↬ Twenty-three – 05: Ragas, Modules, Perception, Design

Hi, I’m Rudiger Meyer and this is my monthly newsletter covering what I’ve been up to and what’s been catching my attention.

In my last newsletter I wrote about how I was enjoying getting back to a focus on sound (rather than the construction of scales and tunings) with the updates to the Audulus Hordijk modules that I was working on. Shortly after sending it I came across a fantastic Instagram account that took me back to the scale stuff in a delightful way: An Indian singing coach demonstrating some of the ragas that I’d programmed into the Audulus Raga-scales module, with the help of some visual diagrams to clarify both the scale steps and ornamental possibilities. Inspiring both aurally and from a notational point of view.

Here’s his demonstration of Raag Bairav (Ahir):

And here’s the Erv Wilson page that I used as a point of departure for the Raga-scales module, indicating how they might be played on a twelve-fret guitar. Ahir Bairav is No. 19 on the list.

And speaking of tunings and adapted guitars, more on Instagram using Lego to allow for the adapted tunings. Or a harpsichord and guitar playing 18 Renaissance steps to the octave.

I’ve continued with the Hordijk updates though. Finished the 24 dB Filter. And discovered that Vadim Zavalishin, whose wonderful book on The Art of VA Filter design I’d first come across while working on my first version of the Hordijk 24 dB filter back in 2018, gave a presentation, available on YouTube, of his 2nd revision of the book. In it he recommends An Introduction to Digital filters by a certain Steven Schoen, who is none other than @stschoen, a frequent contributor to the Audulus Forum and Discord, and much-valued member of the Audulus community. A central feature of Zavalishin’s book is his use of ‘analogue’ block diagrams to describe the functions of the various filter types, and this has been one of the factors that has made it easy to explore those filter designs in Audulus without having to be well versed in DSP programming – something Steven Schoen clearly demonstrates in his paper.

And for those that are versed in DSP programming, Audulus now also a DSP node for creating things in that way. The programming is in Lua, as with the Canvas node (mainly used for UI elements), so there’s an (easy) already established familiarity, and with some early examples popping up on the Discord, an area that might easily seem out of reach, is suddenly not that far away.

* * *

Peter Blasser of Ciat Lonbarde fame, has released the Peterlin, his pared-down take on Rob Hordijk’s Benjolin with a classic Ciat Lonbarde wooden enclosure and banana jacks. I’d put together an Audulus version of Hordijk’s similar Blippoo Box back in 2018, and was inspired by the the look of this new thing, nicely demonstrated in Hainbach’s video on it, to cobble together a version in Audulus. @StSchoen had already made a version of it in Audulus 3, and that provided a starting point that left me free to focus on the interface, thinking it could easily be done within an hour or two. But of course that’s not how these things go…

The Benjolin started life as a ‘patch in a box’ that was intended for DIY workshops where the participants would build it themselves (with help from Hordijk), even if they had no prior experience. Eurorack versions were later released, first by Epoch Modular, and as recently as 2020 in a v2 by After Later Audio, in collaboration with Hordijk himself. The whole story can be read in their manual.

The thing that piqued my interest with the Ciat Lonbarde version was its alternative take on the number of controls and the way in which they were laid out on the square enclosure. In comparison with the Eurorack versions much was left out, while compared to the original DIY versions there’s greater interactivity with the inclusion of a number of inputs, both for audio and modulation. The process of reduction is one I find fascinating: How to simplify, and in that way open up for easier interactions, without loosing to much functionality. How the layout of the knobs can make for a different way of relating to the circuit.

My first version attempted to follow the Blasser design a closely as possible, to the extent possible within the Audulus idiom. Labels are very useful in understanding how to use the thing, and the canvas node in Audulus 4 offers some good possibilities that weren’t available before – I myself have often found myself somewhat lost when opening up my old Audulus 3 Hordijk modules, so I’ve been keen to improve on that this time round. The Ciat Lonbarde version is without labels though, and in the case of the Benjolin there’s something attractive in that. To get away from thinking and embrace the chaotic nature of the device – to focus on listening and responding to what one hears. So I made a version both with and without labels, one to get to know it, and the other to play with once the functionality has been internalised.

Once that was done I got curious about re-introducing some of the functionality that had been cut away and bending it in a slightly different direction, also playing around with some of the internal workings. The various stages can be found on the Audulus Discord.

Beauty in design is not found by adding prettiness to a bold, functional design, it’s adding detail to the essence, so the functional logic becomes more humane, refined, and clear. As Edward Tufte said: “To clarify, add detail.”

The quote is from a decade old article, Learning to See, by Oliver Reichenstein on the iA website, which they’ve recently updated with a new take on the classic Garamond typeface.

