Session 20. – 21. September

Location: Studio Olavskvartalet, NTNU, Trondheim

Participants:

Trond Engum, Andreas Bergsland, Tone Åse, Thomas Henriksen, Oddbjørn Sponås, Hogne Kleiberg, Martin Miguel Almagro, Oddbjørn Sponås, Simen Bjørkhaug, Ola Djupvik, Sondre Ferstad, Björn Petersson, Emilie Wilhelmine Smestad, David Anderson, Ragnhild Fangel

Session objective and focus:

This post is a description of a session with 3rd year Jazz students at NTNU. It was the first session following the intended procedure framework for documentation of sound and video in the cross adaptive processing project. The session was organized as part of the ensemble teaching that is given to Jazz students at NTNU, and was meant to take care of both the learning outcomes from the normal ensemble teaching, and also aspects related to the cross adaptive project. This first approach was meant as a pilot for the processing musician and the video and documentation aspect. It can also be seen as a test on how musicians not directly involved in the project react and reflect within the context of cross adaptive processing. We made a choice to keep the processing system as simple as possible to make the technical aspect of the session as understandable as possible for all parts involved. To achieve this we only used analyses of RMS and transient density on the instruments to link conventional instrumental performance close to how the effects were controlled. As an example: The louder you play either the more or less of one effect is heard, or depending on the transient density the more or less of one effect is heard. All instruments were set up to control the amount of processed signal on two different effects each, giving the system a potential to use up to four different effects at the same time. The processing musician had a possibility to adjust the balance between the different processed signals during performance. The direct signal from the instruments was also kept as part of the mix to reduce an alienation from the acoustic sound of the instrument since this was a first attempt for those involved. Since the musicians, besides performing on their instruments, also indirectly perform the sound production we chose to follow up a premise of a shared listening strategy used by the T-Emp ensemble. https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/48123/53026   The basic idea is that if everyone hears the same mix, they will adjust individually and consequently globally to the sound image as a whole through their instrumental and sound production output.

Sound examples:

Besides normalising, all sound examples presented in this post are unprocessed and unedited in postproduction meaning that they have the same mix between instruments and processing as the musicians and observers auditioned during recording.
20.09.2016

Take 1 – Session 20.09.16 take 1 drums_piano.wav

Drums and piano

Drums controlling the volume of how much overdrive or reverb is added to the piano. The analysing parameters used on the drums are rms_dB and trans_dens. The louder the drums play, the more overdrive on the piano, and the larger transient density the less reverb on the piano. The take has some issues with bleeding between microphones since both performers are in the same room. There was also a need for fine-tuning the behaviour of both effects through the rise and fall parameters in the mediator plug in during the take.

Even though it would be natural to presume that more is more in a musical interplay – for example that the louder you play the more effect you receive – the performers experienced that more is less was more convenient on the reverb in this particular setting. It felt natural for the musicians that when the drummer played faster (higher degree of transient density) the amount of reverb on the piano was decreased. After this take we had a system crash. As a consequence the whole set up was lost, and a new set up was built from scratch for the rest of the session.

Take 2 – Session 20.09.16 take 2 drums_piano.wav

Drums and piano

The piano controlling the loudness on the amount of echo and reverb are added to the drums. The larger transient density the more echo on drums, the louder piano the more reverb on the drums.

Take 3 – Session 20.09.16 take 3 drums_piano.wav

The piano controlling the volume of how much echo and reverb are added to the drums. The larger transient density the more echo on drums, the louder piano the more reverb on the drums. Loudness on drums controls overdrive on piano (the louder the more overdrive), and transient density controls reverb – the larger transient density the less reverb on the piano.

 

21.09.2016

Due to technical challenges the first day we made some adjustments on the system in order to avoid the most obvious obstacles. We changed from condenser to dynamic microphones to decrease the amount of bleeding between them (bleeding affects the analyser plug-in and also adds the same effect to both instruments, as experienced earlier in the project). The reason for the system crash was identified in the Reaper setup, and a new template was also made in Ableton live. We chose to keep the set up simple during the session to clarify the musical results (Only two analysing parameters controlling two different effects on each instrument).

