The joys of lo-fi and on being a closet 12-tone composer

Fantasia 1986

Recently, I was emailed about a new software synthesizer - Plogue Chipsounds - from the Plogue folks in Montreal.  This is a device which promises to emulate 8 of the most popular 8-bit game and other sound chips from the 1980s.  Although I had worked a bit with those chips, in the early 1980s I was very involved with "rolling my own" sounds, using an AIM-65 single board microcomputer.  As I remember, the AIM had a couple of outputs, where you could access the 8 bits of the numbers as individual outputs.  I took those, and put them through the Control Voltage Processor on my Serge synthesizer, creating a crude non-linear digital-to-analog converter (DAC).  I then spilled the contents of the memory out through the port, and voila!  Instant sound synthesis.  I made some interesting pieces with this, and I'll post those pieces in the next few days.  My interest in lo-fi, of course, was an extension of the work I'd done in the 1970s with Ron Nagorcka in the group Plastic Platypus.  We used cassette recorders as our main musical instruments, as well as a variety of electronic toys. 

Well, I bought the softsynth from Plogue (at $75 US it was irresistible, and the currently strong Aussie dollar helped, too), and it's a delight.  And, because it uses the ARIA engine Plogue developed, all the chipsounds are totally microtonally controllable using Scala files.  Fun for the whole family!  (If your family consists of, as mine does, two composers who both like raw electronic sounds and microtonality!)  While working with this synth, I was reminded of another piece of mine from 1986 - Fantasia.  This was a piece I wrote at Serge Tcherepnin's place in San Francisco, on a visit.  He had an early Mac, and it had a notation program which played out through the Mac's internal sound chip.  The sounds were pretty crude, and the notation program was pretty limited.  It would only play in normal 12-tone tuning, so I thought, "Why not a 12-tone piece?"  Unlike a lot of my composer colleagues, I don't fall into paroxysms of negativity when I hear the words "12-tone composition," nor do I fall into spasms of admiration for the technique either.  To me, it's just another way of making music, one that has a certain amount of fun involved in the figuring out of various melodic and harmonic combinations inherent in one's chosen material.  I quickly composed a little 1 minute piece - making the sort of "uptown electronic music" that had appealed to me as a student in the late 1960s.  I thought it was fun at the time, and in light of the whole chiptune thing that's happening now, I still think it's a fun piece.  And so I hope, do you.  Click on "Fantasia" above to hear it.  OR, if you want to download it, right click HERE.  And to hear a soundtrack I did with Chipsounds, see the blog entry a couple of entries before this for a link to "Hilbert Trace" on YouTube.

This little "Fantasia" wouldn't sit still, however, and eventually, it became the first section of a nine-section piece - "Fantasias Quartets and Nocturnes" - here's a description of the piece from my CD catalog - you can order the CD by clicking on "order CDs" in the right hand column of this page.

33. Fantasias, Quartets and Nocturnes (1986-88) ( TWO CD )

Three similar sets of pieces, in three different tunings: 12 tone, 19 tone and 31 tone equal temperament. The Fantasias are nostalgic exercises in free expressionist composition, ala Schoenberg, updated to the world of computer controlled analog synthesis; the Quartets are rigorous 1950s serialist “change-ringing pieces”, and the Nocturnes are experiments in composing on the edge of sleep. Just before bed, each night, I would improvise into my sequencer until I dropped off to sleep. The Nocturnes consist of spliced together phrases made just on the edge of sleep. The exploration of the subconscious in the Nocturnes contrasts vividly with the caffeinated consciousness of the Fantasias and Quartets.



A new essay on the importance of non-verbal intelligence.

I've just uploaded an essay I wrote in September for presentation at the Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Wollongong, Postgraduate Week.  This is a time when all the staff and faculty at FCA do talks about their work.  I decided to do a talk about the importance of non-verbal modes of expression.  Of course, I tried to deliver it in as professional a manner as possible - using virtuoso words to try to express the importance of getting beyond words.   You can read the essay on line HERE.  And you can download it in pdf form HERE.  I'd be interested in getting feedback from folks on the essay.  Just drop an email to me using the contact form here and let me know what you think.  Thanks.


Finally, some action

Rather than trying to make this into a complete website before going public with it, I've decided to start posting things, and let the site grow.  I'm starting with some videos that I just uploaded to YouTube.  These are from works I've done in the past 18 months.  As I add things, I'll work on getting some video works from the past loaded. This first piece is a video that I made a couple of days ago.  It's made with Algorithmic Arts ArtWonk v4 alpha, which I'm currently testing and developing some fractal routines for.  This piece, both video and sound, is 2 layers each of a patch made with a rather mutant trace of the Hilbert Fractal.  The sound is made with the new softsynth from Plogue - Chipsounds.



Well, good things take time...

My old teacher, Kenneth Gaburo, talking about years-late commissions for performers, said, with a twinkle in his eye, "Well, good things take time...."  And while I do admit to being a follower of the ancient Greek philosopher Procrastes (there are no writings by him cause he kept putting off writing down his ideas), whose students were known as Procrastitutes, it may seem odd that I promised last year to get this site up and running in a couple of months. 

Well, life has a way of getting in the way of plans, and it's been a very busy and sometimes fraught few months.  But starting in October 2009, I'm planning on getting back to developing this website, and when it's up and running nicely, I'll send out a bulk email to all and sundry advertising the fact.

Good things take time...... - right!


Coming Soon

This will be the new Warren Burt website.

Coming soon - maybe by mid-December 2008 or early January 2009.

It will have lots of articles to download, sounds and pieces to download,

video clips, etc.  You'll be able to purchase CDs of my work, as well.


In the meantime, my old website at is still in existence.

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