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Old School Acid and The Hunger to be Cutting Edge in Techno

September 13, 2011

“Presuming that there is such a thing as ‘progress’ when it comes to music is typical of the high self-regard of those who live in the present. It is a myth. Creativity doesn’t ‘improve.’” -David Byrne

The Hunger For Newness

I’ve heard it said that the most interesting music in any style is produced when the style is still young. Electronic music loves to move very quickly and seems to be accelerating thanks to it’s online communities. Watching the Dubstep scene grow and mutate was interesting. I also followed techno’s ongoing evolution very closely from 1994 to 2000. From being a fan of these styles you end up noticing definite patterns in their life cycles and then it’s easier to spot them in forms I didn’t watch so closely, such as minimal techno and drum and bass.
There is always the hunger for the new, to be cutting edge, in electronic dance music, propelled by a lot of DJ’s/performer’s desire to be the first with fresh sounds. To be the one who breaks the new style before others is a great way to get noticed as long as the gamble pays off and others follow. To engage in this progress necessarily requires a dropping of some of what has gone before.Not that everybody operates this way. When the focus is on the value contained within the music, rather then how the music is popularly thought of, things aren’t cast aside so quickly. Of course many people swing between these two tendencies.

Folks Escape a Dying Scene That doesn’t Scare the Shit Out of Them Enough

Of course there’s other factors. When scenes become bigger they tend to become more saturated with formulaic tunes by producers that seek to satisfy popular expectations. The more popularly supported a flavour of the scene is the more rigidly these formulas seem to be adhered to and as time progresses some producers will create more to feed the scene rather than personal music for themselves. This squeezes the room for inventiveness, while still being popularly accepted, into smaller spaces and the more creative producers can either continue without popular support and move more underground or jump ship to another less restrictive scene until that in turns become crystallized.
Unless, of course, your so ridiculously talented you transcend these earthly concerns and you can’t leave a voice-mail on a phone without it going into the Beatport top ten.
You can see this today with producers opting for the post-dubstep sound as they become alienated by some of the scene’s more aggressive and formulaic (re: chainsaw wobble) direction. At the start all styles of dubstep co-existed creating a diverse and colorful scene which then fractured as people became as active in stressing what they didn’t like as much as what they did. You could also see it ten or twelve years ago in techno when it became dominated by very percussive and loop driven material and a lot of people dropped tempo down to house speeds, included more clicks and cuts style elements and this in turn seemed to mutate into minimal techno which over time developed it’s own formulas causing some to reach back to the techno sounds of the mid nineties.
Something similar happened in the electro scene in the start of the last decade when, just as the scene was becoming more and more popular a lot of music appeared under that name that kept the upfront synths and melodic sensibilities yet dropped the very beats the genre was founded on.This drove the scenes hard working originators back to the underground where the original sound of the name is kept alive.

These Headings Bare Little Relevance to The Text, But Break Things Up Nicely

This onward movement leaves behind a lot of good music that could of become unpopular because it was released at the wrong moment, perhaps when the support for the scene was vanishing or maybe it got overlooked in the rush of bad sound-alike tracks. There are also quality tracks that were anthems of their time only to become played out from over exposure yet few know about them today. Some great tracks establish formulas that are copied again and again with diminishing returns.
There are many reason quality music gets left behind but these days with sites like Discogs it’s easier than ever to dip into the past and follow the trail of breadcrumbs until you discover the song that blew you mind from a nameless cassette tape thats nearly twenty years old. That’ pretty much what I’ve been doing with hardcore acid music from the 1992 to 1995 period and It’s been a rewarding journey so far. I’ve come across others who share my love of the sound which was very hard to learn anything about back in the day.
Hardcore acid itself fell prey to the shifting goalposts of what the hardcore scene required. The initial sense of shock the unthinkable sonic shapes acid weaved wore off after a time to be replaced by faster, harder almost gabba style music in some circles and the, almost as fast, pulsing and shuffling tough psychedelia of Hardtek. Around 1994 the free party scene was becoming more and more known as the Teknival scene and initially I was alienated. I still had some conservative requirements of music and could rarely get any satisfaction dancing to anything so fast unless, like drum and bass, it had a half time feel embedded within it. Of course if you write off styles of music with sweeping statements you end up missing the good stuff like this http://nl.electrobel.org/muzik.ebel/detail/113 and most of my mates loved the stuff.

