Yes, two albums!
You may recall we were talking about a subscription model. You were generally not keen on the idea, but the question was then really about, well, staying power. Because a subscription means you have to get something nice on a regular basis. Could the Sevcom team (yes, there is such) provide this? We can!
We were going to release these things late last year – and then an ancient Canadian radio recording got released on vinyl which sucked up all our air. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. Some more time to refine.
Item one is the long anticipated Aversion 2 box, with cards and wire rat. The music and rats were completed mid last year, but there’s been some considerable fussing since that time. We needed 200+ cases made in Japan. The cards had to be thick, but not so thick as to exceed 10g in weight. The whole thing has to be less than 2cm deep to be machine sorted and therefore ‘a letter’, and weigh less than 50g, or cost another 6 dollars postage. We have these things. It will go on sale soon, and you will get the music as a download straight away.
We anticipate that not every person wants to order an object, and so the other album is just a download. In 2015 I released a pop music record called Rhine, and since that time I’ve pottered away at a sequel of sorts called Publicist. That’s three years of agonizing over details, but at last I’ve worn out my patience with turning sounds up or down ever so slightly.
I wouldn’t call Publicist a cheery title but it is pretty when it wants to be.
Both will be available very soon (I was thinking Easter Sunday was a good idea). In the meanwhile why not grab the free ‘taster’ which has moments from four albums coming some time this year?
Congratulations! You’ve bought near a thousand synthesisers, and now spend all your ‘quality time’ swapping internal batteries, making line diagrams, racking and unracking, piling up dead Behringer patch bays and all kinds of other non-music related busy work. You’ve just bought a keyboard you already have, same as the one under the one propping up the table on which all the Korg boxes sit dust farming. This is out of control!
Sometime in the last year you managed to create some patches on one or more of them (which ones it’s not clear, maybe a black one) that would sound great on that tune you’ve been nursing forever. How the hell do you get all those sounds in a place where you can actually use them?
The simplest way is to sample the sounds. Plug the keyboard into a sound interface, play each note over MIDI, and cut them into individual samples. The first few times you don’t mind doing it manually, but you soon realise it’ll become yet another task that’ll keep you away from actually being creative.
There are tools that will automate this, the most prominent one being SampleRobot. That’s because it’s been around for a long time, back from when a MOOG was something you hired by the hour. Venerable it is, and venerable it looks, a little bit-mapped interface that would look right at home on a 90’s beige CRT. (The authors are aware of this and promise a new version soon that will stretch). Actually it’s not just the size of the interface that confounds people born after 199x, it’s the metallic robot/car/can opener detailing. Little metal buttons on little metal remote controls.
I am old and had an Amiga so I understand where this aesthetic comes from. I also understand that coders used to be free to develop their own interface rules. SampleRobot will often send you back to the manual trying to figure out WTF is going on. For example, having bought the Pro version, I get a tool called WaveRobot, which helps edit loops. I kept wondering how the hell to get the ‘Open File’ menu item to be available, eventually discovered that it’s disabled, and you can only load by right clicking an on-screen keyboard in SampleRobot. Of course.
A ‘wizard’ will set you up for your first sampling adventure. It’ll ask you questions about what you’re trying to achieve and set up the numerous parameters for capturing the sounds (is it a pad or a piano? How many keys did you want to capture?) If you try to do it yourself you’ll find the parameters spread over a number of dialog windows all over the screen. Chances are good that you’ll miss one of them and so you’ll be wizarding for a while.
Assuming you’ve got it set up properly, you then start the recording and the robot plays each key over MIDI, waiting a while between each, attempting to find loop points. It’s not the best at looping (that would be Zero-X Seamless Looper which sadly has left this world on the sky train) but if you take some time to practice with all the settings you can get close to a good loop straight off.
