Robert van Heumen Composer Improvisor Laptop-Instrumentalist Sound-Designer
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February 21, 2013 - February 2013 Archives

Thoughts on controllers

(Warning: rant mode on)

For a long time now I've been using Faderfox MIDI controllers. Very robust, very very portable. Two devices of the first generation, one of the second. They're now on the 4th or 5th generation. It's been on my mind for a couple of years now: if (actually: when) one of them breaks, I'm in trouble. They are not being produced anymore. So I've been scavenging Marktplaats, eBay and such, and have some spare devices. But not in the best state.


I hear you say: stop whining, just get the new generation versions, or get something else, there's enough out there. And that's partly true. A lot of (live) electronic music controllers are available. Very fancy, lots of cool moving lights. But what seems to be out of fashion: faders! Most of the hip new controllers have buttons with LED's behind them. Whole grids of buttons, in blue, green, yellow, red. Combined with the incidental knob, maybe even a crossfader. Secondly, most of these machines seem to be geared towards studio-use, or towards musicians that need a truck anyways to move their stuff.

So for the record: I like my setup light. I can take it carry-on in a plane, in the train and on my bike when doing gigs in Amsterdam. Also, I like my faders, they are so much better than knobs, you can much faster see their position, you can kinda hit them and they are down or all the way up. Very responsive, very tactile.

I was happy to see the announcement of a new Faderfox controller, the UC3. The faders are back! All 8 of them. Unfortunately the neat little joystick is left behind, and the buttons are missing. But I can live with that. ONLY: the knobs are now the endless-type, meaning they don't have 'stops', they are 'relative', not 'absolute'. No little white line indicating it's position. Sure, there are some advantages (when using multiple layers of control, they 'pick up where you left off', no jumps in values), but when thinking about this a bit more, I realized that this again is a problem regarding playability. You can't feel (or see in an instant) where the knob is, if it's half-way, all the way in the beginning, or at the end. It is again something for people who sit behind their computerscreen for visual feedback. 2D feedback for music is soo inadequate. A waveform is not at all the sound it tries to represent.

So on the positive side: this made me think a bit more about what I'm looking for in controllers for my software. And what I don't want: endless knobs.

Back to eBay now, looking for the LV1. Also keeping an eye open on the digital music blogs for new controllers that for a change focus on playability, tactile control, instead of running lights in all colors of the rainbow.

Rant off.


MDfreeze is my version of an ambient piece. Inspired by Gas (Wolfgang Voigt) and the Kompakt label's yearly Pop Ambient collection. To be premiered at a Call & Response event in London somewhere this year. Still in its initial research phase, I'm mainly testing out various ways to process existing tracks. During the process, my respect for ambient guys increases by the day. Very hard to make something throbbing, moving, dynamic, quiet, without any real beat, climax or development, but still interesting to listen to.

This piece is another step in my research on using other artists' material and making something new out of it. Using the inherent sound quality of the original, making that my own and sculpting a new original work using that material. Finding the right balance between literal quote and synthesizing your own material.

February 20, 2013 - February 2013 Archives

Shackle Affair: Organ

'Shackle Affair: Organ' is a composition for various organs, flute with electronics and laptop-instrument, performed by Dominik Blum and Shackle (Anne La Berge & Robert van Heumen). ’Shackle Affair: Organ’ is the next step in Shackle’s research project into restriction and structure in electro-acoustic improvisation. For this installment 10 new musical sections will be composed, each of which prescribes a way of playing the instruments or a limitation in sound material. During the concert these new sections will be presented to the players through the Shackle System. The players will have the option to cancel proposed sections or request new ones. ’Shackle Affair: Organ’ is developed with financial support from the Performing Arts Fund NL.

In the last couple of weeks I've been biking to Orgelpark a couple of times to prepare this work. For The First Law of Kipple I've done quite some work on the Sauer organ, but the other organs at Orgelpark were quite a mystery to me. Trevor Grahl showed me around some of them. My favorites: the small 'kistorgel' (chest organ?), with only 4 registers, but an amazing sound. Perfect for amplification, sampling, processing. The other fav is the Molzer organ, a little used old organ with a very characteristic sound. Both of these organs reside on the concert floor, so can easily be used together with the Sauer Organ console.

