Teaching

“I teach sound design, processing, synthesis, mixing, golden ear, and electronic music production to degree students of all years. Sometimes that means using different software packages, which include Logic, Cubase, Ableton Live, Reaper, Pro Tools, and the Native Instruments Komplete bundle, and assorted others.

I additionally teach a broad range of music theory topics to music production students, to enable them to compose, arrange and perform.

I’m interested in development of the following subjects: electronic performance, practical music theory, and creative coding.

Electronic Performance
… is the use of computers and other electronic sound tools for live performance – to some extent this implies the aesthetics of live electronic dance music culture. Ableton Live, in live usage, is about the most common and obvious signifier of what Electronic Performance is about. Another example would be the realm of practice that has come to be termed “controllerism”, or another, would be how “finger drumming” has come into view as the virtuosic live practice of electronic dance and black music, with the likes of Jeremy Ellis, Mad Zach, and my friend and collaborator Mark de Clive-Lowe all exponents of the concept.

The strategies and techniques for electronic music performance are more usually found out about on youtube, not at school. The street is way ahead of the academy on this one, such is the nature of our networked age. We need to catch up and formalize this street knowledge, and combine it with what we already know about music performance overall, not to mention develop ensemble electronic performance.

Practical music theory:
The reordering and reprioritizing of aspects of music theory, in order to be more approachable, practical and creative. One specific problem I have had on music production short courses, is how to enable students of wildly differing levels of experience to all be able to grasp in an extremely short space of time common chords, scales, and progressions, to the degree that they can then make use of the newly-gained knowledge in composing their own progressions as part of their production process.

Everything that’s not really important for just getting on with playing a song gets delayed – no new terminology, no sheet music, no solfege. Instead, what is important, is to listen to how collections of note distances create particular feelings, and to include the colour tones from the very beginning, rather than introduce chords as if they are strictly synonymous with triads and 7th chords.

For example with minor chords, starting on any key of the keyboard, counting and sounding the distances to each of the minor chord tones up to the 13th, learning that set of distances that produces that minor sound and feeling, of course most crucially the distance from any given root note to a minor 3rd up, means a person can then play any song consisting of minor chords, like so much dance music, or such as Miles Davis So What, or Patrice Rushen’s Settle For My Love. The concept of the root, and the sound of the distance to both major and minor 3rds, is more important than even terms like semitone, or interval, or note names, or referring to scales. Voicing the chords with colour tones or without, swapping the order of notes around (without needing to refer to “inversions” yet), playing up and down some patterns so that the chord gets under the fingers, and doing so from different root notes (without mentioning any cycles of any kind), means that even on day one a student can usefully make music that sounds like it’s from the real world.

After that we can change the 3rd to major, listen to dominant chords and play the Blues. And we can combine our two chords and play iv-VII-iii-VI-ii-V and re-appreciate that the cycle of fifths (if they maybe already knew it) is actually pretty cool, and is not just some abstract thing they’re meant to memorize for no good reason. Then we can switch the 3rd of the dominant to a 4th, call it a Sus and play Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. If we add the major chord to our repertoire, which usually gets dealt with first, and quite probably many of my “beatmaking” students already encountered somewhere, we can add it to what we know so far, play the progression of practically every pop hit ever made, or we can play major-only songs like something by Pharaoh Sanders. And we can talk about tension and resolution, and making the pretty chords prettier by preceding them by even uglier ones (like a VSusb9 to a IM9).

If we add the minor blues, meaning we flatten some fifths, alter some dominants, and round it off with the option of a minor major feeling, then expand on it in all kinds of ways, substitute some chords for ones that are thirds and tritones away, and turn it around here and there to keep long measures of one chord interesting, then we will have covered a lot of really useful chord things that a budding music producer feels is relevant to her life and can use on her next beat.

My song examples reflect my own interest in jazz but If the students are digging Radiohead let’s play some Radiohead. If they’re digging Disclosure, Drake, or Rhianna, let’s play those things. Classical won’t work for many, nor will seminal rock or jazz, so the examples require contemporization.

Creative coding:
The computer is not a sealed box that can only be used with software other people have conceived of. It is an open ended blank canvas of possibility that can be used for anything that can be imagined – you have to first imagine, and then build.  Creative coding is the practice of computer programming to produce creative work such as pictures, animations, music, apps, and so forth.

There are two main types of programming: graphical, and textual. PD, and MaxMSP, are graphical, and commonly preferred by many sound practitioners who may not have come from a computer programming background. MaxMSP these days even comes integrated with Ableton Live and is a very fertile platform for learning how to make your own sound tools by augmenting Live’s functionality. SuperCollider, Processing.org, openFrameworks, and CSound are relevant textual programming languages and environments to introduce to students. Physical computing platforms such as the Arduino and Raspberry PI, and sensing devices such as the Leapmotion and the Microsoft Kinekt open up creative coding to the physical world around us.

Creative coding is personal empowerment. It is also one of the most usefully transferable of all the skills we might equip students with.