Thursday, July 9, 2009

On Bugbrand Board Weavels, Feedback and Non Linear Sounds

I have been listening with some degree of fasination, the sounds that this little gem makes:

OK, granted, its being run through a Lexicon reverb but none the less, the sounds are complex and in many ways, far beyond the bleeps and bloops I hear from You Tube's of modulars that cost thousands of dollars. I can't get my M3 to sound like it either and it costs a few thousand.

I have a theory about why this sounds good (at least to me and many others since the retailer I want to purchase it from is out of them right now). Feeback!

It's a simple principle but the idea is that you mix a signal with the output of that same signal after it has gone though some type of system.

A researcher at IBM by the name of Bernoit Mandelbrot did this with numbers and got these:

Believe it or not, these patterns are produced by a simple mathematical form of feedback. For reasons that are not clear, this produces complex patterns not only visually but in sound as well as is evidenced by the boardweavel which also uses feedback.

The same principle applies to guitar feeback which has certainly been put to good use by many guitar players and its also the principle of an echo chamber:

Now some might believe that like Mandelbrot, all this can be done with computers. Yes and no. Mandelbrot sets can be produced by a computer but think about this:

The concept is called the butterfly effects. The idea is that a simple butterfly beating its wings can have large scale effects on the weather. There is a lot of math behind this but thats the idea.

So what does all this have to do with music and electronics. Simple. Computers run programs. Thats what they do and they do it well and believe me, and I have probably said many times on this board, I am not throwing out my digital gear and its computer processors. However, there is something to be said for a less clean analogue signal. If small particles can seed a cloud or a butterfly can cause changes in weather, then the imperfections of electronics when fed through feeback loops can produce, well, the kind of sounds that you hear coming from the board weavel. This is exactly the reason I am interesting in modulars. No exploit not so much feeback but the imperfections.

It has been said that when a sculpture sculps a piece of marble, that the form is already there is the marble and its a matter of chipping away at the marble so the the form hidden in the marble is made clear. I think of analogue circuts that way. Careful tweaking of them makes them sing, to reveal the hidden beauty of what some would see as imperfections. Think of the human voice. Perhaps not in opera but isn't it true that it is those aspects of a singers voice with its idiosyncracies that make it appealing? Does a a pure sine wave sound interesting? No! Its only when the raw dirty saw wave or other complex waveforms are shaped by filters that change in time that something interesting and musical happens. The human voice is a very complex synthesizer that all of us learn to use to make lanugage. In fact, the work of those like Trevor Wishheart have illustrated the importance of considering human speach in sound design:

The voice is complex not so much because of the vocal cords but the complex system of filters that make up the throat, mouth, tongue ect... that create the unique character of each human voice.

So what of music?

"Quality is a direct experience independent of and prior to intellectual abstractions."

Robert M. Pirsig

Often our problem is that we take something and abstract it to the point that it loses its essence. To use a worn out but useful cliche, we lose the trees for the forest. There is something to be said the the beauty of a Bach fugue or a Mozart requim in all its glory and multiplication of notes, but there is something also to be said for letting a note speak within itself. The single word. The human sigh the expresses deep longing or the cry of a baby that immediately awakens its mother.

Music has been limited because instruments have been limited. While its very possible to be expressive with them, their sonic pallet is within very well defined boudaries and the marble, if you will, has already been cut.

Analogue electronics are a vast open space for which the sojourner of sound design and music can discover new sonic vistas and in some sense, rediscover the self. As we listen we being to hear ourselves.

"The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there. "

Robert M. Pirsig.

"Be still. Listen to the stones of the wall.Be silent, they try to speak your name. Listen to the living walls. Who are you? Who are you? Whose silence are you?" Thomas Merton

Music has a power beyond words at times because it opens up silence and allows that quality that is already these to speak.

OK, I know that I am way of the path here but perhaps not. Perhaps the reason I like modulars is not so much because they are more like marble ready to reveal its form.

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