Live Electronics

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The question is no longer:"What the limits of the human performer are?"
but instead "What are the limits of human hearing?

"I dream of instruments obedient to my thought and which with their contribution of a whole new world of unsuspected sounds, will lend themselves to the exigencies of my inner rhythm." (Varese)

When Edgard Varese spoke these words in 1937, he had no idea that he was envisaging one of the greatest movements in modern musical history: Computer Music.


Technology Time-Line.

-1906 Thaddeus Cahill, a Canadian scientist, invents the first electronic musical instrument, the Telharmonium.
It was 60 feet long, 20 feet wide and weighed 200 tons.

-1915 Lee DeForest invents the oscillator, which produces tones from electronic signals and is the basis of all electronic tone-generating instruments.

-1920 Leon Theremin develops the Theremin [1], the first practical electronic instrument. It was the first musical instrument played without touching it and was used heavily in early sci-fi movies for both music and sound effects.

-1956 RCA engineers Harry Olsen and Herbert Belar introduce the RCA sound synthesizer, a stereo synthesizer for synthesizing stereo sound signals from monophonic input signals.

File:Rca mk22.jpg RCA MK2

-1964 Robert Moog created the first subtractive synthesizer to utilize a keyboard as a controller.
Moog synthesizers were one of the first widely used electronic instruments.
File:Bob Moog3.jpg Robert Moog.

-1977 Kraftwerk release "Trans-Europe Express"[2], Donna Summers releases "I Feel Love"[3] and Parliament release "Flashlight"[4] three seminal synthesizer records.

-1978 The first polyphonic synthesizer, the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, is put on the market. It was one of the earliest analogue/digital hybrids, as were most of the polys that followed.

-1982 At IRCAM in Paris, flutist Larry Beauregard [5] had connected his flute to DiGiugno's 4X audio processor, enabling real-time pitch-following.

-1983 Yamaha introduced the DX-7, the first stand alone digital synthesizer. Costing under $2000 the keyboard was a huge success, selling over 200,000 units. Just preceding to the release of the DX-7, a group of musicians and music merchants met to standardize an interface by which these new instruments could communicate control instructions with other instruments and computers. This standard was MIDI (musical instrument digital interface).

A Brief History

File:Mathews260.jpg Max Mathews

From 1974 to 1980 Max Mathews was the Scientific Advisor to the Institute de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), Paris, France. He developed Music 1, which is one of the first, if not the first, real-time computer systems for music performance.
Music I was followed by Music II through Music V and GROOVE, all of which were involved in music performance and composition. For this pioneering work, he has been called the "father of computer music," and most recently, "the great grandfather of techno!"

While in the late 70's bands such as The Residents and Can spearheaded the use of electronic instruments and noises, it was in the 80's that the use of computers in music moved from the academic sphere into the realm of popular music through the success of artists such as Gary Numan[6], with the major hit " Cars" and New Order, with the album "Power, Corruption and lies"[7].
The New Romantic movement centered around the use of synthesizers and drum machines, with the likes of Adam And The Ants[8], Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran [9] topping the charts.
David Bowie, Roxy Music and Boy George were all influential in this era. The music was largely synth-based, and rhythmically driven, layered with moody synth-produced melodies.

The 1990's saw an explosion in the use of computers in music performance with groups moving away from the use of "traditional instruments" in favor of the use of samplers, drum machines, synths and sequencers. This was aided by improvements in computer and MIDI technology.
This time is often sited as the birth of modern dance music with the Rave culture of underground music events[10] centering around this new continuous, through the use of mixing, music.
Bands at the forefront of this movement into a purely computer based genre included Orbital[11], Moby[12] , The Prodigy[13] and Rozalla[14].
It was through the success of these bands and the widespread popularity of the Rave scene that music produced and performed primarily with computers moved into the limelight, and as a result has permeated through most modern popular music.

The 21st Century has seen a massive diversification in dance music that, while based on the same technology, has split into an endless list of new sub-genres. These are usually defined by BPM (beats per minute), types of sounds used and the social groups they are associated with. Examples of just a few of these sub-genres include:
-Drum and Bass
-Dub Step
-Happy Hardcore
-Acid House
-IDM (Intelligent Dance Music)
- Minimum Techno

There have also been many cross-overs between dance and other genres.
The mixing of hip-hop with electronic samples and dance style drum beats resulted in Garage and Grime with artists like Dizzee Rascal [15] and Kanye West [16] collaborating with established dance producers such as Calvin Harris and Daft Punk to great success.

The crossover between dance and rock, through the use of synthesizers, drum machines and often dance music drum patterns, has lead to bands like The Killers[17], Hadoken![18] MGMT[19] and Imogen Heap [20] having chart success.

Pop music in the 2000's has merged with dance music to such an extent that few if any pop songs reach the top 20 without a strong dance music influence.
Examples of this range from "Give me more" by Britney Spears[21] to "Get low" by Flo-Rider[22].
This shows how the once underground scene of Rave and electronic music has passed into the main stream while through the creation of sub-genres and constant growth and evolution retains credibility as an art form.

