Contrast between analogue and digital

Just got back my copy of Mixing With Your Mind and the page fell open to this awesome comparison of analogue and digital recording:

"By way of analogy, I'd like to compare the recording dynamics with photographing a large skyscraper. As you can imagine, due to its enormous height it's difficult to capture the entire building in perfect focus. Here's where Analogue and Digital technology differ, by limiting our focus to distinctly different areas of the building."

A mate of mine made the case that this is also true of digital photography and, although I can't remember all the argument, I can see how it works in that the brightest and darkest areas of the image become the peaks in the dynamic range of colours.

Putting the limiter before the compressor

The author of this Audio Technology column, Michael Stavrou, recommends putting a limiter ahead of a compressor in the signal path on those occasions when you're worried about clipping the signal.

I thought the diagram showed the benefit as clearly as the article but I should add that Stav's writing is always excellent. If he keeps writing columns like this, he'll have a follow-up for the book Mixing With Your Mind out soon. Top book.

Wind organs and aeolian harp

This short video shows the instruments used in the track Doublecrossed, which can be heard in the player in the right-hand column.

More about the aeolian harp here and directions for making wind organs can be read here.

My theremin beat

Here's some of the mucking around I've been doing with the drums, theremin and kaosscilator.

PS - I've put the file up for download if anyone wants to remix it :)

Shout out

Big g'day to my fans in Nottingham Forest - you know how to make me a merry man!

In the Pool

The ABC have this interesting social networking website that's designed to be
...a place to share your creative work with the Pool community and ABC producers - upload music, photos, videos, documentaries, interviews, animations and more. It's a collaborative space where audiences become makers.

There's an aeolian harp track I wrote for the site on there because I was keen to lend my support. Of course, all of my stuff is released under Creative Commons so you can feel free to adapt or use it as you see fit provided you acknowledge it.

I think Creative Commons is tops and it inspired the song Gentle Borrower that's in the right-hand column.

Workspace and Environment

Trash Audio have this cool regular section called Workspace and Environment where they ask artists a series of set questions. I always like reading it and imagining my own answers, so I thought I'd write my own response.

I grew up in Canberra, the capital city of Australia. I spent my teens playing bass guitar and was in a few short-lived bands in my early 20s, like the Pongrass Brothers. When I left town I sold my bass but ended up buying another one a few years later. Then I started making music on the computer. My track Cycleslut is one of the first things I wrote, built from samples off my CDs.

I've now lived in Wagga Wagga for about seven years and, as much as I'm ready to leave, I don't think I'll be able to go anytime soon. Having kids and another on the way means the decision isn't mine to make anymore. Luckily I live on a beautiful hill outside town.

The name bassling came to me when I misread something and it seems apt since bass is where I started and where I keep coming back - although these days I prefer synth bass sounds, the wires (a large-scale aeolian harp) and different things through an octave pedal or similarly manipulated with software.

There are two bassling albums so far, SHAKES (2004) and YOUR (2007). (Update: There are a few more now!)

The next bassling album is based on my recordings of the wires. You can hear some of the raw files at and there's the bassling remix of a ShowcaseJase track written for the wires. There's also a dubby sorta track I made with the wires up at the Wired Lab site for Alan Lamb's current project at Cootamundra.

What are your current favourite pieces of hardware?
Macbook, drumkit, Zoom H4, Rode NT4, Epiphone 335, Boss OC3 and Nintendo DS.

What are some softwares or plugins you prefer?
Ohmboyz has been a huge part of the bassling sound, I usually only use the presets but the filters and the tempo-locked delay create a swelling sound that's in most things I record. Thinking of Ohmforce software, everyone should have their Frohmage VST since it's free and does interesting stuff to sounds.

Steinberg's Cubase and Nuendo have a lovely sound about them but are a bit of a pain in the arse to use compared to Ableton Live. And I'm still shitty that I forked out all that cash for Nuendo 3 only to find it runs like a dog on Mac.

Glitch DS
is genius IMO. I enjoy it lots and have been meaning to figure out how to make my own samples, probably of the wires and quartz percussion.

Also, for generative sound applications, I like jamming along with Forester on my drumkit. Since it's winter at the moment, I'm not inspired to take my drumkit up to play along with the wires, so I find that putting recordings of the wires into this software gets similar effect.

