WHO AM I?
Hello dear reader,
if you are going through this post, you’re probably interested in knowing more about the struggles of a future instrument designer.
Let me introduce myself first… I’m known on the Web as SonOfAGlitch, while in real life I am a student of electronic music production and performance. Why am I even mentioning it? Well, because my bachelor final project is the focus of the upcoming posts. From now on, I’ll bring you through my journey in the field of instrument design, made of pitfalls as well as great satisfaction!
WHAT IS THE PROJECT ABOUT? WHY DID I CHOOSE TO PURSUE IT?
First of all, I’d like to focus your attention on the scope of my project.
Like many electronic musicians out there, I am tired of conventional sequencing techniques. As a result, I got very frustrated with the gear that I own. No… the BeatStep Pro didn’t change my life as I expected and yes… I can’t stand anymore the way Ableton approaches sequencing and writing MIDI patterns.
I guess that you get my point; I’m a passionate music producer who lost the passion somewhere along the way. Thus, I thought to create a tool allowing me to overcome my frustration while enhancing my creative flow.
MY TOOLS AND RESOURCES
Before even starting to define the instrument’s features, I went through the tools that I mastered during the past years, in order to set a comfortable working environment for myself.
I figured out that the combination of Max/Msp and Arduino was the best option available; therefore, I decided to realize a software instrument controlled by a piece of hardware.
In terms of resources, my activity as private tutor of music production provided me with money. Time… you know, it is never enough!
Once the tools were set, I started thinking about the type of instrument I wanted to build. The main questions flying around my head related to its functionalities and features.
The initial spark of inspiration arrived unexpectedly, as I recently discovered Euclidean Sequencers. If you are not familiar with such a tool, it allows the user to define the number of pulses to be featured in the sequence. Once set, it distributes the pulses as evenly as possible in the pattern.
The roots of this instrument date back to Ancient Greece, when Euclides discovered an algorithm to find the common divisor of two integer numbers; in 2004, the computer scientist Godfried Toussaint applied this algorithm to music, thus giving birth to “Euclidean Rhythms”.
It looked like the perfect starting point for my project; thus I decided to develop my own version of such a system.
The Moog Subharmonicon’s sequencer was a big source of inspiration; the Subharmonicon is a semi-modular synth, generating complex rhythms and polyrhythms by operating mathematical divisions of the master tempo.
FINAL IDEA – MAIN FEATURES
In light of such inspirations, I finally started defining the features of the tool that I want to develop. Eventually, it is a software drum machine and sequencer – programmed in Max/Msp -, controlled by a piece of hardware that I am going to build.
The number of sequencers will not be limited to one, as I plan to implement an “odd rhythm” generator as well (OR-16). The concept behind the OR-16 is to set forth an alternative to the mathematical perfection of the E-16. Thus, my intention is to write an algorithm that places pulses in odd positions (the IDM monster that is inside me came out on this one). Both sequencers can be used simultaneously on different channels.
The system behind the Subharmonicon’s rhythm generator led me to program a random function, that introduces or takes out steps based on two simple mathematical operations. The first one being a division and the second one a multiplication. The “division mode” creates a ratio between a given amount of time set in ms and a variable number between 1 and 100. Therefore, randomly-positioned pulses are generated more often. The “multiplication mode” instead, brings about less frequent events.
Finally, I explored a new way of generating sounds involving “alternative triggering”.
To this extent, I developed a system with similar performance to FM synthesis, despite it uses samples. Each sample can be retriggered within the main sequence based on a specific time rate; a new sound is generated when the retriggering rate gets into the audio rate!
To follow through with the parallelism with FM synthesis, think of the carrier as the source sound and of the modulator as a combination of the retriggering function and the time rate control. Then, imagine how far I can go into shaping the derivate sound, having separate control over the retriggering time rate, the pitch and even the global BPM.
Ultimately, I aim at providing musicians bored with classical step sequencers with a performative tool that enhances creativity through physical interaction. I will write dedicated posts for the hardware, so let’s focus on the benefits of the software.
How will this instrument promote creativity? Bypassing the use of grids and piano roll, which inevitably activates the same recurring mental patterns when writing a drumbeat. This sequencer will generate patterns for you, allowing you to set the number of pulses as well as to shift them forward and backwards. It will also be able to activate/deactivate steps randomly and to synthesize FM-ish sounds. In a nutshell, the instrument will grant effective control while taking advantage of the unpredictability of generative systems and random functions.