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15 March 2006 @ 10:21 pm
I feel like I ought to write something in here really, because I haven't done in ages. Being a PhD student has meant that I haven't had anywhere near as much time for music as I used to, and I've had a succession of technical problems with my computer so things have been going a little slowly lately.

But I've got everything more-or-less working again now so hopefully I should be playing gigs in the near future -- there's plenty of opportunities for that down here in Brighton.

There's this one little thing that SuperCollider doesn't do quite the way I want it (local feedback loops) and I'm spending a lot of time on trying to fix that. I guess that's a weird sort of a problem with making music this way: it's easy to get distracted by the code. But once these little hurdles are passed it the creative process increases in speed. When I'm finished I'll be able to effortlessly create a network of dozens of delay lines, all feeding back into each other through all kinds of filters and distortions, ring modulators, beat choppers, samplers and granularisers, all controlled in real-time through the joysticks. It'll be a pretty intense sound.

I've also started doing a little collaborative work with a singer here in Brighton (see the webpage) and I'm hoping that will become something really cool in the future.
31 October 2005 @ 02:17 pm
Escape from the Head Cube's first ever live performance will take place tomorrow night: a friend runs an open mike night at a pub called the Couch here in Brighton so I'm going to interrupt the acoustic guitar strumming and karaoke singalongs with a filthy slice of joystick-controlled live laptop breakcore. Should be a right laugh. hopefully I'll be able to record it and upload it to the podcast when I get back online.
29 September 2005 @ 06:29 pm
Here is a column about some of the audio software available for Linux. I mention it purely for the bit about two thirds down where it says 'I already have some favorite pieces that I have to hear everyday, including... Escape From The Head Cube's cool "Souled"...' :)
25 September 2005 @ 10:24 pm
There's a new entry up on the podcast at last. Sadly it's not particularly good, as I've been spending what little time I've had these last few weeks on sorting out technical difficulties rather than creating sounds and practising -- but it's good to at least have something new up there. And after all the technical problem-solving I've got a much better idea of how all the code's going to fit together so when I do next get some time (which may not be soon because my life might be about to change rather drastically in the next few days) I'll be able to create at a much faster rate than before.

Also I've finally got round to regitering my own domain name so the Escape from the Head Cube website can now be found at http://headcube.net.
05 September 2005 @ 08:16 pm
Oh man, I've had the k-k-k-kraziest idea: go down to Maplins and buy a cheap USB keyboard, an aliminium chassis and a whole load of different buttons and switches (they sell ones that light up and everything!) then go home, gut the keyboard and wire it up so that I've got a big aluminium box covered in switches that connects to a USB port. Then, program SuperCollider to understand it. With the right bit of creative effort it would look like some bizarre piece of Soviet instrumentation that controls the music. Or, the front panel from an arcade machine with lots of round buttons that light up. It would be a bit of a project but it would look so cool it might just have to be done.

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update: Wow, what would be *even krazier* would be to use patch cables to short out the connections in the keyboard. It would be like my own home-made moular synth! On second thoughts I think that idea might be a little too krazy.
31 August 2005 @ 03:53 pm
Title says it all really, but that won't stop me wittering on for a few paragraphs.

Escape from the Head Cube podcast

I've spent a large chunk of today writing scripts so that it's as easy as possible for me to update it -- I just have to hit record for a bit and then type a couple of commands into a console and it's done, so expect a new entry every time a new sound originates from my computer. I'm hoping to make it at least a weekly thing. Most likely I'll also be updating this blog with explanations of what you're hearing.

The first entry, Beebadger 31/08/05, is there as a snapshot of where I'm at now, and to get me over my irrational fear of actually pressing record. It includes distorted breakbeat cutting, filter sweeping, modified feedback delay lines and note triggering from the fire buttons. As with all the stuff I'm doing at the moment there's absolutely nothing that isn't being triggered and controlled live from the joysticks, so I could play the same thing again and get a similar sounding track but with a completely different song structure and in places a completely different beat.

Working on this stuff is great fun, as it's a weird combination between composition, coding, production and learning to play a musical instrument: first I have to come up with a musical idea that can be controlled expressively with the joysticks, then implement it in SuperCollider, and then learn to play it on the joysticks, which can either be really easy or really hard, depending on what the idea is and what I'm trying to do with it -- and all the while I have to be aware of how it will fit in with other sounds that may be playing at the same time.