Dave The Drummer is Sound! But Most the Tunes Aren’t My Cup Of Tea

In the main what I was wanted was nowhere to be found back in 1995 you couldn’t find any of this music in the record shops. At most around a thousand copies of most of these tracks were released and when they were gone they were gone. If there was a facility for buying second hand records back then I didn’t know about it. Besides you need some idea of what your looking for and I didn’t have tracklists from tapes or any real clues. I was buying up any vinyl with the word Acid on it but this rarely got me what I wanted as the styles of Acid are many and Acid house, whilst very cool, wasn’t the sound I was after. I was after Old School Acid techno and, unfortunately, the London Acid sound, while undeniably influenced by the same music as I loved, was not what I was after. I won’t go into why the London acid sound didn’t move me the same way just yet except to say there was of good tracks and then there was tracks that just copied those good tracks.
So now with the worlds information at my fingertips, thanks our at the Google corporation and they mighty Discogs, I’ve got a bit of a hold of the sound that started my obsession with dance music that was to shape my life in a very real way, and if your interested, I’m going to post about it here. I also hope to share my thoughts on why it’s still powerful and relevant and check in on some of the producers that made it and see what they’re up to now, if I can.
I’ll leave you with an example of the style I’m talking about.
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Trying a Different Approach to a DJing Gig. Part 3 (With Recording)

August 13, 2011

For part 1 visit HERE

With this post I’ll be looking at how the night came together in terms of collaborating with other artists on the night, how the night was received and how the whole thing was recorded and documented. The recording of the night is in a Souncloud player at the bottom with the option to download at high quality.

Visuals

One of the major features of the night was to be the live visual projection by Conrado De Velasco. Conrado has a very accomplished CV taking in everything from art direction to furniture design and has exhibited work all around the globe. How he ended up in Waterford is a bit of a mystery, but a stroke of luck as he is currently very much interested in producing visual accompaniments for musicians of various styles which he does under the name Bangenuf .

Collaborating with artists of different backgrounds  has a number of advantages from my own point of view. The main one being it helps people look at my work in a different light. Conrado and I discussed this, after some early gigs we did, that people familiar with his work were more receptive to his  video and projections with musical backing and, similarly, people paid more attention to my music when it had a video to go with it. This could be down to a synergy between two peoples work but I think it’s just a more attractive package that’s more value for a persons attention. However I was at a great band in Kilkenny last night called Beautiful Unit who had a dancer/ performer/ somebody mucking about onstage who I thought provided a nice focal point for the instrumental nature of the music. Not everyone agreed. Paul Watts, a Dublin based promoter and DJ said he preferred music that was the same with your eyes closed as your eyes open. You can’t please everyone I suppose.

On the night the visuals definitely added to the mood and helped the crowd get on board with what was going down. It moved the attention away from what I was physically doing while keeping the focus on the music but adding a visual component to it. Also the placement of the screen halfway down the hall helped section off the area that the crowd had to be kept out of for the multiple sound system set up to work. The way the timing delays stacked up between the two rigs meant that if you stood behind behind system B everything slipped out of sync, so the crowd had to be kept in front of system B for the whole two rig experiment to work. Poor Conrado was sitting in the worst possible place for sound quality so he could do his rear projection, but hey! the guys a pro.

I should mention again and thank  Marie Lynch, a local artist who Anna organised to come along on the night to produce a painting which was raffled off along with a few bottles of wine at the end. Live paintings? Raffles? Not your average gig and it all helped in creating something  a step aside from the regular.

