randy's Recent Posts

Sorry for the dodgy report and good luck with the bug squishing!

No worries, this is also feedback that probably my UI can be improved. Enjoy the sounds...

I have to Ctrl-click on the currently selected patch name to see any preset menus... is that how it's supposed to be?

I thought so, but I'm hearing a lot of feedback that people aren't loving this, so there may be a change.

Yes, tunings besides 12-equal will come with the 1.0 version, as will a lack of glitches.

Actually I'm not hearing other reports of it freezing (no sound)—maybe this is an Intel thing that not many people are running into because most Intel machines can't handle it yet. Please stay tuned as I work this out, your testing will be really helpful.

yes absolutely to CLAP! no port to VCV Rack but we will fix the bugs with hosting the VST3.

Maestro!

Bruno Pronsato: The Eric Dolphy Of Techno
by Dave Segal

Twenty years into his electronic-music career, Berlin-based American producer Bruno Pronsato (aka Steven Ford) remains as creatively hungry and restless as he was upon the release of his fantastic 2003 debut for Orac Records, “Read Me.” Speaking during a Zoom interview from his Berlin apartment in April, Pronsato admits that he absolutely did not imagine his namesake project would still be a vital going concern two decades later.

When asked to what he attributes his longevity, Pronsato says, “Maybe never having a hit record—and always wanting one.” Is he still striving for that hit? “I think I no longer know what a hit is,” he says.

“I used to have an idea of what a hit was and that kept the fuel going for a while, but now I'm just left to making Bruno tunes and hoping people like 'em.”

Clearly, enough people are digging what Bruno's laying down, and though he's humble enough to identify as “definitely an underground figure as a whole,” he's realistic enough to realize that he's a star in European technosphere. Such a lofty stature never could have happened had Pronsato remained in America.

Best known for his cerebral yet lubricious, off-kilter techno on a variety of elite labels, Pronsato lately has delved into hip-hop production with legendary Ultramagnetic MCs/Dr. Octagon rapper Kool Keith and rising underground MC/poet/musician Black Saturn. And perhaps most impressively, Pronsato has a new album in the can for Foom Records (Rare Normal, out this fall) that might be his best yet—and also a bold departure from the skewed dance-floor bangers that have brought him global acclaim. More on that later.

All of which very few music heads could have predicted when pondering Ford's early exploits as a drummer with Texas speed-metal/punk band Voice Of Reason. How many musicians from those genres transitioned into the experimental-techno realm? Yes, Mick Harris went from being Napalm Death's drummer to forging the infernal downtempo funk of Scorn and the ballistic drum & bass of Quoit, but other than him, it's hard to pinpoint anyone else.

So, Pronsato's been a techno outlier from the beginning. But before Bruno landed coveted Mutek festival slots in the mid '00s and launched himself into European clubland stardom, the dirty-minded, musical mischief-maker toiled in Seattle under the alias Bobby Karate.

After Voice Of Reason's split, Ford entered a phase of musical disenchantment, during which he moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1998. It was fortuitous development, as he regained his zest for creating, this time in the crowded field of computer-based music. Incorporating elements from the works of European atonalists like Anton Webern and Arnold Schoenberg, Ford instantly excelled with the 2003 microsound masterpiece, Hot Trips, Cold Returns. Under the Bobby Karate moniker, Ford finessed complexly designed glitchscapes that unpredictably whir, bleep, and spasm like the finest titles on the Mille Plateaux label.

But the Bobby Karate era was short-lived. Being Seattle’s foremost sculptor of disorienting electronic abstractions was fine and all, but it was techno that could be an ambitious American's ticket to Europe, where folks appreciated the art form with much more zeal than their US counterparts. One could see the frustration in Bruno's face as he performed his world-class music to yet another underwhelming crowd in Seattle. (true –Randy)

But before he crossed the Atlantic, Pronsato released his brilliant 2004 debut album for Orac, Silver Cities, and a slew of mind-bending EPs for prestigious imprints such as Telegraph, Musique Risquée, Philpot, and Hello? Repeat. With these releases, Pronsato established his maverick status in the highly conformist world of techno. His tunes had a weirdly human quality amid a sea of quantized, rigid templates. His percussion sounds just hit different (literally). Snares would jut out at unexpected junctures like sudden epiphanies. Kickdrums possessed a cushiony springiness.

