randy's Recent Posts
No news but it's my top priority besides Sumu.
We have updated all of our software instruments—Aalto, Kaivo, and Virta— to version 1.9.5, bringing native Apple Silicon support for M1 and M2 Macs. The new versions are Universal Binaries, which support both Apple Silicon and Intel processors. Users with Apple Silicon computers should be able to run 30% more voices or more, as compared with the previous versions in Rosetta 2 emulation.
This update is free. Installers contain Universal Binaries for both VST2 and Audio Units V2 versions.
Windows versions are unaffected by this update. Aaltoverb, previously released with Apple Silicon support, is also unaffected.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I've just posted a public beta of Vutu for MacOS. Vutu is the sound analysis program for the upcoming Sumu synthesizer.
A Vutu quickstart video is also online now. I haven't had a chance to write any better documentation yet, and I"m not sure I will before I get the Sumu beta out. However, Vutu in its current form is pretty simple anyway, and most of what you need to know you can find out by fooling around with the dials and listening and looking.
Vutu analyzes sounds using Loris, developed by Kelly Fitz and Lippold Haken at the CERL Sound Group. A detailed intro to Loris is available on Hakenaudio.com: Current Research in Real-time Sound Morphing More publications are also linked from the CERL Sound Group Loris page. Loris is distributed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) and thus, Vutu is also. Vutu's source is available on Github.
Vutu is built on a cross-platform GUI framework I developed called mlvg. Compiling it for Windows and Linux should therefore be a reasonably easy task, but I know there will be a bunch of details to iron out, so I'm not taking that on until after I can make a Sumu beta.
That was a lot of info and links. Why would you want to play with Vutu right now? Some reasons might be:
- You want to get started making your own sound bank for Sumu.
- You have to try out the newest audio software, whatever it is, and this was just released today.
- You enjoy looking at bandwidth-enhanced partials and hearing odd noises.
Each voice of Sumu will be able to play back 64 bandwidth-enhanced partials simultaneously. A bandwidth-enhanced partial is basically a single sine wave, modulated with noise. So at any given instant of time, in addition to frequency, amplitude and phase, it also has a bandwidth, or noisiness. Making sounds out of such partials is a very powerful technique, and I think it's pretty easy to grasp. What's been difficult about additive synthesis is the large amount of control data that's needed. How do you generate it all? My answer in Sumu is to use the familiar patchable interface, but extended so that each patch cord carries separate signals for each partial. This allows sound design in a playful, exploratory way that should be familiar to any modular user. Honestly I think it will be fun as hell.
Thanks to Kelly Fitz and Lippold Haken for creating and sharing Loris. Thanks also to Greg Wuller for helping me get going with the Loris source code, and for utu, which became Vutu. Utu is a Finnish word for "mist" or "fog", like Sumu. Vutu is short for visual utu.
A Metal-capable Mac running MacOS 10.14 (Mojave) or greater.
Vutu is native for Intel and Apple Silicon.
Since it's an analyzer and not a real-time program (except for playing the results), CPU doesn't really matter.
Hi Zef, I didn't see this until now—release in December.
Sorry for the delay in replying. I've been so deep in the coding. Because I'm very busy finishing up and the actual release is quite close now, I've stopped adding people to the beta list so I can focus better. Thanks for your understanding.
This goes from Soundplane directly to norns. A big deal! I did get a Norns so one of these days I can try the combination here and see about maintaining it (does it work on newest MacOS, etc.)
please email me and I'll send you one.
For me too! I'm happy to be near the finish line.
Please chill. I just develop on Mac so things come out first there. Vutu for Windows comes out after Sumu beta.
Helpful ideas, thank you!
Nope. Still working on Sumu. Thanks for your interest.
Dream Weaver: The Otherworldly Music Of Seattle Producer enereph
by Dave Segal
photo: Twyla Sampaco
Amid the dozens of oblivious customers playing pinball and pool at Seattle's 4Bs Tavern on a Tuesday night in July, something extraordinary and unexpected was happening. Enereph (31-year-old electronic musician and Patchwerks employee Connie Fu) was flaunting sound design as complex and unconventional as '90s-era Photek. Her merciless, unpredictable beats flitted and pummeled with scientific rigor. Her sound was perfectly poised between physicality and braininess.
