sketchbook: musopen musings

Musopen is a fascinating project — it hosts public domain recordings of, and sheet music for, a large number of classical pieces. Many of the most famous classical works have long been in the public domain, but while the compositions themselves may be free to use, recordings of those works are still subject to copyright. Musopen, then, hosts recordings of those works that have also been released in to the public domain, mainly from student and college orchestras.

Nearly two years ago, Musopen’s founder had an ambitious idea: use funds from a Kickstarter project to commission classical recordings from a top-quality orchestra, which would then be released in to the public domain. The campaign was a great success, and the resulting recordings are now complete. The final mixes aren’t ready yet, but I’m more excited to see that the raw multitrack recordings are available!

The sessions are in ProTools format, but the recordings themselves are WAVs that can be imported in to Ardour or any other DAW quite easily. With some 560GB of high-quality orchestral stems to work with, there’s tremendous scope to incorporate these recordings in to other works, or process and edit them to create entirely new works. This is an incredible gift to the recording community, and I have a feeling we’ll be hearing elements of these recordings for decades to come.

In that spirit, I spent some time over the weekend playing with one of the pieces in Ardour. I took one of the shorter (and more frantic) pieces — Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro — and extracted a few short elements, stretching them out to create a short ambient electronic (the genre I affectionately call “artwank”) track. Beyond Ardour’s time-stretching and pitch-shifting tools, I used Argotlunar and Cumulus, which are both granular synths, to add a bit more textural variety.

mp3 | vorbis | 2:04

rpm 2012 post-mortem, track 8: lagrange

“The Lagrange points are the five positions in an orbital configuration where a small object affected only by gravity can theoretically be stationary relative to two larger objects (such as a satellite with respect to the Earth and Moon).”

Though it’s a close-run competition with hohmann, I think this was the fastest of all the tracks to record — I sat down on day 11 and within a couple of hours, it was finished. This was really just an excuse to play with Argotlunar, a real-time granular processor that runs as a native VST plugin. While Loomer Cumulus works on pre-recorded samples, Argotlunar works in real-time on whatever audio you run through it, so it’s great for adding glitchy, cloudy, distorted granular effects to instruments.

In this case, I created a suitable pad sound using TAL NoiseMaker, recorded some improvised chords in to Ardour, and then tweaked Argotlunar’s settings to see what effects I could produce. Most of the time I spent working on this track was in automating Argotlunar’s settings, shifting through different ranges of settings to create different effects. I also added a Calf Vintage Delay, mainly toward the end, to give things a little more space.

Argotlunar automation

Four separate Argotlunar parameters were automated to produce different effects; the fifth automation lane here is for the Calf Vintage Delay

There’s not a lot more to say about this; it’s a simple track, but it does its job. Argotlunar was great fun to play with, and it creates some interesting sounds, but I don’t think there’s quite enough variation on it to really justify its length — it could easily be a minute shorter without losing anything. It does at least work well as a change of pace before heading in to escape velocity.

rpm 2012 update: day 12

Just a quick update on my progress: I’m up to four completed tracks, though I currently only have a couple of ideas ready to expand upon. After finishing the track that I had in-progress on day 5, I started on an old-school ambient techno track, which I wrapped up yesterday, and today I recorded another ambient experimental track, using Argotlunar and TAL-NoiseMaker.

The ambient techno track was good fun. It started with loops in seq24, but with seq24 having poor support for JACK transport, I moved the work in to Ardour. As it turned out, that was pretty easy — seq24 saves its sessions in standard MIDI format, and when I imported the seq24 file in to Ardour, it imported each loop as a separate region on a new track, so I just had to do a bunch of copying and pasting to get the basic structure in place.

17 days and 6 tracks to go! I’ve been posting tracks to Soundcloud as I go; you can check them out here. I’ve been uploading them to Bandcamp too, of course, but hidden — if all goes well I’ll have a finished RPM album there, ready to reveal, on March 1st.