuance and create organic performances in real time using my breath controllers. Here are a few examples:

BC with my Behringer Model D and Moog Mother 32 gear:

1) https://jamesnewman.bandcamp.com/track/home

2) https://soundcloud.com/jcn7/a-60s-moog-dream-breath-controlled/comment -586183032


BC with VSTi's (Blues/Jazz style...all wind and string instruments played with a BC)

1) https://jamesnewman.bandcamp.com/track/big-band-blues-blam

2) https://jamesnewman.bandcamp.com/track/things-that-crawl-out-from-unde r-the-bed-at-night

Finally, here is an Orchestral/Cinemtic album of mine that uses BC on all the brass and some of the strings...so this example would be more in an orchestral sense...

1) https://jamesnewman.bandcamp.com/album/origins-album



Here is the USB BC controller I use and a video I made for a company that sells this amazing USB breath controller (TEC BBC2):

1) BBC2: http://www.tecontrol.se/products/usb-midi-breath-bite-controller-2

2) Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5f6rH_J_uE&t=5s

and here is the breath controller I use with my Eurorack gear (I actually have 3 of these in 3 different rigs)...AND it allows for both blowing and drawing in air! Very cool indeed! smile

Pulplogic BC: http://pulplogic.com/product/breath-control-2/

I hope this helps...IMHO BC is a very powerful tool for any form of synthesis.

Just my 2 cents of course! wink
Rex Coil 7
vrfats wrote:
Ultimately I'm not interested in stopping using technology and just using my emotions and mind but interfacing my emotions and mind with the technology more effectively.
Understanding more about music itself is the translator that goes between the musician and the instrument. Not the instrument .. not the emotions .. the ~thing~ in between the two. That ~thing~ would be the "understanding" of how music is made. In other words, music theory. Music theory is what translates emotion into technique.

Keyboard technique is a mechanical study. Basic fingerings of scales and chord patterns (or "chord shapes" in guitar speak).

Beyond all of that academic stuff ... exposure to other forms of music is what can expand your imagination. Exposure can make your music more "worldly" (so to speak). I find a lot of *Indian music to be inspiring (*Indian, as in from India).

If you're into guitar music, and would like to expand your exposure, if you haven't already done so give a listen to Frank Marino ("Mahogany Rush"). He has this talent for transitioning between scale modes so seamlessly. In various phrases he'll transition from Major, to Dorian, slide into Mixolydian, and ease back into Major and make the entire ride sound so natural. But you certainly know your musical sense just got pulled around and moved about on an emotional ride that felt like nothing you've heard previously. And he does it with such grace, poise, and what seems like "ease". I often find myself uttering "woa!" and "oh man!" a lot when I listen to him play.

And what discussion about phrasing, modes, and transitions is complete without mentioning Keith Emerson? Especially his live performances, particularly from the early 1970s.

Ok, I've said enough. My point has been made, anything beyond what I've said so far will just be redundant. Time to let others hold the talking feather.

thumbs up
blipson
jcn7 wrote:
I 'm a huge fan of using breath controllers with my various instruments including my modular gear.
and here is the breath controller I use with my Eurorack gear (I actually have 3 of these in 3 different rigs)...AND it allows for both blowing and drawing in air! Very cool indeed! :)

Pulplogic BC: http://pulplogic.com/product/breath-control-2/

Good call on the breath sensor. They're amazingly sensitive and responsive, yet simple and intuitive to use. I had a Yamaha BC-3 back in the day, but I don't remember it well because I was using an EWI. I did also have an instrument with a breath control port that used a simple latex tube like that Pulp Logic module. One annoyance with breath control: condensation. The less back pressure the instrument has, the more breath flow, and the more quickly the water builds up. You get constant dripping, which can really be obtrusive depending on your setup. How does that breath and bite controller do with dripping? I wrap a wrist band around my Roland Aerophone's drain hole, which works decently well. But recently I've gone all-SOMA Pipe because there's no air column involved and zero dripping.
vrfats
I've always been interested in the Ewe breath controller with the synth. I think I've seen Cyclobe do that ... Those guys are great btw. I play a little sax and like being able to control timbre with embouchure and blowing etc.

And I like your way of putting it that variety has to be designed into the modular system from the beginning Pelsea. Is that an Oboe in your avatar? Curious to hear what is going on there.

Rex, I think your analysis of what I am saying is kind of off... man please dont be that guy who lectures me about the importance of music theory and tells me to expand my musical horizons by listening to Keith Emerson and Rush. Rush are talented but its just not my vibe and people who tell me to branch out by listening to Rush and get all mansplainy just kind of piss me off. As far as prog goes I'm more of a Magma, Robert Wyatt, Soft Machine kind of guy and Fred Frith is one of my favorite guitarists. I also really appreciate Bill Orcutt's guitar playing. But this isn't a thread about prog or learning more music theory..

Edit: you said Mahogony Rush my bad. Sorry for the kneejerk reaction... People call my band prog and I dont like it, Its a sore spot...
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