More about digitally-emulated feedback

After performing The One Who Was Neither Or Nor in November 2007, I wanted to make a new, more sophisticated piece using the same principles.

Again, The Old School Is Built On The Ruins Of The New School was made using AudioMulch, by patching together various sound processing contraptions into circuits. The circuits create feedback loops which generate a signal that is modulated by the interaction of the circuit's constituent parts. Several nested circuits were constructed, so that signals from each loop could either be sent to the speakers, fed back into themselves, or into one of the other loops. This method can be used to create complex waveforms from very simple chains of components, in ways which can either be controlled by the performer, or in an autonomous manner regulated by the construction and interaction of the feedback loops.

The Old School Is Built On The Ruins Of The New School was composed in June 2008 for a live gig at Stutter, the experimental music night held every Wednesday at Horse Bazaar in Melbourne.

What went right

Old School made a lot of advances over Neither/Nor, both musically and theatrically. The new piece was designed to have a more elegant performance interface. Instead of furrowing my brow glaring at a computer screen, fussing with a mouse making adjustments and changing connections, I constructed a simple set of control points which had distinctive, but indirect, effects on the sounds produced. These control points could then be manipulated through AudioMulch's Metasurface interface. As with String Quartet No.2, this enabled me to play the piece with the laptop open side-on in front of me, like an open book.

The resulting sounds were more complex than in Neither/Nor, with much greater variety both in timbres and in phrasing. I particularly liked the way the loops would cancel each other out from time to time, suddenly introducing silences of unpredictable lengths. It's not really relaxing listening, but it keeps you guessing.

Also, Horse Bazaar has Coopers Pale Ale on tap.

What went wrong

My performance at Stutter went on a little too long. I wanted one last little phrase to finish my set, and the system produced the longest phrase of the night, for minutes on end before I could subdue it back into silence.

Although it produced a nice palette of sounds, there turned out to be no real way to change the basic nature of the system from one moment to the next, which made the performance feel rather undifferentiated.

My five-year-old laptop is definitely dying. By switching off as many background processes as possible and reducing the graphics quality, I had just enough computing power to play the piece live. Unfortunately I couldn't make a recording of the gig, as putting the rather sluggish hard drive to work at the same time would have sent the laptop into seizures.

Live in the studio (i.e. my bedroom)

The two mp3 files below were recorded back at home in London, each take lasting until the computer overloaded and the audio started breaking up. The recordings aren't affected by this problem, but I lost the thread of what was happening and had to stop.

The Old School Is Built On The Ruins Of The New School
(take 1, 21 July 2008. 7'53", 13.53 MB)

The Old School Is Built On The Ruins Of The New School
(take 2, 21 July 2008. 8'21", 13.93 MB)

Ben.Harper, 2008.

The Old School Is Built On The Ruins Of The New School © Ben.Harper 2008. Recorded in Your Dad’s Den, Lewisham. A Cooky La Moo production.