it doesn’t sound like a hurdy-gurdy, either

As the sidebar currently says, my current musical project is an album called Materials.  It’s the kind of music that I have been making — the dark side of ambient, spooky, unsettling, etc. — but it’s also a study of Mutable Instruments Rings.  Rings, a physical modeling resonator, is one of the most popular Eurorack modules (#4 if you can trust ModularGrid) and with good reason.

The easiest way to use Rings is to just send it a pitch and optionally a trigger signal, and it produces a lovely plucked string or struck bar or membrane — sounding like metal, glass, wood, etc.  Guitars, xylophones, some types of drums and so on are in easy reach.  But its ease of use, popularity and beauty have made it something of a cliche, and there’s a backlash against its easily recognizable sounds.

Like any good backlash, there’s a counter-backlash.  The module’s designer and some musicians such as Billy Gomberg  point out you can think of it more as a sort of filter/reverb. Feed any audio source into Rings (including itself) and now instead of tapping those strings and plates, you’re bowing them, rubbing them, blowing air over them, vibrating them sympathetically… really it’s entire worlds of realistic and impossible materials for musical manipulation.

yes, this is my all time favorite XKCD.

Rings was the module that got me into Eurorack in the first place, and I was doing this “fancy” stuff on my first day with it.  To me it’s what makes Rings so good.

Early in October I read too many “it always sounds the same” posts and snapped.  And by “snapped” I mean “decided to record an album that proves them wrong.”

The challenge has been holding back from centering other stuff that I really like — but coming up with myriad ways to use Rings that don’t “sound like Rings” has been fun and easy.  I have a whole list of things I could try that I will probably never get around to.  I even wound up trading a couple of less favored modules for a second Rings — they work really well together.

oh yeah.

Overall, I feel like the best partner for a Rings is Plaits, Mutable’s versatile “macro oscillator” that incorporates many different synthesis methods.  But when you have a whole modular synth to work with, plus field recordings, software synths, samples of acoustic instruments, and so on there is really no limit.

Yesterday’s effort used Rhythmic Robot Hurdy-Gurdy as the sound source for the first Rings, which then fed the second Rings.  Strings vibrating strings vibrating strings!   The gurdy and both resonators were mixed and run through reverb and a touch of distortion and filtering.  Here is the result.

Piercing the Gloom

Doesn’t really sound like a guitar or xylophone, does it?

blob blob concern

Maybe you’ve never wondered how I come up with song titles, but there is a thread on Ambient Online about that question, and reading it today coincided with an update from one of my favorite sources of name inspiration.

I’m sure I’ll write plenty later about my process(es) for creating music, but this is what happens after.  Or during.  Or before!

Sometimes, songs name themselves.  I’ll be finishing it up and stop to listen through, about to record, and some impression will strike me and lead to a name.  Or not, and I might just pick a temporary name so I can save the project file, and get around to a real name later.

OriginalFinal
Textura IKermadec Trench
Textura IIBathyal
Assorted CitrusHadal Pressure
TarnWhale Fall
Five BoolLoki’s Castle

Sometimes I have a theme in mind for the album, and that helps me choose a name.  Although in the case of Nereus, I already had most of the album done when the theme struck me, and I wound up renaming several songs (some of them, several times.)  I had to keep a chart for a while so I wouldn’t lose track. 

When all else fails, I consult my list.  Whenever I invent or find a turn of phrase that I think has a remote chance of working — or when my spouse suggests it — I put it on my “Song Names” note in Simplenote.  Most of the things on this list will never be used, and sometimes I cull the least interesting and least likely.  But sometimes going over the list and finding these goofy phrases will trigger a better idea.

Also contributing to this list:  the neural network antics featured on AI Weirdness.  During my period of prolific exploration in 2016-2017, I leaned on it quite heavily, giving such fantastic titles as “Zuby Glong,” “Crab Water,” and “Corcaunitiol.”  I haven’t used it so much on my album releases, but again, sometimes those random strings trigger some ideas.

Here are some great bits from today’s blog post over there:

lower blob blob blob blob blob blob blob blob blob blob blob blob dragon right , screamed . , as sneak pet ruined a whatever their sole elven found chief of their kind , at which involving died other bastard dwarven blob blob blob blob blob blob blob blob blob blob blob concern

he was a wizard, and explained that he was in a small town of stars. 

a rat in the darkness

in the blood of curious

How could one fail to be inspired by such poetry?

(I really like “Zuby Glong” though.)

Another great source of names, phrases, and inspiration is Botnik Predictive Writer.  Being both themed and somewhat human-directed, it tends to make actual coherent phrases.

With Salt On Your Arms
Of This Debris is a World Built
A Small Change of Wavelength

(I may actually use one or all of these.)

Really though, coming up with names is not the hard part.  I feel like, if you’re creative enough to do all of the other stuff then you should have no trouble with…

…nevermind.