Creativity in the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble

by Adam Lefaivre.

The Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, as directed by Dr. Andrew Stewart, allows music students (in Digital Audio Arts) to have their own creative input in a class and get school credit for it; this is highly beneficial to the ensemble, since most of the students involved are highly creative.  The student can contribute to the ensemble in many ways, but students demonstrate technical creativity, improvisational creativity and compositional creativity. Compositional creativity allows for students to exercise their accumulated knowledge about music theory, music history, and computer assisted composition.  Technical creativity allows students to learn more about their performance instruments (or even develop appropriate instruments, depending on the desired creative outcome) or interfacing with appropriate technology in order to accomplish a compositional goal.  Students also develop their improvisational skills, which is a creative component in music that is not always available in some institutions of classical music.

Some examples of students demonstrating technical creativity are: Tugrul Rahimoglu developing his very own Max patch that analyzes melodies and musical scores, and manipulates these melodies so that they become inverted around a central note.  Rahimoglu is still developing this software; however, the idea of such a program is very creative, and has already been utilized in a theme and variations composition that Tugrul, Matt Cameron, and Rebecca Cameron developed on the theme of Helter Skelter by the Beatles.  Another example of technical creativity is Mathew Hellawell’s creation of the silent drum, which was based on a designed instrument created by Jaime Oliver (http://www.jaimeoliver.pe/instrumentos/silent-drum).    Hellawell successfully built a replica of the instrument and incorporated it in into a group composition titled Transmission. This composition also included Adam Lefaivre, who played classical guitar, and Shauna Gregus who mapped a Yamaha WX7 wind based gestural controller to Logic Pro in order to achieve some of the atmospheric sounds for this composition.  One final example includes a recent composition created by Jordan Nickorick involving sonically manipulated feedback produced by guitar amplifiers; the feedback is created by placing microphones into tubular enclosures, allowing for resonant frequency manipulations of the tubes.  This ensemble is very encourages technical creativity to flourish, as can be seen with the amount of technical know-how.

The ensemble also allows for compositional creativity, whether it be in a traditional classical music idiom, or more in the vein of textural based electronic music.  An example of this compositional creativity was the premiere of Jordan Nickorick’s Acousmatic piece titled Transient, which was originally written and developed for a 9.1 sound system.  Transient was developed entirely from vocal recordings and clearly demonstrated Nickorick’s ability to write compositionally successful and texturally rich electronic music.   Not only is compositional creativity a possibility in the ensemble but so is improvisation.  While writing various compositions students are able to improvise with one another in order to formulate the basis for a composition.  Furthermore students are encouraged to improvise solos in various scenarios; this has been encouraged for the piece “In C” by Terry Riley which the students have been working on, and will perform this semester on April 20th in room W420 in front of a receptive audience.

The Electro-Acoustic Ensemble allows students with creative minds to present their ideas and compositions, receive constructive criticism, and perform in front of an audience.  This process is conducive to success on many levels, making the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble not only beneficial to the University of Lethbridge’s music department, but beneficial to each individual involved in the ensemble.  With the amount of creativity the ensemble demonstrates, one can only wait, in anticipation, for many successful concerts.

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Audiouroboros: A Tutorial

by Jordan Nickorick.

The intent of the instrument is to create a self-generating, dynamic and self-expressing audio creation device. It does this through the use of tubular resonance chambers attached to loudspeakers with a single microphone attached to the latter and inserted into the former. It is strongly encouraged to incorporate some form of signal processing into the chain, as well.

Materials:

Loudspeaker
Microphone (Ideally cardioid polar pattern with a top-facing diaphragm – an sm58 was used)
PVC or Cardboard tube (differing materials and lengths will give different sonic results)
XLR cable

Optional Materials:
TRS cable
DAC
A computer compatible with the DAC
A stand-alone signal processor

Setup:

nickorick_audiouroborosTo clarify, the speaker is below the tube, facing upward. This allows for easy manipulation of the microphone’s distance from the loudspeaker, and the resulting resonating length of the enclosure. A limiter in the signal chain is a very important part of the instrument, as without it the feedback volume can be quite unwieldy.