A Short (Slightly Biased) Review Of  the Night

In short the night was a great success. Everyone seemed to appreciate the effort everyone put into all the different elements. Mulled wine was drank, the hall and visuals were a talking point and we all danced well past what we originally thought to be chucking out time as the owner of the venue was there and he let Muc from Untz jam it out after my set until nearly 2 a.m. As for the multi rig sound system set up, what did people think? In truth only some people ‘got’ the interplay  between the two systems. However everybody commented that the sound on the night was fantastic, which I was very happy about as a four piece rock act had played through a PA in the hall a few weeks previous and the sound was said to be difficult. The two rigs, the way they were placed and timed, used the shape of the hall to support the sound rather than fighting against it. Anyone who had to move behind system B got the confusing impression two different dj’s were playing at the same time so I could explain to them what was happening (I would of liked to explain to everyone but I restrained myself). As I’ve mentioned in a previous post it’s too much to expect of people to notice the details of what your doing, their focus is elsewhere. It’s enough that people enjoy themselves and they certainly seemed to do that so I was very happy.

Documenting the Night

The next in a series of lucky breaks I had was the availability of another artist friend of mine to record a video of the night.  If your interested in film and video follow this link for more of Neil ‘Drikki’ O’Driscoll’s work. They guy is amazingly talented and he took footage on the night and turned it into this clip which captures the feel really well.

With something on the lines of this blog in mind I recorded my set of the night. I used a separate laptop with another RME souncard into which I ran a direct line input of the feed to sound system B (the near sound system). For recording sound system A it was vital I also capture some of the room sound which was the whole point of system A. For this I use two capacitor microphones which were suspended at head height  from the wire holding up the projection screen. In post production I had to sort out phase differences between these three (one stereo and two mono microphone) sources. I also edited out the one serious mistake I made after a bit of a ‘will I? won’t I?’ back and forth. I felt the mistake made a nice recording suffer unnecessarily. I retrospect I should of used more microphones and at least one stereo mic. The mic’s picked up a lot of crowd noise which I really like especially the ‘whoop’ at the sound of the flute when Sunshine V.I.P kicks in. I hope you enjoy it.

Tracklist:

Harmonia -Sometimes in Autumn (Shackleton remix)
Autechre – Carni
Curve – Falling Tree (Aphex Twin remix)
Dussky – Izumi Dub
Zomby – Liquid Dancehall
Mum – I am Ten
Meat Beat Manifesto – Mind Stream (Aphex Twin remix)
Dopplereffect – Speak and Spell
The Peverelist – Infinity is Now
2562 – Enforcers
Damon Wild – Avion
Prince Buster – A Heavy Dub
Clarke – For Wolves Crew
Bok Bok – Ripe Banana
Nomo – All The Stars
Skream – 2D
Zomby – Strange Fruit
Surgeon – Who’s Bad Hands Are These (Autechre Remix)
Autechre – See On See
Acid Pauli -Symbiotic
Monolake – Mass Transit System
Holy Fuck – Korock
Daft Punk – Alive
Loefah – Truely Dread
The Bug – Skeng (Autechre remix)
Surgeon – Don’t Give Way To Fear
Kryptic Minds – Dub Generation
Shackleton – Private Places (Mordant Music Version)
(56:50)Beaumount Hannant – Psi Oynx (Psix Million Dollar Myx Oscar Goldmans Bonus)
King Tubby – In Fine Style
Monolake – Atlas
Moderat – Seamonkey
Moderat – Seamonkey (Untold Remix)
Boxcutter – Sunshine V.I.P.
Appleblim – By the Riverside (Komonasmuk remix)
Autechre – d-sho qub

Live sets: Planning, Performance and Perception

August 4, 2011

Being a laptop performer playing live puts you in a unique situation compared to other musicians who bring what they do in front of an audience. Normally you operate a modern (I won’t call it virtual just makes me think of Lawnmower Man) studio environment that can be feasibly transported to a stage but then what? Do you do what you always do? With all the repetition that generally involves while you craft and carve the track until it fleshes out your imagination? Some can do this well. I think I could manage something like this with a sympathetic crowd but what if you have a crowd who are more demanding than understanding of what you do? What if you’re following a DJ who can draw upon the creativity and styles of dozens of producers? What if you follow a five piece rock band who lash out their set with a combination of craft, artistry and adrenaline?