Pronsato's many years as a rock drummer have benefited him in the techno world, and he found the ideal program to help him realize his distinctive, grid-flouting rhythms: BFD, aka Big Fucking Drums. “It's mostly made for overdubbing rock and jazz tracks, and stuff that requires acoustic drums” Pronsato explains. “It's not really in the arsenal of most electronic artists. I've transferred the drumming from all of those years to my fingers. The ladies can attest to the delicateness of the fingers.” No doubt, no doubt.

Other factors that make Pronsato's music stand out include vibes that shimmer and hover in the middle distance, imbuing tracks with cool intrigue, and vocals that typically involve cryptic mumbles rather than anthemic belting or romantic platitudes. Most unusually for a techno artist, Pronsato draws heavily from Eric Dolphy's 1964 jazz classic, Out To Lunch. The element of surprise prevails to a higher degree in Pronsato's tracks than in most of his peers'. “Surprise has always been one of the key things for me,” he says. “One of the most surprising records I've ever listened to and remains surprising on each listen is Out To Lunch. I've always been obsessed with that record and trying to duplicate it in my form of music—particularly with regard to percussion. Tony Williams' percussion on that record is just beyond reproach and next level. The fact that he was just 17 and had already reached this perfection, this rhythmic otherworldliness...”

In addition, those sublime, Bobby Hutcherson-esque vibraphone timbres really distinguish Bruno's music from other techno producers'. I wonder if he has the actual instrument in his studio, or just a convincing facsimile of one? “I'm just using several good facsimiles. I can't get away from vibes, or those sorts of tonal percussions. There's something naturally dark about them. Yet one can coax some serious beauty out of them.”

While his catalog abounds with crucial techno releases—both solo and with numerous collaborators, including Sammy Dee in the duo Half Hawaii—Bruno cannot exist on that genre alone. Sometimes there must be tangents, and that's where Archangel, L.A. Teen, Kool Keith, and Black Saturn fit in. The Archangel project arose out of a frenzied period during which Pronsato consumed loads of post-punk albums. “I was playing my normal Bruno shows, but my passion was to create something between Japan and, I don't know, Suicide. I thought I could bring all of these elements together. It was a lot of fun, working with Yonatan Levi and Peter Gordon. It was definitely a departure and one that I hope to revisit. But next time I'd want it to be more on the straight-up post-punk edge rather than this prominent Bruno in the front and these tiny crumbs of post-punk in the back. I did a lot of the vocals on it. It was a big step up to writing lyrics and doing vocals and writing music with a bass player. It was a super-fun time, but I don't think anyone knows it.”

Although the Archangel material went relatively unnoticed, Pronsato stands by it, as well as the under-the-radar L.A. Teen record (2018's A Face Wasted On The Theatre), “which is sort of the culmination of what I wanted [my post-punk-inspired music] all to sound like.”

Speaking of tangents, it's very rare for a techno producer to enter the world of hip-hop production. I'm struggling to think of any prominent examples. Madteo, maybe? Pronsato has loved hip-hop from an early age, and this writer can attest to his love of Kool Keith's Sex Style LP, every element of which seems to be indelibly stamped on his DNA.

“I've always admired hip-hop production, but I'm not really as knowledgeable as 95 percent of my friends are about hip-hop. The reason I did the record with Kool Keith because I just wanted to work with him. He's an incredible person and incredible lyricist. And I really love Kut Masta Kurt's production. It's really dark, really heavy on snares, big on bass lines. That's always been my MO as a techno producer. Observing the work of Kut Masta Kurt, it seemed like a fun step.”

This dream collab, Pronsato explains, “sort of came out of a drunken moment [in 2020] where I just happened to write to Keith and sent him some sketches that I'd done. Then it was off to the races. I proposed the idea to Logistic Records and they were very keen to do it. It just came together. Then out of that I started working with Black Saturn.”

