Thursday 17 May 2012

Excelsior Piano Ableton Instrument Rack

The Excelsior Hall is located in the community of Wonyip in the Strzelecki Ranges in Victoria, Australia. Originally the local school hall from the early 1900's it fell in to disrepair until being rescued by community involvement some years ago. Recently the original piano from the hall was discovered languishing in a local barn and was returned to the renovated hall on the back of a tractor.

Now known as The Excelsior Piano it has been untuned for at least 40 years, however, all of its 80 keys work as do most of the dampers. I made a trip to the hall a couple of weeks ago and did a recording of the piano key by key in various ways and from these recordings have created the Excelsior Piano Rack for Ableton Live.

In the rack each piano key is represented by an individual sample in both long and short versions. The long version is striking the key and holding it down until the decay has finished, the short version is a quick strike of the key and recording until the decay has finished. There is also included a bonus drum rack of effects created by various string scrapes and hits against the piano frame etc.

Owners of Ableton's Sampler instrument can bust open the Simpler instruments and play with tuning the individual notes (good luck!) to make the piano more "playable".

Demo of the Excelsior Piano Sampler/Simpler Rack:

Demo of the Excelsior Piano Effects Drum Rack:

Download The Excelsior Piano Rack here

Comments encouraged.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Piano Phase Ableton Audio Rack

In recognition of Steve Reich's recent visit to my home town of Melbourne I am sharing this audio effect rack for Ableton Live inspired by his piece "Piano Phase (1967)".

Here is an audio demo of the rack where just the first 12 notes are played - the rest is the rack in action.

The rack uses the Filter Delay because it allows for 100% feedback and different delay times for left, center and right signals.

The macro controls are assigned to allow a great deal of variation to the phase relationships of the 3 signals.

The <TIME SYNC> macro: chooses between delaying the signals in milliseconds (between 0ms and 999ms) or, in Sync mode, percentages of the BPM.
The Beat Delay macros: control the gross delay time when in Sync mode.
The Beat Swing macros: control milliseconds when in Time mode or percentage when in Sync mode.

Judicious use of the song tempo and Sync mode can result in some fascinating outcomes. You could also assign the Beat Swing macros to be able to jump to zero to hold on a particularly interesting cycle or allow you to capture that audio into a session slot before jumping back to the phase settings. Fun to experiment with.

I've done a little experimenting with assigning the Beat Swing macros to my Novation Launchpad. For example in User 1 mode I have assigned the range of all 64 buttons to Right Beat Swing then edited the MIDI mapping data to be Min = 0% and Max = 6.30%. With this setup each consecutive button on the Launchpad will increment the "phase" by 0.10% - allowing good control of the "phase" changes and the ability to instantly snap the signal to 0% to hold on an interesting relationship between the different signals. (You would want to turn off the centre channel of the delay to use this to properly emulate the Reich piece.)

Just drop a piano or other instrument in front of it and play around. Maybe stick 6 of these on different tracks with some pianos and mallet instruments and make your own "Music for 18 Musicians"

Download Piano Phase Ableton Rack

Wednesday 25 April 2012

HPSCHD by John Cage and LeJaren Hiller performed by Philip Jackson

"HPSCHD (1967-1969) for harpsichords and computer generated sound tapes" by John Cage and LeJaren Hiller was made available on vinyl by Nonesuch Records in 1970. Each copy of the LP included an individually generated computer printout called "Program (Knobs) for the Listener" and consisted of a series of random numbers representing knob positions at 5 second intervals for Left Volume, Right Volume, Left Treble, Right Treble, Left Bass and Right Bass. The purpose of these numbers was to allow the listener to create their own individual performance of HPSCHD by manipulating the controls of their hi-fi pre-amplifier.

In the performance I have uploaded here I have handed the job of manipulating the knobs over to Ableton Live.

Click the HD button to watch in high definition on vimeo

I entered the 1440 different numbers at 5 second intervals into the automation lanes of an effects rack I created to produce this performance. The automation lanes in the video ,running top to bottom, are:
Left Volume, Right Volume, Left Treble, Right Treble, Left Bass and Right Bass

Audio only via soundcloud

This is a scan of the individually numbered printout of KNOBS used to generate this performance. Click to view in higher resolution.

The first half of the KNOBS sheet no.10929 included with my HPSCHD LP
A Control Data Corporation CDC-6400 was used to generate the random numbers
More information about the original piece and the Nonesuch recording is available at

I picked this LP up recently at a country charity shop along with half a dozen other Nonesuch records of equal interest - $1.00 each and in immaculate condition.

I trust you'll enjoy this piece of hard-core 20th Century Avante Garde music.

Friday 20 April 2012

Kalimba 50 Ableton Rack

I have multi-sampled this little rustic Kalimba (also known as Mbira, Thumb Piano or Lamellophone) to create an Ableton Live Sampler/Simpler rack. The rack has controls to allow mixing between a tuned version of the instrument (good for playing with other tuned instruments), a "round robin" version which gives a more "realistic" sound as each trigger of a note plays one of a number of sampled plucks (this is also a tuned version) and a "random" version, which sounds more like playing the actual untuned instrument. There is a control for "spread" which thickens the sound and controls for attack and release time.

As you can see from the photo each tine of the Kalimba has a small piece of tin wrapped around it which vibrates as the tine vibrates giving a distinctive character to the sound. As the accompanying audio demo shows these vibrating bits of tin sound very interesting down a few octaves.

Anyone who owns the Sampler instrument in Ableton can expand Simpler to get access to the individual samples and re-tune or muck around with the "chance" of various tines being struck in the "round robin" channel.

Chuck a guitar amp plugin on the end of it and you will have a pretty good CongoTronics sound happening.

Download Kalimba 50 Rack

Monday 12 March 2012

Active Controllerism

So I've been winning a few free tickets lately to gigs at The Hi-Fi Bar in Melbourne and it's mostly been great, however, watching two old men chatting to each other while their Macbooks playback is a bit boring (I mean you, Bomb The Bass and The Orb) so I thought I'd post this clip from another Hi-Fi gig I attended showing how not to be boring while using a Macbook and a controller.

The band is Underoath (yes, I know, "Christian metalcore" but the tickets were free and the night was great). Keep watching for his near aneurism toward the end.

Active Controllerism:

Another band on the same night was The Smoking Hearts, a bunch of affable lads from England. Here's my tribute to the bass players' hair:

Calvin's Hair:

And just for context here's a full song by The Smoking Hearts from the same night:

(Sorry about the sound but my little camera did it's best)

Sunrise Reed Organ - Ableton Live Sampler/Simpler Instrument

The Sunrise Reed Organ is a two and a bit octave plastic reed organ from Japan. It is battery operated and the reeds are driven by an inbuilt fan, the volume being controlled by the speed of the fan. The organ itself has a true, clear reed sound for a toy instrument but what is so nice about this toy is that the fan is quite loud and a distinctive part of the overall character of the sound.

The Ableton Instrument I have created from it includes a sample of each key and a separate sample of the fan drone that has it's own volume control. The reason for a separate sample of the fan is to make it possible for the fan noise to continue when notes aren't being played. I've also added a couple of simple macro assingments - one for the spread of the note samples to thicken the sound and a wet/dry control for a Simple Delay and a Reverb. There is also a control to select Glide - when in glide mode the instrument suddenly transforms into a pretty nice lo-fi portmanteau synth.

Let me know if you find it fun or useful - I'll be posting some more of my instruments in the coming weeks so check back.

Demo of the sound with various settings. Played on the rack not the original instrument.

Download Sunrise Reed Organ