Finding ways to integrate live acoustic drumming with electronic music performance is something that I really appreciate - because it isn’t necessarily easy to accomplish. Often, this kind of work is either looper-based jamming or simple granular deconstruction of individual hits. When it works well, though, it can be an interesting interplay where drums and electronics weave in and out of each others lanes, each taking then releasing the lead in a beautiful dance. Last May I had the opportunity to seet Minneapolis-based artist Patrick Marschke’s solo drum+sampler+Max performance at the Northfield Art Guild theater - an intimate location for watching some highly detailed work. Patrick has put up a video that was taken of the performance here:
A cool addition to the performance is a video that describes the use of the Roland SPD-SX drum pad/sampler and a Max standalone page as used by Patrick for his performance:
In the video, Patrick shows how the software and SPD-SX interact, and how he exploits movement between prepared and randomized behaviors within the system. He also describes the way that he is able to use the combination of samples, effects and playing technique to create this engaging work. It’s a neat look behind the curtain of a compelling solo performance piece.
I reached out to Patrick for some more information on his work, and he provided me with this artist's statement and description:
Max imitates life imitates Max. The more time I spend with the application the more I see its procedural logic emerge in my own life and projects. Ideas have begun to feel networked, flowing from one to the other, perhaps even with different colored patching cables. "l(a", my solo drums and electronics project, epitomizes this feeling.
First I discovered Deantoni Parks’ incredible Technoself project — Deantoni uses a small midi keyboard to transform micro samples into an instrument in of itself. Each key is assigned to a specific “slice,” the envelope/duration being controlled by how long each key is held down. With this relatively simple technique, Deantoni is able to create groundbreaking and incredibly accessible music, pushing sample culture to new frontiers of performativity.
Just as Deantoni “borrows” material from Bjork and Aphex Twin, I immediately wanted to try and reproduce this mechanism. Which got me thinking: Deantoni created a new instrument, but with this new instrument came limitations: you’ll notice that he is restricted to using only his left hand while his right is tethered to the midi keyboard. Deantoni is a machine of a drummer: he makes up for the missing limb with pure virtuosity. I, on the other hand, am a mere mortal of a drummer. So I set out to make a version that would allow me to use both hands independently, and even act autonomously when needed.
Concurrently, a good friend and Max/MSP mentor JP Merz had recently put together a project called “Groovin Box” that randomly or sequentially cycled through a buffer — the best results usually used a full “song.” There was a toggle to turn it on or of and a tempo control. This served as the first stepping stone in building the patch behind "l(a" that I have come to call “Slicin.”
I built a version of Groovin Box in which midi information from my Roland SPDsx triggered each of the slices in periodic sequences. Each pad on the device was assigned to different durations, much like one might use an open or closed hi-hat on a drum machine. I also added control parameters for the number of steps in the sequence, the scope of these sequences (i.e. telling the application to take 8 evenly distributed samples from 0:10 to 1:30 of a sound file), pitch, min/max slice lengths, with some additional signal processing for fun.
During the refinement of this patch, particularly when trying to make the patch as performable as possible, I noticed that JP’s core engine that I had been utilizing looked very similar to Maurizio Giri’s “Blocks Method” from Electronic Music and Sound Design Volume 2, which had some additional efficiencies and capabilities, primarily the ability to place the slices in reverse. So I rebuilt the entire patch from scratch using the poly version of vs.blocks to drive the application.
By this time the concept had veered very much away from the idea of replicating Deantoni’s concept. “Slicin” is a volatile and inspiring instrument, one that demands responsiveness, spontaneity, and musicality. It can literally never do the same thing twice, which for me is endlessly inspiring. I am constantly on the search for new source files to drop in, and new ways to master this “new” instrument.
"l(a" has led me down a deep hole of research into the various ways that drummers can become perform incredibly sophisticated electroacoustic compositions without the aid of other musicians. In fact, I recently wrote a blog about it.
All of this is the direct result of free-flowing networks of ideas, the ever-inspiring world of sampling culture, and the incredibly versatile and infinitely complex patch chorded universes of Max/MSP.
- Deantoni video
- JP Merz
- Electronic Music and Sound Design 2 - Max 7 by Maurizio Giri
- "Ian Chang's Contraption"
- Get the patch here
If you have questions, you can reach Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.