Sequencers are a modular staple. There are a wide range of devices which all have their own paradigms but also share common elements.
I’d like to hear what strategies people use when programming their sequencers. It’s easy, and probably common, to choose notes randomly until something sounds good and clock from standard steady clock. This is starting point for most of us and also the jumping off point to more complex sequences.
My questions would be:
What are your systems for note choice and musical theories for sequences
How do you add interest to a sequences moving beyond a steady clock repeating a note sequence.
Developing larger musical structure with sequences and sequencers
Will add more soon, but some of my favorites (Mostly ripped from Mort Subotnick/Buchla paradigms) are using multiple sequencers of different length, then summing them to create evolving/shifting patterns, or, using one short sequencer, then using a gate signal off the last pulse to trigger a random, then summing the random and the output of the sequencer, giving you the same phrase repeated at different ‘offsets’.
As a bonus, the random can also be scaled and sent to the speed of the sequencer as well, giving you different offsets and related tempos of a familiar phrase!
I’d be very interested to hear anyones approach to interesting and musical rhythms, (beyond a euclidean fill )
Melodically, I get a lot of enjoyment out of sculpting melodies from clocked envelopes, in my case the Pingable Envelope Generator. Sample & Holding the envelopes to a rhythm gives me the notes, then playing with the wave shape & function, offsetting the two envelopes allows me to define the movement of the melody in an intuitive way.
Good topic. I used to do sequencing only over external Midi sequencers until I recently moved it completely into the rack with a A-155 and expander plus quantizer. I don’t do rhythmic music, but sometimes I drift into repetitive waves of sound. I am still exploring the possibilities but so far I love it.
I am also curious about peoples opinions on deeply programmable sequencers vs “knobby” sequencers.
One of my favourite techniques, althought vesy basic, is to use programmed gates/rhytms with randomized pitch information. Also, sending the same pitch information to separate voices but having them play in different rhytms works very well. Also I like a kind of combination of those two techniques, where I have two voices, let’s say bass and lead, and the bass is driven by sequencer for both pitch and gates, and the gates go to random module too, Marbles in this case, and it drives the lead so every time the bass is triggered the lead has a chance of changing pitch. So you get somewhat related melody lines with added randomness and unpredictability too.
the patch that sold me on modular was similar to this—stages sequencing the rate and bias of marbles, which in turn sequenced notes via x1 and modulation via x3 on rings.
general tactics of mine include programming classical-esque transformations into the workings—palindromic playback, shift of tonal center, and inverting the intervals for contrary motion are all favorites.
What I’ve been working on of late is fairly convoluted and very idiosyncratic, I think, but here’s the gist of the work flow:
I sketch the skeleton of my sequences in the ORCΛ software sequencer (which mostly involves playing around with Euler rhythms until something clicks).
I pipe it all through loopMIDI into Bitwig, in which I could revise the resulting piano roll (I don’t, though), add additional modulation, record ORCΛ’s note, CC data, or what have you for posterity and ease of replay for the next step, and I route that same data out of the box by either passing the MIDI channels right through to an interface or converting them to CV, V/Oct, etc. for output through the ES-8.
I run my CV out of the box to the NerdSEQ tracker/sequencer alongside the MIDI which goes in through an expansion module, and, as a sort of template in the NerdSEQ’s own sequence, I have a limited series of distinct empty patterns into which I record Bitwig’s output across all (or certain) of the NerdSEQ’s six available channels (with the optional addition of two duophonic sampler channels whose sequencing can also be sourced in a similar manner).
Most, if not all additional work done on the sequencing would take place in the NerdSEQ, itself, by either revising or re-ordering patterns to be cued either as a completely sequenced composition or organized into islands (a tracker-specific technique, I suppose) for live performance.
This all probably sounds pretty complicated, but most of the complicated parts are handled in the DAW, to which all clocks are synced (ORCΛ’s and the NerdSEQ’s), and most MIDI or CV routing can be handled in a template, and even tuning for modular voices can be well-automated. This gives me most of the flexibility of software sequencing in the early stages with the results of which condensed down for dynamic reproduction in a hardware package.
