What’s Happening #4: Big Red (2007-2017)

Photo on 20-3-17 at 12.21 am

Continuing the recent trend of looking back at past work and its intersections with present activities and preoccupations, I thought that this time around I would return to where I found myself approximately ten years ago.

This is essentially a post about how a teapot salvaged my Masters degree and went on to form the basis of an installation work that I’ve presented a couple of times over the years. The teapot in question began its sonic journey ten years ago and has been used in conjunction with loudspeakers, microphones and other electronic paraphanalia more than actually brewing tea. This was to be its fate.

Trust in Crate.

To set the scene it was mid-March 2007. I’d arrived in the morning at Sebastian Tomczak’s parents house in Brighton carrying my Tascam 424 Portastudio and a milkcrate full of non-musical objects. The milkcrate and its contents were an important component of this visit. In 2004, Seb hosted the first Milkcrate[1], a music project he devised whereby participants are required to create music using only the contents of their milkcrate over a continuous 24-hour period. I’d participated in the second Milkcrate which was held in the Brighton scout hall in January 2005. That was a strange experience. I’d recently come off a particularly humiliating break-up and had spent a good week shacked up in my room not speaking to anyone. By the time I arrived at the scout hall on a sunny January morning I was having tremendous difficulty verbally communicating or acknowledging anyone present. Eventually I loosened up and got into the flow of making a racket with a pair of speakers, a couple of objects and load of feedback. Good times!

 [1] http://milkcrate.com.au

By March 2007, the ‘Crate was up to its thirteenth installment and had been hosted in a variety of locations including Adelaide University, my sharehouse in Stirling and a former art and music venue, The Gallery Delacatessen. All manner of objects were exploited during these sessions – various kitchen implements, plastic tubing, wineglasses, aerosol cans, etc – with the musical outcomes encompassing a variety of styles. Where one participant might be producing a soothing ambient bed of textures, another might be rendering a monolithic slab of abrasive noise. Up to that point I’d participated in a few of the sessions with results ranging from admirable to fucking horrendous. Whilst one could sometimes attribute (or pass off) the dubious quality of their work to a lack of sleep over a 24-hour period, some of the ideas I incorporated into given pieces (in spite of dulled faculties) now seem downright inexcusable. A track from Milkcrate 6 comes to mind, a piece entitled “Carnal Pivot” where a short shrill EDM beat is followed by the audible penetration of a peach with a blunt pencil. Throbbing Gristle much?

Some of the ingredients that made up the awful, awful track, “Carnal Pivot” (2006) Penetrated peach pictured top left of image.

I arrived at Seb’s parents house with next-to-no fruit molesting intentions and instead set my motivations on exploiting a variety of resonant objects in my Milkcrate, including a big red teapot. This is where my eventual work, Infuser took its origins.

March 2007: Miserable, broke and making art.

At this point in my life I was pretty miserable. I’d (again) come off a break-up and was looking more worse for wear than usual. I had begun to live in a shit-brown coloured leather jacket with wide lapels and not bothered to wash my hair in about a month. I was pretty much broke with a dribble of income coming in from music technology tutoring and trying desperately to resurrect my Masters after acrimoniously abandoning it the previous year. My life was a depressed slag-heap consisting of misery, apologies and late rent, so surrendering myself to spontaneous music making over 24-hours seemed like a good idea.

Paging Alvin Lucier.

* * *

 I Am Sitting In A Teapot

Alvin Lucier.

One of the composer Alvin Lucier’s lesser know later works is a piece called Nothing Is Real (1990) and consists of a performance involving a piano, teapot and amplification system. The title of the work derived from a line in The Beatles’ 1967 track, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and the melody which accompanies the song’s lyrics are played on the piano during the performance; albeit with a deliberate free-time feel and sustained tone clusters giving the melody a slightly disjointed, yet recognizable feel. On top of the piano is a teapot, and placed near the teapot is a microphone. Whist the pianist is playing the melody to “Strawberry Fields Forever” a recording is being made of the performance. Once the pianist has finished the melody, a small loudspeaker positioned inside the teapot broadcasts the recording of the performance. At various points the lid of teapot is lifted and this radically affects the resonant response of the piano – with blooms of rich harmonics materialising from the piano’s body.  It’s a beautiful, elegant work. You can watch a performance of this work performed by Lucier below.

