February 2023 music update

I ostensibly started this iteration of my blog in part to talk about my own music-making projects, so now I owe you all an update on that front.

🎤 A live debut

I have a 20-minute performance slot coming up at 5:20pm EDT (21:20 UTC) on 18 March 2023 at the Bleep / Blorp Festival of Synthesis and Electronic Music. This year Bleep / Blorp will be held 18 March from 10:40am to 8:20pm EDT at UMass Lowell's Durgin Hall, 35 Wilder Street, Lowell, Massachusetts. Attendance is free. Here's their official flyer:

Official flyer for Bleep / Blorp  2023

This will be my first time attending Bleep / Blorp, as somehow I'd never heard of it despite having completed my computer science degree as a commuter student at UMass Lowell in 2020. This will also be my first time performing live, about which I'm both nervous and excited.

💽 Album progress

Somehow between the birth of our second child in late 2020 and the purchase of our first house in 2021, I managed to put together two albums, and I completed another later in 2021 shortly after we moved. It was a frenzied time, but I had taken some leave from my day job, and there were periods of time where I was minding a sleeping baby or not actively moving furniture, so during those times I managed to play with modular synthesis techniques in VCV Rack a lot. I've had considerably less time for music lately; I'm back to work at my day job and the baby is now a very active toddler. But I did manage to release another album in 2022.

For my current album project, I'm trying to train myself to work with more patience and, when the album is eventually complete, to release it at a slower pace, giving myself time to share it in advance with radio DJs and podcasters who have played my work before, and potentially other people who might be interested.

This isn't really a concept album in the way that Lost Temple was a concept album about Peoples Temple and Jonestown, but I have as the abstract core inspiration for the album the legacy of the World Trade Center Twin Towers as a utopian capitalist project, and 9/11 as a central catalyst for the collapse of pax americana. More simply, as I often put it: I watched thousands of people die on live television when I was ten years old, and all I got was this lousy post-imperial republic sliding into fascism.

I've got about half an hour of completed tracks for the album so far and an aiming for a total of about one hour. I'm assuming to finish and release the album vaguely in 2023, though if I find that this doesn't leave me enough time for the slow release I want to do, I will push that back to 2024.

🎛️ Equipment & technique

My main music workflow still happens primarily in the modular software synthesizer VCV Rack at this point. A friend of mine often shares some really interesting things musicians are doing with Bitwig, which is more like a traditional digital audio workstation (DAW) but also has a ton of modular features that allow for complex generative compositions like I often do in VCV Rack. Generative in this case means that pseudorandom signals influence or direct elements of the music such as melody, cord progression, rhythm, timbre, mixing and panning, and pretty much whatever else you can think of. It's very cool to have access to that paradigm in a digital audio workstation. I've had learning my way around a DAW on my musicianship to-do list for a while, and Bitwig in particular has been at the top of my list. But so far I haven't learned my way around Bitwig and the greatest extent to which I've used a DAW is some light post-processing controlled through Ardour. I think with the current limits on the time I have for music, it's a lot more rewarding for me to just get into a familiar workflow rather than spend half an evening trying to learn some basic patterns in a DAW without really making much sound at all, only to wait a week before I get to work on it again.

I bought a good microphone a couple months ago, but haven't used it yet. For one thing I need to put together a decent recording space for using it. Whereas the synth stuff can happen basically anywhere there's room for the equipment, recording vocals requires a relatively quiet recording space where I won't pick up noises from plumbing, heating, or appliances, but also where I'm unlikely to be overheard, because I don't sing confidently when someone is trying to sleep or something in the next room. I don't really consistently have a space like that, so I'll need to improve something.

However, I did try to record some vocals before I bought the good microphone, using a USB microphone mostly intended for podcasting. I wasn't very confident in the results and ended up layering a lot of effects on the vocals when I mixed them into the music (my take on L'Internationale).

Though I'm a little stuck at the moment when it comes to DAWs and vocals, I am finding time to explore different compositional techniques, new scales, etc. I've done more pieces lately that are composed through, in the sense that I manually composed the melodic/rhythmic elements instead of incorporating generative and improvisational parts—though when I do this I usually still incorporate subtle random modulation to elements of the sound, to produce a track that sounds a little more “live” and spontaneous. I've been doing that composition largely in a piano roll interface provided by the Entrian Timeline plugin for VCV Rack. I'd say I can't wait to share the results, but as I said, waiting is something I'm working on.

Where not otherwise noted, the content of this blog is written by Dominique Cyprès and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.