Thursday, October 29, 2015

MAX/MSP Proposal


Electroacoustic music developed from playing through mono tapes, to stereo speakers and with simultaneous technical developments, surround systems are commonly used today. The travelling of sound in a space will provide a sense of spatial awareness. This academic paper will propose the use of surround systems using Max/MSP for Electroacoustic performances. At the end of the academic course, the writer will combine the use of Electroacoustic surround systems with live visuals to create a live performance. This live performance will push the creative boundaries of audio-visual works and fully utilize the spatial depth of an area.


The writer is an audio-visual artist, specializing in early electronic music such as Musique Concrète, Acousmatic and experimental noise music. She was also trained to create visual images to combine her videos with her composition. Subsequently she was invited to perform live visuals in several events. She is greatly interested in playing her violin using extended techniques and further processing her violin sounds. Furthermore, she would play recording samples and manipulate them during live performances together with the processed violin sounds. Trained as an architecture and interior design student at a younger age, spatial planning and visuals are still influential to her current artistic works.


The objective of this Max/MSP patch is to provide an audio input, a playback, effects and surround outputs for the live performance. This Max/MSP patch will have two sources transiting or playing at the same time, namely the acoustic violin and field recordings.

The acoustic violin will have a bridge pickup that will send its signal to the direct injection (DI), then to the Komplete Audio 6 interface. This will produce clean signal before sending the output to Max/MSP, which runs on a Macbook Pro. The audio input signal will need a gain to control the signal of the violin. Acoustic instruments need to be equalized well and can be a tedious task to do; therefore an equalizer must be placed after the gain to reduce certain frequencies. For the acoustic violin and pickup for this setting, reducing some of the highs will provide a more pleasant sound.

The violin sounds will then be sent to a switch, which allows the user to choose between the distortion and ring modulator. A bit crusher reduces the resolution or bandwidth of the digital audio data; the “dirty” and distorted sound may provide an edge to the piece. Additionally, the distorted sound will be sent into a peak amp. On the contrary, the ring-modulated violin sounds will be sent to time-based effects, such as the reverb and delay. Experimentation is needed to test out the different reverbs available; convolution, plate or spring reverbs are taken into consideration for this patch. When the violinist is playing pizzicato or short accented notes, a Ping-Pong delay will create a continuous sounds to fill in empty spaces in the piece.

Field recordings will need a playback for playing and triggering. The audio sample will be sent to the equalizer that is able to control the “frequencies”, “Q” and “gains”. To generate synth-like or electronic sound, a frequency modulator will be able to produce a different sound palette to suit the overall Acousmatic piece. Time based effects will also be included to have more diverse sounds. The hall reverb will probably create a sense of space for the processed samples. Field recordings usually will have ambient sounds unless recorded in a studio or in a completely silent space; therefore a simple delay will not cause too much chaotic and unwanted noise. It is important to create space in a piece during a performance or a piece of composition. A Ping Pong delay will produce too much ongoing noise that is not suitable for this context. In addition, a compressor can be added to the signal chain to have compressed sounds, which might blend in with the violin-distorted sounds. In case of emergency, a compressor can also help to prevent peaking. Reversing audio samples are very commonly used and can create another texture to the piece. A reverse audio playback can be added after the processed sounds.

Transition is going to be hard for a soloist triggering so many buttons and playing the instrument at the same time. A looper can help to prevent silent and helps to create an underlying track that transits to the next section. The looper will be programmed after the violin-processed and field recordings sounds. Moreover, these signals will be sent to a limiter and to the surround panning. Panning holds a great important to surround systems; the sounds need to be manipulated properly to allow the audience to hear the sound travel. For recording and documentation purposes, a recorder that is able to bounce out to digital files like wav, aiff files and analog disc will be included after the output.

Midi controllers placed a great importance to live performances, being able to control different parameters on the fly can create more texture, density and dynamics to a piece. The flowchart will indicate the control inputs needed. 

Due to the time constraint for this project, the writer will start off with experimenting with 5.1 surround speakers. If there is additional time allowance, more speakers can be added in at the later stage of development. Motion sensors, foot pedals or designing a foot controller using Arduino can be taken into consideration at a later date. The writer also has great interest in video performance. Research about Nintendo, Wii controllers and other motion sensors to trigger the live visuals can also be taken in a consideration too.

Work Schedule
Work Progress
1 to 5
(23/09/2015 – 27/10/2015)
Lectures and introduction on Max/MSP.
One to one tutorial

Submission - Proposal for Project Using Max/MSP by 11pm.

28/10/2015 – 03/11/2015
Setting up the audio input for the violin and the recording samples playback.
04/11/2015 – 10/11/2015
Setting up the gain and EQ, frequency and ring modulators for the violin and sample tracks.
11/11/2015 – 17/11/2015
Setting up the peak amp and time-processing effects.
One to one tutorial

18/11/2015 – 24/11/2015
Setting up the compressor, reverse, looper and limiter. Troubleshoot.
25/11/2015 – 01/12/2015
Work on the surround panning, mapping the midi controllers and recording.
02/12/2015 – 08/12/2015
Work on the surround panning, mapping the midi controllers and recording.
09/12/2015 – 15/12/2015
Testing out the live performance and recording.
16/12/2015 – 20/12/2015
Testing out the live performance and recording.
21/12/2015 – 03/01/2016
Testing out the live performance and recording.
04/01/2016 – 07/01/2016
Reviews and checks.

