Moving to the pulse of impossible bodies

You could say that in electronic music, something is lost. It used to be that music was the result of body movement, but often it is no longer evident how sounds and structures are created, and to what extent they are even created in real time.

You could also say that electronic music frees us from having to understand. No longer is there an easy explanation for every musical sound, nor is it needed. But still: there is sound, affecting us physically and emotionally.

You could even say that our evolved instinct to hear moving bodies behind sounds makes us resonate with unknown bodies, impossible movements, unimaginable instruments.

Without putting anyone at risk, you could let yourself rub shoulders with otherness, sway in the dark to the pulse of unknown entities, and dance on a hundred quirky legs. You could learn to be at ease with the unknown, experience alien ways of being, and new ways of coexisting with the Other. Empathic listening.

Image credit: The Deep by Paul Stainthorp (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Slide Guitar

William Gibson, around nine minutes into this interview at the New York Public Library, has a wonderful image for the way he felt when he discovered the writing of William Burroughs as a child. Living in a conservative small town in the early 60’s and reading every library book he could get his hands on, he describes reading Burroughs’ utterly unique style as “like discovering the one human being on earth who can play slide guitar”.

This resonates so much with me – how it felt when I first realized that in the arts, every supposedly fixed concept and every grid – be it frets on an instrument, a pulse or a meter on the time line – has spaces between the lines and nodes that can be explored for an infinite variety of timbres and micro-subdivisions. In my case this manifested in stuttering metronomes, molten timelines and new connections between disparate elements. Hearing Gibson makes me want to put on that metaphorical bottleneck and see what other concepts could do with some shaking up.

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A Deep Dream of Music

A couple of weeks ago Google revealed its Deep Dream algorithm for image recognition and generation and subsequently released the source code. Unsurprisingly, browser-based applications have immediately been created and a lot of weird images are starting to pop up all over the place.

Many musicians have wondered what might happen if such an algorithm were applied to sound. I immediately thought of Scrambled Hackz (2006) by Swiss media artist Sven König. König programmed a software that analyzed music in real time and then replaced it by matching samples from an extensive library. Here‘s him explaining the concept in a short video. No machine learning at work there, but comparative analysis and matching of samples with fascinating results.

Deep Dreaming visual interfaces for music 

While I don’t know what a musical Deep Dream would sound like, it was a close call to at least apply the algorithm to the software interfaces that represent the processes us musicians work with. Think of it as ghosts in the machine, the promise of liquid audio finally fulfilled. Or as interfaces straight from a Jeff Noon story – “Bass Dust” comes to mind, where said dust is being collected from the wings of a rare beetle and smoked as a musical drug.

The resolution of these images is pretty low for now but some can be clicked to enlarge.

An Ableton Live set with visitors


Part of a Max patch giving birth to a white noise toad…


Logic’s piano roll, liquefied, with cymbal hits for eyes…


… and its Sculpture synth. Talk about physical modeling.


Here’s a waveform that was turned into a weird centipede…


… and the same track displayed as a spectrogram, the 2D view somehow collapsing into a 3D landscape. This is not Aphex Twin’s hidden images, it’s a glimpse into a sonic netherworld where hellish wolves lurk in the fire.


Finally, in these pictures the furry and tentacled visitors emerge into the physical world, all across my current pulp.noir setup…


… and turning Blast Unicorn into a scramble of limbs, scales, snouts and eyes.


Imagine a music transformed beyond recognition by alien forces…

… becoming an alien force itself, so strange that it shapes the very world from which it emerged. Transforming the tools, shaping them according to its needs. Patterning air in vibrations that have never before existed, transforming us musicians, listeners and humans if we allow it to – so we can grow a dozen new ears with which to hear, and a hundred quirky legs on which to dance in ways we’ve never imagined before.

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