Chiptune sample set for Disquiet

Hello folks, you might be interested in checking out my latest Disquiet Junto tune: Mighty No 139:

https://soundcloud.com/willkuhn/mighty-no-139-disquiet0139-techtechnique

The technique I’ve developed here is really used for my high school courses on music production. The idea is to write harmonically complex music without having to learn a ton of music theory. To this end, I’ve modified a few existing M4L patches to make an “EZ Scales” and “EZ Chords” patch set that students of all levels can drop onto a track to allow them to play roman numeral chord progressions just by playing the root scale degrees. The result is layered riff-style music writing that can befit many different styles.

Download the Ableton Set and play around with the patches: www.dropbox.com/s/kgizcn6lzjnup57…0Project.zip?dl=0

Also in this patch is the “Chippy” M4L Instrument I wrote. It’s basically a waveform generator that can produce a smooth glide and vibrato with a few basic pulse widths. It’s a monophonic synth, and instead of writing a poly version I simply sample a note from it into Simpler.

I hope you enjoy this Mega Man – inspired chiptune!

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DJ Shadow – Ghost Town

This is the kind of music people like me have been waiting for since the early 2000’s. Lucky for Shadow, things have started to swing back toward the chilled out, sample-heavy style lately. Ghost Town is a great companion piece to the stuff coming out of Hyperdub and other people like Kuhn (no relation).

Bonus: DJ Shadow also has his own label now, Liquid Amber

A Rubric for Project-Based Music Classes

As part of my efforts to refine my methods for grading and giving feedback on high school music tech projects, I’ve decided to use the opportunity to make a standardized rubric for my projects.  In many ways, this document is tuned to feed data into my SLO’s for the year as well.

The main features of the rubric:

  • A nominal self-evaluation, simply to provide some context for the finished product
  • An area for actual feedback (notes) at the bottom
  • Scoring “boxes” are tuned to allow most students to fall within the “emerging mastery” category.  Important if the SLO is written to require movement to a new box by semester’s end
  • Max score is possible in Box 3 and 4, giving credit for both accelerated students and those clearly on track
  • Low end of rubric is flexible to not totally kill the grades of lower achieving students
  • Score is out of 30, balanced between technical issues and aesthetic issues

I set aside a day to present projects, during which I use the sheet to mark the grades.  It usually works out to one class period as long as we keep the projects playing.

I haven’t used this yet, but it’s the best representation of how I evaluate my students’ projects.  Let me know what you think of it!

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 10.21.24 PM

DJ’ing Using Ableton Live Arrangement View

I had a great time last week DJ’ing a dance party for our school marching band camp.  It was an hour long set, and I didn’t take requests but I totally could have.

First, the tools.  I DJ’ed exclusively using Ableton – in Arrangement View.  Huh?  Arrangement View?

“But Session View is for stuff like live prefromants rite?”  Yes, my poor-spelling friend.  However, there are some distinct advantages to DJ’ing in Arrangement View.  Here’s an unordered list of my reasons:

  • I like knowing how long my set is, especially for a short 1-hour set
  • I like to craft nice transitions between songs
  • I like to incorporate pieces of the previous song in the current mix, something that’s hard to do without a timeline visualization
  • It gives me less to think about

Now.  Some people may criticize those who simply press play and let the DJ set go as planned, rather than beat juggling on the fly and such.  There’s some merit to the argument, especially if people just lie down after pressing play and take a nap.  However, preplanning the main song material gives me more freedom to play around with effects during the performance, which you’ll see in a bit.

First, how I organize my set.

Organizing the set

This is what the overall set looks like:

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 12.06.22 PM

Two main tracks alternating playing a song.  No crossfader, just automated volume adjustments.

The blank track is part of a drum kit I’ll get to later.

Notice the automation line at the bottom – this is the master tempo.  By pre-setting this, all my transitions are taken care of and I don’t have to worry about any party fouls.  I can also visually see how much I’m working the crowd.  I don’t want too much fast or slow all at once.

The overall picture of the night I’m going for looks like this:

  • Act I: Hip Hop / 80-100 BPM Pop
  • Act II: Dance tracks / 120-130 BPM Pop
  • Act III: Line dance / cheese / big tracks people go crazy for

You can see in the tempo line how everything calms down around the start of Act II – I need some runway to build up to the bigger tracks.  Some of the big jumps are actually quarter time to half time transitions as well; I’m not a masochist after all.

Another thing I like to use in Arrangement View are the Locators.  These are position marks on the timeline that act like clip triggers do in Session View.  In DJ’ing, they’re perfect for marking the big hits/drops/choruses of the song – if the song is going really well I can trigger back to that hit to keep the party going for a bit longer.  Even though this effects my overall set length it gives the ability to be somewhat reactive to the crowd response.