* * *

With my Tascam 424 Portastudio, a little loudspeaker, small microphone and Big Red I would record the sound of the teapot and broadcast its sound back into the teapot’s chamber until its natural resonance had reinforced fully. Whilst my teapot process was in part inspired by Lucier’s work, Nothing Is Real it was his seminal electro-acoustic work, I am sitting in a room (1970) that really brought my own process to fruition.

Explained succinctly, I am sitting a room consists of a performance work which involves spoken text and two recording devices. Following the initial recitation of the text, a recording of this is then broadcast back into the performance space – whilst being simultaneously re-recorded – until the natural resonant frequencies of the room are reinforced.

The spoken text also operates as a score:

I am sitting in a room. Different to the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice, and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the natural resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves. What you will hear then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated my speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but rather to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.

Depending on the dimensions of the room, a performance of Lucier’s work can take up to 40 iterations of the process of broadcast/re-recording until the natural resonant frequencies are reinforced. Applying this process with the intimate confines of a teapot streamlines the iterative process considerably whereby the resonant frequency of a teapot can be established over 3-5 repetitions of this process.

The process utilized in I am sitting in a room is similar to the process of photocopying the same thing over and over again. Imagine you have the front page of a newspaper consisting of a header, headlines, some images and a bunch of text. If you make a photocopy of this material and then proceed to photocopy it again and again, gradually certain elements of the material will become indistinguishable from their original source – losing aspects of their detail and semblance – and eventually becoming a homogenous blot of ink.

So I went to work: hunched over the teapot, making sure the microphone was positioned appropriately within its chamber and placing an appropriately sized loudspeaker in place of the teapots lid. Four to five iterations of the process of recording/broadcasting brought the Big Red’s voice out.

Big Red salvages Masters degree

April 2007: First proper recording of what would become Infuser. Electronic Music Unit, University of Adelaide.

 In the past couple of weeks I have re-activated my status as a post-graduate student at Adelaide University. Though I had considered my life as a student to be officially over after last year’s debacle, a handful of people managed to coerce me back into the fold. The research on Alvin Lucier re-commences!, complete with rocks, teapots, stairwells and the University’s resources at my disposal. The provisa [sic] is of course I am undertaking my study as a part-timer and I won’t complete my degree until around December 2008. This means plenty of research centric posts over the next 18 months. Hooray for you dear reader! (blog post, 29th March 2007)

Enthused by the results of this Milkcrate session, the following month I booked a studio at the Electronic Music Unit and used my MiniDisc recorder, microphone, an amplifier and ProTools to replicate the process.

A key aspect that distinguished the teapot process from the one utilized in Lucier’s I am sitting in a room was that the teapot process didn’t begin with a voice or any other sound, rather it began with silence. This was one of the most compelling things about exploring this process during the Milkcrate session; hearing a resonant voice coaxed out of seemingly nothing. Of course, there was something there, and within the context of the Milkcrate session, the activity of fellow participants in adjoining rooms of the house and street traffic could be heard on the periphery of the teapot’s quiet chamber. Over a couple of repetitions of the process, these incidental sounds would dissolve into a harmonic texture consisting of several perceptible harmonic frequencies.

