Other than the blinding ugliness of the UI, you’ll notice that there are four identical channel strips. Each channel has number boxes for pitch, length, and speed. The vertical fader is a volume control, and the two knobs are “drunkenness” controls. These add an element of randomness to the playback. The top knob controls how much the pitch will vary on its own and the bottom knob adjusts the variance of the speed. Below this section is a waveform viewer which shows the sample that has been recorded into each channel. On the far right side are two volume level meters: a master level and a meter for a backing track.
Since the keyboard and mouse are kind of lame, I opted to use a MIDI keyboard controller to operate the patch. Since I wasn’t interested in making traditional tonal music, I just used it as a box with a bunch of buttons and knobs:
Here’s how it works: you select a track or tracks by holding down its respective key, then change a parameter by using the corresponding wheel or button. For example, to reset track 1 to its original pitch and speed, I would press the “Track 1” key and the “Reset” key at the same time.
I used a footswitch to trigger recording, which allowed me to keep my hands free for percussion instruments or other soundmaking toys. The patch remembers the last track to be selected, and records into that track when the footswitch is held down. Let’s look at Phonogene’s UI one more time, now in the middle of a performance:
The waveforms for each sample are at the bottom of each track, as is a black vertical line showing the playback position within each sample. The red square at the top of track four shows that it was the last track to be selected, so when the “record” pedal is pressed, the microphone will record into track four.
I’m not going publish the patch at this point because it is pretty messy and there are still some changes I’d like to make to it. In the coming months I’ll probably write some shorter posts about specific parts of Phonogene, complete with downloadable code, but for now here’s just a picture of the top-level patch:
I wish Max/MSP had a decent text-based syntax. I’ve had it with these stupid little boxes and wires.
Finally, here’s the recording of “Music for Headaches” from my performance at the concert. To clarify, not everything you hear was recorded and manipulated live. After rehearsing many times, I decided that having some pre-edited backing sounds would expand the—excuse the term—sonic possibilites. All the live samples were vocal-based, except for the jangling keys sound.