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 12.12.00 PM

 

These can be added by simply right-clicking the strip below the timeline and selecting “Add Locator”

Mashups

Mashups are awesome and easy to do in Ableton Live.  Basically, I’ll take an instrumental (or an instrumental loop from a song) and play another song (or acapella version of a song) over it, creating something new and fresh that a) sounds unique and b) makes me sound like I’m working the decks really hard or whatever they call it.

To see if  two songs will mash I just need to:

  1. Make the tempo of the two songs the same
  2. Make the key of the two songs the same
  3. Evaluate if the mashup works or not

Mashing up is like an extension of transitions.  Ableton will attempt to make any song you drag in the same tempo, but will often get the warping wrong.  To make a track warp correctly,

  1. Turn on the metronome
  2. Double click the track header (the colored stripe)
  3. Find a known beat 1 on the track
  4. Double click the grey transient mark above that spike to add a warp marker
  5. On the warp marker, right click and select “Warp from here (Straight)” – this will recalculate the warping at a constant tempo, something most songs are notable for having.
  6. If this doesn’t work, the song requires some TLC such as adding more warp markers.  Remember, any sound can occur on whatever beat you want in Ableton – you just have to add a warp marker and move the beat to the right timeline mark.

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 12.22.12 PM

 

So now that the two songs are sync’ed to the metronome click, we need them to be in the same key.  Generally we don’t want to move the key of vocals too much as it will distort the singing and make the song less recognizable.  Most of the time we can adjust the “Transpose” of the instrumental to match the singing.  Even if you know nothing about music theory, it is possible to tell if it sounds like the singer is singing wrong notes or not – if it sounds wrong, move it a step up or down and see if it starts to match.

Protip: If you can’t find a match in +6 or -6 steps the two songs may not be matchable.  12 keys represents every possible key the song could be in, and a mismatch might mean they are in different modes (major trying to play with minor, etc.)

This is where warp modes can come in handy too.  The different methods for warping a clip can impact how they sound.  For anything with vocals, I’d recommend “Complex Pro” mode.  It preserves more of the timbre of the vocalist than the other modes.

 

Effects/Instruments

I use an Akai MPD24 for effects.  It’s not a LaunchPad or an Ableton controller like the Push, but it suits my needs better for my set.  It’s dead simple.  Here’s the MIDI map:

mpd24_top_lg_700x438

 

(click to enlarge)

With Beat Repeat and the other two FX plugins I can do a lot to skip and juggle and mess with transitions even more “on the fly” without compromising the stability of my set.

I had a lot of fun with the drum pads too.  I want anything I add to not sound like I’m just farting around on a drum machine, so I put an Arpeggiator set to “Chord Trigger” on my Drum Rack.  This way I can play 16th notes on multiple pads just by holding down the pad and they won’t just be close to the right tempo, they’ll be EXACTLY the right tempo.  I think I also mapped a couple of the blank knobs to the pitch for individual hits so I could freshen up the sound.

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 12.35.31 PM

I used this feature to:

  • Add trap “machine gun” Hi Hats to everything
  • Add extra craziness to buildups
  • Reinforce weak Kick patterns
  • Look super busy during the set

It’s important to have lots of knobs to turn.

And with that I’m done for the day – have fun DJ’ing in Ableton Live and feel free to send me your set questions!

 

 

 

WWDC 2014 Keynote LEAKED

9:00am – Tim Cook onstage, goes over great sales numbers

9:05am – Tim Cook brings entire executive staff of Apple onstage to apologize for Garageband 10

9:10am – Phil Schiller onstage, INTRODUCING GarageBand 11 – Non-suck edition.  Features include:

  • Track effects
  • Restored/enhanced Podcasting & video tools, including editing ability
  • Smart instrument controls via MIDI effects – automatic scales, chords & strum patterns
  • Library of popular chord progressions for use with Smart instruments
  • Pattern generators ala iOS GarageBand
  • Less embarrassing Drummer tracks – stupid shirtless Jesse is removed, replaced with physical modeled John Bonham
  • Smart effects modularized and available on any instrument
  • Wood panels replaced, changed to more environmentally friendly Bamboo

9:30am – INTRODUCING iOS 8; main feature is support for new GarageBand

9:35am – INTRODUCING OSX 10.10 “General Sherman” – main feature = wood paneling on all OSX system windows, ReWire support for Finder, Textedit can now be used as a Max/MSP patcher.

9:55am – INTRODUCING iWatch – includes tap to set BPM in new non-suck GarageBand.  No other features ready for demo.

