Eoin Smith > Refining a Computer and Turntable Based System

Residency (9th – 22nd November 2009)

After orientation week, my primary goal was to continue developing my computer and turntable based system. It was also important for me to be able to discuss some issues and ideas with Dj Sniff as he uses a similar set up. My goal for this system is to develop an environment which allows me to manipulate and process samples via the turntable for performance and compositional purposes. In order to embrace this notion of computer based turntablism, I use time-coded vinyl, more specifically MsPinky, which is a time-coded vinyl system which can be used with Max/Msp. This software allowed me to gain control of audio files on the computer via the turntable but also gave me other useful information such as direction and speed of the vinyl. With this information I could control audio samples, but I could also control more minute parameters such as feedback amount in reverb or the cutoff frequency of a filter. However there was one element which was still eluding me: the process of changing samples. Prior to experimenting with this system, I had to change the samples manually on the computer which can be irritating for both the performer and audience. What I decided to explore was having a sample bank within the Max/Msp patch, from which I would be able to access a specific sample using only the turntable.

I devised a relatively simple system which operates using conditionals, in conjunction with the velocity and direction values of the vinyl. At its simplest, the sample bank consists of one buffer with three optional samples which can be read into the buffer. Moving the vinyl in a forward motion at a certain speed will increment or load the next sample into the buffer. When the maximum number of samples have been used, the system re-initialises the buffer with the first sample and the process starts again. What was important here was that I could still manipulate the records/sample without it incrementing through the samples constantly, so careful attention was needed when deciding on the threshold values to be used in the conditionals.

In terms of using the turntable as a controller to computer music instruments, this is a small but important obstacle to overcome. It is an element of the system which embraces the notion of practicing and being able to reproduce, to some extent, the same performance again and again, leaning away from improvised performances. To be able to increment to the next sample or start and stop a recording buffer using vinyl, requires the turntablist to know the threshold values, used in the system, intimately. What is evident from my research to date and from working with this patch are the gestures I use when controlling certain elements of the system. Although these gestures might change with user, I find these gestures to be an interesting characteristic of computer based turntablism.

The audio samples below include a short test run using different cymbal sounds for samples and then a longer performance which uses some field recordings and also incorporates some other elements of the patch, most notably a Csound instrument.

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