Usage Basics:

To begin with, it is important to discover the nuances of the particular setup of the instrument you are using. Adjusting the volume to a sustainable but reasonable level is the first task. To do this, insert the microphone into the tube far enough that the entire microphone capsule is inside. This should produce a sustainable feedback signal reliably when the volume is set properly – the volume required will probably be lower than anticipated, due to the focusing effect of the tubular enclosure. Once the volume level has been set, it is important to get familiar with the various resonant zones of the tube. Depending on the length and type of tubing used, there will be a number of quite distinct areas of the tube in which the microphone will produce strong resonances around a particular frequency. Most of these can be found within the top third of the tube, and near the center. These allow for some basic frequency control, and switching between them quickly can create some interesting beating effects. To enable quick and easy location of these zones, putting tape on the microphone cable at the exact place is exits the tube when a resonance is found can be very effective. Another key area to understand is the mouth of the tube; feedback can be quickly initiated or terminated by small movements near the tube’s opening. The location of the bottom of the tube (the end nearest the loudspeaker) can affect the sound produced as well. Experiment by orienting this end of the tube near different parts (or different diaphragms entirely, if your loudspeaker has more than one) of the diaphragm. Signal processing changes the feedback sound radically. Understanding what types of signal processing produce interesting effects, as well as sustainable or unsustainable ones is important. I’ve found that pitch shifting effects that change the signal by a given interval quickly terminate the sound. Distortion and high feedback delay processing can thicken the sound immensely. Bit crushing can have some interesting effects as well; however, if the sample rate or depth is reduced by too much, the signal will terminate. Tremolo does not seem to terminate the signal, even at high depth and slow rates – though when pushed to the extremes could produce termination. Experiment with different types of processing, and get to know your particular setup.

Yamaha WX7 Wind Controller: An Introduction

by Shauna Gregus.

The Yamaha WX7 is an electronic, wind-controlled instrument. It can also be referred to as a wind synth. Wind controllers are most commonly played and fingered like an acoustic woodwind instrument. These controllers do not create sound on their own. They are hooked up to some kind of sound generating device. Any program that reads MIDI data will respond to a wind controller, such as Ableton Live, Max or Logic. Through these programs you can choose to make a wind controller sound like anything you’d like. You can play it as a real wind instrument or play sound effects and synthesized sounds instead. With these options, a musician can explore musical realms that are unavailable with a standard acoustic instrument.

Controls

Regardless of a musician’s skill level, the Yamaha WX7 provides simplicity that anyone can grasp. This wind controller can be configured to be fingered like a number of different acoustic instruments. You can also adjust the height of the playing keys and the octave and/or key the instrument will play in, so customization is easy. It also gives you the option to control, breath gain, breath zero, lip gain, breath curve, switchable after-touch and master volume control.

Playing the instrument

Once the WX7 is hooked up to a MIDI sequencer, it can be played in any way. Most programs, like Logic, have a wide range of different sounds that can be controlled via the WX7. As previously stated, you can choose to play the wind controller as if it were indeed an acoustic instrument, or you can choose to play synthesized sounds that may not take into account pitch at all. There are octave keys on the back, upper side of the instrument, so the range is quite similar to an acoustic model. Some sounds can be easily controlled via the breath and pressure sensors on the mouthpiece that mimic the playing of a real instrument. Some merely need the “activation” of the note being played, and their duration and amplitude vary according to the pre-recorded sounds that are activated. This gives the user endless possibilities for sound production.

Reasons to use a wind controller

There are various reasons one might choose to play a wind controller over an acoustic instrument. One reason is that the electronic instruments give a musician more control over their sounds. The quality of sound can be chosen by the click of a button, and it allows the option to provide the accompaniment of a different instrument without having to actually learn how to play it. Its versatility saves musicians years of practice. It is easier to play than a traditional wind instrument. It can be played and practiced in virtual silence as the user can merely plug in headphones and become the only one to hear the sound produced. Wind controllers are easier to learn on than an acoustic wind instrument as the playing and breathing techniques aren’t as sensitive. Because of this, children can more easily learn the skills required to play a wind instrument, and enjoy the added benefit of being able to create virtually any sound. All in all, the electronic wind controlled device allows great customization and flexibility that appeals to many musicians.

Installing and Managing Plug-ins from Other Manufacturers

by Scott Steneker.