If I don’t happen to want to use ORCΛ for a particular track, I could use VCV Rack for sequence sketching, or I could just use Bitwig’s own plugins. They can all be captured and manipulated in tracker form just as readily. And given that the NerdSEQ is modular, there’s no reason additional hardware sequencers can’t work in tandem for a bit more of a tactile stage in the workflow (not to mention that, apart from mere synchronization, those outputs could also be piped in and recorded, either directly into the NerdSEQ, or at an earlier stage through the ES-8).
just a few comments… I’m in the process of developing (and documenting) a somewhat different set of strategies. very hard to summarize in a short post, but I can at least indicate some general ideas. The
motivation is more or less related to this:
that is, these are strategies to turn a ‘knobby’ sequencer into a deeply programmable one.
why bother? why do this at all, well there is sometimes something very magical about changing the structural elements of a sequence by turning knobs that can also be mapped to other sound parameter, good for coupling points of tension (the change in sound parameter) with release (the sudden structural change).
turning knobs turns into a form of live coding, in a way.
First though – what I consider a ‘sequencer’ to be… has scarcely ‘been’ at this point. it should have at minimum:
programmable stage select
reset (to the last programmed stage)
stage output gate (although this is probably the most ‘optional’)
it seems only the newer Serge sequencer/programmer ticks all these boxes. other sequencers are in various stages of incompletion and and thus one has to find workarounds or just live within what it can do. nothing I have is complete, unfortunately…
Second, i’ve found it useful to set up and practice three ‘building blocks’: I always have to patch these from other modules… would be nice at some point to have a “triple sequencer interface” module which just implements them directly.
Clock pulse selection. when the row voltage crosses a threshold, the clock passes through; below this threshold it is suppressed. think of a comparator + AND gate combination.
Memory element: three regions: low-middle-high. Low sets the output to zero, high to 5V, middle retains the previous voltage. Can be patched with a comparator in positive feedback.
Clock division ,different row voltages select different division amounts, usually /1, /2, /3…
Some basic applications are as follows, these all use one sequencer:
basic ‘zones’. each time a stage is selected anywhere in these zones, the sequence will repeat within this zone. to implement this patch the ‘clock pulse selection’ to the reset.
up/down zones. Using the memory element to control the same sequencer’s up/down, the sequence will bounce between the nearest “low” and “high” stages. The stage select chooses the zone. Zones can open or close by changing one of the boundary knobs (this is why the ‘memory’ part is important)
different note lengths. Clocking the sequencer itself from the programmable clock division, one can achieve different (but rhythmically related) note lengths.
Anyway, some comments:
Both awesome suggestions… these do depend on exact linear VCO tracking if they are to be used for pitches, namely adding sequencer voltages (Subotnick), or controlling a second oscillator with a S/H version of the pitch control for the first.
Actually the second can be done by tuning two sequencer rows so that the pitches of the first and second oscillators coincide, then instead of multing. unfortunately there’s no easy solution for the first.
this indeed seems to be the big “unsaid” of (western) music theory… in other words specific ‘rules’ of harmony and counterpoint already presuppose that this is happening and merely describe one way of getting everything to cohere. which is not to say that more general concepts of harmony and counterpoint aren’t useful, in fact they’re often what come forth anew and in their own way in every specific piece.
the big delusion of theory is ‘representation’, that harmony and counterpoint correspond to what is actually ‘there’ – rather, they are a complementary schema or scaffolding which free the music for its own basic generative strategies of replication, reversal, transposition, inversion while still enabling it somehow to make sense. [one can add others which have not yet been widely considered, such as time dilation]. [Likewise, and not only by analogy, the score describes precisely what is not in the performance.]
what annoys me in terms of the Western classical tradition is not this organic unity of generative schema, harmony, and counterpoint, rather the suppression of polyrhythmicity and polytonality [which I take as strongly rooted in the generative schema themselves.]
I’ve been trying (and failing) to compose new pieces in the style of Terry Riley’s In C (which I feel is richly polyrhythmic and polytonal, when performed with a sufficiently large ensemble) and I don’t feel I’m struggling against Western common practice so much as my own limitations with regard to composing harmony and rhythm that can potentially be “smeared” across several measures by performers. In C is remarkably consonant in spite of the great latitude the piece affords to performers. It manages to “work” with western harmony in spite of this elasticity in terms of phrasing.
And it’s damn hard to pull off in an original piece. I don’t blame western common practice. I blame my own lack of practice.
sure – with Riley and others around that time things start to open up, not only with polyrhythmicity and polytonality, but more precisely because generative schema are revealed and acknowledged as such. my argument which is not a terribly original one is that they were there all along, but articulated rather in terms of their ‘complementary’ support structures; i.e. harmony and counterpoint.
