Tuesday, October 28, 2008

P^3 Progress, AKA "P^4"

If you're not a regular reader, "P^3" is the brilliant acronym for my "Perpetual Peformance Problem."

Work continues in preparation for next month's performance. I vaguely stated a post or two ago that I'd be presenting a "complete deconstruction" of my tracks, and while that particular choice of words is a little overblown, the basic concept has so far survived. This will be my fourth re-architecting of the electronic music performance concept; prior iterations were:

  • The Four Track (Plus): each song rendered out to four audio streams (rhythm, bass, pads, and melody) with key elements like fundamental beats and melodies on their own tracks for real-time manipulation. All tracks routed to global effects sends (mapped to fixed-function knobs), allowing me to manipulate any of the four independently of the others. Song-specific effects (e.g. the global saturation effect in the second half of "Forever And Never Again") routed to physical knobs that changed function per-song.

    As a performer, this technique allowed me to present the full instrumentation for every song, but forced me to stick to the existing overall structure and didn't offer many opportunities for real improvisation outside of effects and the few "key elements" that got their own tracks. Overall a fairly low-stress (by design) configuration, but with limited expressive depth.

  • The Four Track (Monome Edition): a similar approach to the above, but with two to three of the global tracks mapped to rows on my then-recently-completed monome, and key remaining elements mapped to their own rows (and sometimes half- or even quarter-rows). Effects setup similar to the above, but with everything routed to two effects busses (one for beats and one for everything else) instead of using global sends.

    As a performer, this technique opened up the possibilities for real-time improvisation (to an extent determined by the number of song elements mapped to the monome), but still relied on song-length "macro" tracks to collect most of the remaining instrumentation. A fundamental difference from the Four Track approach, however, was my ability to jump around within these macro tracks using the monome, though in practice this didn't end up being very useful, as the time-jumps at that scale were pretty large (basically eight cue points per song, evenly spaced) and consequently difficult to utilize in a musical way.

    Performance-wise, things were complicated by my attempts to map as many song elements to the monome as possible, leading to a confusing and unpredictable layout that changed completely from one song to the next. I also had to remember to explicitly enter tempo changes between songs (using a tempo change row in Live's Session view), whereas in the above those changes could be automated in the Arrangement view. Oh, and it took absolutely forever to set up all the follow actions in Ableton Live. That was a pain. Overall, not a very successful configuration, though that was largely due to the complexity of my monome mappings coupled with zero practice before the performance.

  • MLR Deconstruction: For this upcoming show (Nov. 7th), I'm throwing the Four Track technique out the window; instead, I'll be using MLR (rewired into Ableton Live) exclusively, and largely (if not completely) reinterpreting the content and structure of my music in real-time. This sounds very fancy, but in many ways it's really a simplification of my prior attempts based on a fundamental paradigm shift: instead of struggling to recreate the recorded versions of my songs in a live context, I'm going to try to create something spontaneous using key features of those songs as building blocks. For this show, I'm going back to the original project files for each song and rendering fairly short loops of the elements that are most fundamental (or most interesting) to the spirit of that song. I'm then creating collections of these elements in MLR (using a strict mapping that I'll describe in a later post) that I can mix, mash, and chop live. And I'm rethinking my effects setup, which I'll describe once it's been finalized a little more.

    More than anything, I'm trying to let myself have fun with performing these songs instead of stressing about getting them "right." MLR is an inspiring application due largely to its simplicity, and that's something I can really appreciate having worked my way through the more complex setups described above.

I know that most of this won't make a whole lot of sense to people not familiar with music production, but I'm hoping to update this post a little later with diagrams that'll help make things more clear. Or maybe just satiate the music nerds further. Either way, it'll be interesting to see how this new approach works out. I dream of a day when having a show doesn't mean dozens of hours spent reinventing the wheel...

Maybe someday.

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