There’s as many answers to this question as there are performers. I’ve seen and heard raw electronics programmed from blank machines, and reigned in live, to the appreciation of heaving crowds. I’ve seen very talented musicians pretend to play live when they’re actually using Windows Media Player, hidden by their laptop screens, because they’ve had to flog their performance machine to pay the gas bill (Not judging and i’ll never say who btw.) and the crowd still loved it. I’ve seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion (sorry!) (nerd – ED) I’ve tried at least a dozen approaches from the MPC driven hardware set up to the borderline auto-pilot set over anxiously designed on Live and I have no final answers just observations.

Total Risk Vs Safety Net 

Of course what you actually have to do on the night is completely up to you. You may over prepare because you’re afraid of choking in front of a crowd. I’ve had periods, when I first used laptops, when this was probably the case. However risk creates adrenaline and chance breeds as many beautiful mutants as it does clangorous mistakes. Also it’s sometimes good for the crowd to hear your mistakes. If they’re following the show and they begin to realise you’re taking risks they will rise with you to your successes.

Great but what if the crowd are a bit more complacent and haven’t got time for you to get your head into it? Maybe a few safe routines may not be a bad idea to have at hand while you get your head in the zone. Or even for when your head falls out of the zone for whatever reason (falling speakers, people who start talking to you etc…)

So the solution I’ve come to is a set which I can perform sections of with little effort but that allows me to improvise whenever I want. I can head off to the wilderness for some experimentation knowing I can easily find my way back if it all goes wrong. Something else I do but I don’t recommend (because I suspect it’s a bad idea) is never properly rehearse the full set. When I play a set live it’s usually the first time I’ve heard it as a whole. The main reason for this is I am too easily distracted by technical issues and exploring fresh possibilities without an audience to keep me focused on full rehearsals. But it has the advantage of keeping the gig fresh and a bit dangerous for me. And yes, sometimes, it blows up in my face.

“Just give yourself plenty to do” -Advice from Alan O’Boyle (Decal) after his Coil support slot.

Again just thoughts and bits and pieces I picked up 

1. At the moment, a lot of the crowd aren’t informed about how you do what you do but some are and these people may turn out to be important. Even at the very start I always felt there were two audiences at my live sets, (A) the main crowd/dancers and (B) the other performers/ promoters and producers. Of course you can add (C) yourself! That much is obvious. People making music they genuinely hate are very rare, I reckon, (“I only do it for myself and if others like it it’s a bonus”™) but faking a performance is unfortunately very possible. So even though it’s possible to fool most of the people by miming a set there’s a good chance somebody will realise it and this will play badly in some circles and I can’t help feeling you’d be cheating yourself too. You could go too far in the other direction and give yourself so much to do behind your gear that you end up setting yourself up to fail and all in the vain hope that somebody will think ‘wow he synthesised his high hats live!’. Probably best to put (C) before (B).

2. People at gigs like to see you work hard at the performance. If they can relate your movements to what comes out of the sound system they will buy in to you as a performer and this will help them accept the music. Think about a DJ and the crossfader. People understand it because it’s physical and it affects the sound in a way that’s immediately apparent. The same goes for mixing in a new vinyl record. There’s the tension of possible mistakes and the thrill when it goes correctly because people understand whats going on. This is why using a mouse a lot is a bad idea, people can’t relate to it.

3. In this excellent piece http://www.monolake.de/interviews/supercomputing.html, Robert Henke makes the point that beyond a certain stage, the complexity of the music will detract from the audience identifying (A) what comes out of the speaker with (B) what your doing on stage. Seeing somebody sweat over a controller producing a bassline, a synth and a drumtrack is easier to buy into then the same sweaty performer working away and twenty channels of orchestra and synth layers coming out. The crowd are less likely to buy the fact you are doing it.

