Quad Damage has been a visual blog for the last 5 years or so, and it’s been an elating journey, no regrets. However, it’s been going through a drought for over 6 months now, and time has come for me to try and understand why … what does it mean … and where to next?
A lot has happened in my personal life, and there’s no doubt that it is one of the reasons I have dropped my mouse and keyboard for a while, at least on the creative side. But is that all it is? Every time I’ve tried to come back to lines of code and OpenGL visualisations, I’ve been stuck into the inspiration bog, looking for a new angle, something I never did before. Inevitably, you get to cycle around the same tools, the same FX, and you suddenly realise that you keep mixing and mashing up the same old stuff all the time.
Don’t get me wrong, some people do that, all the time! Actually most “artists” have phases, in which they keep producing the same type of content, on and on, with slight variations, eventually defining a style, hopefully their own, something to put them on the radar of whatever scene they might be in. So I could definitely keep doing that, develop my own kung fu through repetition and iterations … but that’s not what drives me, deep inside myself I need a journey and a story to tell about it.
So here I am, typing silly words on the keyboard, and flushing random effects on the screen, skimming through my music library to find an inspiration. I have always been using music as a trigger, sometimes also the ideas conveyed in lyrics, and that’s what has prompted me to produce visual creations … interesting…. how about I flip this logic over? What if, instead of using music to create images and words, i switch it the other way around? Oh look … I’ve just reinvented the idea of composing songs!
To be perfectly honest, this desire of being musical has been running in my head for some time, and I have occasionally been day dreaming on GarageBand or Logic Pro, playing with loops, samples and drum kits to stimulate my musical brain. Remembering that makes me smile, it was 4 years ago:
What a great idea: Going audio! Lucky me, I know the basics of music, 10 years of piano in my teenage years have given me some intimacy with the keyboard, and my 49 keys M-Audio keyboard is quickly plugged into the iMac to throw some synth waves. I have always been fond of electronic music, and I contemplate the idea of creating my own tracks, why not?
One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that the best way to learn is to imitate the best. It turns out that I have spotted these masterclasses on the web, and I decide to start with the the one dispensed by Joel Zimmerman, aka Deadmau5!
A great move, this gets me going! Starting with a review of the tooling I need. I am coming from baby steps on Apple GarageBand and Logic Pro, however DeadMau5 is a longstanding user of Ableton Live, so I am starting my discovery and training journey.
After the first tutorials, I quickly understand what makes it unique among the other DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations): It offers a “Session view”, that you can use as a sketchpad for your composition, before you switch back to a more classic arrangement view to fine tune the instruments, sound loops and effects required for a fully crafted track. Pretty cool!
I also highly recommend this Ableton Live crash course offered for free by the Beat Academy:
From the Deadmau5 masterclass, I could also grab some useful hints about the type of extensions and plugins I should start with to create modern and new sounds. Native Instrument is one prominent provider of audio products, and in the Komplete range, i focus on 2 products:
MASSIVE / MASSIVEX
Another synth plugin frequently mentioned is SERUM, from XFER Records
When I look at all these sound waves and spectrum graphs, I feel a pinch on my heart, remembering all these exalted moments when I used music to spawn unprecedented visual creations, using those fantastic sofware named Music Visualisation, Sounspectrum Aeon, Coge VJ, Milk Syphon, Synestesia. Here are a couple of examples of what sound waves can help creating.
Today is another Sunday morning, a winter one in Australia, and I am back in front of my 27″ iMac screen to write these lines, and to let my brain be creative again, just in another context, an audio one. Ableton LIVE on screen and the M-Audio KeyStudio on the desk, looking for a sound, a melody, a beat and a groove.
My angle is EDM: Electronic Dance Music, including house, techno, trance, with possible incursions into hip hop.
I warm up in LogicPro, with a simple drum machine and a Funk bass synth with an arpeggiator: Crazy to see how quickly you can have fun! right?
As I’m exporting this loop to MP3, with a view to upload it on this page, I realise I need to refresh my audio utilities. I download the following 2 software:
Audacity for Mac: https://www.audacityteam.org/
Wavepad for Mac: https://www.nch.com.au/wavepad/index.html
Wavepad is lightweight and great for quick edits and conversions. Audacity is more sophisticated, but requires the LAME and FFMPEG extensions to properly handle Mac audio files conversion. More here: https://manual.audacityteam.org/man/installing_ffmpeg_for_mac.html
With this first MP3 produced, I can’t resist throwing it into Soundspectrum Aeon to give it a cool visualisation.
Pretty cool, I’m all warmed up now, let’s try to create a house loop in LIVE. To help me out, I loom into one of the free packages available on the Ableton website, the Instant Haus one, pulled together by French DJ AlexKid, one of the figures of early house label F-Communications:
‘Instant Haus’ is a beat generator optimized for house music. It contains a number of house patterns and comes with a Drum Rack full of kick, snare, hi-hats and percussion samples, all of which you can instantly mix-and-match. Alex also added a number of parameters that let you modify the patterns in immediately musical ways.
I drop the preset on a MIDI track and I start recording 8 bar samples …
This is a good rhythmic base, now let’s find a bass line. To do so, I summon Absynth 5, and I muck around with various arpeggiators. After a while, I manage to compose an interesting minor chord.
The next step is to add a lead tune, this time I just try a SERUM preset.
The outcome is nothing exceptional, except for the fact that it allowed me to learn the ropes. And to celebrate it, I throw it into Soundspectrum Whitecap: My first stock visual generated from personal music. Cheers.
PS: The Komplete Kontrol keyboard S88 Mk2 from Native Instrument was delivered today … and I’m stoked!