The resultant Keith's Salon finds the rapper as XXX-rated and funny as ever, formulating absurd scenarios, doling out twisted rhymes with nonchalantly authoritative flows while Pronsato and Benjamin Jay—under the handle Triple Parked—lay down eccentrically funky and spare foundations. It'll sound amazing in your whip... or in your 'phones. Check out “Extravagance” and “Bright Eyes” for the zenith of this cross-continental hip-hop gem, which is optimally experienced in a penthouse jacuzzi.

Was Keith surprised or suspicious when you first contacted him about this? It's unlikely that he receives a lot of cold calls from people in the European techno scene. “I think he was a little surprised. Keith and I had a really long conversation. I'd sent him loops to check out and see if that was even a direction he wanted to go. The great thing was, Keith asked what my history and background was and we started talking about electronic music in Berlin. Believe it or not, Keith has this real connection to Kraftwerk. He was blown away by their live show. In his mind, even though I'm an American electronic artist in Berlin, I was sort of an extension of Kraftwerk—to my benefit.

“They say don't ever meet your heroes, but it wasn't like that with Keith. He was twice as nice, twice as humble. The funny thing about hip-hop is, those MC cats go off on each other on their tracks. But in real life, they're absolutely nothing like the foul-mouthed, confrontational person that they seem to be in their [verses]. I mean, Keith's a fucking weirdo, straight up, but he's amazing.”

Because of COVID, the duo couldn't record and mix the record together, but Pronsato did mix Keith's Salon in Willie Nelson's Arlyn Studios in Austin. “It was this weird combination. I was working with this engineer, Joseph Holguin. He's mixed like 15 Willie Nelson albums, and you have Keith being a foul-mouth going over the monitors,” he says, laughing.

Following the Kool Keith experience, Pronsato's mind was ablaze with hip-hop production ideas. He next linked up with Washington DC rapper/poet/musician Black Saturn, crafting four demo tracks over the last couple of years, for which he's currently searching for a label. “I like Saturn a lot because not only is he an incredible MC, he's also an experimental musician, he's a poet, a polymath.”

Recorded at Sear Sound in NYC, the demo bears the bass-heavy, sinister vibe of Brooklyn's WordSound roster at its darkest and smartest. Bruno paints eerie, subliminally funky backdrops over which Saturn spits lyrics with the piquant, streetwise heft of Antipop Consortium and Dälek. “I'm trying to hone my hip-hop chops,” Pronsato says. “I don't at all consider myself a hip-hop producer, because it's still kind of early in the game for me.” Nevertheless, he's off to an auspicious start in this realm.

As exciting as it is to see Pronsato extend his talents to the hip-hop world, it's his forthcoming full-length under his most familiar handle that should really flip wigs. Rare Normal is a new direction for Bruno; it's perhaps his least dance-oriented release. “Above The Launderette” places vibraphone, bass, and snare in a sparse, ominous atmosphere, not unlike Mica Levi's Under The Skin soundtrack, but it's more sensual and rhythmically robust. “Perfume Saint” is as stripped down and weirdly angled as Italian art-rock unit Starfucker's Sinistri. On “Like Hannah,” Pronsato plays (or samples) acoustic guitar with a downcast languor that makes Jandek sound hopeful. “Cops Are Weird” is simply a cool plunge into minimalist oddity and masterly tonal feng shui. “Statues Disfigured” is one of Pronsato's strangest tracks; it sounds as if it's recorded at the bottom of a dank well, but its ticking beats, bass smudges, and disorienting vibraphone smears generate a subtly menacing mood. Elsewhere, Pronsato veers into interiorized, cubist funk reminiscent of Frank Bretschneider's Komet. Throughout, Bruno proves himself a master of low-key tension and mystery. What prompted this shift in approach?

“So much of my music has been buried in sound design and not so much in note-oriented pieces of music. I wanted to be more exposed.”

“I wanted to take a little back from the sound design and work more with notes. I spent a lot of time with a teacher studying 12-tone composition around the same time and I was listening to tons of Charles Ives. I got really inspired by this classical sound, but I wanted to bring my very dumbed-down version of what I imagined it would be in the Bruno Pronsato world. It's the 'naked walk in the park' version.”