Against the odds, enereph's music cut through the clamor at this monthly showcase headed by Matt “EZBOT” Piecora with a distinctiveness that made me think that one day she would laugh at these ludicrous circumstances, as she prepares to take the stage in the near future at the sort of prestigious festival that gets covered in publications such as The Wire.
The journey to enereph's current status as a musical force on the verge of underground notoriety is both typical and atypical. As Fu was growing up in the Detroit suburb of Northville, her parents enrolled her in piano lessons taught by Ukrainian instructor Isabella Vilensky. From age 5 to 15, Fu learned how to play works by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and Mendelssohn. She competed often and participated in an annual Michigan Music Teachers Association achievement test. But she didn't really think of herself as a musician, but rather “as a person who was playing piano,” she says in an interview.
As a youngster, one of Fu's favorite songs was Shakira's “Whenever, Wherever,” to which she would often sing. “I was really into random pop music. But as a kid growing up in suburban Michigan, I wasn't exposed to a whole lot of music. My parents are also immigrants. What they played at home was essentially Celine Dion and a selection of Chinese folk songs. It was quite a weird mix. Between classical piano repertoire, mainstream pop, and songs of my parents’ youth, which I had little context for, I found it really difficult to grasp the concept of music.”
It wasn't until Fu started studying visual art and art history at Harvard, that she discovered her true path to becoming a musician. A class devoted to Surrealism Between The Two World Wars drew her into an obsession with art history. This led to Fu engaging in painting, installation art, and performance art while at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. “I began scoring my performances. That's how I found my way back to music—specifically electronic music and scenic music through this concept of writing an accompaniment or sonic expression of what I was doing in physical space.”
Fu's interest in electronic music was further sparked when, during her first stint in Seattle, a friend introduced her to the blog Listen To This, about out-of-print records, many in the ambient and New Age genres. There she encountered Hiroshi Yoshimura's Wet Land, which remains one of her favorite albums. “It's a super-iconic ambient album.”
When prodded to offer other inspirations, Fu says Meredith Monk. “It's mostly about the way she weaves together materials and mediums to discover new modes of perception."
“I'm drawn to art that comes at you multifaceted, as a force. You have to reckon with that force with your whole being, and that attention breeds deep listening and observation. Looking closely at things reveals how incongruous they are, and that is a huge source of inspiration for me.”
While attending grad school in New York, Fu often frequented a club called BASEMENT by herself. “I didn't know what I was going to experience, necessarily, and didn't have anybody to share it with; I was sort of a fly on the wall, inserting myself into the situation where it's very dark and dungeon-y and hazy. [BASEMENT is] in what used to be a glass and steel-frame door factory. So there were all these nooks and crannies full of crumbling brick. It would be all red and dark, and I listened to a lot of techno there.
“Those are some pretty transformative experiences, too, because I felt like there was a heartbeat of the world going on. That along with the beautiful, open expanse of ambient music, those extremes drew me to start producing electronic music... In a way, they are two sides of the same feeling—this extremely transcendent feeling but also a very rooted feeling.” Seeing hardware-based techno artist Headless Horseman perform at BASEMENT “was pretty influential as well—the whole outfit, with the black fringe and the face... it's like this very mysterious character.”
Artists such as Headless Horseman made Fu ponder the notion of her persona. “I haven't always been a forward person with aspects of my personality. And I feel connected with artists whose personas are more subtle. Almost like the lack of persona is the persona—in a general sense, there is mystery. But there are many ways to shape that mystique and mystery. On the level of persona I was drawn to electronic music because it felt like an easier realm to live in than that of rock and pop stars.”
Enereph's early recordings already revealed promise. The 2020 track “Andromeda” is abstract techno full of tantalizing textures and spluttering beats, as if she conceived a banger for the club and then decided to make disorientation more important than danceability. Co-written with John Nap and Jonathan Christ, “Spiral Is The Way” combines pastel, gossamer ambient pop with intricate drum & bass and then ends with a lament/chant coda. “As A Point” continues enereph's journey into nimble, featherweight drum & bass, enhanced by her own diaphanous vocals. The chilling, emotive ambient of “Reinvention” evokes Brian Eno circa Another Green World.
