Saturday, July 14, 2012

Is that art???

Every once in awhile, I find myself in a classical mood and one thing I notice is that I start thinking of the composer I want to listen to. This is very different than anything with jazz or popular music. With minor exceptions, classical music is always associated with its composer rather than the performer. Rarely am I thinking, I want to hear the Philadelphia symphony or London philharmonic - I'm thinking Mozart or Bach.

There are a few exceptions such as a particular singer or performer such as Yo yo Ma or other virtuoso, but usually its much more about the composition than the artist's interpretation. When it comes to other forms of music, it is mostly about the performer rather than the song writer. Interesting stuff. Few, however would question the artistry of a great composer nor of a performer.

So, with electronic music... There are many ways to create compositions. There are keyboard based synths that are "played". There are trackers or sequencers that can be edited manually and there are other ways to create musical compositions. Usually, the process involves playing midi type controllers into a DAW of some sort that records the events in individual tracks for more editing.

In the case of trackers (Sunvox, iSequence, Renoise etc), the events can also be manually entered via QUERTY keyboards or pecked out a note at a time with a midi keyboard. So, is this still art if it is more an engineering process rather than performing? I think most would argue yes since it is a bit more in the vein of composing - not to compare my electronic "noise" directly with Beethoven, but you get the point.

Taken one step further, there is generative music. This style of composition abstracts the process one step further and has the composer giving various voices and parts a set of musical "rules" to follow in a piece. Rather than banging in exact notes and meters, the composer creates a set of rules and guidelines to put into an algorithm that in turn generates the sounds. This is analogous to a jazz musician sketching  out a piece, telling the musicians which keys to noodle around in and then letting them improvise.

I've written before a bit about Intermorphic's Mixtikl program and recently I've purchased the "big brother" version called Noatikl. I haven't found any generative music software quite so deep or approachable, though to be sure, there is a steep learning curve!

Mixtikl was the first product I used - initially on the iPad but I also bought the desktop version. Mixtikl emphasizes the "mixing" process and allows you to combine standard waves or loops along with generative elements that evolve their sounds according to the rules provides. There are many tiklpaks available with pre-built generative (and non-generative) sounds but you can also create your own.

The internal sounds generated by Mixtikl use a built-in modular synth called Partikl which is very powerful though somewhat thin sounding. I have made many of my pieces on SoundCloud with pieces of mixtikl or even entirely in mixtikl. The limiting factor, in my opinion, is that the internal synth isn't all that rich sounding. The features are great, but the sounds themselves and filters, are sort of meh - not surprising considering that they have to run on less powerful CPUS.

Enter Noatikl - This product can also create sounds and run them through the built-in Partikl synth. More impressive though, you can just pump out MIDI on channels and put the MIDI stream directly into your DAW and use any synth or software instrument you have! When paired with Logic 9, this allows me to generate music in any instrument I have on my desktop (I have hundreds if not more!).

The creative process here starts with a Logic 9 template with 16 tracks - one for each MIDI channel. Using Noatikl, you can wire any of its voices to MIDI channels - even having multiple voices per channel if you want polyphony. Within the Noatikl environment, I set up the "rules" for the piece including:

  • What key and scale type should the piece play in
  • For each voice - should it create single notes or chords?
  • For the chords - should it use keyed harmonies or offsets to pitches?
  • For rhythmic voices - fast, moderate or slow - dotted notes or only regular notes - what percentage/probability for each note duration?
  • For patterns - what rhythms should be used? What note velocities or pitches - what is the probability of each one
The list goes on from there. You can set rules for MIDI CC events and almost anything you can think of. Noatikl and Mixtikl are basically artificial intelligence agents for creating sounds. 

Once the rules are in place, I hit play in my Logic DAW and listen to the tracks. When I find a combination that works, hit record and all of those MIDI events are recorded in Logic 9. At this point, I disconnect the piece from Noatikl and pick up work in the DAW. I might want to remix, add effects or mute/unmute certain sections. 

Once completed, you end up with a generated piece that you can then mix/master or mangle as you see fit. This too is only the surface of these powerful programs. They also offer a scripting language, can act as "hyperinstruments" (they listen to what you play into them and then harmonize with what you are doing) etc. I will write more as I learn more but I am using Noatikl and Mixtikl extensively in my modest works.

No comments:

Post a Comment