[and in the “all along” perhaps they (the generative forms) were not articulated in precisely the language of music theory, but by people such as Jakob Boehme…]
anyway, I too am completely incapable of approaching Riley’s methods, but I can at least be inspired by what this way of thinking frees up – and work out my own strategies that hopefully are in the same spirit and arrive at somewhat the same place.
For me, larger scale form is improvised. I almost always put mix levels and some timbral factors under manual performance control, and then often transposition and the gating of clocks as well, if not actual note choice.
So my sequences tend to be more on the phrase level, whether fixed, algorithmic, generative or some hybrid.
I often prefer to separate my trigger/gate sequences from pitch/modulation sequences.
For rhythmic sequencing, Teletype is my favorite tool. Asymmetrical clocks with rests in them to drive other trigger sequences, and sometimes a slow asymmetrical rhythm gets clock-multiplied in a way that causes some triggers to land off the original grid.
For pitch and modulation CV, sometimes a simple algorithm in Teletype, but more often Marbles or SQ-1. Sometimes a matrix mixer with multiple gates as input. I’m strongly considering the Stochastic Inspiration Generator, but I want to give generative sequencing in Bitwig a try first.
I’ve tried out a few sequencers, but the most rewarding one – that I don’t think would ever leave my rack – is the ER 101/102 combo. The reason is that it allows a level of precision and flexibility that immediately grabbed me, and it was taken to another level when I started to self-patch it with a single track controlling part selection and activation. That opened up a lot of possibilities that weren’t immediately available or even possible with other hardware sequencers. I can imagine pushing it further by using another track or another sequencer being controlled by the master track to control some of the group modulation parameters.
As a use case, this summer I spent an inordinate amount of time problem solving – mostly trying and abandoning incorporating outside sequencers – and programming in note-by-note Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 arranged for a guitar from start to finish in its entirety in a single snapshot. Admittedly, this is not the most exciting or inventive use of a modular synth, but in approaching this monstrous system I built over the last 5 years in this dedicated study, I felt like I finally began to understand it as an instrument. The 101/2 combo allowing for deep investment in a composed piece was really eye opening. So, if possible, my 2p is to use some of these more heavy duty long-track sequencers in a meta-mode by self-patching.
For a while i’ve been running Mimetic Digitalis into Argos Bleak. I use MD in the most idiotic way possible, but it gets the results I want: I basically just load+shred every pattern to create 16 steps of random, unknown cv, send those into the Argos Bleak for scale quantization, then use Argos as a performance controller for each of those signals.
I run a few very slow, chaotic LFOs from Triple Sloths into the Mimetic’s inputs (doesn’t really matter which ones) to modify the sequence every so often.
all this has been touched on in some way but i love the topic so i had to throw in.
my favorite aspect of modular is i think a semi serge side of thought regarding using one source for many functions. so my favorite odd sequencer is 2 or 3 channels attenuated then summed and sometimes modulated of modcan quad lfo. theres a wave 10 on a/b series quad lfo:
yeah 2 of those usually one clocked the other free as free chickens. if i’m sequencing pitch of non-1v/o “vco” (slope) then no quantizer. these gorgeous odd tempered scales come out. pleases me deeply.
fun also happens when the same approach is used but then sent out to moog source whose onboard sequencer/arpeg is SUMMED WITH INCOMING VOLTAGE
this still blows my mind in the best possible sense. my source is not easily clockable (and this concept is much easier in modular than to have a moog source laying about!) so it is free. even such a simple sequence adds a fascinating layer to my simple setup.
and clocking sub-bass via dividers of audio thrown back into odd points here or there as either modulation or audio
any boring or fantastic “sequence” fed to quantizer (or s/h) then quantizer clocked by vc divider (being modulated). so, changing but always rhythmically related and therefore patterns will shift about but a feel can be nestled depending on how cyclic the “sequence”.
thank you for starting this thread. it’s just lovely food for patch thought after a long day
I use all kinds of sequencers whether software or hardware depending on my mood, but I tend to go the generative route.
Some of the strategies I use:
Keep some sort of anchoring device so there’s a recognizable pattern to the sequence. Without that anchor it ends up feeling completely random and not enjoyable to listen to.
Lower frequencies play less often and for longer. Higher frequencies play more frequently and have shorter durations. I don’t always do this, but I’ve noticed I tend to do this more often than not.
There’s nothing wrong with using pregenerated sequences or structure for generative music. You can get nice results from having a set song structure of generated notes or randomly choosing from pregenerated note sequences or multiple nested combinations of the two.