More likely you’ll want to load up each sample in WaveRobot, which as I said took a lot of figuring out, as did the controls to make the waveform sit properly on a large screen. But, like the old hardware you’re sampling, once you get the logic of how it works you can get quick at it. It leans a bit on the crossfade, and you will need to tune things. The overlapping visual waveforms at the loop point are very helpful.
Now hopefully you’ve produced a set of samples that you can work with. Although it claims to save out Kontakt files, it actually saves out Reason’s sampler format which Kontakt must then convert (as NI licenses Chicken System’s Translator software). If you aren’t careful SR will save new truncated samples into its own folder, inside C:\Program Files which is evil, and probably why they want you to launch the software on an admin account (double evil).
Now you have a monolith file in Kontakt … and no more frigging around with MIDI cables, patchbays or that kind of vibe-killing drudgery. Kontakt of course has its own filters, envelopes and so on, so you might sample some of your sources as pure oscillator and enjoy tweaking the filters later, making up multiple versions.
I started with the UltraProteus, from which flows very long complex sounds. It was difficult to get the start point right, and SampleRobot had little chance of finding a loop point by itself. Although it looked like my volume level was good, my first samples came out much too quiet. Turning up the inputs revealed that the UP makes a lot of hum, which of course pitches up and down as the samples are played. I made it not too noticeable. I really liked being able to attach effects to each sound in Kontakt, which isn’t really possible with the UP hardware.
Sampling the MR Rack makes perfect sense as (a) it has no inbuilt resonant filter and (b) the battery is flat whenever you want to use it – but no sense because (c) transwaves don’t play back the way they are supposed to and (d) neither do the wacky FX. SampleRobot wasn’t much help here, and the best thing to do is manually play each transwave, load in Alchemy or Morphine, translate that into an additive wave which will then pitch shift nicely over the whole keyboard without multi-samples. You then modulate the wave point and get perfect Fizmo like results.
Really the process is best for sounds that don’t rely on your active or programmed modulation. It’s fine for an MKS-80 bass, perhaps for Korg Radias chime, but not much use for a modular sequence. Getting SR working is a complete pain in the ass up front, but I know it beats playing each note by hand and then editing it apart manually.
And once you’ve grabbed Lately Bass from your TX81z you can leave that turned off forever.
Tom, you prick, you took down MY damn video just because you made it.
This is wrong as you will plainly learn from this list.
- Everyone else is doing it so why can’t I be the 33rd person to post up another “Dead Eyes Opened Spook Mix”?
- No one else is doing it so I think it justified that I be world leader in going through your garbage bins.
- It’s not as if you’re posting the material yourself. Well maybe you did, I didn’t look hard.
- I am a Curator! Your work is simply a small part of my vision, which presents a culturally significant view of media I remember from 30 years ago.
- None of the other bands have complained so I’m pretty disappointed that you’re making an effort here.
- It’s Fair Use for Educational Purposes, as I’m a Professor of History and my course is the period before I was too fat to go to the disco.
- I played it faster/slower/backwards/wearing a funny hat so it’s now my work.
- I’ve incentivised the product through agile redeployment in a way that you will never conceptually grasp.
- Did you see the video where the record label spins around? Did you do that? No, you didn’t. So now it’s just a soundtrack, feel lucky I chose you.
- Gift economy (if you buy YouTube Red).
- All your efforts: live shows, videos, streaming, objects – all of that achieves nothing. It’s my YouTube VHS that keeps you from obscurity
- The viewers prefer my ancient capture off TV to your elitist ‘master copy’. It’s like Stranger Things.
See also (from 2011) http://tomellard.com/wp/2011/03/audio-mouth-breathers/
At the end of 2017 we can report delivering live shows across North America – 5 shows in Canada and 10 in the United States. Also shows in Australia – the Sydney Opera House as part of a group show for Vivid, at the Melbourne Art Centre for Supersense, and two shows for Metropolis Touring.
We enjoyed bringing what we now call our ‘traditional show’ to audiences, but realise that this is more about repairing lost time than making progress. There’s no shame in the moment to be a traveling museum, but of course we would like to do better.
