Islands Patch

Just thought I’d share…
This is the Pure Data patch for Islands 2, unrolled as a poster.
Many elements are repeated 12 times. I started making a poster with all twelve of the subpatches, and it became very large, very quickly!
Look out for Simon Limbrick’s forthcoming releases, including a recording of this piece with live electronics (I haven’t yet made a poster for that patch – this is just the score patch).

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If you could re-invent your body on a daily basis, what would you do?
I remember when I was studying for my degree, in Electronic Music, I used to walk around the streets and shops of Hatfield clicking my fingers in polyrhythmic patterns (7 against 5, 4 against 3 etc) but two arms and two legs just doesn’t cut it! We are built for 4/4 time signatures (walk and gait) and as a consequence, the music that humans make is mostly very restricted in terms of rhythm. If I could wake up each day with a different body, I would have seven legs and five arms one day, 1 leg and three arms another. Different configurations of fingers, prehensile toes etc. A central limb…
But in order to appreciate the music I made, you would also have to mutate.

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Buzz is back

For those of you who dabble with alternatives to the Cubase/Logic/Ableton mafia of software packages for music, there is Buzz for Windows.

Buzz has been around for about 14 years, but the original version of Buzz was halted in its development when Oskari Tammelin’s hard-drive caught fire and he lost the source code! It has never been open-source, but it has always been free. I made a few records with this software in the 2000′s and I can tell you that, if you learn how to use the keyboard to navigate around and program this package it is one of the quickest and most versatile pieces of software there is for making rhythm-based music.

One of its great features is that you can make music with Buzz without any external devices whatsoever. Patterns can be programmed from the qwerty keyboard, and any parameter of any machine (including VST plugins) can be automated in the tracker-based pattern editor or via Midi. It is fully MIDI compatible, and there are hundreds of free machines available at

Buzz existed through binary patches (and glitches) throughout the 2000′s, but recently Mr Tammelin has re-created it and is constantly improving it. This is a welcome return of the most innovative music packages to emerge from the tracker paradigm, and it gets better and better. With 14 years of 3rd party development of machines for Buzz (synths, FX and more) it’s always been one of my favourites, and fully VST compatible.

If you do download Buzz, get the Buzz DIY Kit with Machines from This will give you (most) of the Buzz machines available, but there are always more being developed at

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The Paia 9700s Analog Synthesizer

It’s been a long time since I built anything electronic, so I decided to buy a Paia 9700s kit a few years ago. Then I moved house a handful of times and we had our first child.  So last spring (2011) I decided to build the Paia. I made a lot of mistakes, but I would say that the instructions for building are excellent and the online resources are good too. Well, I decided to document the process after I’d finished the first board (MIDI2CV8 module) so here are some pictures of the synthesizer as it is being built. Sound samples to follow…

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Adventures with Dynamic Notation

Working on Islands for Steel Pan and Live Electronics, for Simon Limbrick to play.

Part one was performed at Dartington Summer School this year, and went well. The score on the left is from Part 1. This uses Gemnotes in a much more appropriate way for live notation than the first version for vibraphone (see below) and apart from a few unreadable glitches (!) is largely legible.

A big problem with this dynamic notation is beaming of notes and collapsing durations to be the most readable forms. It works great when the beaming is explicitly stated in the score file, and the score is played linearly, but that’s no fun at all. You may as well have a piece of paper. This version of Islands has extensive real-time score-scrambling – on-the-fly re-ordering of notes and interleaving of score files. The score for part 1 is split into 161 fragments and thee are re-combined differently every time it is played. The live electronics (Pd patch) records and cuts up the input recorded from the steel pan, and re-organizes that with some live effects, transpositions and reversal of some events.

Part 2 of the piece…well it’s fun to see what happens when the live notation goes crazy – I clearly need to work on this some more (2nd and 3rd graphics).

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Taking apart the Roland CSQ600 to make a usable case for my initial modular designs.

The beauty of Japanese hand-drawn circuits is apparent here – much more elegant than modern CAD designs!

April 2011

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Gemnotes 0.2.3

Gemnotes 0.2.3 is released.

There is now support for dynamics (fff to ppp) as well as hairpins. There is also the first articulation (accented notes).

Finally, a patch to translate midi files to gemnotes score format is included (translate_midi.pd), and a polyrhythmic quantizing object. These are not foolproof, and editing of the text scores is advised. Also, using groups, stemlength and hdsq messages will ensure that beamed groups, rests etc turn out well.

Binaries are included for Linux, Mac OS X (Intel) and Windows (new!).

Download here: gemnotes-0.2.3

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Ninja Jamm

An earlier version of the patch, the final thing is even more complex!

I nearly finished work on the audio engine for the Ninja Jamm iPhone app audio engine. What a relief! Probably the biggest PD project in terms of complexity (since it has to run on the iPhone) and sheer hard graft, I have worked on.

…update – never say a project is finished until it’s released (I should know this by now). There were always going to be bugs, but I’ll keep posting here when some news emerges.

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Project Crisis Points

There is always a moment in any advanced coding or engineering project where I declare “there is nothing more I can do.” Usually at this point, new possibilities begin to emerge, and I find there is indeed a lot that I can do. I am sure the two are related, and I often feel like a fool for seeming to admit defeat afterwards, but there seems to be a pattern here. The moment of crisis in the project leads to a re-evaluation of the concepts and materials, and this in turn may lead to the realization of the original goals.

Perseverance pays off, but deadlines matter too. Look for new announcements here soon :)


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Gemnotes First Performance

Here is the first version of Islands, using Gemnotes version 1. Although the software works, it’s clear that I have chosen a very linear score (although it was randomized to a certain extent in my realization). I wasn’t expecting this, but I should have. A new way of presenting a score demands a new way of formulating it. Islands 2 will be much more appropriate for the score language, but nevertheless here is the very first concert using this system, from January 2011.



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