Extended Techniques

I was looking up ‘pizzicatto on grand piano’ and found this video instead of quite what I was searching for: a man spends four minutes passionately but simply displaying a handful of grand piano techniques I’d never seen, or even heard of, before. (Sure, one of them is just slamming the lid shut, but the act of including it in a composition is in itself still novel to me.)

There’s some feeling I got while watching this video, that I’m reminded of now while trying to figure out what to write about it, which is crystal-clear but I can’t put into words. Maybe you get the same feeling. Whatever the feeling is, it inspires me to think about “Extended Techniques” in my own work, compels me to find other people who are eager to share their own.

I learned to play piano when I was a kid, but I’m absolutely not a pianist; I can’t appreciate it at that level. All I can do is watch Brian Ciach and believe that he’s at the cusp of something, doing something new, as I hope to do, and as I hope you are hoping to do as well.

after 7 years, my new musagi: Surge VST and Instatetragrammaton’s NES patches

I used to make music in musagi until one fateful day seven years ago when I switched operating systems. Suddenly, the tool of my dreams was out of my hands. Whoops.

musagi (windows only): http://www.drpetter.se/project_musagi.html
musagi tutorial: https://www.drpetter.se/tutorial_musagi1.html

warning: it's so good and simple and usable, you may find it difficult to switch tools. it took me seven years.

I like to think I got pretty fucking good at making music in musagi. Or at least *I* really loved the last four songs I made (“No Room Signal”, the album linked at the top), and will drop everything and listen to them absolutely anytime to give me some energy, no questions asked.

But, I couldn’t use musagi anymore.

So I tried a lot of tools over the years as little side-projects. Supercollider was a favourite — fun, but not great for making music. I tried REAPER and LMMS. I dabbled with a lot of free trials. And I could never find something as friendly as I found musagi. What was it? I blamed it on the DAWs’ design for being inferior to musagi, or myself for being too familiar and unable to learn; surely I could just make a melody in any other tool.

VSTs are also hard to come by. A VST, if you’re not familiar, is… okay, I’m not defining the word here, this is just a description of the ones I’ve actually used… BASICALLY a little synth (an instrument) that you can get off the internet and install and then you can use it in a program (known as a DAW) to make music.

I used a free VST called Helm by Matt Tytel and, again, tried out a lot of other alternatives (free, as well as trials for not-free ones). On top of the cost of a DAW (a Digital Audio Workstation), some VSTs are also commercial products. Not microtransactions, but a totally separate layer of things to spend money on. I didn’t know what I wanted enough to spend money on anything — far as I was concerned, I was in love with musagi and nothing else would do.

I think I tried Helm + REAPER for a while. It was fine, but I wasn’t inspired. The result: no music I cared to finish, or listen to again, or release in any way.

Surge VST

I changed upon Surge VST, a paid VST that had gone free. An additional wrinkle is that a lot of the VSTs I wanted to use were windows-only. So, many were out of reach. But then, hey, Surge VST. Why not try another one? This is an ongoing project for me: what could possibly replace musagi?

(Note: I’m skipping the part where I got into Bitwig Studio as a DAW; Tyriq Plummer uses it for his music, I thought I’d try it out, and hey, I like its piano roll and interface. It’s not exceptionally musagi-ish, but it’ll do. I’ll continue to spare you the sordid details of my musagi heartbreak.)

And sometimes, everything just falls into place all at once. Or maybe it has to happen that way; if it doesn’t then nothing happens and there’s no story to tell?

I played around with Surge VST, and thought, hey, this is great, but I just want a Gameboy Drum Sound and I googled something to that effect. I still did not get a Gameboy Drum Sound, but I happened upon this reddit post by a user by the elaborate name of Instatetragrammaton:

I’ve constructed some patches that aim to emulate sounds typical of the NES. You can get them here.

These aren’t exhaustive and mostly serve to demonstrate some of the principles described in here.

I’m shit at reading instructions, so I didn’t read a thing in that post (I probably should come back to it though – it’s right down my alley and maybe I can make my own drums), but I downloaded the provided NES Patches for Purge VST.

Surge VST: https://surge-synthesizer.github.io/

The reddit post with the NES patches: https://www.reddit.com/r/synthrecipes/comments/fdx4vj/recipe_using_surge_for_8bit_videogame_sounds_long/

And, hey, I immediately made some music that I loved:

What’s the moral of the story? I dunno. Sometimes you lose the tools that really speak to you, that work for you, and you have to claw your way back up and out of that hole. Sometimes you just have to keep trying, occasionally, for as long as seven years (or longer, haha), at things that aren’t quite working just to get back into it.

Without the footholds made by other people I wouldn’t have been able to get back into music (and hey, maybe this blog post is premature and I’ll never make another piece again, but I’m really having a good time right now). Without musagi in the first place I probably wouldn’t have been able to get into music in the way that I did at all.

Sometimes I find it easy to forget the impact that one creation can have on one person, and then I connect with something deeply myself and I find myself appreciative of someone out there (thanks Instatetragrammaton for your thoughtful post and all those NES patches, and also everyone who contributed to Surge VST) and find the renewed hope that I can do something like this, but something else for someone else, again someday.

But man, I still love musagi (thanks, DrPetter).

P.S. The second moral of the story is, hey, it wasn't the DAW that was the problem at all! I spent seven years running in circles trying to figure out the perfect replacement for musagi when literally all I needed was some NES-like synths I could play around with, and none of those other types of sounds that weren't hitting my brain just right.

The tools that you use matter.

Nemesis

I joined the Nemesis Jam on a punkish whim, and because something about the Nemesis system had always appealed to me. Just a few weeks prior I had been having a conversation with Asymmetric Publications’ Zack Johnson about how it was odd that everyone had praised the Nemesis system’s amazing possibility space and yet nobody had really done anything more with it. Serendipitously, the patent stuff reared its head only days later.

We’d forgotten about the looming patent.

My understanding of the whole patent situation is that now that Warner Bros. has secured a patent on the Nemesis system (a phrase which never appears in the actual patent, but it’s an easy shorthand), they have a legal foothold which will allow them to (attempt to) sue developers/studios for infringing upon their patent.

From their perspective, it is a tool. From the outside, it is a minefield.

Continue reading “Nemesis”