R is for Steve Reich and Reaktor

Who does not love exploring the musical warp and weft of minimalist music? I know I do and Steve Reich is a particular favourite.

In the good old analogue days I would make a large (room size) loop of magnetic tape and run that through half a dozen assorted old tape recorders arranged around my room – with some intricate Meccano constructions to keep the tape taught and moving. With some recorders set to play the sound and others to record the sounds played a sound recorded as the tape passed through one recorder would be replayed when that portion of tape reached the next tape recorder and re-recorded on other tape recorders. Thus building interesting delays and overlaps of sounds.

Reich’s experiments revealed that two loops containing the same sounds could be started playing together but one, from slight mechanical variation, would slowly fall behind the other thus creating interesting shifts in the combined sound. He used this technique for both constructed tape pieces and composed pieces such as Clapping Music

As we moved from the analogue world to a digital world one no longer had to mess about with bits of tape. Reich once observed that where he would spend a month splicing bits off tape together to construct a piece you could now do the same thing on your laptop over a couple of evenings – while watching TV.

One of the best tools for such sonic experimentation is Reaktor which has a an extensive library of User created instruments – several of which are inspired by Reich’s work such as..

Reich Tape Looper:

and It’s Gonna Grain (a play on Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain) and Reichatron which I used for Purple Shift – using two identical loops with one slowly drifting out of sync until it completes its orbit and ends up back where it started

https://soundcloud.com/duncan-moran/purple-shift

Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians is one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed:

But of course the repeating patterns of minimalism is not everyone’s idea of good music and the maximalist Frank Zappa found it ripe for parody with Spontaneous Minimalist Music Composition…

O is for Oscillators

Who does not love messing about building software synthesisers? I know I do and a basic component for these are oscillators.

Oscillators are used in all manner of things but it is the wobbly wobbly oscillations that can be used to produce a sound that are of most interest. Such things have been around since the late 1800s but today one can recreate their functions with computer software. Here is a simple example I made using the excellent Audulus app.