Obviously, the architecture of a room differs significantly from the inner chamber of a teapot, so the complex acoustic properties of the teapot’s interior made the process of coaxing out and reinforcing resonant frequencies an occasionally delicate affair. For one, I needed to dutifully monitor the volume level from one iteration to the next as the unpredictable harmonic response within that little chamber would cause frequencies to amplify significantly and materialise in all their ugly distorted glory. Rather than being frustrating, this instead became a way of learning how to bring out the teapot’s frequencies effectively – a tweak of the volume here, a slight attenuation of middle-band EQ there. Later on, when I would put Big Red with other teapots for an ‘ensemble performance’ I would need to learn how to play other teapots of various dimensions and materials. Every one is unique in itself. I’ve found that porcelain teapots are the most manageable during a recording process, whereas thin metal teapots are an absolute nightmare to get anything worthwhile out of[2].

 [2] In 2007 I acquired a bunch of about 6-8 metal teapots from the 1950s. Whilst they were aesthetically interesting from a visual point of view, they were absolutely useless for furthering my research. Later that year, I was packing the last of my possessions for a move to a new sharehouse I decided that these teapots were not going to join me on the next stage of my life. As it was very late in the evening and being a bit wired by the whole moving ordeal, I took the teapots down to the nearby beach, arranged them by the water’s edge and let them be taken out by the tide. This is (now) known as littering.


By around 2008 the teapot process began to find form as an installation work which I had called Infuser, the title being a poetic reference to the process of brewing tea leaves which I also considered an appropriate analogy for the technical process of reinforcing the resonant frequencies of the teapot.

I can’t recall the exact background, but in 2009 I was invited to participate in a group exhibition at a newly established artist-run gallery in North Adelaide. The exhibition was called The Art of Tea and featured work from painters, ceramicists and sculptors. The exhibition seemed like the a perfect opportunity to present my work to the public for the first time. Three teapots featured in this version of the work.

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A couple of years later I submitted Infuser for the 2011 Format Festival and it was exhibited  in the front area of the Format venue in the Adelaide CBD. Seven teapots featured in this version of the work.

For each of these installations, I sequenced the looped playback of each of the channels so that there would be a fade-in and fade-out of the resonant frequencies, followed by a silence. I made each of these sequences at different lengths so that when each of the recordings began a new loop they would fall out of phase with each other creating different tonal and textural patterns. Obviously, the more teapots that were introduced the more complex and varied the patterns became. This was certainly the case of the Format installation.

Infusing the present

Infuser hasn’t been exhibited since the Format installation in 2011 and as other projects have taken priority in the following years, I haven’t really had an opportunity to revisit the work. I did utilise a very similar process to the recording of the teapots for my work, Five Voices (2015) where bottles of different sizes were recorded in a manner so as to reveal their resonant frequencies.

Where I had previously begun the recording process with silence, by this point I had discovered that it more favourable to begin the process with an impulse (similar to Lucier’s spoken text) as this allowed the subsequent process of re-recording to be a bit easier to manage in terms of volume, equalisations and following the behavior of the resonant response with each iteration. Since I didn’t want to use anything readily identifiable or dynamic as a voice or instrument, I used a clip of continuous white noise that would serve as a consistent acoustic impulse for the resonant frequencies to reinforce themselves around.

So, what’s happening now? Well, Big Red’s currently in the upstairs studio joining a few of the others for some impromptu jam sessions. There’s nothing to present as yet but I’m pleased with outcomes so far – it’s been lovely to reacquaint myself with this work and hopefully there will be another installation sometime in the future.

Tristan Louth-Robins -- Infuser 2017.JPG
March 2017: From left to right: Big Red, Neko, White Ghost and Iron God.

Reflecting on Big Red, I tend to regard this teapot as I would any other musical instrument. Much like a guitar, it’s symbolic of various artistic and social activities over the years. It also wears the marks of usage with a couple of scratches and a very recent chip near its spout. It’s imbued with good memories and long may it continue to be there as a familiar and reliable presence in my practice.

Having said this though, every teapot is significant whether it’s used for sound art or conventionally making tea for oneself or good company. As an object, teapots can possess a deep personal significance – tied to aspects of domesticity, socialising, ritual and aesthetics. These are broader and potentially interesting threads to follow, but that’s something to explore another time. The tea’s getting cold.




red_robin redux


An abundance of posts today!