With streaming royalties and record sales solid but insufficiently lucrative, Pronsato relies on live performances to make his living, but he's had to scale back there to help raise his two children. Consequently, he's been doing more mastering work and lecturing at some cultural centers. He also hopes to secure a music-production teaching gig at “an unnamed school of esteem” in Germany this summer. And he's enjoyed a rewarding side hustle as personal music coach for Mexican artist Ricardo Mondragon, who turns sound waves into sculptures.

As for the rest of 2023, a couple of labels have pressed Pronsato for EPs. As he ponders those offers and contemplates a possible EP with Markus Nikolai called Duets, in which he sings with other real singers, he plans to chill for a bit. “Because after [Rare Normal] comes out, I think it's going to be a shock to some people. I'll have some 'regular' Bruno material out for people, so I don't scare away the crowd too much.”

No offense intended, brother-greg.

What weirded me out, I admit, was how many presets in the demo video used a 4-note phrase that is at the core of my cult story-song classic, "Tattooed Rose" (Brother Greg), available at most streaming sites. Is this a coincidence?

Yes, it's a coincidence, and if your question is a sly way to promote your music, much respect for your hustle.

The bundle price needs to be attractive

Here is the info we are about to add to the web site. I hope this clarifies things. Is it possible, one or more of your licenses is NFR (not for resale?) this would occur if gifted, transferred from another customer, or bought using .edu discount.

Here's how discounts for existing license holders are calculated:

  • Each major product you own - Aalto, Kaivo, Virta, or Sumu - adds a 20% discount to the bundle price
  • Aaltoverb does not apply towards the discount
  • Licenses that were gifted, transfered, or purchased using an educational discount do not count towards the discount

Please also note that due to Sumu's discounted price during the early access period, if you already own all of our other products (thank you!), then the cheapest way for you to get Sumu is to buy it directly while it's still in early access. Once Sumu 1.0 is released and selling at full price, a discount will be available by purchasing through the bundle.

Would it be possible to update the patch launcher/index, so that it does not immediately change a patch upon first click? I've lost quite a few nice patches to this, as I am so used to Aalto. I miss this functionality.

Sorry to hear— I feel I failed you here. I have lost some patches myself this way. I looked at what other plugins do, and some other biggies will also lose your work in progress if you switch to a different patch. So I figured it was OK, if not optimal.

What I added at that point was the small triangle by the right of the patch menu. This will appear if you have changes since saving the patch. If you get used to looking at it, it can stop you from clicking and switching the patch.

What I would like to add in the future is a full undo that can restore the plugin to any previous state, even after switching patches. this would have prevented your issues but is a big feature I did not have time for before Early Access.

Sumu on my Mac is seriously buggy

Sorry to hear. We'll be hard at work on these issues.

Anyone with this problem of high CPU use or crashes PLEASE set the number of voices to 1 in the input module before writing in and let us know how that affects things. This information is a big help. At 8 voices or more, CPU use is known to be very high now.

Thanks for the nice feedback :-)

You can't drag and drop because there are so many controls that affect the way a sound is analyzed, it's not possible to do as an automatic process.

And also for legal reasons!

Sumu isn't adding the folder I've assigned for my own Vutu-generated partials when clicking the three dots in the Partials section and importing.

When you select the folder containing your .utu files, they are imported into compressed .sumu files in the Sumu Partials folder. The directory and any directores below it that you select, will be searched and a similar tree of directories made in the Sumu Partials folder. It's like "sync" for all the .utu files.

I'll try to improve on the UI a bit and make a demo movie or something for the next release.

Wow, the formatting on the patch text is crazy, talk about out of the box!

Yes I want to add visual indicators but with 64 channels per patch it's a whole new design problem, and one left for later.

A single sumu instance in a blank project on default patch brings CPU meter to 46 percent.

That sounds about like what I'd expect.

CPU is totally dependent on the number of voices active, which is set in the input module. If a patch uses too much CPU you can turn down the number of voices. A couple of the patches are set at 16 voices and no computer I have can run them now.

