Photo: Luca Ghedini
Duane Pitre is a musician and programmer.
What got you started using Max?
I began using Max in 2008, at the suggestion of a friend who was in the Columbia Electronic Music PhD program. He was working pretty heavily with Max at the time and we’d talked about how I was looking for ways to better facilitate the use of Just Intonation in my work (something I’d been studying for a couple of years at the time). Although I was working with acoustic and electro-acoustic instruments during that period, using electronics via Max seemed to be an easy way to navigate through the tuning systems I wanted to experiment with. We worked together on the concepting and he built me a patch (to be used in conjunction with a couple of controllers) that would enable me to build custom tunings and change them on the fly. It also allowed me to do other things such as custom build my own synth timbres. After quite a bit of work over a year’s time or so the patch was finished. This is the patch I use to perform Feel Free, both the solo and ensemble versions.
How do you know when something you are working on is finished?
I feel that the type of music I make is the kind that can be eternally adjusted and tweaked. But I guess it’s a sort of content feeling that I get, I just know that it’s “right” at some point, and I stop working on it. That’s not to say I get this feeling with all of the work I do. And when I don’t get this feeling when working on a piece/project, which is usually the case, I scrap it or put it aside to go back to it at a later date. But with the latter scenario, I almost always feel the same way about it when I revisit it…that it still isn’t “right.” I suppose this is my ‘weeding out’ process.
When do you like to use chance or random processes?
Such processes are a big part of my work. I utilize highly controlled chance and randomness, somewhat reminiscent of the kind that can be found in our biological world. I use them to do such things as arrange material, usually in real-time, via probability-based systems that I create (for computers or ensembles). I also use them, in conjunction with these arrangement tasks, for choosing pitch information from fixed “pitch pools” that I construct. These groups of pitches are usually scales I’ve created in Just Intonation, which commonly vary from octave to octave regarding which intervals are allowed. For example, an interval allowed in say the 4th octave might not be allowed in the 2nd octave, and vise versa. Such choices are based largely off of timbre, or better said, the harmonic series, and where certain intervals (that are based on said harmonics) are located in the series.
What’s something that you would like to be able to do with technology in your work but you can’t at the moment?
Make more complex probability-based systems in Max. Ones that make choices that are more in line with how natural ecosystems function. Whereas chance events are not always absolute, or isolated, but can be reactionary to other events in the system.
In recent months I’ve been reading up more on such natural systems. I bought a book at the Cambridge University Press bookstore while I had a few days off in Cambridge (UK) when on tour last fall. It’s called God, Chance, and Purpose: Can God have it both ways? The author, David Bartholomew, is Emeritus Professor of Statistics at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Essentially, the thesis of the book is that God and chance can exist together in the world, which is a highly disputed topic from both sides; theologians arguing that God is in ultimate control and scientists insisting that our world is ruled by chance (my systems operate under rules that fit them somewhere in-between these two theories). My point in reading this book is two-fold; one because I’m interested in world religion and have (self) studied it for many years now, and secondly I’m trying to gain knowledge to build these new, more reactionary systems, and learn of ways they might operate. I want to work on the concepts first, and then I will have a better idea of what technology (or aspects of Max) that I’ll need to learn and execute.
Although I’ve been working with Max for almost five years now, I’ve not gotten into it deeply because I was always busy writing new pieces and albums that focused on acoustic, electro-acoustic, and light electronics. But after recently finishing up five collaboration albums (each with different people) that will come out over the next year, I want to take a break from making albums or writing new music so I can focus on learning how to built these complex systems.
What inspires you?
Nature, trees, focus, stillness, seemingly random patterns, chaos…and the list could go on. Lately I’ve been into the sounds of my day-to-day life; certain sounds will catch my attention, ones that seem sorta special to me. I’m trying to learn something from these sounds…though I’ve no idea what that is or means!
What is the most difficult obstacle you need to overcome in order to do your thing?
Not sure if it’s the most difficult, but a major one is the logistics and financial aspects of pulling off large-scale works that involve multiple people and/or players; and the inverse of this, which is trying to distil these ideas into works I can do on my own, which at times seems more practical. Also, navigating my own mind, figuring out how to turn my ideas into work that I’m happy with, which isn’t always easy.