Many years ago, when it came to writing and performing electronic music I used to call myself red_robin.

For a while I’d been keen to make the early red_robin albums and eps available – TiefurtStaub and Oslo. Previously, I’d had a conflicting relationship with these releases since in many respects they scream, overproductivity vs actual quality. These three releases were produced within the space of a year. Whilst there’s definitely merit and a surfeit of ideas going on, my approach to editing releases hadn’t yet been refined.

On a couple of occasions these releases had been unceremoniously removed from the web, and at worst – deleted from my computer altogether. In order to find any trace of Oslo locally I had to exhume my 2007 MacBook and scour iTunes for a copy. Miraculously, it was still there and hadn’t been sent to the trash many years ago!

On the downside, only mp3s of these releases remain so therefore they can’t go onto Bandcamp and instead have found a home over at Soundcloud. For free! I had pretty shabby standards when it came to preserving my own music in the past, and more often than not the original lossless copies were deleted. I don’t know exactly why; I can only presume I was being stupid and flippant about it.

But anyway – the albums:

Tiefurt (2008)

The only proper album of the bunch and upon reflection it should have probably been contained to probably 7-8 tracks. It’s a travelogue of sorts since the bulk of the material was composed and recorded in Germany during the latter half of 2008 – specifically around Weimar where I was undertaking a mentorship with Robin Minard at the time. Some additional work was done back in Australia. The material is fairly heavy on lo-fi approaches, blended with Plogue Bidule and Max-based processes.

Staub (2009)

This EP has a considerably more loose and improvised feel to Tiefurt. If my memory serves, I think I recorded the entire set in one day using a combination of electric guitar, turntable, Roland synth and Soundhack plugins. Very lo-fi, but a nice spatial and minimal quality to these pieces.

Oslo (2009)

I hadn’t listened to this in many years and I was pleasantly suprised by what I heard. I’d completely forgotten that recordings of my teapot work, Infuser had been employed as segues for a selection of grungy, dark drone textures and a couple of pieces which seem to have been heavily influenced by Rolf Julius. A strange work, this one.




What’s happening #2: Composing ‘Goyder’s Line’ (2014-2017)

With a Goyder’s Line mapping sketch from 2015.

A tiring week is behind me. Following on from the previous blog post, Adelaide (and the rest of Australia) was plunged into an intense heatwave. Whilst Adelaide only copped a string of three days above 40C, other parts of the interior and Eastern centres were hit with ridiculously scary highs of 46-47C, smashing all kinds of Summer climate records. The planet’s getting crankier with us. Meanwhile during the same week – as cities and regional centres sweltered and bushfires sprung up all over the place – the federal government mocked renewable energy again and taunted the Opposition in the House Of Representative with an actual lump of coal, espousing the virtues of ‘clean coal’. Wind turbines and solar farms be damned, this is apparently part of the ‘Australian energy mix’ for the next fifty years or so.

2017 – The Age Of Coal: Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison brings a lump of coal into Parliament. Not satire.

It seemed remarkable that our own government could beat out Trump this week in terms of demoralising me and our tenuous existence, but this was like a kick to the brain of any sensible, educated person. Oof.

Oh well, we’ll face the music and dance.

Or in my particular case, I’ll sit down at my desk with various notes, a Max/MSP patch, vocoder, effects and resume working on a project I’ve been nurturing since 2014 – Goyder’s Line. Heatwaves, drought and more recently climate change have prefigured strongly in the inspiration and development of this work since 2014. So in that sense, my introduction was less of a political rant and more of a providing a prelude to this very long post.

Goyder’s Line has been mentioned at regular intervals on this blog as it’s gone through various stages of development. The work is unique in the sense that this is the first work that I’ve regularily returned to over the years, making numerous refinements to its technical process whilst further investigating the broader contextual aspects of the work.

What is ‘Goyder’s Line’?