Reminiscent of Moebius' solo work, “clamorseeking” is a methodical, creeping, and bleeping piece that makes you feel as if a terrifying amphibian is sneaking up on you. More peculiarities ensue in a demonstration of enereph's most idiosyncratic production tendencies. This collage establishes her as a formidable experimental musician.
The World Unfound EP from 2020 represents some of enereph's most adventurous music, “New Chapter” brings dystopian sci-fi-flick terror fuel while “Hymn” offers a delicate, melismatic vocal intro into which come hard, spaced-out beats and “steel poles dropped on the factory floor” ambience. The track exemplifies enereph's stunning contrast between beauty and brutality. “Morning” classical-influenced IDM, shimmeringly oneiric and disorienting in equal measure while “Tomorrow” purveys desolate, forlorn ambient in the vein of Tonto's Expanding Head Band's “Tama” (with dreamy vocals à la Seefeel's Sarah Peacock), getting more turbulent as it goes. World Unfound was the first electronic music enereph released. “From start to finish, I was terrified. [laughs] So maybe that's why it sounds so dystopian. This is literally how I feel making this and releasing it right now. It was a huge milestone, because of the vulnerability of it all made it so scary. Making music is way more vulnerable than learning repertoire.
“Well, not to hierarchize it—they're scary in different ways. Stage fright is something I struggle with, so it felt important to take that walk from the innards of my soul, which, at the time, were kind of tattered.
“I was in my mid 20s and processing a lot. To take that walk through the wintry hinterland of the soul out into releasing that piece was really important.”
The forthcoming album music for weavers—which is projected for a 2023 release—shows growing confidence and skill levels in enereph's production. The opening cut “undressing” is a red herring: it's pensive ambient embellished with Grace Scheele's mesmerizing harp playing. After this, things swerve into much more rhythmic territory. “Drift toward” glories in the aquatic-/space-funk realm redolent of electro psychonauts such as Jedi Knights and Drexciya. “In december” and “rabbit bounce” embrace bruising, complex IDM that roils in hyper-modern sci-fi milieus.
Though a rhythmic brutality runs through enereph's songs, they also possess an erotic aura. Throughout music for weavers, enereph excels at creating depth and dimensionality in her songs. She generates a striking contrast between vaporous melodies and rugged beats and bass frequencies. Enereph's newest track “meant to be,” part of Delusional Records’ second anniversary compilation which also features tracks by Trovarsi, DateNite, Aria Bare, and Vutall, is swoon-inducing electro/R&B with Fu confidentially cooing the refrain, “life is better when you feel it.” Listeners may hear similarities with recent output by fellow Seattle producer Lusine.
“I'm working on some weavings right now and I'm getting into the family of patterns that go by the name 'overshot,' which is distinctly American family of patterns. With overshot, the weaver can create intricate patterns using a relatively simple loom. You can create all of these wonderful curved lines and patterns that seem intricate, but when you look closely at them, they're just little square blocks arranged in different ways. So it's like you're looking at pixels, but you're looking at a weaving. There are infinite variations. I appreciate how inexhaustible the pattern-making field is—expressed both through textiles and through music. I'd like to incorporate overshot patterns in the visual accompaniment to music for weavers.”
“I've also been thinking more about the music being the sonic expression of the loom, a score-writing instrument. If I were more of a literalist I'd call myself out for that, because really I was trying to make some dance music and didn't quite make what I set out to do. Maybe the connection to the loom is there, too, in that the relationship of human to machine is never as seamless as one imagines. I set out to do something and discovered I was much more interested in another idea that only faintly related to the first one. Or it was some kind of new pool of thought only revealed to me by embarking on the first idea.
“It's all connected to me wanting to make dance music, but feeling quite separate from club and DJ culture. I've had meaningful times at clubs, but the most meaningful times I've experienced alone.”
