3 min read

Week of Dead Ends

I'm writing this on the train toward the Game Audio Symposium in Leeds where I'll be the rest of today and tomorrow. Dunno what exactly I'll be seeing there yet, apart from the Hello Games (No Man's Sky) sound wizard Paul Weir talking about what I think will be the phenomenological impact of sound in video games. Although I imagine he'll be too smooth-talking to need to rely on the word 'phenomenological'.

Live Show Rabbit Hole

This week, working out what I want to do for my Pattern Club show is proving more complicated than I imagined.

My initial idea to attempt a laptop-less show was almost immediately blown out of the water when my Octatrack mysteriously tried to set its innards alight. All plans really had hinged on that being, y'know, operational.

A combination of pride, stubbornness and ideals has kept me from doing a straight-up Ableton Live set. Not because it's cheating or inauthentic or too easy, but because I want to push myself somewhere new, or else what's the point?

Logistics is also a pain. I am privileged in having access to a relatively large selection of equipment sitting in 65HQ and if I were able to indulge myself in a nice big set-up with a couple of synths, mixer, piano (and crew!) and build myself a live rig like Nils Frahm or something, I have endless ideas for solo shows. But I cannot carry all this stuff by myself. And also, it's Pattern Club, with a rough & ready punk culture that features 10 minute soundchecks and more of a plug'n'play mentality. And don't get me wrong - I really like this. The novelty of six hour soundchecks has definitely worn off for me at this point. The idea of being able to turn up with just a laptop and pull off a compelling live show that isn't a glorified playback of pre-written material is great and exactly what I'd like to somehow achieve.

So this brings me back to live coding, which delivers from this angle. I have done this in the past, but remain very much out of practice at doing it on the fly. It remains an option, but if so it'll end up as a lot of pre-written code snippets.

My big idea, which I had hinted at last week, involved opening up the framework I built for The Matte Flex to make it a live tool. This was ambitious but it was going well. However, to pull this off, I need to use Wwise as the backend. Wwise is free-to-use within a limit and supposedly free-without-limits for indie developers. I applied for a free license to remove the limit because this would be necessary for my live tool to work properly. Unfortunately I told the truth to them that this was for a performance tool and not a game and they decided this didn't count as indie-dev and so the license would cost £2000, which is a bit of a leap from free. So, that's out for now!

What followed after this was a custom Max patch that recreated the functionality of Wwise using a pool of samples and judicious use of json data. I did do this and it does kind of work but piloting it is currently like what I imagine piloting a cargo ship must be like. When I am having to conceive of ways to build custom UI frameworks in order to play a half hour club show it's usually a sign I've veered off track.

I have a Dirtywave M8 tracker, which is a lot of fun. It was going to be a sidekick to the Octatrack in my laptop-less show, but isn't quite capable of running an entire show by itself. But! Returning to this after all the above dead ends reminded me that I love trackers even though I'm by no means an expert.

This has led me to my current plan, which is to use Renoise, a laptop-based tracker. Rebuilding versions of my Polinski tracks inside Renoise has been instantly rewarding. It is clear though that it is designed more as a production tool than a live tool. Not to say that a live set is impossible, it is definitely doable. But it isn't really great to fit more than one song inside a single project file. And switching between project files requires awkward loading times.

So right now I'm looking at two options: squeezing a whole set into a single Renoise project, or else having some kind of second deck to cross-fade to - perhaps the M8? - which would give me time to load up individual project files in Renoise.

So that's where it's all at. Is it possible I am somewhat overthinking this? Yes. But is this current struggle actually that representative of all the other musical things I have done in my life? Also yes.

The work continues!