Overview

Logic Pro can act as a host for Audio Units effects and instrument plug-ins from other manufacturers – if compatible, correctly installed, and authorized. Examples of typical third-party plug-ins include software synthesizers such as Spectrasonic’s Omnisphere as well as digital effects and digital instrument libraries such as Native Instruments’ Kontakt5, Action Strings, Retro Machines, Monark, etc. In this tutorial, you will be guided through the steps of installing, enabling, disabling, and managing third-party plug-ins within Logic Pro through the use of Logic Pro’s Audio Units Manager. As well, this tutorial will take you through a number of troubleshooting options if your plug-ins are not behaving correctly.

1. Install Plug-in
1.1 Install your third-party effect or instrument plug-in per manufacturer instructions

2. Audio Units Manager

Logic Pro uses the Apple AU Validation Tool to ensure that only plug-ins that fully comply with the Audio Units specifications are used in Logic Pro. This minimizes problems that may be caused by third-party Audio Units plug-ins.

The validation process takes place automatically when Logic Pro is first opened – or when new Audio Units plug-ins are installed or existing plug-ins are updated.

2.1 To see the results of the validation scan open the Audio Units Manager window.
2.1.1 Choose Logic Pro > Preferences > Audio Units Manager in the main menu bar
2.2 The Audio Units Manager window will have seven columns: Logic, Nodes, Name, Manufacturer, Type, Version, and Compatibility.
2.3 To see if your third-party plug-in was validated successfully look in the corresponding Compatibility column of the Audio Units Manager window. If your installed plug-in has been recognized by, and is compatible with, Logic Pro a message saying ‘successfully validated’ will appear. If the validation was unsuccessful a message will appear saying ‘not yet validated’, or ‘validation unsuccessful.’

Troubleshooting: If your plug-in was not validated it is either not fully compatible with Logic Pro or it is not the most recent version. To rectify the latter, check the manufacturer’s website for updated versions of plug-ins that fail validation. If your plug-in continues to fail validation you can manually enable the plug-in in the Audio Units Manager window- see below: ‘Manually Enabling Plug-ins.’

2.4 If an update has been installed while Logic Pro remained open simply select your plug-in in the Audio Units Manager and click the Reset & Rescan Selection button at the bottom of the Audio Units Manager Window.

Troubleshooting: Closing and re-opening Logic Pro might also be necessary to reset the validation process.

3. Manually Enabling Plug-ins

Plug-ins that fail the validation test can be manually activated.

3.1 Select the corresponding checkboxes in the Logic and Nodes column

Important: Be aware that these plug-ins can cause problems with the operation of Logic Pro. Use of plug-ins that have failed validation can negatively affect the test results of subsequently scanned plug-ins. They can also prevent Logic Pro from opening, cause it to quit unexpectedly, or even lead to data loss.

3.2 If you encounter problems with manually activated failed plug-ins click the Disable Failed Audio Units button at the bottom of the Audio Units Manager window.

4. Disabling Plug-ins

The Audio Units Manager window also allows you to disable Audio Units plug-ins that you do not want to use in Logic Pro, even if they pass the validation scan.

4.1 Deselect the corresponding checkbox in the Logic or Nodes column to disable any plug-in.

5. Miscellaneous

5.1 Audio Units plug-in settings made in the Audio Units Manager window can be stored by clicking the Done button on the bottom right of the window.
5.2 Click the Reset & Rescan Selection button to rescan a selection of plug-ins after installing plug-ins/updates, or after moving components in the Finder while Logic Pro or the Audio Units Manager is open. Plug-ins will be activated automatically if they pass the validation scan.
5.3 If you press Control-Shift while opening Logic Pro, the Audio Units Safe Mode will be activated. Only plug-ins that pass the validation test will be available. Manually activated plug-ins that failed the validation test will not be available.

How To Set Up The Midas Venice 160 Mixing Console

by Joel Louis Varjassy.

This short tutorial will walk you through how to get the Midas Venice 160 up and running for up to 16 inputs, and up to 6 different outputs. Before continuing, please familiarise yourself with the difference between Mic and Line level.

Mic Level: Low level output signal. (Microphone, DI box etc.)
Line Level: A device that either has a very strong output signal, or a device that requires a very strong signal to function correctly. (Preamps, Mixers etc.)