Take 1 – Session 21.09.16 take 1 drums_guitar.wav

Percussion and guitar 

Percussion controlled the amount of effect on the guitar using rms-dB and trans-dens as analysis parameters – the louder percussion, the more reverb on the guitar, and the larger the transient density on percussion, the more echo on the guitar. This set up was experienced as uncomfortable for the performers, especially when loud playing resulted in more reverb. There was still an issue with bleeding even though we had changed to dynamical microphones.

Take 2 – Session 21.09.16 take 2 drums_guitar.wav

We agreed upon some changes suggested by the musicians. We used the same analysis parameters on the percussion, with percussion controlling the amount of effect on the guitar, using rms-dB and trans-dens: The louder percussion, the less overdrive on guitar, and the larger transient density of the percussion, the more echo on guitar. This resulted in a more comfortable relationship between the instruments and effects seen from the performers perspective.

Take 3 – Session 21.09.16 take 3 drums_guitar.wav

This setup was constructed to interact both ways through the effects applied to the instruments. We used the same analysis parameters on the percussion with percussion controlling the amount of effect on the guitar, using rms-dB and trans-dens: The louder percussion, the less overdrive on guitar, and the more transient density of the percussion, the more echo on guitar. We used the same analysis parameters on the guitar as on the percussion (rms-dB and trans-dens): The louder guitar, the more overdrive on percussion, and larger transient density on guitar the more reverb on percussion. During this session the percussionist also experimented with the distance to the microphones to test out movement and proximity effect in connection with the effects. The trans-dens analyses on the guitar did not work as dynamically as expected due to some technical issues during the take.

Take 4 – Session 21.09.16 take 4 harmonica_bass.wav

Double bass and harmonica

We started out with letting the harmonica control the effects on the double bass based using the analyses of rms-dB and trans_dens. The more harmonica volume, the less overdrive on bass, and the more transient density on the harmonica, the more echo on bass. This first take was not very successful due to bleeding between microphones (dynamical). There was also an issue with the fine-tuning in the mediator concerning the dynamical range sent to the effects. This resulted in a experience that the effects where turned on and off, and not changed dynamically over time which was the original intention. There was also a contradiction between musical intention and effects. (The harmonica playing louder reducing overdrive on the bass)

Take 5 – Session 21.09.16 take 5 harmonica_bass.wav

Based on suggestions by the musicians we set up a system controlling effects both ways. The harmonica still controlled the effects on the double bass based on the analyses of rms-dB and trans_dens, but now we tried the following: The more harmonica volume, the more overdrive on bass, and the more transient density, the more echo on bass. The bass used analyses of two instances of rms-dB to control the effects on the harmonica: The louder the bass, the less reverb on the harmonica, and the louder the bass the more overdrive on the harmonica. This set created a much more “intuitive” musical approach seen from the performers perspective. The function with the harmonica controlling the bass overdrive worked against the performers musical intention, and this functionality was removed during the take. This should probably not have been done during a take, but it was experienced as a bit confusing for the instrumentalists in this setting. This take show how dependent the musicians are on each other in order to “activate” the effects, and also the relationship and potential between musical energy followed up by effects.

Take 6 – Session 21.09.16 take 6 vocals_saxophone.wav

Vocals and Saxophone

In this setup the saxophone controls the effects on the vocals based on two instances of rms_dB analyses: The louder the saxophone, the less reverb on the vocals, and the louder the saxophone, the more echo is added to the vocals. The first attempt had some problems with the balance between dry and wet signal in the mix from the control room. The vocal input was lower compared to sources present earlier that day. As a consequence, the saxophone player was unable to hear both the direct signal of the voice, but also the effects he added to the voice. This was tried compensated for during the take by boosting the volume of the echo during the take, but without any noticeable result in the performance. Another challenge that occurred in this take was a result of the choice of effects. Both reverb and echo can sound quit similar on long vocal notes, and as a consequence blurred the experienced amount of control over the effects. This pinpoints the importance of good listening conditions for the musicians in this project, especially if working with more subtle changes in the effects.

