Exquisite Coast is a shared patch game for the Make Noise 0-Coast created by Damon Holzborn and John O’Brien. Exquisite Corpse is a collaborative image or text game, developed by the Surrealists, where a text or drawing is created either by some set rule or by only revealing the end of what the previous person contributed. In that spirit, Exquisite Coast uses a tight set of technical constraints as an artistic challenge that encourage a deep exploration of the instrument. These guidelines are designed to foster creativity, provide a useful method to get to know your 0-Coast, and engage with a wider community of music makers
Learn more and join in at ec.rustle.works.
I’m excited to announce the release of Alternator I.
The last time I left the house before leaving the house got weird was March 12, 2020. If the timestamp on the audio file can be believed, Alternator I was recorded two days later, making this my first release created entirely during the stress and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. Of course, the timestamp almost certainly can be believed. My doubt is entirely due to the changing perception of time here in Lockdown World. Before I glanced at the file’s date, I would have guessed I’d recorded this several months prior, not the mere month that had passed before I started the final mixing and mastering process.
Alternator I is, depending on how you look at it, either the second release in a series of mini-albums that started with 1 Vox, Vol. 1, or the fourth release going all the way back to the Character Weekend 01-03 trilogy from 2012-2013. The Character Weekend series was inspired by the concept of the 19th century character piece, a short musical composition, often for solo piano, that sought to express a single mood or impression. In addition to the time constraints typical to this type of work, these pieces employed fairly radical instrumental constraints in order to encourage focus and deep explorations into sound by limiting the means of sound production available.
1 Vox, Vol. 1 continued this practice. Like Character Weekend, it consists of a set of short pieces exploring a single musical idea. Unlike the Character Weekend series, most of which used instruments at least partly of my own creation, 1 Vox relied entirely on instruments built by others, specifically my small Eurorack modular synthesizer system. I further limited my options by requiring that all performance control would be that which is contained within the rack itself — no outside controllers of any sort. Since a modular synthesizer is typically put together piece by piece at the whim of the musician, I did get to practice a type of construction, but one that allowed me to focus on exploring the instrument’s timbral possibilities without the distraction of having to build it from scratch. The prohibition of outside controllers also served to further that focus.
I resisted the growing modular synthesizer trend for a long time. My practice of over 25 years is almost exclusively live improvisation. Since an improvisor needs to adapt quickly to changing situations, simplicity of interface has long been one of my primary objectives when choosing or creating instruments. The modular world won me over, however, when I acknowledged its power to provide a wide range of timbral manipulation and development tools. My work has long dealt with sound as raw material from which I create dense sonic fields where melody and harmony are not the focus, and in which even rhythm is tied more to timbre than to any sense of pulse or pattern. Even a small modular system like the one I use still has an enormous depth to it. It can be patched and re-patched over and over, each time revealing new discoveries in sound. These systems reward deep dives into even small subsections of the instrument. Though a modular synthesizer requires more pre-performance work, that work is a rich source of discovery of new sounds. This allows me to use a familiar set of tools, but reconfigure them at will, learning something new about the sound sculpting possibilities with each reconfiguration.
As the next step in a continuing series of explorations of my instrument, Alternator I is both a continuation of my previous work and a hint at new directions. As with 1 Vox, everything I used to create the music is contained within my modular synthesizer. Unlike both 1 Vox and the Character Weekend series, here I’ve exchanged short explorations of small ideas for longer pieces that take more time to develop. The most notable difference from those works, however, is the means by which the music is created. All of them relied on live improvised performance, during which I was in complete control of every sound at every moment. Alternator, in contrast, is a generative work. This means that, as when creating 1 Vox, I set up a patch to use for (generally just one) performance. This time, though, I was not actively involved in the actual performance as it unfolded. Once I was finished creating a complex set of interactions within the instrument, the compositional work was done, and the piece generated itself. All that was left for me to do was hit record.