Fu is at the stage of her creative life where she's trying to figure out how her studio work relates to what she chooses to perform live. I ask her if she views her music in the context of functionality and if so, what is it useful for? At the time of our interview, Fu was working on music for weavers, but says, “It's not like I'm writing the music to carry out the function of being listened to while people weave at the loom. But if there were a character in a story with that concept, that's the picture I’m more interested in capturing. It's not literal; it's purely conceptual.
“Whenever I sit at the loom, I remember how very piano-like it is. It's a mechanical instrument with many intricate parts. You sit on a bench facing it and there are pedals and a horizontal bar with a metal comb that threads come through. You beat the bar forward to situate every row, and that's how your cloth builds, row by row.”
“I'm toying with this idea that the loom is an instrument that I'm playing, which is essentially silent, but the music it would make is the music that I'm writing. It makes fabric that's almost like a score. What would the musical output of something like the loom sound like?”
Fu says that her new music is “connected to the idea of [Madrona Labs' software synthesizer] Kaivo, which is why these days I've been spending my time either playing the piano or mixing these tracks, which are kind of rhythmic. I kind of wanted to make dance tracks, but I don't necessarily know that they would be played in a club context. “It's more like, the rhythms are a driving force in the way that weaving a cloth would be. It's a driving force to create something, but your body is actually not free in its movements. Your body is the one driving the force, so you're not necessarily the one dancing; you're more the person producing the rhythms. How does the person producing the rhythms also dance?
“This is why I find it hard to identify fully as a musician; these are thoughts that don't feel like they fit into a musical genre or tradition. They exist as a body of thought.” And that's what makes enereph's music interesting: It's not beholden to any genre or tradition. Its elusiveness is its strength.
Speaking of Madrona Labs, Fu discovered the company during the pandemic via a Discord server from her friend Aaron Turner (aka British producer/instructor kk junker). The subject of Kaivo arose in a channel for instruments and plugins; Fu clicked on the link and bought it soon after. At that point, living in an isolated, tiny house in Poulsbo, Washington, she was using an Elektron Octatrack, a Korg Minilogue, and her computer. She had moved from Cleveland and decided to record an album by herself. Having no community or scene to nourish her, she felt confused and depressed. The album wasn't coming together.
“When I found Kaivo, it was like, this is maybe a harbinger of what's to come; it's semi-modular, it's interesting. Conceptually, it's so inspiring. There are a lot of plugins that are emulating things that exist in the real world, whereas Kaivo comes right out the gate and says, 'This instrument is something that you cannot find in acoustic instruments.' Literally, you're taking a granular synthesizer and you're giving it a physical body and resonant material. It doesn’t exist outside of software and that’s why you should use it. That's super-compelling as a musician. In this sea of thousands of plugins, I could be completely broke if I bought all of the plugins that I wanted. But this is one that I can't not have. Because it's using the medium of software to produce sound that you can't otherwise do.
“What Randy Jones is doing is awesome. And [with Madrona Labs] being based in Seattle, I was feeling a connection. Things that are made in particular places are a product of those places and are inextricably tied to them. Even if it's software and anyone around the world can get it, and it functions just as well and you can contact Randy for support and there's an online community, so it doesn't matter where you are, it still feels meaningful to me that somebody in Seattle made it.
“Seattle is bursting with musical history, so it makes sense.”
“I've only been here cumulatively five years, but it's the longest time I've spent in any place other than [in Northville]. I have this infernal conflict: It's very hard to live here, in many ways. But there are certain things that keep me feeling like there's still something here. Like Madrona Labs being here, Valhalla DSP being here, or various module makers, or very niche music communities overlapping. They make me feel like this is a place where I can still subsist, despite X, Y, and Z.”
Fu is currently working on a film photography project with collaborator Twyla Sampaco, funded by 4Culture, which will eventually be presented publicly with musical accompaniment. It's part of her masterplan to integrate visual art and music (she's also a teaching artist at Frye Museum). “Most of these tracks are tied to specific places. For one of them, I went to Golden Gardens at night and recorded the waves. For another, I did this Kaivo recording where I sampled and resampled the output of Kaivo—ran it back into itself many times—so some very warbled vocals came out. Then I did mushrooms and listened to it and thought, 'This is really interesting.' Afterwards, I still liked it, which was amazing.