10:00am – INTRODUCING new 44″ AppleTV – includes actual wood side panels, automatically plays audio from new non-suck GarageBand.  No other features ready for demo.

10:15am – Jony Ive onstage INTRODUCING “GarageBand SHOVE”, a new MIDI controller for GarageBand.  Includes actual wood side panels, support for Smart instruments, whammy bar, volume can be set to 11 (applause point/laughs)

10:30am – Tim Cook returns to stage, thanks audience end of keynote.

10:45am – demos of GB SHOVE and GB11 (non-suck edition) in the press area

In defense of the iPad

John Walden, for Sound on Sound:

Of course, instead of an iPad, today’s aspiring music technology junkies could buy a computer-based system. Whatever route you take, there is still a bunch of other ‘stuff’ (mics, headphones, speakers, software) you have to acquire alongside the computing platform itself and I’d absolutely agree that the laptop (or desktop) system is likely to be more powerful than the iPad. That said, I love my mobile iPad-based music workstation and, despite its more modest grunt, it’s still a capable device for crunching zeros and ones.

However, price and power aside, lots of today’s aspiring musicians have bought into mobile devices for other reasons. For them, and for their overall IT needs, it is simply their computing platform of choice. The fact that it can do music technology is, for many, a bonus, but one they can happily exploit with relatively low additional costs for software.

The last part is tricky for schools.  For many aspiring musicians “the fact that it can do music technology” is simply not enough.  They want to “do music technology” the way the pros do, and that’s with “computer-based systems” (probably meaning laptop or desktop computers – technically stomp boxes are computer-based systems).

But yeah – when you sit back and think about it it’s pretty amazing that you can just plug a guitar into your phone and lay down tracks.  The world is crazy.

 

Hyperdub 10.1

Got my hands on this great compilation today.  If you want a handle on where earnest electronic music is headed outside of the club bangers and brostep, this is required listening.

From the Pitchfork review:

Dance music label comps serve a dual purpose: 1) provide an accessible way for non-collectors to obtain material that might’ve received limited release; 2) offer labels a way to define their legacy or current position in the music landscape. 10.1 fulfills the first function simply by existing, and effectively flips two middle fingers towards the second.

Very true.  My only gripe is that Laurel Halo isn’t on this compilation – big omission in my books.

For me, Hyperdub and Ghostly are filling the void that Astralwerks and Warp did in the 90’s – releasing truly innovative new music, signing singularly unique artists, and forgetting the rest.

DJ Rashad – Let it Go

Hello – I’m back after an extended absence involving a big project I’ll be taking the wraps off of soon.

In the meantime, enjoy some DJ Rashad – respectfully posted after his sudden and tragic death last month.  I just discovered Double Cup in January, and his posthumous work is being featured on Hyperdub 10.1, which I can’t wait to get my hands on.

 

Ethan Hein: Everyone Can & Should Be Making Music 

Ethan Hein: Everyone Can & Should Be Making Music

A long treatise, but worth the read.  Some big thoughts that are obvious to too few of us in the Music Ed world:

Not everyone needs to be able to play or appreciate classical music. Maybe people just need to be able to sequence basslines for their hip-hop tracks, or play three-chord rock, or understand a little music theory, or play rumbly ambient one-chord drones. The kids who want to dive deeper and move on to more challenging material can still do so. If everyone else is engaged actively with music, the pros will find they’ll have a much bigger and more enthusiastic audience. And maybe America will be a little less emotionally barren.

 And also:

If we want music not to be “dumbed down” we need to be honest about where sophistication lies. If you want to learn about functional tonal harmony, by all means go to the classics. If you want to learn about rhythm, go to Africa, the Caribbean, India, Indonesia and American dance music. If you want to learn about timbre and space, go to electronica and hip-hop. Pretending that all the answers lie in scores written by men in powdered wigs is the real dumbing down of the music curriculum.

 What I don’t get is why there aren’t more people getting out there and saying these things.  What worries me is people my (and Ethan’s) age still bristling at these ideas.

The problem is not how they play. It’s what they play.

Slightly off topic, but a good critique of the school-grade band/choir/orchestra-music publisher industrial complex :

It was a nice enough, if completely unmemorable, piece. But why, I kept thinking, couldn’t they sing a real Elizabethan madrigal? Or how about a Beatles song? Or anything at all that has inspired and touched and sent shivers down the spine the way great art does?

Also:

If high-school English teachers stopped assigning Shakespeare and Faulkner and instead gave their students the winner of the 1991 Iowa English teachers’ novel-writing contest to read, I think we’d know where to tell them to get off.

via The Washington Post