At the bottom of this post there’s a screen-cast video of me performing a section of the same set I did for luminous live mention in posts 1 and 2. With this set I had the following objectives and ideas:

  • I wasn’t going to play all my own music. It would instead be a DJ/liveset hybrid composed of 6 channels of tracks and loops (some of which were third party material I purchased for the occasion. I don’t intend to use them in any productions but for me, when DJing, anything goes when it comes to source material. As long as it fits the musical objective). I simply don’t have enough of my own material to keep my live sets continually fresh. Plus I want different things when I produce than when i play in front of a crowd. After ten years of compromising productions so they’d fit my live sets and compromising on the music directions I can take live due to my stock of original material I currently only play 100% original material in sets by special request. The last occasion being a small event at the 2010 DEAF festival (everyone else DJ’d, I had the wrong end of the stick and I scared the crowd away completely for the duration of my set. Score!)
  • My main attention should be on the room sound and the balance between the two sound systems so keep it as simple as possible without removing the possibility of me making it a performance.
  • I need to be able to tweak, change and re-arrange the audio to justify the fact a person is controlling the set in response to the immediate situation as opposed to me standing behind something pre-ordained just so I can get any credit at the end.
  • The effects should suit the gig. Gates worked well as they expose the room reverb by making rhythmic spaces. Filters always work well and EQ is essential. The randomised beat re-arrangers give me something to keep me on my toes by injecting the unexpected. I also used a fade effect and very fast feed-backing delay.
  • Similar effect set ups were used on the master output and the second master output (Send A) which fed the second sound system (see earlier posts.)
  • Mixing out of each track I had restricted the set in such a way their was only about two or three directions I could go next in terms of what to play next excluding the wide variety of bass, atmospheric, percussion and drum loops etc.. This was the acceptable level of freedom verses preparation I settled at. This combined with the fact each new track had as many choices and tracks were playing in groups of twos and threes with the loops meant I had a nice level of freedom. Plus I could dramatically change the interaction of these elements.
  • I also used a custom device rack built out of 2 banks of audio slices that’s evolved with my sets over the last year or so. I’m not giving away the techniques behind it yet.

Here’s the video, most of the info is in the first half in the form of video commentary boxes. Currently I use a much different set up for my acid sets involving a lot more Max patches for the APC40 (not designed by me but customised) and Touchable  on the Ipad. I hope to put up a video demonstrating this soon.

Harmonic Live Sets

July 7, 2011

Harmonic Mixing

I’m not going to go into the how-to of key mixing as it’s done well elsewhere. I mention it because I found it particularly useful putting this set together and I think now I’m fully signed up to the concept. So this is more of a discussion of HM’s merits and weaknesses plus its benefits for the live recombination of loops etc…

Harmonic mixing was always something I was dimly aware of but, to be honest, I thought it was more a concern for house music or trance DJs and it would never be a factor for the music I liked which wasn’t primarily melodic anyway. Also it seemed a bit flash and fancy to me, probably just somebody showing off their knowledge of music theory, so I was consoled by telling myself the real way to do it was with instinct.

Now I know I wasn’t completely wrong but I wasn’t completely right either. Harmonic mixes happen all the time without any theory being known. Every DJ, even with a moderate level of experience, knows when they hear a track that it would sound great mixed into some other track in their collection. Those two records might get played together time and time again because the DJ knows how well they go together. Most record bags are full of just such combinations. Now, using music theory as opposed to musical instinct is bound to rub some people up the wrong way, particularly using software to predict such combos.