1. Turn the console on using the power switch located on the back. 
a. The back is where we will be plugging-in all the necessary cables to make the Midas function correctly.

2. While looking at the back you will notice channels labelled 1 to 8 on the far right. This is where you will plug-in all mono Mic or Line level input sources using an XLR input.
a. A ¼ inch jack is also provided for Line level signals that need protection against +48 phantom power.

3. Next to channels 1 to 8 are four stereo channels from 9 to 16. These channels take both XLR and ¼ inch inputs and can either be used as mono or stereo.

4. Next we will look at setting up our monitors for playback. The Midas 160 is capable of having up to 11 speakers connected, 1 stereo master pair (labelled “master left” and “master right”), 1 mono master (labelled “mono”), 4 groups (labelled group 1 to 4), 2 monitors (labelled monitor 1 to 2), and 2 matrix (labelled matrix 1-2) . All eleven of these connections use XLR connecters and are located on the far left of the console.
a. Each input channel can be routed to ANY or ALL of these monitors.
b. Each setup is going to be different for every show, there is no standard way of setting up.

5. Now that everything is connected to the back of the Midas, we can turn our focus over to the front of the console where we will route our signal, set our gain, EQ, and pan if needed. First we will look at how to route our signal to different monitors.
a. If you want to route the signal to the master bus you simply push in the switch labelled “Stereo” located just above the pan knob. “Mono” routes the signal to the mono master bus.
b. To route the signal to a group bus simply push in any of the switches labelled “1” to “4”. To make the groups stereo (1 & 2) press in the switch labelled “pan to groups” (Mono channels) OR “mono sum” (Stereo channels) located below the pan knob. Releasing the switch will make the groups mono again.
c. To route signal to the monitor bus, use the knobs labelled “mon 1” and “mon 2” located right below the EQ section.
d. To use the two matrix outputs located at the top right of the console, simply turn the desired (You have the option of adding signals from the 4 groups, mono master, and the stereo master into these monitors) knob clockwise to start adding that particular signal to the matrix monitors. To adjust the volume of the monitors use the knobs labelled “matrix”

6. Once you have everything routed to the proper location, it is time to set proper levels. To do this make sure the LED meter on the channel fader is reading “0”. If the signal is to low you can use the “Gain” knob located at the top of the channel strip to add additional gain. This applies to both mic and line level signals.

7. After all the gains are set correctly you can start pushing up faders, panning each channel as needed , and adding any EQ if required.
a. Gain staging is very important when working with live sound, or sound for that matter. This is due to the fact that all gear is designed to operate at a certain level, and by not giving the gear the level it needs you will start to deteriorate the signal. In basic terms, proper gain staging will give you the cleanest/purest sound your gear has to offer. If you are unfamiliar with this concept then please do some research before setting up.

8. After the show is completed, make sure to zero out the board, meaning turn all the knobs and faders back to their original position, for example: EQ cut-off frequencies to centre, EQ gains to 0dB, all faders down, signal routeing push-buttons de-pressed etc.

 

Compositional Techniques

by Darren Lux.

Composing music of any style can become a very torturous process without some kind of solid starting point or a specific goal in mind. Frequently a piece has been started, but when ideas run out, the work stops and the music remains unfinished. For these reasons, I shall supply readers with an arsenal of techniques for generating material in the creation of your own pieces of music, and offer suggestions for what I have personally found helpful in getting past the dreaded mistress known as writer`s block.

I would start by saying that if you have a musical idea, which has some meaning for you, run with it. Do not be afraid to take off with a single idea; play it out to its full potential. One theme can be enough to hold an entire piece together. Repetition of notes, motifs, rhythms, and mixtures of sounds can be valuable assets to your music, if done in interesting ways. Something as simple as a repeated section of music, or a recurring rhythmic idea can be very effective in pulling listeners in and bringing a composition together. Take your idea and harmonize it, change rhythms and voicing, switch instruments, add ornamental colouration, or change the register it’s played in. Always look for another way to expand upon an idea that has a lasting impact for you. Do not be deterred by what an audience would enjoy. Compose what you want to compose, without regard to what is popular, conventional, or simple. It is YOUR music. So make it your own composition, in your own unique voice. Integrity in music can be hard to come by, but never depreciates in value. If you happen to be writing top 40/pop music, then please ignore the previous three sentences. Write the simplest 3-minute pop-techno song you can manage.