We always deal with interpretations of music, and we always deal with interpretations of typefaces (printed, processed on different screens). Pure form, whether it’s a triangle or a Garamond only exists in our mind. A lot of the early Garamonds were photocopying the shape of the metal, ignoring both the nature of print and the the nature of the screen. That’s one reason why early digital typefaces were lacking soul. Studying Garamond’s original prints, f.i., is like reading sheet music. —@reichenstein on Mastodon

In the article he talks about the process of learning by imitating, eventually gradually internalising a sense for the nuances – “learning to see”. (Reichenstein also links to a wonderful video in the article: Teaching to See, about the artist Inge Druckrey.) I’ve been thinking about that in terms of listening: how one gradually develops a nuanced sense of the characteristics of the various waveforms and filters – “learning to hear”.

My approach to the artistic process is to trust my eyes, not my mind. —Kenn Backhaus

What applies to Backhaus doesn’t apply to Picasso:
I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them. —Picasso

Genius or mortal, you need to learn to discern what you see and what you think you see before you can paint either reality.

By observing great examples of design with your own eyes, attempting to duplicate them with your own hand, you will feel, see, and eventually understand the invisible lines behind a great product at a deeper and deeper level… With practice your intuition evolves, and the better you understand what you do, the deeper your intuition. Only once you do not consciously think about the theory anymore are you achieving mastery.
Learning to See

* * *

My mixtape for Don’t Look Back Records is out, so check it out, if you haven’t already.

My initial aural ‘seed’, the first impulse for what to share on the mixtape was the opening sounds of Japan’s Ghosts, although it turned out somewhat different in practice. I did end up including a number of items from my own history, as I cover in the little article I wrote to accompany the collection, but it’s not as nostalgic as one might think. Perhaps more to do with the things I’ve been listening to during the past few years, as chronicled in this newsletter, but with those aspects from my formative years as an entry point.

On ‘Ghosts’ we tried to get the same feeling as Karlheinz Stockhausen’s 1950’s electronic albums which sound very old fashioned and scary in their way!

That’s from an article in Electronics & Music Maker from January 1983 that I read as a teenager. It’s interesting to reflect on the role of reading that all those years ago (behind a Juno 60) might have played in shaping the paths I was later to follow, and how remarkable it is that it’s available all these years later on the internet via Muzines.

* * *

Matthias Ott wrote an article on his site that resonates, about the value of having a personal website.

It all starts with the idea that a blog isn’t just a mere collection of notes in a Web-log. It is more than that because it involves one crucially important, magical act: publishing. Publishing our notes holds us as authors accountable, it forces us to shape our notes so that others will be able to make sense of them as well.… This, in turn, also makes it easier for ourselves to interpret our notes later…publishing our notes forces us to exercise care. As Cory writes: “Writing for an audience keeps me honest.”

I’ve experienced this myself, often referring to my 2018 Modular Diary as I’ve been revisiting the Hordijk stuff. I’ve recently been posting a lot to the Audulus Discord, but miss having the clarity and conciseness of having it all collected on my own site. Perhaps time to get the Modular Diary flowing again.

One of the things from the Modular Diary that I was thrilled to discover at the time was a film from the early 70s showing something of the origins of what was later to become the Blippoo Box and then the Benjolin:

…around the year 1980 we had these EMS Putney synthesizers and we had these Revox R-77 tape recorders and with with the Putney synthesizer you could make a really nice, always changing patch, by routing, by using two of the oscillators of the Putney and using the Revox as a delay, because the Revox had three heads, a recording head and a playback head and you could record and a little while later on the playback heads you could get a signal back and because it had two tracks you could make two delays, so what you would do you would feed the output of one oscillator in the left input of the of the tape deck, then the output of that left channel on the tape deck would go into the frequency modulation input of the second oscillator, the output of the second oscillator would go into the second track of the of the Revox and the output of the second track of the Revox would go back into the frequency modulation of the first oscillator, so you would have a cross modulation system and the Revox would introduce some time delay, so the cross feedback would be delayed, and this delay sort of makes the system completely chaotic and totally unpredictable and it could just go on for hours and constantly do different things, so I remembered that and I thought that is something interesting to do in the Benjolin…

* * *

I’ve finally had the satisfaction of having all of Lene Henningsen’s books in my hands in physical form, both the Danish originals and the English translations. They’re all available at Maggie’s Mill. We’re planning to do some podcast episodes on them soon. And she’s been nominated for the Blixen Prize!

* * *

Richard Scott has some Hordijk Chaos on his Bandcamp. “Unfinished stuff I am working on” as he points out.

And for fun, the TikTok “It’s Gonna Rain of our Time” on Mastodon.

All the best,
↬ Rudiger

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Hi, I’m <a rel="me" class="p-name u-url" href="https://rudigermeyer.com">Rudiger Meyer</a>, a composer interested in the play between music, sound, and&nbsp;media.