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


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.

L is for Live Coding

Who does not love the confluence of coding and music? I know I do and live coding adds a performance element to the process.

Live coding involves writing code that is producing music from scratch and editing and changing the code as the music develops.

As can be seen here once values are changed the revised code is passed to the computer for processing (when it flashes pink) and the revised music is played…

There are an increasing number of languages available for live coding. The above example is Sonic Pi which is probably the easiest to start with as it comes as a ready to go app and does not require any faffing around in the Terminal etc. Others include ChucK, Alda, Extempore which grew out of impromptu (Mac only) etc. There is some debate as to whether graphical languages count as coding but I say they do so that is the end of that debate.

Here is an excellent demonstration of the process by Andrew Sorensen using Extempore…

So that this A to Z thing does not become a catalogue of old records L is definitely not for the greatest record ever made…

A is for Audio Units and April Fools

Who does not love mangling some noise with some new Audio Units? I know I do and my Downloads folder is invariably over flowing with Wiggles, Moniques, Hats and the like.

The latest batch included Izotope’s Mobius Filter, PSP’s StompDelay and WavesFactory’s Phi.

Audio Units in Ableton Live

The first adds a flanging, phasing, equalisation type effect within a simple and effective interface.

The second provides a plethora of settings for delays, echoes, loops and related effects.

The third utilises the universal Golden Ratio (hence the name Phi) and applies that to enhance even the most mundane recordings. There is probably no type of audio that would not be greatly improved with the use of this plugin.

Chuck them all together and you get Don’t Do Meths


Only one of the three was released on April 1st 2016.