The idea of cheating in music, or art as a whole, is a weird one. Who exactly is being cheated? (The film/documentary ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ tackles this theme in relation to street art in a really entertaining and thought provoking way) Of course there’s the very real possibility some n00b will download the Beatport top 50 of a particular genre, analyze them for musical key, mix them using beat matching software and take a crowd away from somebody who has paid their dues to a scene learning deep skills for years. I’m not saying I know the solution to this situation but I definitely know who I’d prefer to listen to and I’ve no doubt I’d be able to tell the difference. I think anyone who’s paying music real attention would too. It’s normal for some people to be threatened when technology can automate a certain skill set but there will always be room for multiple ways of approaching a task. Software has nothing to communicate, it’s just a tool. The user controls the message and no software will ever replace a good set of musical instincts. So that said why not try all the tools out there, see if any suit your way of working and what can be achieved using them?

Previous to software like Mixed in Key and Rapid Evolution the way to analyse what key a piece of music was in was to play a key usually on a piano sound bank along to a track and see if there was harmony. If there was sour or bum notes, try a different key on the piano until you find one that fits. When that’s done, write it on the record, maybe with the BPM that you figured out by counting it while looking at your watch. Some dj are known to do this for huge collections in diverse genres going back to the early days of disco. All that time and effort could now be sidestepped, by those interested, with software which will write the key and BPM into the file name. However it’s not all roses, the Dubspot blog has a great post on the accuracy of Mixed In Key which is the premier software key analysis tool. There are plenty of situations where rules can be broken for even better results.

For the Live Set

One issue I’ve had with sets I’ve created using combinations of loops and over several channels is if you want to improvise combinations it can get messy and busy in an unappealing and unpredictable way, unless you plan combinations beforehand. Planning improvisation is fine, I believe a lot of jazz musicians do it to some extent but they also are working a lot harder during a performance than your average electronic DJ. So, for me anyway, the planning can take the spice out of it. I’d much rather be making some weird drum machine for the set rather than that sort of rehearsing anyway.

While working with loops I’ve found the reason that some sound poor together is that they relate to tracks of different key. Nothing new there except the small personal revelation I had that this equally applies to percussive loops. Anything bar white noise and the shortest percussive click has pitched elements and these obey or break the same laws of harmony as basslines or melodic pieces. It helps to think of pitch and it’s direct relation to the frequency spectrum. If you’re layering three snare samples in a production you pay close attention to pitch because you want it to sound like one new snare and not three snares playing at once and this is achieved by stacking the frequencies, the fundamental and the harmonics, in just the right way, harmoniously. The same principle works with percussive loops mixed with stems mixed and full tracks.When you layer harmonically compatible material the frequencies stack up and the end result of that is the sum of its parts with the stronger elements in each frequency band dominating and the weaker elements neatly tucked underneath with important sonic space left empty; as opposed to layers and layers of different frequency sounds making an sonic mess that doesn’t bond together in any meaningful way.

So having all your loops/tracks with the musical key identified can save a lot of time auditioning combos over headphones when you could be doing something else. Something I’ve only found in one source, the mixed in key forum, is this table on HM with Major and Minor thirds included.

 The danger here is that if you pay too much attention to musical key on separate elements you engineer out the possibility of any exciting dissonance. Smooth and natural can become bland and predictable in the wrong circumstances. My thoughts here are that harmonic mixing like anything else is just a tool, a possibility, that may or may not suit a situation. It may help you avoid horrible clangers and it may help you pull off impressive stunts but it is still not any sort of replacement for you making the end decision. If a person doesn’t invest a passion in music that goes beyond the technical they may as well stick on an iPod  (which will probably pull off perfect mixes in a year or two anyway).

Trying a Different Approach to a Djing Gig. Part 2

June 19, 2011

For part 1 visit HERE

Practicalities

Trying anything like this it’s a great advantage knowing a few people with sound systems. Ideally what you want is somebody who’ll get enthusiastic about the projects possibilities and jump onboard. So I was lucky enough to know people who’d fit the bill. Muc is one of the primary members of Untz, a local sound system. Untz had twin double 18″ woofers, four double 15″ woofers and 2 sets of matching mids/tops at that point, and enough amps to make two independent rigs which I needed. We decided against the double 18″ subs due to that way the room shape and floor reinforced bass, it would of lacked definition once it reached a certain level (I could have been wrong, very heavy speakers to be testing theories with, and up two flights of stairs too!). One mid/top set was much more powerful than the other, after experimenting it was decided they would go to the back (System A in the picture below) as we wanted the sound at the back not just to be distant but to become huge and ominous (best heard on the recording during Seamonkey mixed to the back with its remix to the front).

