Analog vs Digital & Music Interfaces @ DEAF 08
Yesterday I headed to the Digital Hub in Dublin to listen to some talks about making music and to watch a film screening, all these were happening as part of the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival.
First speaker was Gavin Burke from Galway based Future Audio Workshop who spoke about the physics of sound, how synth technology can reproduce these and his companies virtual synth product ‘Circle‘. Two years in development, Circle functions as a standalone instrument, a vst or a pro tools plugin and combines synth modeling with an interface that doesn’t try to reproduce the look of a hardware synths control panel but instead uses the full visual and control affordances the computer offers.
Next up Peter Kirn from CreateDigitalMusic examined the common metaphors that are used in music software, like the piano roll, the linear timeline and tape splicing and the possibilities for breaking out beyond these conventions. He cited current examples like the Ableton Live interface, the Tenori-on and many of the new touchscreen music apps for the iPhone like Brian Eno’s ‘Bloom’ and RJDJ. The possibilities of using Processing to make experimental music interfaces was also explored, one example shown was a circular sequencer that took inspiration from Balinese Gong circles.
We then viewed Niamh Ahern’s ‘Totally Wired‘, a documentary centering around Analog Synth store Schneiders Büro in Berlin, the musicians who buy their equipment there, the hardware manufacturers (many of which are based around Germany and are small family run businesses) and provides a great look into what motivates people to pursue Analog Synth hardware in this age of digital everything. Afterwards there was a Q+A with Niamh and Andreas Schneider. Andreas also presented an improv session on a patch cable controlled synth, and was so in the zone that afterwards he started talking to the audience in German :)
The final session was delivered by Mark Jenkins and Dave Vorhaus of White Noise and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Mark has wrote a book detailing the evolution of synth technology from analog through to virtual analog and took us on an audio journey through this development and his use of all forms of synths in his compositions.
Dave spoke of his experience recording the first ever electronic album ‘Electric Storm’ in 1968 while working at the BBC. The process was painstakingly laborious, the synth was tuned to play a note, this was recorded to tape. Then the oscillator was retuned, and the next note recorded… and so on. Interestingly he said this pioneering ‘cut and paste’ production method was inspired by the tape editing techniques of his father who was a blacklisted film director. Dave also said how he really doesn’t like keyboards because that their scale imposes limitations on how the instrument can be played, limitations he has sought to overcome with his double bass like Kaleidophon controller.
There were a couple of common themes through all these presentations. First was that all agreed (apart from one dissenting voice in the ‘Totally Wired’ documentary) that synth software along with regular computer hardware have finally reached the level of exactly modeling the sound qualities of analog hardware.
The other theme was the importance of the musician to instrument connection through the interface development, whether its through the cutting edge control and visual feedback of Circle or the visceral musician to hardware relationship that ensures the continued sales of analog gear at Schneiders Büro.
Either way the new language of electronic music control and notation is still under development and is going to keep evolving in new directions, not just due to commercial concerns but also due to the new found ease of access to software and hardware creation tools for the traditional end-user group, now able to undertake authorship of their own instruments and interfaces to create a new generation of music performance technologies.