This podcast isn't about producing perfect tracks, it's about keeping a record of what I'm doing and how it sounds (and if I'm really lucky, perhaps getting a little feedback along the way). What you hear is a single, unmastered take, complete with any mistakes, glitches and not-so-good-bits that happen to find their way in (there's quite a few of those in Beebadger 31/08/05). Since each entry is just a snapshot of how I sound at a given moment in time I'm including the date on which the entry was recorded (in the British dd/mm/yy format) as part of the name of each track.

Oh yeah -- if there's anyone out there who actually tunes in and listens to this stuff, let me know! Also you might want to sign up with last.fm and install the Audioscrobbler plugin. That way you'll get a great way to keep track of the music you listen to and find new stuff you'll like, and I'll get a kick out of watching Escape from the Head Cube's popularity grow inexorably higher.
30 August 2005 @ 02:58 pm
This is the new weblog for everything related to music made by Escape from the Head Cube. I'm planning on spamming this blog with everything from the philosophy behind my music to the technical details of how it's accomplished, for anyone who happens to be interested and for my own future reference. Soon there will also be a regularly updated podcast of the progress I make.

I apologise if this first post is a little long and disjointed, I just want to get all the basic concepts down so I can develop them later.

Escape from the Head Cube has always been based around unusual production techniques, including writing computer programs to produce music. I am currently working towards what is for me a completely revolutionary way of performing this kind of music live.

Previous Escape From the Head Cube tracks such as Souled were very much recording-based because it was not possible for me to make that kind of music in any other way. In fact the chord sequence from Souled was produced by writing a computer program which I would then run to produce input for another computer program (in the form of a text file containing the frequency of each note), which would turn that input into a WAV file which I would then import into my recording software to play. That whole process would have to be repeated if I wanted to change anything, so in a sense it was the exact opposite of performing live or improvising -- something more like a composer writing sheet music and passing it to an orchestra to be heard.

I'm lucky enough to live in Norwich (for the time being at least) and be part of a wonderfully active alternatice music scene. This means that I often get to see great noise/breakcore/digital hardore etc bands playing live. Often the music is incredible but it tends to be performed by someone sitting behind a laptop, or occasionally a big black box with knobs on it. This can make it very difficult to tell whether they are skillfully mixing and manipulating the sounds to produce something original on-the-fly or whether they are just pressing play at the beginning of the performance.

My revolutionary idea is to play this kind of music live using the Saitek X52 Flight Control System -- a sort of a two-handed joystick for flight simulator fanatics that's covered in all kinds of buttons, dials, sliders, hat switches and blue LEDs. The large number of controls acessible to each hand make it pretty perfect for controlling musical sounds, and it happens to look incredibly cool as well. The big advantage of this compared to most MIDI controllers is that the audience can see a lot of what I'm doing: you see me move the left-hand throttle forward and you hear a filter opening up, and you know that I'm doing it live. (there are other advantages as well: it's fundamentally more accurate than MIDI, for instance, and because of the ergonomic design you can do a lot more different things at once: it's pretty much impossible to turn more than two knobs at the same time, whereas with a joystick one hand can move left-right, up-down, twist and press buttons all at once)

As an example, I've been playing a lot recently with chopping up breakbeats using one of the hat switches. The break is divided into eight equal sections and it's set up so that if I hold the hat switch up it will repeatedly play the first section (usually a kick), if I hold it to the right it plays the third (most likely a snare), and so on. In this way I can cut the beat up and play it in any order using just my thumb. I can then use the joystick itself to make the beat stutter, sweep filters on it etc.

The technology that makes this possible is called SuperCollider. It's a programming language designed for creating music, and it's by far the sexiest programming language I've ever used. If you're into that sort of thing, go look at the little bit of example code on that web site and you'll get an idea. Not only that, but its operation is immediate: instead of the complicated cycle of running code and compiling it into WAV files that I used to have, I can now have something playing, change a line of code, press a button and hear the sound change straight away. This means that there was only a couple of days in between having the idea to chop up breakbeats with the hat switch and being able to make it happen, and simper ideas happen almost immediately.

Now I'm going to go get something to eat and then record the first podcast entry so you can hear what I'm talking about.