Muc pointed out something to me I hadn’t considered at this stage. The back speakers (A) sound would have to travel about 10 meters more than the front speakers (B) sound before they both hit the crowd. The back would sound slightly delayed.

Slight delays could destroy any coherent image (which was already under pressure from the room acoustics) or rhythm between the two systems but time delaying the first speaker would mean all the sound waves could stack up properly. Most sound system crossovers have delays built in, which have measurements in distance as well as time. These delays are usually for more precise distances (e.g. synching bass scoops with other front facing drivers, say half a meter or so) but it could handle the 10 meters or so. Fixing this had a note able impact on the sound which beforehand had sounded like bad beat matching with phasing and it now snapped into an instantly impressive, spacious, and tighly synced 3D effect. Of course if you walked to behind the front speakers (B) and towards the back of the room the sound got progressively worse as you walked towards the back wall, but nobody would be allowed in this area apart from any crew and Conrado as the long suffering visual artist and projectionist.

Music Selection

I tested the room by setting up monitors there and trying various different types of music and found that a lot ofthe rules I followed in production, regarding reverb, held true in this setting. Snappy percussive sounds made lovely reverb tails and anything like a pad or string sound became huge and grand. I found the lower midrange seemed to vanish on some tracks so I decided not to use any tracks that were very dependent on this area. Anything that sounded muddy was going to sound muddier. Some tracks were dropped from the pool I make my set from and some new ones were sought out. As my dj set, at the time, had a dubby element I didn’t have to make too many changes. Also the crowd wasn’t going to be all electronic music diehards so I tried to build in enough variety in my limited range to try and include something everyone might like. The set wound up being composed of electro, idm, dubstep and some techno, old and new all hovering around the 140 bpm mark. I also found as many multitrack sets (the type where artists share their projects) as I could. This enabled me to change these tracks to different tempos and to take out layers to place over other material, enhancing the amount of colour available to me while staying true to a focused direction. I also did something I always steer away from in my production and that was to include many third-party loops from packs I bought specifically for the show. I considered the pros and cons of this last step a lot as I’ve been quiet anti pre-rolled loops in the past, more about that later.

Digitally Compensating for the Acoustics (skip unless you like this sort of thing)

Whilst my speakers where set up I tried something I had only previously known in theory, a way of testing for room nodes (Room modes are the collection of resonances that exist in a room when the room is excited by an acoustic source such as a loudspeaker.) Room nodes are dependent on a rooms shape and act like an EQ, outside your control, with wild boosts and cuts in different frequencies. The typical way of testing for them is to sweep a sine tone of constant amplitude up the audible frequency spectrum through a speaker in the room and record the sound in the room with a microphone (which should have as flat as possible response). You then examine the recorded sound. Areas of higher amplitude will indicate the rooms shape boosts at the frequency present during that part of the recording and areas with lower amplitude indicate attenuation of the frequency present during that part of the recording. I found a slow sweep gave the best results. The room was far from flat in its response but none of my EQ’s had a narrow enough Q factor to compensate without also hampering neighboring frequencies. Another sound man (in all respects, good man Spud!) recommended Room EQ wizard which produces an impulse response based on the room which when phase reversed cancels any nodes. However further research showed that such treatments only work for the point in which the measurement microphone is placed and stepping away from this ‘sweet spot’ the room EQ may actually make the experience of room nodes worse. Aside from room nodes it would have been interesting to see if room EQ wizard would have allowed me to cancel the room reverb with phase inversion but seeing as my set wasn’t even close to completion, I have a day job and the gig was two weeks away I thought it best to press on. So, for the moment, I’m leaving room compensation alone and sticking with room exaggeration only.

