Brooklyn instrumental duo Ratatat have something interesting going on. The music is electronic dance but they dirty the lower tempo house beats with sophisticated choppy rhythm layers, 70s-style guitar riffs and fuzzy synth chords. There’s a little bit of the LA sound, like Flying Lotus, but then the square punch also reminds me of Daft Punk. There’s definitely a strain of psychedelia.
So that’s the music, but why I’m really blogging this is the video clips.
I’m not sure if somebody has slipped something into the video producer’s milkshake but the results are surprisingly stunning. Stunning in the sense that my first reaction was bewilderment. They look like intentionally failed attempts to utterly underwhelm. That stunned feeling quickly gave way to a rising mirth and wonder, like I get when experiencing a zen koan. Perhaps one isn’t expected to arrive with satisfaction at rational comprehension.
Here’s “Cream on Chrome” which may have been test footage from a budget Beijing karaoke joint that had been found in the trash folder of a backpacker’s SD card.
In “Neckbrace” I want to believe they have a highly trained battery of incredibly disciplined birds. Add a drummer with a bare snare, and that’s almost all they need on-screen.
In this one it seems like they’ve repurposed footage from a stock photography shoot, because, what could be cooler than a fake sequence of normal people acting normal?
Check out this incredible display of prodigious drum skill by Jojo Mayer. Now that’s what I call drum and bass. Well, technically, I think you might call this genre Jungle but it’s all good. I’m not too sure I’m on board with the genre of camera work employed however!
Brian Fitzy starts this jam out with a straight-up acoustic guitar song but by half way has built up half a dozen layers including electric violin and decent beatboxing. Don’t quit out before you get to the good stuff. Nice breakdown too.
Here’s another Kaossilator 2 Jam. Like the others, it has no edits or post-processing, just one take.
I think this is a satisfying constraint because the Kaossilator 2 is really an instrument as opposed to a “workstation” or any other kind of production tool. It Can’t really be said to support “editing”, so while it does enable “composition” through successively capturing loops, and while it has some drum patterns and a gate arpeggiator which enable beat-precise notes and drum sounds, it is generally unforgiving of mistakes (no undo) and its limits are regarded as severe, for example, the loop length maxes out at 8 beats, ruling out most chord-progression style jams.
So freestyling is a good way to get the visceral sound qualities but also to avoid the trap of endless tweaking and perfecting note position, effects chains and tune composition that a full DAW seems to invite.
Unfortunately the video and audio are slightly out of sync which is super annoying considering I captured them together, it seems they only diverged after Youtube’s video processing step. I’ll have to look into that because video and audio sync has been a persistent challenge for me.
If you have any tips for this please leave a comment below.
Make your own music! One thing I’m conscious of these days is how much of my time is spent consuming what other people make compared to the time I spend making my own stuff. If I exclude “the day job” which is actually making stuff for other people in exchange for money, I wonder what the percentage of each really is.
So here’s a Kaossilator Jam I just made, Kitchen Table Techno. Strictly speaking, it’s not really techno… more of a megamix maybe, but it’s definitely a kitchen table and it was all made in one sitting with no edits on the little Kaossilator 2. Some disapprovingly call it a toy, but I call it a toy and fully approve
Please let me know what you think of it in the comments.
So much of modern western civilisation focuses on the economics of mass consumption, but I prefer to focus on the economics of mass creation! This doesn’t mean I think we should all be subsistence hermits, but what is a healthy ratio?
Making stuff expands your skills of self-sufficiency and it adds value to the world. Making is a form of discovery and a path to mastery.
The maker movement is a trend that picks up the trail of DIY Culture and I see it as a good example of a restorative and enriching trend in the world today. It’s the most literal form of productive culture I know.
As one of my heroes, Alan Kay, says, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”.
What do you think is a healthy ratio of making to consuming?
Here’s a jam I recorded on my new Korg Kaossilator 2. I restricted myself to a short, unedited session with no post processing or other mistake-fixing. What you’re hearing is just the sound recorded directly in the device while I improvise on it.
The Kaossilator 2 is so much fun I am starting to drool over the Kaossilator Pro which is bigger and more powerful. Honestly though, the fact that I can keep this little thing in my pocket makes it much more usable.
If you are not familiar with Kaossilators, the sound is super fat. The Kaossilator 2 has a full hardware PCM engine with 150 different sound programs. It has drum patterns, kits, chords, bass, acoustic, lead and sound effect banks, each of which can be played in any key on the touch pad which can be switched to dozens of different scales. One of the coolest features is a gate arpegiator with 30 different rhythmic patterns so if you put the scales and arpeggiator together you can get pretty precise good control of notes and timing. It even has variable swing.
Oh, there’s also an iPhone/iPad app called iKaossilator (see what they did there?) which really is a different beast. It’s good for the same kind of stuff but it has very different abilities. It’s more like a five track looping sequencer. You can edit your five tracks in only a limited way but they remain independent. This limits additive layering but enables more precise mixing because you can solo and mute five parts. The 16 beat loop length also really expands the options. No gate arpeggiator though.
Overdubbing into two independent beat-matched loopers allows you to build up and break down tracks. You can also cross fade them. It has some serious limitations which may annoy some (no undo, no ping ponging) and it only does up to 8 beat loops which is a real killer if you want to do anything like a pop tune or most things with chord progressions. Nevertheless, for electronic dance music, various bass music styles, jazz genres like afrobeat and anything else with layers and loops, it’s an excellent sketch pad for making beats.
Yamaha produced a kind of experimental control surface for electronic musicians called the Tenori-On. The interface is a little too experimental for my taste, but it does show how you can control almost every aspect of a multi-track composition with a simple matrix of lights – track volume, modulation, instrument selection, melodic sequencing and pattern composition to name a few. I had a chance to play with a software reproduction of this device for the iPhone. The result is a very rough sketch of a melodic electronica vibe:
What could you do if digital media could manifest more physically? How would you interact with it? What if you could touch and interact with a physical space that is accessed remotely? What if you could integrate the online world of digital media with the physical world?