‘Goyder’s Line’ is an isopleth[1] starting near the Ceduna region then extending across South Australia and terminating at the SA-Victorian border north of Pinnaroo. This boundary was developed during 1865 by Surveyor-General of the South Australian colony, George Goyder. Goyder had been asked to map the boundary between areas which received good rainfall and those that experienced drought. This would allow settlers to determine where the best climate and growing conditions were to the north of Adelaide and beyond. Goyder traversed over 3000km on horseback surveying the region and submitted his detailed report consisting of a line of demarcation. The areas above the line were deemed liable to drought whilst areas to the south being predominantly  arable.

[1] Used specifically in meteorological and cartographic fields, an isopleth is a noun used to define a line on a map connecting points.

Background of the Goyder’s Line work (2013-14):

My first encounter with the concept of Goyder’s Line occured early in 2013 upon a visit to Peterborough – located approximately 300km north of Adelaide. If you travel to this region, by the time you reach Peterborough the climate and terrain is arid and crop based argiculture is virtually non-existent. The region of Peterborough situated closely to Goyder’s Line and heading further north reveals an increasingly arid, dry and inhospitable environment. One day during my stay in Peterborough, I made a trip with a couple of family members to the abandoned town of Dawson.

North of Goyder’s Line: The abandoned town of Dawson – located approximately 30km north of Peterborough. April 2013

The town of Dawson (est. 1881) is located about 30km north of Peterborough. A dirt road stretches between empty grazing paddocks then winds through shallow gullies of hardened red earth, rocks and sparse vegetation. Following the road over a steep hill, the town comes into view below: a church and school on the left, whilst a ruin of the town’s hotel and an occupied residence[2] sits on the right.

[2] This residence, with its own off-grid solar power unit appeared to be the homestead of a local family. I believe that they are also the caretaker of the town, managing the schoolhouse and church.

A paddock and ruin in Dawson. April 2013

The terrain across the township area is rust coloured, hardened and cracked. Drought tolerant vegetation propagates unevenly across the ground – scattered across empty paddocks, through dry creek beds and beneath the few trees that are around. My visit to Dawson was in late April (mid-Autumn in Australia) – a relatively mild climate. It was clearly evident that this was a region that scarcely receives any consistent rainfall year round.

The town’s existence was essentially doomed by two factors – firstly, that of ignoring George Goyder’s advice and establishing a town north of Goyder’s Line; secondly, Dawson was originally intended to form part of a rail network, situated between the rail hub of Peterborough and Broken Hill. However the rail line was redirected to Ucolta instead, depreiving Dawson of a vital trade route for essential supplies. In spite of this, remarkably the town existed until 1981.

It was this visit to Dawson that got me interested in Goyder’s Line, what it repesented geographically, its historical importance and its relationship to the environment – both past and present. I became interested in creating a work based upon the Line and finding a way I might be able to contextualise it in a composition. Following on from my visit to the region, early in 2014 I came across a couple of published articles highlighting the remarkable accuracy of Goyder’s Line, although speculating that as a consequence of frequent drought conditions and the prevelant impact of climate change that the Line is trending southward [3].

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2006-05-02/climate-change-may-shift-goyders-line/1743886?pfmredir=sm

After finding a graphical representation of the modern-day Goyder’s Line and considering this with the original Line, I now had two lines to work with which presented themselves as a graphic score of sorts. I just had to find the right application and process.

Discovering the Vocoder:

In early 2014 I was exploring the sonic possibilities of a Korg Microkorg synthesiser. One afternoon I was curious about the vocoder so I gave the manual a cursory read and started plugging in audio sources to serve as  the vocoder’s carrier and modulation signals. It was when I routed two sawtooth waves of differing frequencies into the vocoder that things became very interesting. A sawtooth wave – as I reminded myself – contains all of the integer harmonics – so if you start sending sawtooth signals into a vocoder it’s going to start responding in a colourful and slightly unweilding manner.