For this reason, it is very unlikely that we’ll be taking any tours in 2018, but are open to large bribes etc.
2018 will mostly be dedicated to developing new presentation system under the work name “Teleplay”. This is envisaged as a system which narrowcasts an 3D animated audiovisual ‘world’ over the net from a performative source to delivery point. Teleplay is a virtual stage on which are placed individual ambisonic sound sources and animation elements. The result can be flattened to be on a screen, seen in VR, or recorded on a virtual surround camera to make VR videos in real time.
Evidences – My previous work “Snowglobe” was part of the long learning process to this result. Another game coded named “Pretzel” is underway to help define some of the artistry. Some ambisonic music produced by the audio system has already been made available.
Current work on Teleplay includes: motion capture (hardware is in testing), MIDI sequencing of visual effects (demos working), virtual camera capture (some issues), audio staging (demos working).
We had some discussion about changing to a subscription service, but no decision was made. It would require that we have a bank of new releases available and so that’s been the priority. Touring is often disruptive of composing, and it’s going to be good to take a break. Here’s some individual status updates.
- Aversion 2 (rock music simulation) is ready musically, pending improved artwork to go in the cases. We think it needs a bit more work in the presentation.
- Music Server 3D (ambisonic muzak) is a large project which will be broken up into three stages: Volumes 1&2, 3&4 which are all going on YouTube as real time ambisonic video. Binaural versions will be on Bandcamp free. Volume 5 needs revision. Volume 6 will be a paid item on Bandcamp.
- Barbara UFO (cinematic soundscapes) will be the last of the Barbara Island series which are only released every four years, now looks like mid/late 2018.
- Publicist (Tom Ellard pop music) is moving along nicely and should be out early 2018. Seeing as I started it in 2015, well, yeah.
Identity and SVH.
I recently went on YouTube and saw entire Severed Heads albums posted up on there with ads, which really was a grand scale ‘fuck you’. I’ve been really tolerant of ‘fan uploads’ but I’ve had enough. At the time of writing I’ve issued nearly 100 take downs. I’m posting lots of videos on YouTube even though the resultant quality is inferior to Vimeo. People don’t care and I have ceased to care about their opinions.
As well as taking back control of ‘Severed Heads’ I’ve committed to finally making a decision about it. Previous attempts haven’t worked because people are so dedicated to their childhood that they can’t tolerate any hard change. So here’s the deal.
Anything up to the break in 2008 is us wearing our Severed Heads stage costumes. “Arabic Surface” and “Donut” are credited to them as well, but from now on the credit will simply be
SVH Sevcom (Sevcom because people argued about it so let it be). If people say Severed Heads that’s fine, but it will not be written on the tin. Sevcom continues to be the label. It’s amusingly like KFC and Kentucky Fried Chicken, but we face a similar problem in wanting to do more than just chicken, and yet having a lot of past from which to escape. It’ll take time, but I think the difference of SVH for the new and Severed Heads for the old might be healthy.
Thanks for listening!
Your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is a matter of taste. As you have appalling taste, you are lucky that I have found time to instruct you in the matter.
Notably not called Ableton Compose, because trying to write actual music with this tool is like keyhole surgery, one little box at a time. Live was first developed for deejays to string together bits of other people’s music to a click track. Since that time, it has been encrusted with a tower of technical jiggery pokery that makes Live the premiere tool of ‘barbeque boys’ the world over. If you want to synchronise two machines, or write code that burps every third bar, or run a bassoon through a duct simulation you are well served. But the vast forehead of this thing remains built on the reptile brain underneath, and it fails at facilitating any attempt at flowing empathic music.
If you have live performances where you need six of this followed by seven of that and the whole thing must be panned just so – you will use Live. If you want to surprise yourself with a tantalising melody you will not.
See Ableton Live.
