Friday, November 30, 2012

Music Therapy and Synthesizers

For a few years now I have tried to convince music therapists of the value that synthesizers could bring to the practice of music therapy. Natalie Mullis, a music therapist, tweeted an article written by Tanya Lewis on using various sounds to try to improve the recovery of patients in a coma.

As a musician and composer of electronic music I know the power of of synthesizers to expand the pallet of sound available to a composer far beyond what instruments provide. Not only that but sampling also makes a wide range of world and exotic instruments accessible when the cost of buying these instruments would be provocative.

I also know about a whole range of music controllers that use light and sound in ways that may open up new therapeutic pathways that otherwise would not be possible.

On application of synthesizers is binaural beats to entrain brain waves. This technique was been known fir years by EM artists but is seldom if ever part of the music therapists toolkit.

I often joke about how music therapists get most of their instruments from West Music. I have a whole universe of instruments that are on my laptop.

I at times feel I am banging my head against a wall here due to the wall of silence from music therapists. However, I remain convinced that synthesizers can greatly benefit music therapy and despite a lack of response I remain determined. I have great respect for music therapists and my true hope is that they will allow me to share my art and technological knowhow so that perhaps I can bring some new tools to their important work.

The door is always open to my music therapy friends. Just ask.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Button Domination

As we live in a world full of technological gadgets we have come to be dominated by buttons. We have a world of options at our finger tips. This is also true in the world of music. It has been extended to knobs, sliders and touch pads but the idea is to have a one (or in the case of an XY pad two) dimensions that are mapped to parameters. Virtually every controller does this.

Even the mighty Eigenharp is just a collection of buttons. Ok, granted, buttons with multiple dimensions but we still have a map between performance parameters and synth parameters.

I have to admit that getting back into guitar via the Moog Guitar has been a great experience. Simply because technique involves no mapping of parameters but direct contact with physical objects (strings and frets).

So to the Korg Wavedrum which is a wonderful instrument with no MIDI at all. The membrane of a drum can be used with great expression. An entire musical language is created by the Indian tabla for example.

I love how Moog Music has also brought back the idea of an envelope follower letting the natural dynamics and a signal control a filter.

These ideas begin to bend the button dominated musical world. I hope to see these more physically based ideas of control begin to take root and grow into even more new products.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

No Ghosts - Just Fear - Cutting Edge Controllerism

One of the pleasures I have had as a musician has been getting to know other artists musically and personally. I met Mark Mosher first on Twitter but then personally at the Electro Music Festival in Heugenot. It has been my great pleasure to get to know him. Mark is not only a talented artist but very dedicated to developing a fresh perspective on Controllerism utilizing the latest cutting edge technology such as adding his own visuals with Resolume and further developing a carefully constructed rig by trimming a few pieces of gear but adding Native Instruments "Machine".

Mark has produced several albums including his sci fi series "I Hear Your Signals" and "Reboot" as well as appearing on many musical collaboration albums. He has been a favorite of the Electro Music crowd with his visual approach to music making and Controllerism.

"No Ghosts. Just Fear." is Mark's first foray into the darker side of music. What I have always liked about Mark's music is that it's concept based, it tells a story.

Here is a link to the album:

Each of the pieces in his latests "No Ghosts. Just Fear" seem to encapsulate this as I imagined myself placed in the spiders web, plunged into utter darkness and marooned in the cold and vast expanses of space.

"Primeval" is one of my favorites". Mark is not only musician but sound designer. I know that one of his creations can be found in Rob Papen's "Blade". "Primeval" reflects Marks talent with sound design as the listener is treated to a blend of synthetic strings, bells and bass. I loved the mix and variation of timbres here.

"Alone in the Dark" reminded me of those old gothic horrors wandering around dark hallways and dark basements. The sense of anxiety and fear (no ghosts) is striking here.

"In Fight or Flight" I found myself tossed about by a sea of sound in constant motion. One of the aspects of Mark's style in this album which is a noticeable departure from his beat oriented sci fi is a shifting of time speeding up and slowing down which is most effective.

"In Under the Spider's Web" we find this time shifting put to great effect. I could sense the web, the spider lurking in the web waiting to strike and then it's spindly legs translated as musical notes rushing to meet it's prey.

In "Orbiting Miranda" we move from the web to space. The wonderful blend of noise and metallic tones here provide a sense of the vastness and coldness of space. I really liked the use if noise here in non percussive ways, very complex and musically effective.

As always, listening to Mark's music has been a pleasure. Getting to know Mark as musician, sound designer and especially friend had been my great pleasure and I look forward to Mark's future work as he continues to expand the boundaries of Controllerism and music.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


It may come as a surprise but my first instrument (excluding my early years) is a guitar. I got away from it for a long time so I could play synths. Despite the fact that I bought a Moog Guitar with MIDI I am really not a big fan of pitch to MIDI. Eventually I would love to buy an Eigenharp Tau but I also line guitars because you can touch the oscillator (the string) and through muting and harmonic techniques change the timbre in more complex ways then are possible on a synth.

What I never really liked about a guitar is it is almost a percussive instrument especially an acoustic. It has a short decay. So all those nice modulation techniques you can do on a synth, are limited on a guitar.

Now after a quick read of the Internet chatter on the Moog Guitar I can see it has been met with much criticism.

Some say it's just a better EBow. Well, first I despise EBows. I never could master using one effectively. EBows also can't take energy away from a string or shift energy between the bridge and the neck shifting harmonic content.

So for me, the Moog Guitar is a very complex oscillator I can touch and has a ladder filter built in to boot. Ok, I realize the filter is a bit gimmicky but I personally like ladder filters and having one built in is a plus and more than window dressing.

Now for the reason I bought one. In a word, sustain. On a guitar there are some tricks to get harmonics but the sustain is limited unless you want to stand in front of a Marshall stack (aka Hendrix). But, if the strings have infinite sustain then a whole world of possibilities opens up based on direct contact with the string. Add processing as you have something unique and with vastly expanded musical girth than a regular guitar.

And since harmonics form the basis of scales and harmony as can be seen from the time of Pythagorus who made his own scale that developed into the western one we us today, it just seems to me that there is rich territory for musical inspiration here.

That, in a nutshell is what I an calling Pythagorus.