Hang on (some of you may be asking) – 1) what on Earth is a vocoder?; 2) and how does it work? I’ll give myself about a paragraph and attempt to explain the process:

A vocoder consists of three primary elements – a carrier signal, a modulation signal and a bank of bypass filters. The modulation signal uses the filter bank to analyse the harmonic characteristics of the carrier signal and produces a modulated version of the carrier signal. So, let’s say for example that our carrier signal is my voice speaking into a microphone and the modulation signal is produced by a synthesiser tone played on a keyboard. What will happen is that the speaking voice (carrier) will be analysed by the filter bank and subsequently have the modulation signal applied to it, so that the voice will sound like a synthesiser tone, yet maintaining the semblance and characteristics of human speech.

Here’s a good example of the process (play from 2:10 mark):

So, how did my experiment sound with the sawtooth waves? Well, as most of you will probably know, a sawtooth wave has a distinct buzzing sound. When both of the sawtooth signals were sent to the vocoder a messy sonic texture resulted – far removed from the more simple, elegant process previously described of speech being modulated by a synthesiser tone. With two sawtooth waves as carrier and modulator there was a far more complex harmonic process going on and I have to admit that at this stage it didn’t sound very good at all – a bit like two dueling bansaws intimidating each other in a small room.

This experiment was ultimately redeemed when I whimsically pressed a key on the synthesiser’s keyboard. I wasn’t expecting anything to occur since I thought that the keyboard’s oscillator (as modulation signal) would be overridden by the incoming sawtooth signal routed to the modulation input. This wasn’t the case, so I now had two modulation signals – one from a sawtooth wave, the other from the synthesiser’s oscillator. This enhanced process produced a sonic result that was far more interesting  – both sawtooth waves (although perceivably distinct from each other) appeared to have certain harmonics  blur and smear against each other, a result of the  influence of the modulation from the synthesiser affecting the sawtooth waves whilst producing  also a continuous and consistent drone.

The desert appearing right before my ears: 

Aspects of the sound texture reminded be of David Berhman’s On The Other Ocean (1977) and some of Eliane Radigue’s drone works (1980’s Tryptch). These are elegant works where tonalities and sound textures drift and evolve subtly over long durations. Berhman’s work in particular has this knack of evoking spaces and landscapes in a beautiful way. Though my experiment had a long way to go, already it appeared to be recalling the desert environment in and around the town of Dawson – evoking its enveloping stillness and openess with the space and depth to observe discrete changes: subtle breezes, the shadow from clouds drifting across the landscape, slight change in temperature and minute movements of surrounding vegetation and objects (leaves, weeds, fence wires, the rattle of tin roofs, etc). I was on the right track.


First version and performance of Goyders Line (July 2014):

Performance at EMU (Electronic Music Unit, University of Adelaide) in July 2014 supporting Simon Whetham (foreground) and Tarab (background). The Microkorg with additional effects is pictured to the bottom right.

The 2014 winter in Adelaide was an absolute shocker – an arctic barrage of freezing winds, constant drizzle and to heighten the experience further, I ended up with pnumonia for a couple of weeks. When I wasn’t convalesced in bed I crawled into my studio space to rehearse a primitive version of Goyder’s Line as a support act for an upcoming concert by artists Simon Whetham and Tarab.

I no longer have my original notes for this performance, but I believe I had drafted a diagram on graph paper plotting the the two lines over a traced map of South Australia.

I must admit that the sawtooth waves’ respective trajectories were approximations of both Goyder Lines since I didn’t have the appropriate means to map the lines at this point to frequency over a duration of 15 minutes. Goodness, bearing in mind I had pnumonia as well. I recall simply tweaking the frequency knob of an oscillator for each of the ISOs and reading each of the lines in real time. A bit like feeling around a room in the dark. It’s certainly not accurate, more of a poetic interpretation of the Lines, but it worked in its own way at this early stage.

Although sending the sawtooth waves directly into the vocoder produced an interesting result, by this stage I decided to use some extended effects processors as a means of further affecting and warping the harmonic relationship between the two waveforms before they reached the vocoder.