Submission – Project using Max/MSP by 4pm.
11/01/2016 – 15/01/2016
Seminar Presentation

Literature Review on Thom Holmes’ Electronic and Experimental Music

Electronic and Experimental Music Technology, Music, and Culture” by Thom Holmes introduced electronic music from 1861 to 2012. It provides in depth knowledge of the history of electronic music and how the pioneer of early electronic music influence current music practitioners. The experimentation of different musicians and composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Edgard Varèse, Luigi Russolo, Leon Theremin, Clara Rockmore, Oskar Sala no longer explore clean, pure and sweet sounds, some explore dissonant, harsh sounds. Holmes also included different electronic instruments over the years such as the Theremin, synthesizers, the Telegraphone, AEG Magnetophone, tape recorder and turntables. An electronic music genre called the “Musique Concrète” was invented through experimentation. It uses instruments like turn tables, reverberation and pre-recorded sounds.

Before early electronic music was introduced, classical musicians read musical scores, early electronic music composers collaborated with artists and came out with “Graphical Notations” for them to relate to their piece.  The invention of computer resulted electronic musicians to approach their music using digital instead of analog. Holmes also wrote about the history and foundations of computer music, computer composition and scoring, digital signal processing, synthesizers and different modulators. Classical and Jazz connection to electronic music came to the surface as more musicians start to integrate technologies into their music.

The book provides resourceful information for Acousmatic music research; the tonality, technologies, instruments availability and other composers’ references will be useful for the portfolio. However, this textbook only introduces experimental electronic music but not interactive music and visuals. Research on other books such as “Audio Culture Readings in Modern Music” by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner; “Writing Interactive Music for Video Games” by Michael Sweet will provide more information for the research paper.


Holmes, T. (1985). Electronic and experimental music (4th ed.). New York: Scribner's. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Week 3: Mind Map

More research needs to be done.

Electroacoustic Composition Research

Electroacoustic Composition Research

Using an acoustic violin and vocal, these instruments will later be electronically processed and the musicians will improvise to a graphic score.

"Graphic scores lead to a radical indeterminacy thats pushes the traditional musical score to its limit, beyond which composition gives way to free improvisation. Such scores also highlight the synaesthetic aspects of musical notation, which calls upon musicians to render visual symbols as sounds. As such, they represent a prominent aspect of contemporary art: shift to multi-media aesthetic practices." - Christoph Cox (2004)

Many composers such as Morton Feldman, John Cage, Cornelius Cardew and Anthony Braxton collaborated with painters for their music composition. Visual art then started to devise in their minds and resulted them to abandon the traditional music notation to create graphical notations.

Graphic scores provide some form of structure and restrictions for free-improvisation electroacoustic musician. Other than being attentive to the surrounding musicians and playing their musical instruments, musicians would need to be aware of the restrictions given by the score. This approach is relatively similar to jazz music. In an interview by Bani Haykal, a Singapore experimental artist, he mentioned that he respects musicians who abide by musical rules. However, if a musician became too dogmatic in an improvisational session, the musician would need to consider whether his actions would affect the piece. Interaction between musicians is important in order to blend in different sounds regardless of the existence of a musical rule.

Karlheinz Stockhausen has written fifty-two pieces of paper of graphical notations for Gesang der Jünglinge. This piece was composed on five tracks and sung by Josef Protschka. Furthermore, Stockhausen used the approximate three hours vocal recordings and reproduce it using sine tones on tape loops. Subsequently, Protschka listened to the electronic processed melodies and sang them. Stockenhausen then chose the best attempts.

Excerpt from the manuscript of Gesang der Jünglinge

Other examples of graphic notations also include Brian Eno's Ambient #1 Music for Airports, John Cage's 10 Stones, Concert for Piano and Orchestra, Fontana Mix.

Score for "Ambient #1 Music for Airports," 1978. Brian Eno.

10 Stones, 1989. John Cage. 

Concert for Piano and Orchestra, Fontana Mix, 1958. John Cage.


Cox, C., & Warner, D. (2004). Audio culture: readings in modern music (pp. 187–188). New York: Continuum.

Holmes, T. (1985). Stockhausen's Early Work. In Electronic and experimental music (4th ed., pp. 68–76). New York: Scribner's.

Chang, E. (2015, November). Stockhausen - Sounds in Space. Retrieved 2015, from

Young, D. (2010, October). Music Notation and Play. Retrieved 2015, from

Appendix I - An Interview with Bani Haykal (Dec 2013)

1. What interest you to like Experimental music, why not other music genres?

There's a scientist who once said, and I paraphrase, the good thing about being an experimentalist is that one of two things happen. You prove someone else wrong or you learn something new. The concept of experimenting excites me. It's not to say experimentation must be avant-garde or complex, experimentation, in fact, stems from a simple headspace, where the question "why not?" is more important that "why?". I do not like the concept of experimental music as a genre, in fact I hate the concept of genres, but I would say it has its advantages. But generally it pigeonholes too much and not that productive when it comes to exercising creativity. But maybe it could, I wouldn't be too sure of it.