If you have an uncle with a large recording studio; custom furnishings, several thousand dollars on each microphone, grand piano in room C – you may be a candidate for Pro Tools. It will slot nicely into this high-end milieu, easing your work up to the top shelf. But buying Pro Tools, in itself, does not manifest this uncle, any more than red Ferrari brings forth a trophy wife. There are many tools that will do exactly same thing for much less.
True, Pro Tools is well made. Most of their stupid bullshit such as real-time mix downs and forced hardware is gone, but there are still AAX plugins – an industry standard unused by anyone else in the industry. They cost an insulting amount, which can be paid off every month. Or you know, you could just go elsewhere.
The curious thing is that Reason’s illustrations of hardware racks appeared just when real hardware racks were going in the garbage. Such that many Reason users are convinced that actual hardware is a clever manifestation of the GUI (and if you don’t believe that you’ve never met a child amazed that ‘wow you have a collectable of the save icon!’).
I grew up with racks and damn, I like them in Reason. They are cheerful. I like scrolling up and down and hitting the tab key to plug wobbling cables in the back, and hitting the tab and scrolling up and down and actually… that cable thing gets tedious. You need a really big screen to see what you’re doing, and then a magnifying glass to read the controls on all those boxes you’re trying to navigate. Reason completely fails at scale, being too small and too large simultaneously.
Now I must admit I’ve never bothered to use Reason as a DAW. It’s my modular synthesiser which I plug into real DAWs and in that respect, it’s a damn fine thing, better than any eurorack.
Platform limited is bullshit. Same goes for Sonar.
Like if your grandad got a hold of monkey glands or something and kept living way beyond a natural span of existence. I had CARD32 on a Commodore 64 way back in dinosaur times. Then it was on the Atari and it still gets out of the coffin every night. I guess I am Grandma, and got used to Cubase and throw my hands in the air and go “Whelp! That’s Grandad For Ya!”. (Actually, at one time I tried using Logic back when it was on PC. That was foul, like ‘locked in some taxation consultancy for weeks on end’ foul. The Environment – what the fuck.)
You are not ever going to get super excited about Cubase, but like Microsoft Excel it is going to do the job well enough, and in software that’s probably all you can hope for.
They changed the name to Waveform and added a mixer and MIDI editor. In version 8. Yeah.
No, typing hexadecimal into a grid is not cool, it’s the antithesis of music.
There’s a lot to like about Reaper as a sound editor. In an age where ambisonics is taking on increasing importance, restricting waveforms to 5.1 or stereo is shooting yourself in the foot, and the only competition are the overpriced Nuendo and Pro Tools HD. It makes serious attempts at reducing bloat, embracing formats, and providing a range of useful tools in the box. And it’s CHEAP.
But you’re not out of the woods. Once past the basics it’s got a lot of idiosyncrasies, not cute ones, but mind numbingly painful ones, the sort that drives you to scream WTF and to curse the manual which is (a) a fan written wiki and (b) always out of date with the five new versions a week. Reaper is not open source, but it sure smells like open source.
And MIDI handling is not handled well at all. It’s an audio editor with some MIDI tacked on, and you’ll need to buy a real MIDI tool alongside Reaper.
I used FL Studio for ages. Then I stopped for a while, to try change my working methods. When I tried to go back to it, I found myself outside a mental wall. All the things that seemed normal before seemed weird and twisted. I could still get old projects up and running, but the thought of doing anything new with it was perverse.
Then I realised I’d been in a cult. I’d since become deprogrammed.
FL is like if you put a drum machine on steroids, lots of steroids, INSANE levels. It’s a drum machine levelled up a billionity-billion times. I mean, I scored a motion picture on FL once upon a time. It can do it, hell – it can probably do anything, but it will do it in a way that makes no sense anywhere outside the cult headquarters, because it’s built on layer upon layer of feature additions. Things rarely get designed in a holistic manner in FL, they get layered on top. Like if you want to freeze the audio on a track, there was some convoluted procedure with placing an Edison plug in on a mixer track… these days I just freeze the track.