It's prerelease software and optimizing has not been a focus at all. If it is interesting to you but not usable for you now I hope you'll keep an eye out for future releases.

FYI, I think I have introduced a bug affecting performance on MacOS / Intel. In a previous beta, it was running fine on my 2015 Retina MBP and that's a machine I am targeting. But on reading the reports of unusable performance I tried the latest beta and it's behaving much as people describe: unusable. I'll look into this ASAP.

Will Vutu ever be integrated into Sumu's UI?

I've got no plans to do that - one reason is design and one is legal (Loris being GPL software). Practically speaking I'd have to re-implement Loris, which is not happening any time soon.

[edit] Oh and thank you for looking into the demo noise.

Not a problem, I rely on your feedback to find the right balance!

Sumu is an additive instrument that I've had in the works for a long time. Now that it's nearing completion and heading towards a public beta soon I'm going to break with the way I normally do things and put some detailed info out ahead of its release.

Sumu preview

Sumu is another semi-modular instrument. It shares the general appearance of its patcher-in-the-center design with Aalto, Kaivo and Virta. As you can see, it's on the more complex end of the spectrum like Kaivo. Everything is visible at once and there are no tabs or menu pages to navigate, which suits the way I like to program a synthesizer tweaking a little something here, a little something there.

In the same way that Kaivo brought two different and compatible kinds of synthesis together, combining granular synthesis with physical modeling, Sumu combines advanced additive synthesis with FM synthesis.

What's most different about Sumu compared to my other synths is that the signals in the patcher are not just one channel of data, but 64—one for each partial in a sound! By keeping all these channels of data independent and still using the same patching interface, Sumu offers a very usable entry point into additive synthesis, and a range of musical possibilities that have only been approachable with high-end or academic tools or just coding everything yourself... until now.

Sumu oscillators

Each of Sumu's oscillators is the simplest possible kind of FM:a single carrier+modulator pair. And the modulator can produce a variable amount of noise, which like the modulation ratio and depth can be controlled individually per oscillator. In a single voice there are 64 such pairs. Obviously a lot of sounds are possible with this setup—in fact, with the right parameters varying appropriately we can reproduce any musical sound very faithfully with this kind of oscillator bank.

Sumu partials

There are a few ways of generating all of those control channels without the kind of painful per-partial editing that some of the first digital synths used. The first is the PARTIALS module up top, where you can see a diagram of all the 64 partials over time. This is like a sonogram style of diagram where x is time, y is pitch, and thickness of each like is amplitude. There is also an additional axis for noisiness at each partial.

A separate application will use the open-source Loris work by Kelly Fitz and Lippold Haken to analyze sounds and create partial maps.

Sumu envelopes

Another way of generating control data is with the ENVELOPES module. It’s a normal envelope generator more or less—except that it generates 64 separate envelopes, one for each partial. Generally you would trigger them all at the same time, but each does have its own trigger so they can be separate. Using the “hi scale” parameter the high envelopes will be quicker than the low ones, making a very natural kind of lowpass contour to the sound.

Sumu pulses

Finally on the top row there’s the PULSES module. This combines an LFO and a randomness generator into one module. The intensity and other parameters of the pulses can be different for every partial. So this makes modulations that can be focused on a certain frequency range, but you don’t have to mess around editing partials one by one. You could also, for example, use the pulses to trigger the envelopes all at different times.

The PULSES module was inspired by my walks in a small canyon near my house, and listening to the very finely detailed and spatially spread sounds of water running in a small creek. Each drop contributes something to the sounds and the interplay between the parts and the whole is endlessly intriguing. 

To make a water drop sound, two envelopes are needed at the same time: a rise in pitch and an exponential decay in amplitude. So PULSES lets you put out two such envelopes in sync. Then of course we generalize for a wider range of functions, so we can find out, what if the drops were quantized, or had different shapes over time? A voice turning into a running river is the kind of scene that additive synthesis can paint very sensitively. The PULSES module is designed to help create sounds like this. 