The technical process of Goyder’s Line Version 1 went as follows:

  1. Two pre-recorded sawtooth waves of different frequencies are played back from an iPod simultaneously, their repsecitve frequencies gradually descending until they reach zero Hz. The upper frequency (which we’ll call ISO1) is mixed to the left channel, whilst the lower frequency (ISO2) is mixed to the right channel.
  2. ISO1’s signal is sent to the left input of an Electroharmonix Memory Man (EHX-MM) – which is a stereo delay pedal with additional reverb effects. ISO2 is routed to the Memory Man, but before it reaches the right input of the EHX-MM it is sent via a Moog MF-108M (MF-108M), which is a fancy flanger.
  3. The left and right output of the EHX-MM are then routed to the vocoder inputs of Microkorg – ISO 1 is routed to the Carrier input of the vocoder and ISO2 is routed to the Modulation input of the vocoder.
  4. A customised setting on the Microkorg is selected, which allows a chosen interval (C-E-A) to be sustained over the duration of the performance.
  5. At the beginning of the performance, the sawtooth waves are played back from the iPod, with ISO 1 and 2’s signals subject to discrete modulations before reaching the Microkorg’s vocoder.
  6. The performance concludes one both of the sawtooth waves have reached zero Hz.


Here’s a couple of brief snippets from the performance that night. Captured by Sebastian Tomczak:

Andrew Lord, who was present at the performance offered the following observations on this early version of the work:

This was gentle, still music with a throbbing texture that ebbed and flowed, slowly developing and changing. It seemed to be music more about textures than about events, but Louth-Robins seemed to pull off something of a magic trick – you realized at the end that it had become something completely different from what it was at the start and it happened under your nose and you didn’t know how. The throbbing pulses that were playing off each other gradually disappeared and left purer extended tones before the piece ended. [4]

[4] https://tristanlouthrobins.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/new-sounds-at-emu-18-review-by-andrew-lord/ NOTE: Andrew’s website (aplord.com) appears to be not active as of February 2017. This is a link to a republication of the review on my blog.

Second and Third versions: Max/MSP comes into the mix (early 2015)


Draft mapping for Version 2 of Goyder’s Line (Feb 2015). In this mapping, ISO1 and ISO2 are plotted across basic and coordinates – representing a frequency (a multiple on this instance) and representing duration. Note also the red line which indicates where the work begins in this version.

Following the performance in July 2014, Goyder’s Line was put on ice for the remainder of the year as other projects and activities took priority. By the time I returned to the work in 2015 I was eager to refine the Lines and render them a little more accurately and faithfully. Max/MSP seemed like the most ideal way to realise this.

Max/MSP is patching paradigm software which I’ve used on an infrequent basis since 2002. It can be used and applied in number of ways. Although it is predominantly music and sound based, more recent iterations of the software (Vizzie, Jitter) have provided the ability to design and control aspects of visual media.

I employed Max/MSP for two reasons: to be able program the ISO line mapping and to draw the ISOs as faithful representations of both Goyder Lines. The ISOs would – like the previous version – provide the trajectories for the respective frequencies of the sawtooth waves to follow.

Goyder’s Line Version 3 in Max/MSP.

Looking back now, with Max/MSP I easily achieved one of these goals (presets) whilst the other (drawing the line) was an arduous process of complex sub-patches, refinement, losing my patience…and further refinement. The line drawing function was particularly laboureous insofar that I can’t believe I subjected myself (or the software for that matter) to such a painful process.

The mapping of the lines to frequencies was derived from the above sketch, whereby the points on the axis (marked 0-14) would represent a multiple of a frequency. So that a point at 11 would be subject to a simple equation (axis point * 100 / 3.5 = frequency) so that a point at 11 would equal 314.28 Hz.

With the extended effects (EXH-MM and MF-108M) still in place, I made several recordings of this set-up in mid-2015, with Version 3 of Goyder’s Line released as part of my self-released Maurilia Sound Studio series.