How does your physical space surroundings influence your workflow?
This is a really interesting question. A few years ago I hung out with some noisemakers who called themselves the Wagga Space Program and they had a philosophy about recognising how the rural environment shaped their practices. It's something I've come to appreciate through living with the wires that were built on the property where I live by Alan Lamb and Scott Baker (AKA Abre Ojos) as part of their Unsound festival in 2004.

In 2006 I was fortunate to be invited to be part of Unsound but it wasn't until last year that I found myself more fully appreciating the stuff they were doing. Sadly, most of them have left town so there isn't going to be an Unsound 2008.

Could you describe what you might think your ideal location would be?
I'd really like a room of my own to set up my gear. It'd be good to not have to worry about my kids getting into my stuff but it's also fun seeing them bash on the drumkit and sometimes we make music together.

Other than that, it's pretty inspiring to play drums on top of the hill on a warm evening.

What is on your current 'wish list'?
I've been lusting after a Musicman Stingray bass but don't really play bass enough to justify the expense. I'm also looking at the Alessis Performance Pad in the window of the local instrument shop but they're asking almost twice what it can be found for online. I'm also considering buying Native Instruments Komplete but might wait until I'm studying again so I can claim the student discount.

Do you have a setup for live performances
No, I've only started thinking about live performance in the last couple of years and at the moment it's usually just one-off sketches that I videotape and put online. I like making music but I hate the late nights involved in playing gigs and, frankly, there isn't much of an audience for the stuff I do locally.

Are you involved in any other projects?
Yep, I've always got a few things on the boil. There's an album of guitar-based songs I recorded for the RPM Challenge this year under the name ShowcaseJase that needs to be re-evaluated and produced and possibly re-recorded in parts.

Mic Main$tream asked if I'd make some techno tunes for his label and I was so flattered that I agreed but it's been hard to find the hi-NRG needed and also hard to find the time to work on them since I returned to full-time work. I decided to use the bassling moniker for my more experimental acoustic electronica-inspired stuff with drums and the wires but the dance music I've been making for him is more like the bassling albums I've released. He suggested calling it Jase of Bass, it kinda brings together all my pseudonyms.

Tools and style

Back in the days before I had children, I used to be capable of writing a song in an afternoon. Usually I would also be able to spend a week or two refining it but mostly this would just amount to obsessing over the levels and possibilities for the different VST instruments and how well they worked together.

My friend Toby joked that Wagga Wagga allowed me to break the space-time continuum as this must surely explain my apparent productivity. The truth was, of course, less interesting and probably better explained in the opportunity to sketch ideas without interruption and then how a lack of social life allowed me to give these sketches enough attention to sound polished.

Toby predicted the demise of my music making when I found true love. I think it was because he assumed that any activity somehow serves the biological imperative of reproducing. That my beats and basslines were my dazzling peacock feathers and, now that they had won me a mate, the energy that made them would be directed into her.

Anyway, I'm recounting my memories here so I'm not entirely sure I've represented Toby's views correctly. He was right in some respects but I think the fact I feel like the quality and quantity of my music has declined represents a lack of time coupled with a cornucopia of possibilities.

I was thinking about Toby's observation today when I reflected on my inability to properly use a knife and fork.

In my youth, my former stepmother spent many dinners criticising my ability to hold cutlery appropriately at the dinner table. In one of her more scathing moments she suggested that I would spend my life alone after successive girlfriends rejected my advances once they had observed my lack of finesse with the tools for eating.

It's true that other women have also felt the need to criticise my handling of a knife and fork. There was one former manager who also was critical at a lunch at work too, I recall her saying "that's just weird" in front of my colleagues.

And now I wonder whether or not I didn't somehow know I'd found true love as I can't recall my partner ever commenting on this characteristic.

I've been thinking about this because the other night I had a dinner with colleagues in my new job and at one point I became self-conscious of how I was holding my fork.

It always seemed silly to me to have to struggle with holding my eating utensils when the dinner table usually requires one to also focus on one's companions, while trying to keep up the obligation to converse and also hopefully enjoy the brief sensation of flavours before they begin the process of turning to shit.

In my mind making music is as fundamental to life as eating and the enjoyment gained is usually in the brief moments of inspiration while a piece takes shape, rather than the process of digestion and the result being delivered.

Similarly, obsessing about using tools appropriately ends up killing much of the creativity and enjoyment in most activities. Being self-conscious takes you out of the moment. And, as time passes, those moments only become more precious.

Surprising sounds

This is the latest promo from Korg for their synethiser/sequencer program for the Nintendo DS, called DS-10.

