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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.