Sumu space

The SPACE module lets us position each partial in the sound independently. Coming back to the creek idea, we can hear that certain pitch ranges happen in certain locations around us due to the water speed and the resonances of different cavities. This all paints a lively acoustic scene. By positioning many little drops independently, while allowing some variation, we can approximate this kind of liveliness.

This module centers around two kinds of data, a set of positions for each partial known as home, and a vector field: a direction [x, y, z] defined at each point in a 3-dimensional space. There will be a set of both the home and the field patterns to choose from. By offering these choices, and a small set of parameters controlling the motion of the partials, such as speed, the homing tendency, and the strength of the vector field, we can quickly create a wide variety of different sonic spaces without the tedium of editing each partial independently. 

The RESONATORS module is very simple and inspired by the section of the Polymoog synthesizer with the same name. It’s simply three state-variable filters in parallel, with limited bandwidth and a bit of distortion for that “warm” sound. In Sumu, a synth we could otherwise describe as “very digital,” it’s nice to have a built-in way of adding a different flavor. 

So I have this interface you see above, and a sound engine, and I'm working feverishly to marry the two. To enable all of the animations and the new pop-up menu, I wrote a whole new software layer that provides a completely GPU-based UI kit and interfaces directly with the VST3 library. Because it's been such a long process this time, I'm going to "build in public" more than I am used to doing, and have a public beta period. My plan is for this to start in December. (Yes, of 2021, smarty pants.) Meanwhile I hope this information gives you interested folks something to whet your appetites, and even a basis for starting to think about what kinds of patches you might want to make.

Sumu is too big when I open it on my MacBook Pro inside Logic. How can I resize it and make it smaller?

The resizer is in the bottom right corner. If it can’t be moved onscreen, then hopefully you can resize your screen resolution and / or rearrange displays as a workaround. Once you have the size you want, be sure to save it in your DAW and it should open at your chosen size from then on.

Or if none of this works, we’ll update soon.

Issues we hear and are working on:

  • demo noise too loud: we'll release a minor update within two weeks
  • EUR payments don't work: this should be fixed and deployed now!
  • Bundle discounts are confusing: we'll make the logic more clear and send out an email this week.
  • crashes on DAWs including Reaper, Cubase, FL: will fix for next update
  • too-big window size on some DAWs: will fix for next update

Like our other synths, each patch in Sumu has a fixed number of free-running voices set in the INPUT module. Because all of our synths can make notes by turning dials, just like modulars, whether you play a note or not, that max number of voices is always taking up CPU.

So for those few patches that were set at 16 voices because they sounded too cool to resist that way, you can turn the number of voices down to 4 or something.

And yes, it's truly still a CPU-heavy synth. Like our other ones it will get much better over time as I optimize.

There are a lot of people having issues with the calculation of the bundle and discounts for licenses they have. Thanks for your patience with us as we iron out the wrinkles—we'll have a look and revise this very soon.

I can't get over the really loud and harsh white noise that repeatedly comes in and out in the demo. Currently dissuading me from continuing to play with the plugin. Any chance that can be toned down?

Thanks for the feedback, I'll turn it down in the next Early Access release.

@euanek are you logged in?

Also if you have all previous products, the bundle does not really apply.

We're working hard to ship this month. There will be an Early Access version first, then 1.0 with MPE support. Lots more info on Early Access soon.

There's not a way to do this now, but it would be a cool feature to have. I'll put it on the list for the next version.

Aalto and Kaivo work just like other plugins do in Ableton, using MIDI map mode:
https://help.ableton.com/hc/en-us/articles/360000038859-Making-custom-MIDI-Mappings

workinonit!

The kind of physical modeling I used in Kaivo's body was invented for solving differential equations. These were often electrical - for antenna design for example. More recently people began using them for synthesis. The book Numerical Sound Synthesis by Stefan Bilbao is the definitive guide.

Thanks for the kind words!

I could do this but it might break people's patches! I will have to check.

SInce it's a granulator can't you play things slower, to get a longer duration? If you want to import a longer file, you could make a faster version (upsample) so it fits.

Hi, Vutu on Windows is not ready either, they will come out at the same time.