“The Silent, Understood” by Our Quiet Fog
Recorded, mixed & mastered May 27 2022 by Jim Lemanowicz at Blissville Electro-Magnetic Laboratories of Massapequa.
©2022 Jim Lemanowicz
Process notes -
I have been using a system like this across many different technologies, free and proprietary, soft and hard, dissonant and consonant. There are many variations but like most of my sound experiments that I do on my own, if I stir in just enough ingredients, it can take on enough of a life of it’s own that I am basically collaborating with something interesting. There are many outputs from this type of system, in whole or in part - generated MIDI tracks to use on other sounds later, generated audio to use in later pieces, etc. I’m going to keep it simple for this example and also edit and release a piece of the generated audio as it was originally heard.
Start - Start with some MIDI notes - this can played by your hands or just looped MIDI or CV - short or long notes, many or few notes - I call both of these parameters “density” because that is what I like to deal with. The idea of density at any given time and how denser landscapes can mask elements out or merge elements together and how less dense landscapes can bring out details in the same basic sounds.
Random - Feed that into something that randomizes that input to another note. This usually requires something digital. Choose something that can give you control of how far away from the original it goes.
Modify - and all the while thinking of controls that could be modulated.
- velocity randomization
- arpeggiate - interesting to see how that works against short or long notes
- speed - interesting to see how that works against how many notes you chose to give it per bar
Quantize - in this step you are choosing how much to tame all this randomness, in terms of atonality. You are generally going to pick a scale or a partial scale. I find that scales with few notes are easier to see subtleties in
Pick a sound - timbre is not science, you just like it or you don’t. I typically pick sounds that have 1-2 parameters I can modulate.
Pick an envelope - plucky, slow attack, slow release - these are just three. Again, this speaks towards “density”
Pick effects - again, I pick something that may have 1-2 parameters I can modulate. Again, density.
Modulate - LFO elements that change the 2-4 parameters I chose that I liked to modulate. Instead of LFO, map things to controller knobs, sliders, buttons and do it manually as you go. I tend to do both at the same time - with at least one random LFO. Sometimes, I go full-auto and just make breakfast while it does its thing. That is what I did here.
What I did
I used Ableton Live in the horizontal “arrangement view” for this and created two tracks - one for MIDI and my sound generator and just one more (armed to record) to capture resampled audio from the MIDI track. You can get more complex and feed this any number of MIDI tracks at once, which in turn feed the MIDI sound generator track - in this way, you can also capture the generated MIDI. You can also run the system several times and each time create new audio track to capture different “takes.”
I also should be clear that while I understand many of the settings I play with, I really can’t process more than one or two at a time in my head or I just can’t do this, so I tend to forget why I do things and wonder what the heck I did later on. It’s part of the fun for me. I present this as scientifically as I can here but realize that I have not ever sat here and typed so much while I was setting up a system. I am much too impatient for this!!!
Start - I created an empty MIDI clip of five bars and set it to loop. I set my grid for quarter notes. I then drew in legato notes A3, F#3, C4, F#3, each of 5 quarter notes long. Am6 inversion.
Random - I chose to drag in one Ableton Random device with a 65% chance of generating a note above or below the original and set it in such a way that it can have 8 choices of notes (choices 2 and scale 4). I duplicated this device and deactivated the second one. I intend to feed this a random square LFO to flip this on and off.
- I added a Velocity device to allow for about a 50% chance of randomness and an s-curve (preset “Dynamic II” with random on 43 and out low up to 25).
- I picked an Arpeggiator device with settings to place after the Random devices that included “Random Once” and “Swing 16” and set it for 8th notes, retrigger off.
- Set Live’s tempo to 40 bpm.
- then inserted a Chord device to feed the Arp device more interesting sounds - a version of a “Noir” preset that takes the original note and adds three more - one 3 steps above, another 12 steps above and the last at 6 steps under.
- somewhere during all this MIDI madness, to listen to what I was doing, I chose a basic EIC2 grand piano (legacy Live Pack) sound for this.