I can’t hate on it, and hell, you might even be enthralled by it. See you when you get out.
We’re just back from shows in the USA, and we thank you for coming to see us. With Canada earlier in the year, we feel we’ve made a solid attempt at greeting North America in person. The shows were well received (the usual audience photos will follow soon) and in the larger cities the combo of Front 242 and ourselves sold out venues.
A debrief comes at the end of every tour. The previous visit was exceptional just because it happened at all: we were in the garbage bin for decades, then unexpectedly rescued. This time it had to be special for other reasons, and it was partly so.
GOOD: We were able to perform a wider range of songs from videos completed between 2015 and 2017. Generally the videos are of higher quality – each represents weeks, sometimes months of work. We were constrained by my catching a throat cold in NYC, but were able to patch around this with the greater repertoire.
BAD: But they are the same material drawn from the earlier albums, presented in much the same way as before. Despite our adding all these songs you might have thought the show was the same as the last time. We need to think about the staging of any future appearances. Most of the ‘industrial dance’ bands we align with have stage shows involving costumes, radio microphones, masks and fog. We’re never going to take that up (not being an ‘industrial dance’ band) but the dynamism of the stage needs addressing.
To perform in the USA costs international airfares and the wildly expensive P1 visa process. Carting our bodies across the planet uses up money that could fund a stage show. And that’s maintaining the bare minimum – two people with suitcases, borrowed equipment. Unless our income jumps dramatically, we’re in a bind where the show has reached a production cost limit.
Right now we prefer that people look at the video and not at us. We are the puppeteers, and the puppets are the show. But it may be time that the musicians enter the screen, and are visible as part of that virtual space. That way we can be seen to perform on all the weird and wonderful instruments we simulate on computers now, as part of a coherent presentation filling the audience viewpoint.
This has some difficult implications: the video has to be live, in real time on stage. We have to be able to position ourselves in a virtual set, but won’t know the stage beforehand. The process has to be fast, minimal latency. The system has to tolerate human errors.
The advantages are many. Two of the players can be present, others could be remote, recorded or simulated, so that you can have a full band. In some case all the players could be remote – although that leads to “where’s the beef?” problems where the audience needs meat on stage to feel fully satisfied. But that meat could be made in the USA – a local operator not needing airfares or a P1. After all if it works for Gorillaz & Daft Punk why not us?
Remote performance means latency and the risk of drop outs. I feel it can be done through something like Vimeo Live, Stewart is more knowledgeable and has doubts, and we will have to do some experimentation.
Then there’s the aesthetics. What would you see? Would it be based on the static clips? Would the show be one space or a space for each song? How much room is given to the performers? Does that change based on the size of the venue? It really is a rocky business, but I feel we’re at the point where it’s got too comfortable. That’s not our purpose.
Right now there’s a resurgence of interest in all things late 20th century, from film sequels to goth bands. That’s understandable given the uncertainty of a new century, but of course the people of 1917 only pined for La Belle Époque for a while before new culture took hold. I would not bank on aging electronic bands too much longer. Two years from now we cannot just pop back up again with the same old. Even if this project fails, it seems a better bet than expecting everything to stay the same.
It also aligns with Sevcom’s other aspirations in immersive media and therapeutic environment design. Not just a matter of neatness – also a matter of the amount of time we have left.
As always your comments appreciated.
It was nice to have a talk about subscriptions. Seems that people like to pre-pay for a particular project. We’ll think about that when we have an expensive thing in mind for which we need help. Until then we have enough resources to make first, and only then bug you for funds. We put up or shut up.
We are going to be performing in the USA in about three weeks, so any product is going to be after we get back and sleep off the lag.