 2. What kind of opportunities do improvisation musicians have in Singapore?

This is an interesting question because I feel that an improv musician has a lot of upper hand. Maybe not just an improv musician, but someone who experiments. Because depending on the nature of one's interest, an experimental musician could do a lot of different kinds of projects, from theatre, dance, visual arts and so on. The list is endless. that's one of many things I've learnt. Experimenting with different ideas and sound without any other function than to create is the fun bit but to find the function of your experiments is the tricky part. Having said that, if one's interest is wide, almost anything is possible.

 3. What was the most enjoyable experience you had as an improvisation musician?

Having a session with other musicians and creative practitioners. Because at the end of the day it's a language at play and we're constantly expanding our personal vocabularies when we interact and dialogue with other practitioners.

 4. How do you see a musician who abide the "game" rules and one who breaks the "game" rules?

I think that for as long as one does not become dogmatic, it's fine. I respect musicians who abide by musical rules, but in an improv session, if one becomes too dogmatic, meaning not wanting to "dialogue" with the other musician, than there's something to think about there.

 5. During your exploration and experimental processes, what were your thoughts about the sound you were going to create and extended techniques you were going to play?

This is dependent on the setting. if it's a solo experiment or improv, it's really about pushing myself to find new directions if not just having a sense of either composition or exploration when playing. so whatever that comes around, if a "technique" or whatever is required or you find yourself coming up with another approach at delivering something, then you learn something there. But if I were improvising with other musicians or artists, it's not longer just about my sound. Pat Metheny said that when he plays, 80% of the time he's listening and 20% of the time he's playing. I agree and appreciate that sentiment. Because it's very important to be listening to dynamics that, as a group, is developing. same thing when in a group setting, it's no longer about being flashy or standing out, I think it's about how we all complement each other sonically or aesthetically.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Polyphonic Synthesis Research

Polyphonic Synthesis

The Polyphonic Synthesis assignment has given restrictions to compose a piece using a synthesis, without making changes to the oscillator, modulation oscillator, noise and feedback. U-he Zebralette synthesiser has a restricted sound palette as compare to Massive, which has a wider range of sound palate. Instead of creating sounds that sound like a synthesiser, exploration of distorted sounds would give a strong impact and a drastic dynamic change. The piece was written into two different sections. The first section made up layers of noises that build up in dynamics and timbre, later then create a massive element that leads into the second section. During the transition from the first to second section, the underlaying, clean drone will fade in. The first section will then have a sudden cut, which left the underlying drone underneath.

Merzbow's Sponge Octopus has different layers of harsh noises, with sweeping filters that could be a good inspiration and reference. However, sweeping filters would not be taken into consideration for this composition. Merzbow, also known as Misami Akita, is an experimental, noise musician inspired by the dada movement and junk-art aesthetic. "Sponge Octopus", an experimental piece, was released in Merzbow's first solo album A Taste of Merzbow in May 2002. This album is mainly inspired by Japanese cuisine.

Laurie Spiegel's Sediment has clean, sustain drones. "Sediment" was first released in the fourth volume of "An Anthology of Noise and Electronic Music" in 1972. It was only until recently that this piece came to the surface because of a film named "The Hunger Games." For this piece of composition, Laurie Spiegel first drafted her ideas on a graph paper, composed her piece using an analog synthesiser and two stereo reel-to-reel decks. Laurie Spiegel is a composer and musician, who is skilled at playing lute and banjo. She is also the pioneer for the evolution of computer technology. In 1973 to 1979, she was a software engineer for Bell Labs. During the start of evolution, Spiegel mentioned:" ... we were most commonly accused of attempting to completely dehumanise the arts..." Spiegel was best-known for her music program creation, Music Mouse, which was used for the Apple Macintosh 512k computer back in 1985. In the program, there is a choice of different music scales, such as chromatic, octatonic and tempos. It also includes choices for tempos, transposition, and "polyphonic" cursor which could be controlled by using the mouse.

The video below shows Laurie Spiegel playing the Alles synthesiser.


Leone, D. (2002, February). Merzbow: A Taste of Merzbow. Retrieved October 2015, from

Merzbow. Retrieved October 2015, from

Holmes, T. (1985). The Microprocessor Revolution (1975-2011). In Electronic and Experimental Music (4th ed., pp. 302–304). New York: Scribner's.

Frevele, J. (2012). Laurie Spiegel: The Underground Music Artist Now In the Forefront, Thanks to The Hunger Games. Retrieved September 2015, from 

Fox, C. (2012). Laurie Spiegel. Retrieved October 2015, from

Spiegel, L. (2009). Laurie Spiegel plays Alles synth - temporary replacement. Retrieved September 2015, from