Take 7 – Session 21.09.16 take 7 vocals_saxophone.wav

Before recording a new take we made adjustments in the balance between wet and dry sound in the control room. We then did a second take with the same settings as take 6. It was clear that the performers took more control over the situation because of better listening conditions. The performers expressed a wish to practise with the set up on beforehand. Another aspect that was asked for by the performers was that the system should open up for subtle changes in the effects while still keeping the potential to be more radical at the same time depending on the instrumental input. The saxophone player also mentioned that it could be interesting to add harmonies as one of the effects since both instruments are monophonic.

Take 8 – Session 21.09.16 take 8 vocals_saxophone.wav

The last take of the day included the vocals to control the effects on the saxophone. The saxophone was kept with the same system as in the two former takes: The louder the saxophone, the less reverb on the vocals, and the louder the saxophone, the more echo was added to the vocals. The vocals were analysed by rms_dB and trans_dens: The more loudness on vocals, the more overdrive on saxophone, and the larger transient density on the vocals, the more echo on the saxophone. Both performers experienced that this system was meaningful both musically and in aspect of control over the effects. They communicated that there was a clear connection between the musical intention and the sounding result.

Comments:

All the involved musicians communicated that the experiment was meaningful even though it was another way of interacting in a musical interplay. The performers want to try this more with other set ups and effects. Even though this was the first attempt for the performers and the processing musician we achieved some promising musical results.

Technical issues to be solved:

  • There are still some technical issues to be solved in the software (first of all avoiding system crashes during sessions). Bleeding between microphones is also an issue that needs to be attended to. (This challenge will be further magnified in a live setting).
  • On/off control versus dynamical control, We need more time together with the performers to rehearse and fine – tune the effects.
  • Performers involved need more time together with the processing musician to rehearse before takes in order to familiarize with the effects and how they affect them.
  • The performers experience of being in control/not being in control of the effects.

Other thoughts from the performers:

  • Suggestions about visual feedback and possibility to make adjustments directly on the effects themselves.
  • It could be interesting to focus just as much on removing attributes from the effects through instrumental control as adding. (Adding more effects is often the first choice when working with live electronics.
  • Agree upon an aesthetical framework before setting up the system involving all performers.

 

Link to a video with highlights from the session:

https://youtu.be/PqgWUzG8B9c

 

 

Audio effect: Liveconvolver3

The convolution audio effect is traditionally used to sample a room to create artificial reverb. Others have used it extensively for creative purposes, for example convolving guitars with angle grinders and trains. The technology normally requires recording a sound, then analyzing it and then finally loading the analyzed impulse response (IR) into an effect to use it. The Liveconvolver3 let you live sample the impulse response and start convolving even before the recording is finished. 

In the context of the crossadaptive project, convolution can be a nice way of imprinting the characteristics of one audio source on another. The live sampling of the IR is necessary to facilitate using it in an improvised manner, reacting immediately to what is played here and now.

There are some aesthetic challenges, namely how to avoid everything turning into a (somewhat beautiful) mush. This is because in convolution all samples  of one sound is multiplied with every sample of the other sound. If we sample a long melodic line as the IR, a mere click of the toungue on the other audio channel will fire the whole melodic segment once. Several clicks will create separate echoes of the melody, and a coninuous sound will create literally thousands of echoes. What is nice is that only frequencies that the two signals have in common will come out of the process. So a light whisper will create a high frequency whispering melody (with the long IR described above), while a deep and resonant drone will just let those (spectral) parts of the IR through. Since the IR contains a recording not only of spectral content but also of its evolution over  time, it can lend spectrotemporal morphing features from one sound to another. To reduce the mushyness of the processed sound, we can enhance the transients and reduce the sustained parts of the input sound. Even though this kind of (exaggerated) transient designer processing might sound artificial on its own, it can work well in the context of convolutions. The current implementation, Liveconvolver3, does not include this kind of transient processing, but we have done this earlier so it will be easy to add.

There are also some technical challenges to using this technique in a live setting. These are related to amplitude control, and to the risk of feedback when playing on larger speaker systems. The feedback risk occurs because we are taking a spectral snapshop (the impulse response) of the room we are currently playing in (well, of an instrument in that room, but nevertheless, the room is there), then we process sound coming from (another source in) the same room. The output of the process will enhance those frequencies that the two sources have in common, hence the characteristics of the room (and the speaker system) will be amplified, and this generally creates the risk of feedback to arise. Once we have unwanted feedback with convolution, it will also generally take a while (a few seconds) to get rid of, since the nature of the process creates a revereb-like tail to every sound. To reduce the risk of feedback we use a very small frequency shift of the convolver output. This is not usually perceptible, but it disturbs the feedback chain sufficiently to significantly reduce the feedback potential.