It was/is a challenge to find extra-musical sounds within these organs. Although the Sauer organ is the most technically advanced organ, the other two (kistorgel and Molzer) have more possibilities for extended techniques it seems.

Next week I'll be looking at amplification of these organs, testing live sampling and live processing. Then at the end of March I'll be working there with Nora Mulder and Anne La Berge to try out a first version of the piece. Looking very much forward to that!

Scooterman & Leak over Assange

Two songs. Written by guitarist/singer Piet van Tienen in raw form then sent to me. Taking the producer role but in such a way that we can perform the songs together. Quite challenging, as this material is on the opposite side of my 'usual' work in abstract electronic improvised music. Beats? Melody lines? Verse-chorus structure? Very challenging, but after the first one I totally got the hang of it. I also decided initially not to bother with performability, that will come later. In fact, in a week or two, when we get together in a studio.

February 19, 2013 - February 2013 Archives

The Sound of the Machine, the tape version

The Sound of the Machine is a composition for Disklavier, tape, flute & electronics and laptop-instrument. Especially the presence of the Disklavier in this list makes it difficult to have the piece performed. Plus I like the sound material and I'm not really finished working with it. So that's why I'm working on a tape version of the piece. To be premiered at Jeff Carey's 'The BTO presents: RTFM' in Baltimore, somewhere this spring.

Multichannel is something that I have a love-hate relationship with. In general I'm totally happy with stereo. Enough richness in sound, depth, space. But as electronic musician I am attracted to using multiple speakers. After all, sound projection from a speaker is nothing compared to sound projection by an acoustic instrument, so we try to make up for it with quantity. Fail. So for this piece I'd like to start thinking of using multiple speakers in an interesting way, or maybe find another way of using a stereo pair.

The status as of now: the tape part is there, I've recorded Anne's flute & electronics, plus my own processing of the flute. In two weeks I'll be recording the Disklavier at Muziekhuis Utrecht, and then the final stage: mixing.

February 18, 2013 - February 2013 Archives

Preparado (working title)

Preparado is a composition for prepared piano and laptop-instrument for Albert van Veenendaal and myself. It will be a semi-composed piece for two improvisors, specifying certain musical aspects while keeping open other.

In 2012 we already started playing as a duo with a concert in Museum De Pont in Tilburg NL. A video of this concert can be found here.

A couple of weeks ago we went into Albert's studio and recorded a bunch of improvised pieces. The goal we set ourselves: short pieces, based upon certain rules or ideas. Last week we mixed the first four, and it sounds great! This material will definitely form the inspiration for my composition, but it will also be a separate track for our duo. We're discussing release methods, media, subscriptions, compact cassette. More soon.

February 17, 2013 - February 2013 Archives

The First Law of Kipple: 'finished'

My composition for tape and MIDI-controlled organ is declared done. It'll be a while before premiere, and that's also an issue right there: part of the tape is done by 'live' (in the studio) processing of recorded organ. The recordings on which this is based were made in August 2012 at Orgelpark using the MIDI-fied Sauer organ, and when working again at Orgelpark last December, I was horrified to hear that the organ's tuning was off by almost a eight tone! So playing the tape (with organ recordings) together with the 'new' tuning of the organ sounded very wrong. I'm quite fond of microtonal differences, but 22 cents is just too much. Luckily I could solve this by pitch-shifting my recordings in software, which sounded quite good. But the problem might repeat itself, so I'll have to make sure to check a week or so before the concert and just hope that the weather will be similar to last December ;)

Lesson number 2: when using samples of instruments in a semi-tonal environment, make sure the date of recording and the date of premiere are not too far apart.

(A lesson I've already neglected when recording organ samples for the other organ piece)


February 15, 2013 - February 2013 Archives

White is the new Black

Most of you probably missed it, as it's totally nerdy. But you can switch my website look between black and white. Black being the default in the past. That's changed now. Whether it's age or just change of taste, I like white better. If you want to save some energy you should switch back to black though. You can always switch with the link in the sidebar, or on other pages than the current one there's a link in the right bottom corner.

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