In some ways, Alternator is a more patient work, one that allows sound to unfold over a longer period of time. It spends more time working through small ideas, even allowing motives to repeat or reappear, while remaining unafraid of making quick, radical changes from time to time. What is attractive to me about this way of working is that if the chain of influences is complex enough, the system balances surprise and predictability. Despite continual change, chaos is not allowed to rule. Toward the end of this process, my role becomes that of listener, patiently waiting to hear how things flow and change, making small tweaks until there is a satisfying balance.
This release, along with new 1 Vox and Character Weekend releases that will follow in summer 2020, marks a culmination of countless hours of work adapting to a new set of instruments and to new ways of working, after many years engaging primarily with software that I built myself. I now feel I’ve created a solid foundation for the next few years (at least) of explorations in sound and process. I’m excited to see how it will lead to many more iterations of these series, and new series to come, as I further develop these new practices and discover ways to reincorporate the old.
Music and video by Damon Holzborn.
The soundtrack was my submission for the Disquiet Junto Project 0429.
Although we can’t go out to concerts right now, we can visit the video and audio archives generously shared by many adventurous venues and ensembles. The list below is just a (very) small start. Please tell me if you know of any good live new music archives.
ISSUE Project Room Archives (video)
“ISSUE’s public media archive is a consistently updated and freely accessible collection of video and audio documentation from recent and past ISSUE performances.”
Roulette TV (video)
“Roulette TV captures the creative process of live performance, giving viewers a unique window into Roulette’s distinctive programming through in-depth artist-driven features including studio visits, performance footage, and interviews.”
Tracking The Odds: The Roulette Concert Archive (audio, podcast)
“A monthly hour-long radio special produced by Roulette Intermedium (roulette.org) and broadcast in partnership with Wave Farm’s WGXC 90.7-FM and Standing Wave Radio. The broadcasts feature selected highlights from Roulette’s New York experimental music space dating from the early 1980s to the present. Thousands of rare, formative, and often unheard recordings by innovators and adventurous musicians populate the archive.”
Roulette Concert Archive Monthly Mix (audio)
“Featuring curated playlists from our concert archives, tune in to Roulette’s SoundCloud for new discoveries.”
“DigitICE is ICE’s digital media library. Streaming performances of individual works from our live concerts, along with interviews and behind-the-scenes videos are available here for free. Most feature high definition video and high quality audio.”
Musicians looking for a little connection in this time of isolation might consider the Disquiet Junto. Each Thursday Marc Weidenbaum posts a compositional prompt to stoke creativity and over the next few days members of the junto complete the assignment and share their recordings. Track sharing and discussion takes place at the lines community (the forum set up by the Monome folks). You can browse past projects here. Sign up for the project announcement list to get the weekly prompts straight to your inbox. More about the Junto.
Music and video by Damon Holzborn.
Music by Damon Holzborn.
Video by Betsy Nagler.
[This is the fourth in a series of scripts I’m sharing while I learn to write applications for the new Monome Crow, a Eurorack module that connects to Norns or computers running Max, Max for Live, and other serial-enabled applications. Crow also stores a complete script, so that without a USB connection it can continue to run, responding to CV input and ii messages.]
This script is my take on the Krell patch. If you are unfamiliar with this idea, learn more at Learning Modular. My Crow version of this idea outputs envelope and pitch plus two other user selectable CV values.
Download the script and find more details at the Lines forum.
See my previous post to hear it in action.
[This is the third in a series of scripts I’m sharing while I learn to write applications for the new Monome Crow, a Eurorack module that connects to Norns or computers running Max, Max for Live, and other serial-enabled applications. Crow also stores a complete script, so that without a USB connection it can continue to run, responding to CV input and ii messages.]
I’m always finding myself befuddled about the CV range a given input of a Eurorack module wants to see. The main function of this script is to take CV into input 1 OR input 2 and scale it out the outputs.
You can also send it a message in order to just send an arbitrary fixed voltage out each of the outputs, or a different fixed voltage out of each.
Download the script and find more details at the Lines forum.