Tracker Family Tree

Even before I starting working on anything I particularly thought of as music, I was a fan of sample trackers. I had a friend in college who had an Amiga-based copy of Pro Tracker. I jammed out with him many times, usually with him on the Amiga, though I occasionally got a crack at it, too. Some of the earliest Zero Times Infinity recordings included beats and textures designed with Pro Tracker, and it was a big influence on how I made music later.

In my day, I’ve personally used Impulse Tracker, Buzz Tracker, and a few others, here and there. Despite having a laptop full of other synth software, I come back again and again to Renoise. I think it’s fair to say that although I’ve used many tools and techniques in my music-making history, tracking is in my blood.

In fact, my latest track is shaping up to be 100% Renoise-based. I should be putting something up about that soon — it’s very nearly complete — but in the meantime, please enjoy this flowchart detailing the history of tracking software. I didn’t create it; it was linked in a Renoise forum article I stumbled across recently. But I thought it was too amazing not to share.

New Track: Things Fall Apart

New track on Soundcloud, first in a few months. I’d started working on a good three or four other tracks and petered out before finishing — some are very nearly finished, so there’s a good chance I’ll have one or two more before year’s end — but this one here came together pretty quickly. It started with a few loops I sketched out over a year ago, but most of it was done over the past few weeks.

It’s a simple, emotionally charged little synth track. Not a lot of complexity or detail, just a good scan of my recent head space. Dedicated with love to all victims of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

[Note: track no longer on Soundcloud]

Recording: Construction Noise

New field recording up at Freesound. This one is of builders preparing a construction site near my house for new development by breaking up a parking lot with a large piledriver.


Brian Eno: Imaginary Landscapes

This is the best video I’ve ever come across featuring Brian Eno. Eno’s real strength, as a speaker, has always been his ability to articulate ideas which seem intuitively right, even obvious in retrospect, but to put them into words in a way that no one else could have done. Here’s a transcription of my favorite bit from this one:

A lot of what’s called artistic behavior is to go to an extreme — to find an extreme position and defend it and occupy it — but I think those aren’t necessarily the most interesting places to be. It’s interesting that somebody’s been there, and you want to know about what they saw there, and to find out about it, but you might not want to be there yourself. It’s a bit like living at the North Pole, you know? To know the North Pole exists is useful and enriching, but personally I prefer to be here.

I think this pretty much explains my ambivalence toward Japanese noise (and a lot of other fairly extreme musical styles). I find the map of the territory that someone like Merzbow has explored fascinating, and in the right head space it’s enjoyable for me to listen to, but whenever I do similar things, it feels like sharecropping on someone else’s land. It’s just not where I belong personally.

An Introduction To Metasynth

Seen on U&I Software’s Twitter feed: the best overall description I’ve ever seen of exactly what Metasynth is and does:

“Metasynth uses a totally unique method to produce sound and I can’t think of anything that comes close to it in originality and creative depth.”

Well worth a look if you don’t know Metasynth and have ever wondered what the big deal was. It really is an amazing bit of software.

Chiptune Summer

Today marks the first official day of summer! Working on next track already, expected to be appropriately bright and jaunty. Probably this pseudo-chiptune thing I’ve started working on. I’m using Numerology as a sequencer, so it will be thoroughly atypical of chiptune programming.

I’m also expecting to get it finished and released comparatively quickly, rather than spending months meticulously tweaking every little detail. While it’s true that I nearly always say that (and usually turn out to be wrong), there’s something about this track that I feel demands a sort of rawness and immediacy, so it may actually be true this time. We shall see.

Speaking of chiptunes, here is a scholarly article by Prof. Mike D’Errico about the live-performance aspects of that particular sub genre. Enjoy: How To Reformat The Planet

New Track: The Veil Of The Type And Token

Sound … organized noise … the sound and language of archetypes from the borderlands between sleep and waking life … voices coalesce from silence, words from before the birth of meaning, uttering the unspeakable.

Impressions from the subconscious, escaped and lurking unseen in the dark corners of everyday reality … peripheral objects, invisible under direct gaze … half-glimpsed in the mirror, disappearing when you turn to see … “instantly everything is surreal…”

[Note: track no longer on Soundcloud]

The Rhythm of Work

I wrote back in January that this was shaping up to be a very productive year. I had finished and posted four new ukuphambana tracks by early March — six if you include the noise bits I created in the process of practice jamming for the Zero Times Infinity show. Now here it is, nearly June, and … nothing. What’s going on?