Here’s one of the things that are happening. I intended to get an album called Aversion out last year, to be cover versions of classic rock songs and psychedelia. It followed the old truth that a new band, especially electronic or weird, have to make cover versions before they get any attention (we did Strange Brew). It’s about demonstrating exactly how you differ to the mainstream. Aversion was mostly finished by late 2016 but I had a really good listen, and admitted that it just had nothing to offer that hadn’t been done better before. The classics include the Residents Third Reich and Roll, and Laibach’s Let It Be – you probably have some others you could add to that list.
Aversion is not bad, it’s on the level of Strange Brew which people seemed to like. Maybe it will arrive later. Meanwhile I decided to start on Aversion 2, which is subtitled Classic Rock Simulation. In this case it’s existing rock music that’s been edited and processed to make new songs. For example I took the first bar of a very famous 60’s song and processed the individual notes to play a variety of riffs at both normal and half speed. I added bass and drums and some vocal samples that have been tuned a word at a time to sing a melody. The result is a kind of Soul R&B number akin to these weird images that Google AI spits out.
It sounds like rock but only a memory of it, or an approximation made by an algorithm. I like some rock music, and there’s no criticism implied, just some curious misrepresentation which allows me to practice some heavy psychedelic production.
Because we’ve found that people like to buy a physical object, like Blubberknife*, or Showbag, we’ve been working on a neat little package for you that also might be expanded to other titles. The theme is lab rats, experimentation, the work of Harlow on infant monkeys. My partner creates wire forms of the sort that have already appeared on Donut. She has worked hard to not only create a complex wire rat for the cover, but has so far made over 100 wire rats to go one inside each of the packages.
The music is on a credit card USB and there’s also a stack of credit card sized artwork. We think it’s going to be light enough that postage won’t be too harsh, but as always you have to expect it’ll cost at least the materials, the postage and something to repay the eventual 200 rats that will be needed.
I’ll be posting some examples of Aversion 2 soon, but meanwhile here’s a bit of a making of.
* Does anyone have a 1982 Blubberknife in the TV set innards? We have no pictures 🙁
Having just returned from the Canadian ‘mini tour’, we (being the various people that depend on Severed Heads for pin money) have fallen into discussion about our future. Usually our decisions are made without much care for business, but we have reached a point where some business must take hold.
Like it or not we are reborn. Having accepted death in 2008 we have been dragged back into life – although it’s a weird recapitulation of the previous one. On tour, we meet people that act like we’ve been stored in a cryogenic chamber since 1986, returning simply to remind them of their more handsome years. That was never the point.
But we admit that perception has been reinforced by our antique set list, which was designed for world-wide farewells. The farewells are now over. We plan new material but have been reluctant to risk upsetting our audience, losing their support. This problem impacts on all the rest of the thinking, as you will see.
We need to present new material. But I’ve always opposed an excess of albums which frightens off new people, so you end up living off dwindling completists. We must find a way to distribute new material without multiplying albums.
We have given away free material for a long time. This is partly generous, partly calculated – art is only worth what people will pay, and if people will pay nothing then it must be revalued some other way. But it takes time to produce music, and we have no time to waste, we must find a way to pay for this time. Of course, it will be stolen* by people who have no care – we know that. There are always snakes.
We need to think about subscriptions. Musicians are being encouraged to try subscriptions just as newspapers are unable to sustain them. It works for software, which has an upgrade schedule. The problem of albums and new music might be solved this way – a constant flow of new material, paid by a constant flow of support. But I am concerned that unless we have an audience that is forward looking we’re not going to make that work.
We need to restore a coherent presence. This was a SEVCOM web page long before Google, but we have now become fragments on commercial services: Facebook for events, Bandcamp for downloads etc. The brand recognition must be pulled into shape. In any case, online presence seems worthless in real life. We keep meeting people who have heard nothing of us since the Internet was born. A Facebook event is not a real campaign.
So then, TL/DR, farewells are over, new things must come, a new model for distribution, a better effort at putting it in front of new people.
You are welcome to comment.
* people that say music isn’t stolen when it’s duplicated have no understanding of time, which is a non-replaceable resource.