Amplify was an accessible electronic music-making course run by Drake Music in Bristol for anyone aged 18+.
Over the course of 6 weeks, participants would make a track, either on their own, or as part of a group.
The tracks would be mastered at a professional mastering studio and then, later, be played by a DJ in a club environment, which participants could attend to hear their music played ‘live’.
Interestingly, none of the participants had been involved in a Drake Music project before, and some were totally new to music-making!
The first group to arrive all lived at the same place, Morley House, so were all friends, and group 2 knew each other, so they were all quite comfortable with each other straight away.
I was unsure at the beginning whether to split the groups up further, but when I realised the participants knew each other previously and were keen to work together, it became clear that playing together as much as possible was the best way for their learning.
Tech and techniques used
Being an electronic music course, the setup we were using was pretty hi tech…
I was keen to try out some new ipad apps and techniques in music making that were uniquely ‘electronic’: drum machines, synths emulated on iPads etc.
Also, Ableton Link had just been introduced and was a new feature on several iPad apps. Straight away, I could see this could be an exciting development for music making on this course:
Here’s a list of apps we used during the course which are ‘link enabled’:
- Patterning (drum machine)
- Sound prism link
- Nlog pro
Being able to tempo sync matrix-based music apps to each other and then in to the Drake Music laptop running Ableton Live opened up a realm of possibilities for collaboration.
For example, being able to use drum machines and ‘Tenori on’ style grid based music apps.
Also, using touch osc controlling clips in Ableton Live’s session view alongside filters and other parameters at the same time was useful.
Link allowed for really free collaboration and experimentation in beat driven electronic music and many more apps are ‘link enabled’ now, just a few weeks on.
PATTERNING DRUM MACHINE APP
In particular ‘patterning’ was a very engaging iPad app instrument.
It has a unique visual interface that, unlike most drum machines, is circular rather than linear.
In this app the user is able to trigger sounds live and also add them to a sequence and change the velocity of that sound in a very visual way.
For a student like Harry Jackson who is on the autistic spectrum, the visuals are ideal as he engaged with this app for a long period of time and found it very absorbing.
Sounds great too!
Harry also excelled at the use of Touch OSC triggering beats / samples hosted on the Drake Music laptop.
Harry was so good at playing the samples / sounds in this way. Some pads triggered sound on and off and others played individual ‘hits’.
I think the colours changing when sounds are on and off is a useful feature of OSC for Harry’s music making. Harry is one of the most naturally gifted young people i have worked with. He would do things totally spontaneously and I did my best to record them.
We had an unusually large amount of space to play with at The Trinity centre – an entire hall! – and therefore were able to use Soundbeam to its full extent, using large movements to play!
Sam in particular loved this – he is very physical and enjoys dancing to music so much!
We used the midi form soundbeam to play a Kontakt software instrument in Ableton Live.
By placing an arpeggiator on the impulse Ableton software instrument and assigning a fader to the cuttoff filter, our little midi keyboard became the main riff / sound of the track for group 2.
AJ Maximen really loved this. It’s a powerful sound that by using the cuttoff filter whilst playing the keys, it became the signature sound of their track.4
RECORDING AND LISTENING
We recorded the fruits of each session in a multitrack, so that at the start of each week we were able to reflect fully on what had happened the previous week.
This also meant we were able to piece together takes from different weeks to arrange our song as part of the course, where we felt it was needed.
The kit we used for this project to compose arrange and perform the song was as follows
- Midi keyboard, playing arpeggiated bassline with filters assigned
- Soundbeam desktop version triggering kontakt instruments in Ableton live
- 4 iPads using various apps listed above
- Ableton Push
- Microphone + fx
When the music was made we went to the mastering studio to finalise the tracks and then played them at Trinity in Bristol for all the group to hear on a loud sound system.