The challenge of the overall amplitude control can be tackled by using the sum of all amplitudes in the IR as a normalization factor. This works reasonably well, and is how we do it in the liveconvolver. One obvious exeption being in the case where the IR and the input sound contains overlapping strong resonances (or single lone notes). Then we will get a lot of energy on those overlapping frequency regions, and very little else. We will work on algorithms to attempt normalization in these cases as well.

The effect

liveconvolver3_reaper_setup
Liveconvolver3 in an example setup in Reaper. Note the routing of the source signals to the two inputs of the effect (aux sends with pan).

The effect uses two separate audio inputs, one for the impulse response sampling, and one for the live input to be convolved.  We have made it as a stereo effect, but do not expect it to convolve a stereo input. It also creates a mono output in the current implementation (the same signal on both stereo outputs). In the figure we see two input sources. Track 1 receives external audio, and routes it to an aux send to the liveconvolver track, panned left so that it will enter only input 1 to the effect.. Track 2 receives external audio and similarly routes it to an aux send to the liveconvolver track, but panned right so the audio is only sent to input 2 of the effect.

The effect itself has contols for input level, highpass filtering (hpFreq), lowpass frequency (lpFreq) and output volume (convVolume). These controls basically do what the control name says. Then we have controls to set the start time (IR_start) of the impulse response (allow skipping a certain number of seconds into the recording), and the impulse response length (IR_length), determining how many seconds of the IR recording we want to use. There are also controls for fading the IR in and out. Without fading, we might experience clicks and pops in the output. The partition length sets the size of partitioned convolution, higher settings will require less CPU but will also make it respond slower. Usually just leave this at the default 2048. The big green button IR_record enables recording of an impulse response. The current max duration is 5.9 seconds at 44.1 kHz sampling rate. If the maximum duration is exceeded during recording, the recording simply stops and is treated as complete. The convolution process will keep running while recording, using parts of the newly recorded IR as they become available. The IR_release knob controls the amount of overlap between the new instances of convolution created during recording. When recording is done, we fall back to using just one instance again. Finally, the switch_inputs button let us (surprise!) switch the two inputs, so that input 1 will be the IR record and input 2 will be the convolver input. If you want to convolve a source with itself, you would first record an IR then switch the inputs so that the same source would be convolved with its own (previously recorded) IR. Finally, to reduce the potential of audio feedback, the f_shift control can be adjusted. This shifts the entire output upwards by the amount selected. Usually around 1 Hz is sufficient. Extreme settings will create artificial sounding effects and cascading delays.

Installation

The effect is written in the audio programming language Csound, and compiled into a VST plugin using a tool called Cabbage. The actual program code is just a small text file (a csd) that you can download here.

You will need to download Cabbage (the bleeding edge version can be found here), then open the csd file in Cabbage and export it as a plugin effect. Put the exported plugin somewhere in your VST path so that your favourite DAW can find it. Then you’re all set.

cabbage_export_liveconvolver
Export as plugin effect in Cabbage

 

Routing in other hosts

As a short update, I just came to think that some users might find it complicated to translate that Reaper routing setup to other hosts. I know a lot of people are using Ableton Live, so here’s a screenshot of how to route for the liveconvolver in Live:

liveconvolver3_live_setup
Example setup with the liveconvolver in Live

Note that

  • the aux sends are “post” (otherwise the sound would not go through the pan pot, and we need that).
  • Because the sends are post, the volume fader has to be up. We will probably not want to hear the direct unprocessed sound, so the “Audio To” selector on the channels is set to “Sends only”
  • Both input channels send to the same effect
  • The two input channel are panned hard left (ch 1) and hard right (ch 2)
  • The monitor selector for the channels is set to “in”, activating the input regardless of arm/recording

Whith all that set up, you can hit “IR_record” and record an IR (of the sound you have on channel 1). The convolver effect will be applied to the sound on channel 2.