Introduction to Controllerism

Controllerism is the art of sound manipulation using hardware and software to perform live. Controllerism is the new Turntablism. The term is used to described how a digital musician performs live by means of computer and other forms of hardware such as a midi controller or drum machine, and so on, just as a DJ would use records and and turntables and a mixer. At this moment in time, there is a divide between the two. This is what's known as the digital divide.
In this regard, one issue for a DJ is that they are the only person at the controls. But in the case of controllerism, many machines can be synced in a way that could never happen using turntables. The process of music creation can be a group orientated experience which fundamentally is what music is about in reality.
[23] [24]

To perform as a Controllerist, one must have a vast knowledge of the hardware and software. A good example of integrating software and hardware is to use a program called Ableton Live, and connect it to a Novation Compact SL with the Automap function. Ableton Live can be used to produce and also to perform in a live situation, and is arguably the most cutting edge performance software in the world at the moment. Ableton has both a production area and a live performance area which is ideal for both DJ's and live performers who want to push their musical expression to the limit using live electronics.
Live's unique Session View is a powerful musical sketch pad that allows you to try out new ideas easily and improvise freely. Each cell in the Session View grid can hold a recording, MIDI file, or any other musical sketches and ideas. These ideas can be recorded on the fly, e.g.real time, or dragged in from the Browser and played in any order, and at any time you wish.

Looking to the Future.

Human Computer interaction (HCI) and the different ways of achieving it are the challenges that dictate the future of computer music. While there are perpetual developments in this field, it is clear that the demands made on any system by live performers is above and beyond that of any other conventional users. This, in part, is down to the fact that music performance combines precision with freedom in a real-time situation.

The ReacTable.

File:Reactable.jpg.jpg ba4530bdbd.jpg

The Reactable [25] is based on a round table and therefore has no head position or leading voice. In the ReacTable several musicians can share the control of the instrument by caressing, rotating and moving physical artifacts on the luminous surface, constructing different audio topologies in a kind of tangible modular synthesizer or graspable flow-controlled programming language.
Each ReacTable object represents a modular synthesizer component with a dedicated function for the generation, modification or control of sound. A simple set of rules automatically connects and disconnects these objects, according to their type and affinity and proximity with the other neighbors.
A graphic synthesizer in charge of the visual feedback permanently represents the resulting sonic topologies on the same table surface. Auras around the physical objects bring information about their behavior, their parameters values and configuration states, while the lines that draw the connections between the objects, convey the real waveforms of the sound flow being produced or modified at each node.
For tracking pucks and fingers, the ReacTable uses an IR camera situated beneath the translucent table, avoiding therefore any type of occlusion.
Since its first presentation at the Audio Engineering Society Conference in Barcelona on May 2005, the ReacTable has undergone a very active life outside of the laboratory. It has been exhibited in several festivals, conferences or shows, such as the International Computer Music Conference, Barcelona. Ars Electronica, Linz. The Musical Expression Conference, Paris and many many more around the world.

The Octamasher.

File:SP Octamasher wiki.jpg

The Octamasher [26] is created by integrating Ableton Live with custom Reaktor patches and "Frankensteined" MIDI controllers to create a real-time instrument. This is seen as the next step in Controllerism.
The system is based around an eight sided table, hence "octa", each with it's own midi controller and monitor. These controllers are connected to a central processor in the center of the table which keeps all the input synchronized and then out-puts it to the speakers. Each controller around the table is responsible for a different function, for example one controls bass, another drums and so on.
The concept is to bring the communal element of creating music to the world of dance music.

The Jaiva Tercermundo

[27]. For me this is the most creative and artistically free use of computers in music performance due to its layout and construction. It was made by a Chilean group called Materia Prima.
The system consists of a number of touch trigger pads assigned to a variety of samples and loops through MIDI connections. By drumming on the pads, the player mixes the array of sounds together in real time. One of the defining differences between this and the Octamasher, besides the use of touch pads instead of MIDI keyboards, is the fact that while the Octamasher's central computer takes all the various inputs and lines them up to trigger in time, the Jaiva Tercermundo does not.
While this makes the instrument harder to play, it allows more input from the players themselves giving not only a more human touch but also more of a live show so often missing from digital performances.

Around the world musicians are looking for new ways to communicate with computers. Some other interesting methods include using computer console remotes, such as the Nintendo Wii [28] and Guitar Hero controllers[29].


One thing is certain: from the birth of computer music, every stage of development has seemed revolutionary until rendered obsolete. One day the same will be true of today's technology, as has already happened with yesterday's. That said, better technology does not guarantee better music, and often seems to the outsider to yield just the opposite. But these arguments cannot stop the vision of believers. While the validity of the electronic medium may always be questioned, the advantages are becoming clearer every day.


Eric Stephen Kuehnl
Brief History of Computer Music

The ReacTable:
Exploring the Synergy between Live Music Performance and Tabletop Tangible Interfaces
By Music Technology Group, Pompeu Fabra University

Electronic music
From Wikipedia,

From Wikipedia

Modulations : a History of Electronic Music.
By Peter Shapiro


We picked this topic as it is an area that both of us are interested and have a small amount of experience.It is also an area which is ever changing and as a result you are always going to find something new and inspiring.

I have a number of books on this topic so we stared with them, then moved on to researching Wikipedia for related topics such as Max Mathews and the rave scene. You tube was also a useful resource for finding the new ways by which people are using computers and it was in this way that I found out about things such as the ReacTable. Finally I looked at Google scholar and zSounds for additional information.

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