One factor was the ZTI show itself: it takes time to work out what kind of setup to use for a show, quite a bit of time to develop and practice techniques for live performance, and yet a bit more time to set the studio back up again afterwards. Making it worse, I allowed myself to fall prey to the urge to reorganize the studio before putting everything back together again. This is a terribly seductive form of procrastination, because although it generally results in some long-term workflow improvements, it’s the death of productivity while it’s happening. There are rewards to performing music live, but there are also good reasons I don’t do it very often, and they all boil down to the opportunity cost in lost production time being too heavy.

Next, there’s my annual technology investment. Early spring when my tax refund comes in, I generally buy some bit of new gear, and it takes some time for me to get my head around how to use it and how it’s going to fit into the rest of my studio arsenal. This is an embarrassingly self-indulgent thing to complain about, but it does have an impact (which I conveniently forget every year when the prospect of acquiring new toys beckons.)

Then there’s the annual shift in my daily schedule. Over the cold winter months, I’m a night owl, working on music after the children are in bed, then sleeping as late as I can get away with the following morning, but in summer it’s easier for me to get up early before the rest of the family to hit the studio and turn in before sunset every night. Either one works pretty well, actually. It depends on when I find it easier to muster the energy and when I’m least likely to be disrupted by family concerns, and these things vary with the seasons. But during the transitional times between one schedule and the other, it’s hard to make time for music.

Though I find it frustrating to admit that I have slow periods, I guess it’s good that I’ve been at this long enough that I can see them coming and have at least some idea when they are likely to occur and why. It gives me at least a toehold into improving the situation, and helps me keep the whole thing in perspective.

Oh, one more reason for the delay, and this is the best bit: I’m working on one hell of a new track. It’s weird and sprawling, and it’s taking me some time to tame it. It’ll be well worth the wait once it’s finally done. At the current rate of progress, I give it another week or two. Stay tuned!

Recording: Yellow Jacket

Summertime insects are out, and with their advent I have my first field recording of the season. This weekend, a yellow jacket got trapped on the inside of my basement studio window. I grabbed my Zoom H2, and had a chat with my little friend before opening up the window and shooing it out. I’ve now posted the recording up on Freesound.

Buzz buzz buzz…


Two Interviews: VSnares and Squarepusher

Continuing the theme of shameless hero worship established in last week’s post, the past two days have seen interviews with two of the masters of electronic music. I read and thoroughly enjoyed both of these, and thought I’d share my favorite bits.

This chat with Aaron Funk (of Venetian Snares) has some great quotes about staying real and keeping in touch with what inspires you. He also talks a lot about musical technique and such, and it’s all fascinating, but these quotes are my takeaways:

I just find inspiration in myself, have never cared about genres or what is supposed to be fashionable at the moment … emotion, energies, personal experience – these things are truly far more inspiring to draw from than trying to be a part of some aesthetic, I can’t even relate to that.


…it’s fucking ridiculous to limit yourself to only creating angry or sad music or only doing silly funny music. The whole spectrum is there … I have known people that limit themselves to making only dark music. That to me is so narrow and unfulfilling. If something is bleak, it should be bleak for a real reason, not out of some aesthetic. Fucking posers.

Then in this interview, there are these these words of wisdom from Tom “Squarepusher” Jenkinson:

… any musician that’s not self indulgent, I can’t imagine that they’d be any good, to be honest. Any musician that puts himself primarily at the service of his audience is likely to quite rapidly become a self-repeating machine … There’s always this tension where you’re trying to create the creative process afresh, to give yourself the best chance of giving something to your audience that they’re really going to love, and actually show them something new. And that entails sometimes pissing them off … I would say: Yes, I am self-indulgent, but it’s a good thing.

Once in a while, I play this game where I try to analyze what the commonalities are between the people whose lives and work I’ve found really inspiring. I’d noticed that most of them are iconoclasts, but I think in that interview, Jenkinson gives it a new formulation that I like better: all my heroes are self-indulgent, in the best possible way. This means putting out into the world the best work you can possibly do, regardless of what you’ve been asked for or what’s expected. It takes courage and a certain amount of hubris, but in the end it’s the only way to go, really.

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