Maurilia Sound Studio Volume 4: Goyder’s Line (recorded April 2015, released July 2016)

Each of the three variations on the release are identical in duration (12 minutes) but vary significantly in terms of timbre and harmonic behavior due to the chord position played on the synthesiser. So Variation 1 consists of a C-E-A chord pattern, whereas the other two Variations consists of E-A-G and F-A-D. The influence of the synthesiser as modulating signal radically affects the vocoder’s behavior, resulting in three unique variations of the same process.

An additional feature developed in Max/MSP patch permitted a delay (what I’ve termed as a ‘suspension’) at each of the draw points. This created a wonderful effect, whereby the intervals between the ISOs would be briefly suspended at a given point, allowing harmonic interplay and modulations to develop before the next stage of the line is drawn.

For example:

  • 1) Start point at coordinates x axis 1.0, y axis 11.0.
  • 2) Draw line to coordinates x axis 2.0, y axis 10.8, taking 1000 milliseconds (10 seconds) to perform this process.
  • 3) Once reached 2.0, 10.8 pause (suspend) next line draw for 10000 milliseconds (10 seconds)
  • 4) commence next line draw.
The sub-patcher which coordinates the line draw of each of the ISOs. There are 24 line draw points for each of the ISOs – each of them defines the and y points, the duration of the draw (in seconds) and the duration of delay (or pause) before the next stage of the line draw commences.
Revised technical set-up of Goyder’s Line. With Max/MSP patch replacing iPod.


You can listen to these three variations below:

Fourth version (late 2016 to early-ish 2017):

Goyder’s Line Version 4.4 in Max/MSP (February 2017): a faithful rendering of lines with lots of additional features

Although the third version of Goyder’s Line was regarded as a genuine release in July 2016, it still very much represented a work in progress.

In the development of Goyder’s Line version 4 significant refinements were made in Max/MSP to the rendering of the ISO lines whilst the patch design now included an array of features which allowed the control of various parameters. As you can see in the above image, it’s a lot more easy on the eyes.

The ISO lines were now plotted using a ‘function’ table which allowed points of the respective lines to be plotted and dragged into place, allowing the composition of lines with more accurate degrees of elevation, descent, trajectory and contour.

The features in Version 4 include the following:

  • A duration function – allows the duration of the line draw to be defined (can be a short and bumpy 30 seconds to an epic 48 minutes)
  • A transpose function – this feature allows the frequency range of the ISOs to be adjusted.
  • A stand-by function – allows the piece to begin as a ‘suspension’ at the ISOs starting point and commence upon deactivating the stand-by.
  • A auto-hold function – this feature sets the frequency of ‘suspensions’ during the line draw. Can currently be set between 2-20 seconds or can be deactivated altogether.
  • Manual hold/resume function – this can be used in place of the ‘auto-hold’, whereby suspensions can be manually performed.
  • An ‘actual time’ counter – this was incorporated to accomodate the duration setting and hold functions, since performing ‘suspensions’ throughout the work will inevitably make the duration longer than the defined duration prior to performance.
  • A spectrograph to visualise the interplay between the two ISOs throughout performance.
  • A low pass filter for the ISOs to attenuate frequency response below 50Hz.

Below is a video clip featuring the latest recording of Goyder’s Line. However, it has been abbriviated to 15 minutes since that’s the maximum length permitted on YouTube:

Where to now?

With this latest version performing beautifully in the studio, it feels as though the design of the system that drives Goyder’s Line is finally complete and is doing what I intended it to do. However work still needs to be done exploring the thematic and contextual aspects of the work.

Currently I’m working on a more academic-styled paper for the upcoming Australasian Computer Music Conference which is being hosted here in Adelaide during September 2017. There’s also a plan to perform the work at ACMC. This should provide an excellent and exciting platform to present and discuss the work further.


So that’s it for now. Hopefully this epic blog post (by my standards) has been reasonably informative and understandable.

Thanks for reading.

Peas and larvae,