Robert Tubb: Mathematically Inspired Approaches To Live Rhythm Sequencing (Software Masterclass)

Robert Tubb is a London-based musician and programmer best known as his artist alias “Cursor Miner”, and currently researching towards a Doctorate in advanced music technology.

The bulk of midi style sequencing is carried out in a piano-roll type representation. This descends from traditional score which has evolved to suit western classical music. However for modern electronic genres such as dance music, driven by repetitive rhythms, this layout is rather unwieldy. In the case of live improvisatory performance, a piano-roll is pretty much impossible to manage.

This session will explore that the way we approach rhythm sequencing is lacking. We hear audio in the frequency domain, we play musical instruments in the frequency domain (i.e. the notes in a scale are frequencies). Rhythm is an equally cyclical, harmonic phenomenon so why then should we be specifying everything as points in time?

The central idea here is that all aspects of music are driven by repetitions in time, not singular points in time. A linear-time based approach: where every note in the piano roll has to be specified by hand, is inferior to the circular-time (aka frequency) based approach, where patterns are constructed by overlaying simple “basis functions” that “add up” in some way to produce satisfying structure.

The session will explore issues facing performers of electronic music, and various solutions to the problem of live pattern creation. We will take a brief look at the history of various “short cuts” to musical sequence production: the Arpeggiator, the Step Sequencer and the LFO. Each of these devices uses the endless reproductive capacities of electronic machinery to provide musicians with the ability to abstract away the idea of the “pattern” and enable him or her to think about higher structure. A new type of sequencer will be presented that ties all these ideas together and uses the concept of a Fourier Transform (which views patterns as the sum of pure sine wave oscillations) to generate meaningful patterns and, perhaps more importantly, transitions between these patterns.

Also presented is a touch screen app: “The Wablet”. This uses a simulation of a spring mesh to generate control and audio data. The musician can set up the springs to wobble in a rhythmic fashion, and this oscillation can be used to drive synth parameters, or even be scanned to create an audio waveform. Again this uses the idea of overlaying simple periodic phenomena to create complex but interesting patterns.