Commitment and Complexity | WN23-10

The truest thing about commitment is opening oneself up to the possibility of failure. Declare that within the of time and space, the commitment will become completion. Reach the moment of reflection to see that which has been committed has been concluded. Commitment sets us into action, creating an expectation and trust in a destination.

There are many ways to fail; when we do not act. When out expectations mismatch our time, skill or circumstance. We can agree, believing that we are committing, yet dilute our focus to the point that nothing that we commit to is a true commitment. We can also succeed, and still not meet our expectations, or find the the important aspects were not fully expressed.

A lack of focus is a personal failure mode of mine that I have slowly been coming to terms with and finding ways to work through. Last month, I met a commitment that I made almost a year ago and presented my work to the internet. I think it came out pretty well. I got a couple of unsolicited comments on YouTube. "Bandcamp that shit" came the advice. An approval on the merits of the work itself. Yet I chose my destination for a reason; as a beginning not an end.

There’s a difference between the art and the craft and the artefact. My partner is involved in intrinsically process oriented media. In pottery, you process wet clay into a form. Fix that shape in the kiln. Apply glaze, fire again. Each stage carries risks, yet there’s no going back once you cross the threshold of the firing. In photography your camera sets your constraints, and then you have whatever is captured between the opening and closing of the shutter. You can get multiple prints from a single shot or negative, but the captured moment defines the possible outcomes.

Music can be performed with the body. This is my background pianist and making rock music. Everything created live then captured on CD, or perhaps represented with the dots and lines of sheet music. But in the moment, there is your wits and your fingers. And what seems spontaneous is a trained reaction. Skill and curation make the performance.

Modern recording media belie this process oriented workflow. You cannot just capture the end result. You must work through it with the medium. Draw in your MIDI find your sound, process and process, edit any of these steps and then only at the end commit. Change anything, with no material cost. I deliberately stepped away from the computer to use hardware in that for that last work. The form factor was very tactile, the sequencer is sublime. It leads towards a certain type of composition and excludes many things. Everything is synthesised within the device itself. No vocals or guitar, just the limits of the device itself. Boot up into a blank state, but a very opinionated blank slate.

Leaning into that, I was searching for that process oriented approach; find a rhythm, find a melody to explore, push the simple voice structure to its limits, then add the supporting parts. Work until the loop is full to bursting, and then begin arrangement.

Before that I had been working in Eurorack as a means of getting away from the fungibility of working "in the box". With the right tools you don’t even need to decide on your notes. The process the connection of inputs to outputs and outputs to more inputs builds the process itself. Generative and emergent sounds are determined by the initla conditions.

It can also be a very expensive hobby. So this month I was trying to recreate some of that in VCV Rack, which is free desktop software that can be used to build patches in the same workflow. And it has ports and emulations of many real world modules. Ultimately, I’m after the clarity of workflow that comes from well designed hardware, with the broader sound palette that comes from the DAW and soft-synth world.

Which means having an accessible, tactile input with enough consistency to build muscle memory. I’ve got a Native Instruments Maschine MK2, and with the VST modes it can be used as a controller for the software. VCV Rack has MIDI and DAW mapping facilities within it. So, I started exploring these options. And in doing so, I found many rabbit holes and many stumbling blocks. But technical challenges have got in the way of actually making music!

Next month, if I used the same tools, I would have a more solid foundation to build upon. However, I’m not sure if my overall approach matches the destination. So, here’s my update for the month, given with focus. And from here, we may pick another path for exploration.

I’ve explored the sonic characteristics of a Turing Machine, tied to many voices. And barely scratched the surface of a fixed rack that Omri Cohen has put together. And various ways of MIDI mapping. The sound was approaching something interesting, interface lacked something. That’s where I’ll focus next; not more sounds, but unlocking a simple few.

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