Quantize - I then dragged in a scale device set to C Iwato (intervals in half-steps are 1 - 4 - 1 - 4 - 3)
Sound - Decided I would keep the piano for today and altered some of the settings to give it more sustain and body for starters.
Effects - Since I record under the name “Our Quiet Fog” for piano and echo generative things like this, just using Live’s Echo device in line with the instrument MIDI track today, 60% feedback, 30% reverb, slight modulation, wobble, ducking. Left delay at 1/4 note, right at 1/8At the end was a channel rack preset I created myself that includes a way to bump the volume manually as well as a limiter (because this can get crazy for some other sounds) and allow some stereo field manipulation
- MIDI I used one .25 Hz Random Max4Live LFO to flip the second Random device on and off by turning the offset all the way down to -100 and then changing the maximum control to 1% for this output. I used another output from this LFO device set to 50-100% range and pointed it at the Arpeggiator’s Rate to allow for a roughly 1/8 or slower rate. I then used another output and assigned it to the Arpeggiator’s Groove control to shift around from straight to different swung grooves.
- Sound - I chose to try to keep this to one LFO and chose to map the Release control of the piano to 100-50% (so in opposition to all the other modulation so far) and then the Color control to 10-90%.
- Effect - mapped Feedback to 45-10% and Dry/Wet to 40-60%. I had one modulator left so I went with something sure to add a little chaos back in
-LFO2! - I decided that I was going to let this go on for a while and that to add some variety, I would drag in a second modulator to do a 1Hz random modulation on LFO’s depth control.
This might sound too abrupt, so I think to step down to 20 bpm instead now and am happy that the echo feedback is smoothing out some roughness. I like this, so I went ahead, made sure my backup software is off, saved it as is and then hit record and just let it go. I set a stopwatch, tweaked the echo a little bit more (I originally had higher settings than what I wrote above, where the modulation outputs from LFO1 were set to something like Feedback 75-10% and Dry/Wet to 10-60%). At about 3 min in, I left it alone and went to go take a quick shower and listened a bit while I was drying off and dressing.
Came back at about the 13 min mark on my stopwatch, half-dressed, a decided it was transition time. I thought - slower, different key center and less notes. Make changes at 30 second intervals. First change the Arp rate to be slower, then a slight bit faster, moved to C#, brought the Arp repeats down about 20%, moved to D#, adjusted LFO2’s action on LFO1 to be a bit more consistent and more likely to be up (50-100% vs the standard 0-100%) and let it go again for another few minutes while I got dressed.
At around 24 minutes in, I decided to do some kind of finish. Will slow down the Arp rate more, increase the chance of feedback in the echo and then switch off the piano. Crossing fingers… Not too bad, I am not sure about the end, echo is repeating too and I reach for my channel rack to slowly turn down gain to zero. Stop the stopwatch and then drag out the loop in Live to its full 26+ minutes. Turn off looping, disable record arm, disable the MIDI track.
Ready to review, I find a spot near 14 min and draw in a fade during the quick part and yet close enough to the transition and just listen. About 3 minutes in from 14, I hear an obvious key change and think, OK, this is getting long so that helped. At 18 another key change and decide to give it a fade out there for the purposes of the Junto. I decide this piece will be called “The Silent, Understood” I do an export to WAV and check the file on disk. 4:36. A bit long for my Juntos, but whatever. It could have been 26 minutes!
Future ideas - use a part of the earlier fast section for another piece, extend this piece to include more at the end and then maybe see if the absolute ending of this session could also be its own piece. Things to do later! It occurs to me that I could have shut the piano off to avoid fades but I don’t mind, this album, if it ever becomes one, could incorporate the idea of fades as the concept of sorts.
I did some more experimenting with my as-yet-unused Ozone 9 plugin (I’ve been using Elements) and settled on just a classical preset with some reduced lufs-iness.
Art - captured 06 Feb 2010 with a Sony Cybershot in Massapequa, NY, USA