If you cannot think of any ideas, look to source material. Find music you enjoy, or that has similarities in tone colour, instrumentation and style to your own work for inspiration. Often I will find a musical theme, idea or riff that catches my attention, and look for ways to improve upon it. Perhaps you find a melody that you cannot get out of your head, or a rhythm that forces your foot to tap or fingers to drum. Vary it, turn it on its head, invert it, play it backwards, change the tempo register or key, or even take the whole thing (As long as it isn’t under copyright protection). Embellish stylize and repeat. Another idea to try is to get outside of your comfort zone. If you only listen to and write structured tonal music, try looking into some electronic, post-tonal, and atonal or ambient/atmospheric pieces. I have found a great many ideas for my heavy metal songs that have come from tonal and post-tonal classical music, blues, jazz, electro-acoustic and even musicals. Write for instruments or in styles you have never tried before. I cannot even express how much I have learned in the last year, which has been my first foray into writing and playing classical music. Diverse knowledge is invaluable in music. Always be on the lookout for a new handle, a new sound.

As for writer’s block, the bane of artists the world over, there are many useful tactics to deal with this particular problem. The most useful in my opinion is to take a big step back, and stop looking at what you’ve written, and instead focus on what you are trying to achieve. Take a nice walk, or a shower; the best ideas appear in the shower. Set your piece aside for a few hours or a day, and come back to it with fresh eyes, ears, and mind. Try writing in a different way. If you always play your music on a guitar then write it down, try notating on staff paper, or writing an improvised or abstract score. Try composing on piano, or another instrument you don’t normally use. Relax and listen to some music you genuinely enjoy, and refresh your mind for the task at hand.

Take your time. If you can avoid it, do not rush. Be thoughtful of what you are trying to achieve, and how you go about crafting your music. Small details like dynamic changes, different techniques and varied instrument doublings can change a nice piece into a glorious composition. Good Luck!

IN C BY Terry Riley

by Cesar Aguilar.

In C is a semi-aleatoric musical piece composed by Terry Riley in 1964 for any number of people. However, he recommends a group of 35 in the score. For those that have never heard about this piece it consists of 53 musical phrases, each of which is repeated by each performer however many times he or she likes, though the patterns must be played in sequence. This is perhaps a very exceptional example of the founding of minimalistic compositions.

The score being used by the Electroacoustic Ensemble at the University of Lethbridge is the original score. A one-page score in length, which contains neither, specified instrumentation nor parts. The aforementioned 53 musical phrases are fairly compact and are presented without any real counterpoint of evident form.

The Electroacoustic ensemble under the direction of D. Andrew Stewart at the University of Lethbridge is working at approaching this piece in an original way utilizing lots of different instrumentation that ranges from electronics to the most conventional of acoustic instruments including voice. This fulfills the original purpose of the piece, which was to welcome performers from a vast range of practices, however this time bringing together students who are as well working on generating their own input and ideas into the work.

Watching this piece evolve has been a very exciting experience, there is still a lot of work ahead of us since there are several moments where the performers are unsure about the patterns and get a little confused. At times, it is very hard to figure out the patterns that are to be played. Nonetheless, the piece has a combination of short value notes together with some long held notes. This will ultimately led to the creation of an environment in which all these patterns combined will become very powerful. Some work is starting to occur on those moments in which crescendos, diminuendos and other dynamic elements which will be defined and used to make the piece more engaging.  There are as well many occurrences in which the different sounds of all the instruments are starting to create a very unique atmosphere. When everyone begins driving toward a peak and changes the dynamic level, the sound genuinely fills the room, each instrument seems to occupy a specific space in the room, and all the vibrations can be felt and appreciated.

Due to its aleatoric musical form and its almost free interpretation of the score, this piece has always lasted a different amount of time when performed by different ensembles through out history. However, this time the University of Lethbridge Electroacoustic Ensemble will shape the work and present it in 30 to 40 minutes length.  The performance will take place in the Black Box right beside the David Spinks Theatre at the University of Lethbridge on April 20th. This space does not have any conventional sitting area, therefore, this will be a great place to experiment with an audience that will be immerse into the interpretation of the work as much as the performers will and will be able to feel the vibrations of the instruments in a very similar manner as those performing.