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