“Where that happened was in a little cabin in Bow-Edison. I kind of want to do a photo diary situation where this character that's not quite human, not quite sheep, not quite anything, and is sort of faceless, is in these different locations, living a parallel life to what I live in Seattle—but not quite the same.”
Although Fu is a distinct minority as a woman of color in the Northwest's electronic-music scene, she doesn't like to dwell on obstacles or challenges she's faced due to that. Seattle, she says, has provided her ample opportunities to perform as well as support from various communities. The barriers she feels more sharply are those imposed on her from within.
“The internal lack of confidence, lack of self-worth, or feeling that there's so much happening, why would my contribution matter? That's the stuff I struggle with over time, but I'm starting to be able to see past a little bit more now. But it's only because I've allowed myself to continually make things.
“And now that I have a substantial enough body of work, any time I start to feel that way again or feel really frustrated with myself, I can point myself back to those places and say 'Hey, it's not that you're trying to do this; you have been doing it a long time.' There's momentum, so it's okay, is what I'll say to myself.
“I don't see a ton of other people who are like me in terms of background in the electronic-music community, but then again I do: Everybody is such an individual, and yet I meet and connect with people over one thing or another all the time. I have a lot of hope because I've experienced such amazing opportunities here.
“I want to be a steward of more people to feel that way, to feel confident and like they belong. That's the most important thing.”
“I've been listening to Jlin a lot recently and am inspired to push myself to develop further and deeper in composition. Jlin says in an interview in Electronic Beats that 98% of music making is not music-related, but about figuring out who you are as a person. That resonates with me a lot right now as I find myself fighting to craft a voice that I can firmly stand with.”
I love your synth expeditions. This one is truly epic!
Thanks for the question.
Sumu has 64 bandwidth-enhanced, frequency-modulated partials. So it's really comparing completely different things, to compare it against other synths. A single partial in Sumu would be a musically useful oscillator all by itself.
If your additive synth can make wide-bandwidth noise, then it has enough partials! Then the fun is in figuring out how to control all the parameters of a voice meaningfully and expressively — I'm much more interested in this "how" than in "how much" or "how many".
Hi, thanks for posting.
You have the right idea about OSC. As far as I know there's nothing really that records it so you just record the audio.
MPE is just MIDI, so any DAW should be able to record it and play it live. If a plugin / synth supports MPE, you can play with all the multi-dimensional control a Soundplane can offer.
I wish I were more up on the Soundplane -> CV possibilties. If the Reaktor thing you are using does MPE that should work. Also you could just get something like a Polyend Poly and send it MPE MIDI over a USB cable.
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.”
It shouldn't be hard. I would try to interest someone else who is a Reaktor user and can write the software. I don't have time to work on it but I'm happy to answer questions.
Wow, old thread... but a good idea! Thanks for posting.
Thanks for writing. What you ask is totally reasonable. At the very least an alias should work, which it does not seem to, now. So this is on my list to fix.
I'll appreciate the info, thanks. As far as I know this is an AU-only and computer keyboard-only problem.
I just received my first Apple Silicon-based computer this past weekend. Of course I was excited to find out how all the Madrona Labs software worked on it, so I dove right into some informal tests and benchmarks.
None of my plugins are yet released in native versions for the Apple Silicon-branded ARM processor in the new Macs—rather, they run using Apple's Rosetta 2 emulator which translates their Intel code into ARM instructions. Kaivo is definitely capable of putting a heavy load on the CPU, so I used it as a basis for testing. Because Ableton Live is the hosting environment my customers use the most, and also because it's not yet released for native Apple Silicon, I did the bulk of my testing in Live 10. So the test is all in emulation, and hopefully gives a good general indication of what moving your existing software setup over to an M1 Mac would be like. I tested both the M1 and my 2015 MacBook Pro, which is my daily driver and a pretty typical machine for a lot of my customers out there.
I said above that these tests are informal. That means I didn't take the average of multiple runs, I just did my measurements by looking at Apple's Activity Monitor, and my reports of inferface speed are subjective. That said, I have seen the same behavior while working on the new Macbook Air over the last few days, and everything is consistent with the reporting I've read on these new computers.
- MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
- 8GB RAM
- macOS Big Sur v. 11.1
- MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, early 2015)
- 2.7 GHz Intel Core i5
- macOS Mojave v. 10.14.6
- Ableton Live 10.1.30
- Kaivo 1.9.4
All tests were run at 48000Hz, with Live's sample buffer size set to 512. Built-in audio was used. Each voice used the factory patch "peaking lights," a high-CPU patch with all the resonators and body code in use.
I looked at the CPU percentage used when no Kaivo windows were visible. In addition, I noted if there were any audible glitches, how Live's UI performed with one Kaivo window showing, and how warm the computer was. Here's the data I collected:
Test 1: 32 voices of Kaivo (4 instances x 8)
%CPU: 138, ± 1
UI: a bit slow but usable
%CPU: 310, ± 10
heat: warm, fan audible
Test 2: 16 voices of Kaivo (2 instances x 8)
%CPU: 82, ± 1
%CPU: 133, ± 5
UI: slow but usable
heat: warm, fan audible
Test 3: 12 voices of Kaivo (2 instances x 6)
%CPU: 78, ± 1
%CPU: 101, ± 2
UI: slow but usable
An Ableton Live project with 32 voices (4 instances) of Kaivo is totally usable on the M1 Macbook Air, with only a little bit of UI slowdown evident with a Kaivo window open. The same project is definitely not runnable on my old MacBook Pro.
Interestingly, looking at the eight cores of the M1 running all these voices, it appears that only four of them are doing the heavy lifting. This probably accounts for the fast UI response even under the most load I tested. The M1 has four performance cores and four less powerful efficiency cores—my guess is that cores 5–8 here are the performance cores. Right now it takes more esoteric tools to really determine this.
On my old MacBook Pro, I can add up to around 12 voices of Kaivo before glitching is audible. (This is over two instances of the plugin. The same number of voices over more instances will take a little more CPU because of the overhead of each instance, but may be less glitchy because the scheduling is easier, soooo... it's complicated.)
It may not seem too amazing that a new machine is much faster than a five year old one. But remember, both Live and Kaivo are compiled for a different processor and running in emulation! This is an impressive feat, especially if one can remember the lackluster performance of the original Rosetta's PowerPC to Intel emulation.
I tested my five year old laptop against the M1, not to be mean, but because I don't have a newer one. Since the work that Kaivo is doing is basically CPU-bound, looking at relative CPU benchmarks for newer machines should give us a decent guess at how they would perform in the same test. Geekbench gives us the following numbers for multi core tests, where higher is faster: New Air: 7614 , Old Pro: 1358, Recent 13" MacBook Pro (13-inch Mid 2020): 4512. So going from my old Pro to a current 13" model should give us roughly (4512 / 1358), or three times the number of voices, or what the M1 can do in emulation.
If you have a Mac that's more than a couple of years old, the upgrade to any Apple Silicon Mac should be a big leap in speed, even when running applications that are not yet native. If you have a high end or more recent Mac, one that pulls in a Geekbench 5 multi-core score of around 5000 or higher, it probably makes sense to wait—either until your favorite apps are all native, or for the next generation of Apple Silicon computers.
I have not tested on M2 personally but I think a lot of my customers have M2 computers by now. If there is an issue on your new computer, I think it's more likely to be software related than to do with the M2 chip.
Can you please give more info about what you mean when you say it doesn't work? What specifically is the symptom? What did you expect to happen and what happens instead? Thanks.
Thanks for writing. I like the platform and still want to deploy on iOS. The pricing is hard. I wouldn't want to charge you another $89 for Virta iOS! Ideally one purchase would cover both platforms in the future but Apple makes it hard to do this. Fortunately we have smart friends with the same problem and I know we will figure something out, given time.
Sorry, I stopped adding people to the discord while I'm finishing the beta. This is because I have as many people as I think I can handle now. There's currently no beta to try anyway but I'm getting close!
Sumu comes first!
I realize the Aaltoverb preset UI is really limited. As part of Sumu I'm working on a more capable preset browser that will be shared with all the instruments.
Sounds fun! I don't have anything beyond what's on the website here—you can drag the plugin UI to any size you like and take a screenshot.
Sumu beta comes first.