This year’s guest for Aries is Elsa Davies. This improvisation includes vinyl selected and played by Elsa with live visual treatments and semi modular synths.
An experiment with live processes
Streamed audio visual experiments with Jay and Keryl Hodges.
This year’s cycle of zodiac themed performances will include bits of this amazing series of vinyl. I originally bought the Scorpio one based on the amazing trousers on the cover, when I found it was an album of muzak style covers selected for the sign and not spoken word, it was obvious I had to try and find the whole set. It has taken nearly 2 years to get them all, Pisces proving particularly tricky to get at reasonable cost.
Discogs is the best.
Sometime in the 1980s we got our first family computer, a Commodore 64.
I think at the time it was the market leader in the UK and shipped with the game ‘Purple Turtles’ and possibly another, but the main reason for going with the C64 was the fact that a guy in my Dad’s office had one and we could get copied games from him! It was easy in those days, a simple double tape deck could copy a cassette in real time and would work most of the time, so we quickly had a huge choice of games to play. I guess it was through doing this that I first heard the sound of the data stream on the cassettes. Normally C64 cassettes were loaded using a specific cassette player with an output/input designed for it and the sound was inaudible while it played into the computer. I picked up a Datassette unit in a charity shop a little while ago, I had no memory of what I assume is an earthing cable attached to the plug, interestingly it isn’t pictured or mentioned anywhere in the manual either!
For years we were awed by the impressive graphics in “Way of the Exploding Fist”, would become immersed in the “Zork” series of text only adventure games and frustrated by long loading times and the increasing difficulty in copying games!
By the early 90s we had hundreds of cassettes, many thanks to an Action Replay/Freeze Frame cartridge device that helped copy games. The C64 not only had the now legendary SID chip for generating pioneering computer sound FX and music but had a graphics chip that could produce 16 different colours.
As games design developed with more sophisticated programming we started to see mini games appear during the loading screens, some were even judged better than the game we were waiting to play! I have a memory of a loading screen for the Thalamus Ltd game “Delta” which presented a set of instrument choices allowing us to mix different elements to creat our own loading music mix! Both that and the in-game music (a rework of Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass) were by master C64 composer Rob Hubbard.
The cassettes were still found in charity and second hand junk shops here in the UK for many years after the C64 was discontinued and superseded by 16bit systems like the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST and subsequent Sega and Nintendo games consoles.
I sometimes like to use a cassette in my experimental sound works so keep an eye out for them, but they rarely appear.
In late February/early march 2022 I bought a Make Noise Strega synthesiser and a 0-Control sequencer. Described by the makers as an ‘audio alchemical experiment’, the Strega is deliberately unusual and unpredictable. I found out after buying that Strega is the Italian word for witch and is also the name of an Italian liqueur which I managed to get in a local Italian deli! Bright yellow, sweet and herby it’s a great combination for noise making!
Here are a couple of early streams trying to work out what it does!
Another circle completed and the cycle continues.
A huge thanks to you all of my guests for the thoughtful, creative contributions to this last year’s series of improvisations.
I’ve been really pleased (and slightly surprised!) with how much people have embraced the idea and engaged with the work. The year has flown by and each month has brought different ideas and new interactions to the process, I really hope they enjoyed the experience as much as I have.
This year will see a new series of improvised works with new guests I hope.
I also plan to invite last year’s guests back for another go now they have a greater understanding of how they might contribute.
An interesting feature of the series has been the sense of guests interactions developing in response to the previous, each bringing new material and finding different ways of contributing. Most guests have immediately suggested they would like to do more so it will be fascinating to see what they might bring to a new work.
Circles, cycles, synths and symbols. Alongside the continuing monthly vinyl mixes there will be a series of live works streamed regularly and irregularly through the year. This new cycle will combine more animations, images and symbols with synths and vinyl, themed according to the zodiac sign under which they are created. Working with new technologies and regular guests Jay and Keryl (Virgo and Capricorn contributors this last cycle) brings new structures and opportunities to experiment in different ways. We have loop pedals and hardware synths, multiple cameras, vision mixers and VJ software, the opportunities are endless!
A circle in 12 parts is a way of bringing together all the different strands of my practice, a way to include all kinds of material and processes, ideas and influences.
Back in 2002, when I first started to find and collect audio objects and make experimental sound works with them, I tried a few software synths – Rebirth and Reason were the go to programs at the time and I can remember using a block sequencer in Reason to make and hear visual patterns but I struggled to get past the limited steps and regular tempos. Not only that but I was trying to develop a practice with minimal cost and the expense of the software was significant! The found objects and their physicality and unpredictable nature of interaction possible with turntables and vinyl became far more interesting and accessible.
20 years on I found myself experimenting with virtual modular synthesis having discovered the amazing free software VCV Rack. I started playing with the synth app as an alternative to playing a dreadful mobile computer game called Marvel Strike Force. Why I got so absorbed in that game I’m not sure but over 3 years it took hours, if not days, of my time, steadily increasing the need to pay for things to stay up to date. I never paid for anything. Finding VCV Rack and it replacing my Marvel habit puts in in a curious place, is it part of my art practice? is it a hobby? entertainment? maybe all three? Perhaps it doesn’t matter.. whatever it is, it feels a lot more wholesome than Marvel US military propaganda!
Almost immediately after starting using VCV Rack I was considering its visual quality and trying to establish a way to make that a more interesting experience. Initially I was recording the sessions locally and trying different visual treatments with the recordings in post. In mid October 2021 I posted this video of a processed recording of a VCV Rack session. I used some databending techniques on the original improvised synth session recording and then further corrupted the recording live while streaming to Youtube.
It was around then that I started streaming most of my experiments with VCV Rack, sharing my screen to Youtube as a way of recording the sessions without filling up my HDD. In hindsight I can see it is in part the uncertainty around what these experiments are and how they relate to my practice that led to my decision to stream them privately, a decision I regret somewhat as my work is very much about process, embracing the failures and getting away from value judgements and hierarchies..oh well. Perhaps they are more interesting in retrospect anyway (perhaps not) as we can see some sort of progression and understanding of the software develop (hopefully).
A fortnight later I posted this glitch video with a bit of improvised synth sound.
Another fortnight later I streamed this next video with a longer bit of live synth sound. The MP4/HEVC glitching process usually gives me a file that just about plays in my streaming software but this file refused. It did play in VLC player so I was able to stream it.
In the following week I started using Vmix to alter colours, add visual. With the exception of 22022022022022 I haven’t posted any more synth videos since mid November but I have been playing a lot and continued experimenting with visual material too, streaming regularly to youtube to record. There is now over 70hrs of recordings of my learning the software and developing a live process with visual material, overlays, circle drawings, animations and extra software to offer more live interactions. I’ll start looking through and posting some soon probably..