I love the fact Korg have turned their attention to the DS but have been underwhelmed by the examples in their videos. To be honest, it reminds me a bit of when I first looked at Reason years ago: beaut interface, crap sounds. (Although I'm told Reason sounds a lot better these days.)

What I am enjoying on my DS is Glitch, a very clever generative sequencer. It lets you modulate five samples and then the program triggers them based on cellular automaton following Conway's Game of Life. So you end up with something that's intuitively adaptable, like through shortening the loop of the game to increase the intensity, and yet surprising in the way of aleatoric compositions.

In short, it's genius IMO.

And, typing of geniuses, it picks up on the work of one of my heroes: Brian Eno. He's been experimenting with generative music since (at least) his 1996 album Generative Music 1.

The works I have made with this system symbolise to me the beginning of a new era of music. Until 100 years ago, every musical event was unique: music was ephemeral and unrepeatable and even classical scoring couldn't guarantee precise duplication. Then came the gramophone record, which captured particular performances and made it possible to hear them identically over and over again.

But now there are three alternatives: live music, recorded music and generative music. Generative music enjoys some of the benefits of both its ancestors. Like live music it is always different. Like recorded music it is free of time-and-place limitations - you can hear it when and where you want.

I really think it is possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say: "you mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?"

More recently Eno has developed generative art in his exhibition titled 77 million paintings.

The aleatory aspect of Eno's music owes a debt to John Cage, whose compositions popularised the role of chance in composition. Cage experimented with different 'instruments', such as tuning radios, in his work and was encouraged as these allowed him to be surprised by a composition - even after he'd heard the work performed many times before.

In Cage's most famous piece 4'33", the composition was entirely left to chance as it called for the musicians to sit quietly for four minutes and 33 seconds. I "heard" this piece performed by Craig Schuftan and was surprised at how your ears seek out noise to fill the emptiness. It trains you to hear music in everyday noise.

This is why generative music seems somewhat contradictory. People create it to listen to in preference to whatever noise is already surrounding them. Brian Eno promoted this idea with his ambient albums that were designed to provide soothing sounds with the expectation of being interrupted. These were inspired by Chopin's piano pieces that were designed to serve as a musical wallpaper. There are now computer applications to serve this purpose, either generating white noise or soft chords in the style of new age music. For example.

In some ways this ambient approach to music is the antithesis of contemporary dance music, which has evolved from Detroit techno's emulation of factories via Kraftwerk and the sampling culture of hiphop. These musical forms take the dynamic sounds and rhythms of machines for new textures. An idea first promoted by the Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo in his Art of Noises manifesto, a remarkably potent text.

Anyway, I digress. The thing that appeals to me about generative music is the sense of surprise that allows you to play both composer and audience in a way. I also like the way it keeps me open to hearing music in unlikely places, I figure it's a healthy thing for someone with wide interests in sound.

The thing that occurs to me is that most humans have interests in sound too. Most I've met have a narrower interest, sometimes only a single genre. It's like fetishism I guess and, where a psychologist could put them in a category and recommend treatment, a generative music technology could create a personalised soundtrack. Imagine if my iPod tallied the data about my preferred BPMs along with the times of the day or the quality of light or the level of ambient noise. Imagine if, magpie-like, it were free to choose bits of tracks and add them together in new ways to create a narrative of where I've been based on what I've heard to recreate the experiences and enhance my memories.

Anyway, you might've guessed, my favourite generative technology is the aeolian harp as it also demonstrates the physics of sound. But that's another blog entry :)

Australian Apple store

On the eve of the opening of a new Apple store in Sydney, I'm reminded of the Apple branding that used to be on the main street of Wagga Wagga.

My babysitting beat

Praise for Aeolus

Here's a bit more of the aeolian harp. I've started recording it using guitar pick-ups as well as via the polystyrene box wedged between the wires.

The J Spot

My home studio today. (Here it was a month ago.)

The most serious looking bit of kit is probably the stereo in the bedroom :)

PS: Just been reading about Atom Heart's studio and I think he's onto something in promoting a beautiful work environment. Best not to obsess about the kit when mostly what's needed are ears and the matter between them.


There are a couple of bassling remixes online. There's a self-remix of the Ninja Trax performance and some kind of alter-ego remix of my ShowcaseJase material, Gentle Borrower (bassling's pulsing wires electro-style remix).

b + d

Jamming with the aeolian harp. Going to have to work on getting the balance right but there's a serendipity in this clip that's going to be hard to improve ;)