Some quick patch notes from my “Off the Grid” performance for New York Modular Society:

Instruments

One of the organizers for this show suggested that the audience might be especially interested in my combination of modular synth with double bass. I haven’t performed with that configuration in a little while so it made for a great excuse to dive into it. The elements I picked were:

  1. Double bass (Gand & Bernardel freres no 43, since I was in my own controlled environment)
  2. Bow by Eben Bodach-Turner.
  3. Small eurorack modular focused on Phonogene as a sampler/granulator
  4. For some haptic controls I used monome arc with norns and crow running David Kettler’s 4 Big Knobs
  5. For additional texture and atmosphere I used some encapsulated electronics that mimic the Binson Echorec magnetic wheel delay unit.
Experimental musician Gahlord Dewald performs with double bass and modular electronics.
Experimental musician Gahlord Dewald performs with double bass and modular electronics for the NYMS “Off the Grid Series”

Music performance considerations

This performance was a livestream so I needed to be able to manipulate all of the sound-making things in real time as I go. When I’m playing a set of double bass and electronics music one of the challenges is operating in what are essentially two completely different mental universes: improvised string performance and improvised electronics performance. They each have different thoughtways, different ways of using the body, different scale and scope of physical/muscle/kinesthetic activity–just completely different beasts. So anything I can do to help smooth that transition will help me to shape music that feels more integrated as well.

In these instances I often perform sitting down. Honestly, I prefer sitting down all the time and I like to sit cello-style as well because it gives me better reach and stability. Storytime: When I was a kid a local jazz guitar teacher’s back gave out at a young age such that he couldn’t strap a guitar on. It was a tragic thing because his personal technique etc was based around standing and playing. He persevered and designed a stand to hold his guitar for him so he could continue to play. That stuck with me. Over the years I think about the physical toll that our instruments take on us and I’ve pursued sitting down to play the standup bass because if I get to a spot where standing and playing isn’t feasible I want to feel comfortable sitting down.

Experimental musician Gahlord Dewald performs on the double bass
Gahlord Dewald performs on the double bass & modular synth for a New York Modular Society livestream.

And in this particular case, where I need to reach over and manipulate a table full of knobs and wires, sitting cello style, where I can control the instrument with my legs leaving both hands free if necessary, just makes things much easier.

Another musical consideration in my setup was the use of the monome arc to control some of the electronic elements. While the monome ecosystem is capable of doing essentially everything (the norns is itself a sound computer with all the necessary inputs and outputs etc), I’m using it in this set just to help make the knobs bigger, standardized, easier to see, and with very obvious feedback (more Blinky lights is always better).

The big knobs are closer in size and muscle-usage to the kinds of things I have to do when I manipulate the double bass. I feel that this makes it easier for my hands-mind to transition between the instruments.

In addition, the arc wheels are an attractive visual element, which I think matters in performance–especially a livestream performance where I can’t make a direct human connection and have to rely on cameras, technology, and often not-very-good listening situations for the audience.

Eurorack/Electronic Rig Patch Diagram

I made a block diagram of the entire electronic music rig. I don’t always do this but I’m doing it more often as I set things up so that I don’t forget things. For this particular performance, I had to prepare most of the elements mentally because my power supply blew out a few days before the show (Thank you Sam at Sweetwater for getting me a new one in time for the show!).

You can download the diagram here.

Capabilities/outcomes

I was able to do the performance and play at a level that I enjoyed, comfortably. I was nervous leading up to the show because of the whole power supply blowing and hoping that the delivery could find me at the artist residency I’m at for the summer. But once in the seat and going it was good. The arc was a definite improvement over times when I’ve had to wade through the spaghetti of eurorack cables to tweak a sound.

Additionally, this configuration allowed me to capture four channels of audio:

  1. Room mic
  2. Double bass close mic
  3. Modular direct, without the delay
  4. Modular with the delay

Using these four channels I will be able to make a nice recording of the parts of the show that I like most. This means that I can share more of it with more people, hopefully you!

Gahlord Dewald finds the sweet spot while adjusting a modular synth.
Finding the spot in the music that really slaps.

patch notes