Next post I’ll talk about the set itself from rack effect set ups, slicer devices, drum machines and synths to harmonic mixing with percussive loops and rigid control versus total freedom.

For information on harmonically mixed live sets visit HERE

 

 

Trying A Different Approach to a Djing Gig (Part 1)

June 14, 2011

I was approached by Anna McCarthy (a promoter who has being putting on various interesting events around Waterford over the last 3 years or so with Luminous Live), about djing in a new space in Waterford called the Boom Boom Room. Up an a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ alleyway in the oldest part of the city there’s an old building with ‘Central Hall’ in stone above the door. On its second floor there’s a large rectangular room about twenty five meters by eighteen that could probably accommodate two hundred people but, due to fire regulations, is currently restricted to fifty people only.

Photo Montage by Keith Currams

The Venue

The room has a high ceiling and loud reverberant acoustics. It also has, among its other large windows, a large circular stained glass window that connects into a church next door. The whole thing adds up to nice effect. The owner of the building was very supportive and although there wasn’t a single socket in the room for my first tests, by the night of the gig it was fully powered and heated

Possible problems

The acoustics of the room, while appealing, have the effect of smearing the details of anything percussive or fast moving, everything can build into a loud, grayed out, blur. Also the gig is to take place during bar opening times with my set to go from half ten onwards when a Waterford crowd typically aren’t really primed for listening to a dj perform, they would be coming into it ’cold’ so to speak  without having been out on the town for a few hours to warm up.

Good Points

Working in the gigs favor is the special feel of the room itself and that it is a relatively new venue people wouldn’t have seen before. Also visual projections would be performed on the night by Conrado De Velasco, who works with Luminous Live and is also a very accomplished artist and designer. This is a huge help in selling the night as an event and it will make up for the fact the crowd won’t have a musical performance to watch (what I do doesn’t translate as a performance to anyone except other producers if they can be arsed to watch me). I’ve worked with Conrado before (he made the ArpAnon video and Logo) and our styles seem to complement each other quiet well.

Also Anna organized a Mulled Wine stand for the night (thanks Denise) and a  local artist Marie Lynch to paint canvases over the evening that a lucky punter got to take home.  This all helps people think of the event as something different.

Room Acoustic as Effect

Instead of fighting the room acoustics I decided I would try including them as an effect. After all I find it hard not to put at least one hall reverb in my production work so why not see this as an opportunity to work with a real hall? The only problem with this is the lack of control. For example it’s a good rule of thumb with reverb not to add too much to low bass as it muddies the sounds rhythm, killing the momentum. Also reverb can make music sound distant and can mask mid range frequencies. As well as taking away the bass’ definition the drum track can sound like it’s been dragged at. (the rooms diffusion was around 3 seconds in total). On the upside nice rooms like this can make music sound huge, mysterious and majestic, so the issue is how to control this ‘effect’

Central Hall Layout

Basic Layout

So the further away a sound is the more combined it becomes with its reverb tail as both tend to reach your ears at similar times and amplitudes. The closer a sound source is you get more direct sound at higher amplitude so the reverb is less distinct. The solution them is to have two sound systems in the room, one close to the crowds position, which would need to be restricted, and another away in the corners furthest from the crowd. I would then send two separate mix buses from my set up, one to each sound system giving me the option of sending an element, like a song or loop, to a close and direct sound system or to a further away sound system that would have all the effect of the halls cavernous sound. This simple idea triggered several others such as the possibility of moving sounds around this real space 3D field or having the bass element of a song nearby while its mid range and top played from far away. I could have different effect treatments for each system, I could have one track playing in one rig while another was mixed and playing in the other and they could slowly swap places. There was a lot of possibilities so I was in no doubt this was the way to go, if it worked.

Next Post, after a test run with small speakers Muc gets on the seen and the heavy liftin begins.