Jake Williams. Photo credit: Amanda Barokh
For the last 10 months I have been working on a set of bespoke Max For Live devices that are controlled by Ms Pinky timecode vinyl—the idea is to use a turntable as a very versatile, tactile controller. The set uses the vinyl to control beat mashing, drum triggering, synth morphing, filtering and feedback loops, granular synthesis as well as ring modulation and vocoder FX. After a couple of embryonic gigs the system had its first proper outing on NTS Radio in June 2012 for a drone piece called London Fields, where I used it to manipulate field recordings of the city at night.
It has been developed quite a bit since then and I'm going to be using it at Bristol's Arc Festival in the UK next Saturday April 27 in two quite different contexts.
Firstly, as 1/3 of the band flies+flies on the main stage (along with cellist Martin Kingston and vocalist/guitarist Dan Griffis). The turntable is used to manipulate the beats—reversing and rearranging them—as well as triggering heavy 808 drum samples. It also manipulates synth patches and FX on the guitar and vocals.
The second performance is an AV collaboration with artist and sculptor Nick Roberts. Eargates/Eyegates is made from recordings of church services around London. It has been performed once in a disused chapel in Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington and has been adapted for the Radian Dome at Arc, a 3D immersive space. In this context the turntable controls a MAX/MSP granular synthesiser—the position information being used to move through samples of organs and choirs to play them as an instrument.
Turntable granulator in action in Abney Park Chapel
Preparation for the two gigs has been quite different as well. For flies+flies I am constantly tweaking the patches I use with the band to make them more versatile and fun to use. Before going into rehearsal I spend a day refining the patches or experimenting with new ideas. Half of them control the beats and synths inside Ableton and the others process a live feed from the vocal mic and guitar (ring mod, vocoder, granular sampling, looping etc). The point of the system is to have an uber-tactile controller that is both visually engaging and an enjoyable performance tool. The needle position and speed of the record can be mapped to various parameters and the more I work with it the more I'm realising it's actually the more relatively simple processes that work the best—both in terms of usage and the audience being able to see a relationship between what I'm doing and the sound it's producing. When I get this wrong I just look like a guy trying to ineffectually make a noise with a pink record!
Short taster of Nick Roberts' visuals for Eargates/Eyegates @ Arc
For Eargates/Eyegates the preparation has mostly been with regards to recontextualising the visuals. The first performance was in a disused gothic chapel that is literally crumbling—this provided a very organic feel to Nick's visuals that were projected directly on the wall. I slowly mixed the different field recordings together with very minimal amounts of processing and Nick live mixed videos of specially made sculptures to my soundtrack. The turntable is used as a granular processor allowing me to play recordings of church organs and choirs as an instrument—the position of the record moving the position of the granulator through the samples.
At Arc we are performing in the RFID/Radian Dome which has a massive, immersive 3D HD screen. Not only is this a totally different proposition visually but Nick can't be there on the day to mix the visuals. To deal with this he has prepared a specially adapted mix to work in the 3D space that I will perform the sound piece to, taking my cues from what I see rather than the other way round.
Arc Festival takes place in Eastcote Park Bristol, April 27, 2013, 11AM-11PM. It will showcase cutting-edge electronic music and AV work. Clark, The Black Dog, Martyn, Skudge, James Holden, and Nathan Fake are amongst the headliners.