…We’ve been following the wonderful musical adventures of Benny Woo for five years now at SL.
As well as contributing to our Christmas charity album last year, we’ve been lucky enough to have had him in for a live podcast, as well as enjoying his output on soundcloud, under his own name, as well as other aliases and projects.
We sat down with the great man to discuss what he’s been up to recently:
Hi Benny. Thanks for speaking to us. Could you explain to the average local music fan what you do?
Hi. I make computer music – different styles across a few different projects… Hyper-romance, sledgehammer techno, lasery stuff, anything that furthers a pursuit of shameless dilettantism, and masks, through sheer prolificacy, a lack of true skill or specialisation.
I also make some tools for producing electronic music.
So let’s talk about making tools for producing electronic music? How does that work?
There are a few pieces of hardware and software that I’ve been building over the past year or so, most of which are sort of distilled versions of much older, probably overly ambitious projects that I’d eventually shelved.
On the software side, there’s Klok and Grain Surgeon.
Klok is essentially a poly rhythmic drum machine that plays blocks of code. More specifically, it’s a Euclidean rhythm sequencer and sample player with live scripting, meaning that you can programmatically process and ‘hot swap’ samples while it plays. There’s a second step sequencer that controls the playback of snapshots (snapshots of up to 8 Euclidean sequences, each with their own tempo and associated blocks of code). The built in effects can also be controlled programmatically, and there’s some scope for control I/O via MIDI and OSC.
Grain Surgeon is a granular sampler with some built in effects. At the moment, I’m trying to build up a library from the moments of sonic serendipity that occur during testing and debugging. 90% of the music I write is put together in a very orthodox way, using off the shelf software that offers scope for total recall. That pairs well with my neuroses but there’s also some pleasure to be found in hitting on musically useful ‘mistakes’, which are happily never in short supply thanks to my considerably inexpert coding ‘skills’.
Beyond those two, there are a ton of mini software projects, mostly based around interfacing peripherals or sonifying data.
As far as hardware goes, there are a few things that I’ve been putting together recently. One is a sort of LPC based drum machine modelled on my voice. That involved recording lots of phonemes and processing them with this antiquated (Windows 95) software that was developed for Texas Instruments employees. Think that classic ‘Speak & Spell’ sound.
There are a couple of other things, including a phase distortion synth with an accompanying app that’s designed to be programmed on a tablet or phone via Bluetooth, and a radio sequencer. The latter is basically an FM radio with a built in step sequencer that allows you to quickly tune to various frequencies that are stored as presets.
So do these processes give your music a different feel to the contemporary EDM track?
EDM is not an initialism that I’ve ever really understood. Seems to me that it was designed by marketing types in America to replace a diffuse collection of electronic music subgenres, but it always makes me think of music that is the electronic equivalent of stadium rock.
I guess the tools that I’ve described above do lend themselves to the production of a certain type of music, i.e. glitchier stuff. The majority of what I write with off the shelf software is designed to sound a bit more organic or acoustic, and is strictly notated. The stuff I do with tools like Klok is unapologetically digital sounding and is more likely to involve stochastic processes.
What’s interesting to me now is living and working inside of this strange design feedback loop that’s emerged since starting Klok. I started with vague notion of how it might work and what it might sound like but that has inevitably transformed through road-testing. Each iteration invites another set of decisions about what qualities to embellish or accentuate, and as there’s no commercial imperative for me, it’s all about taste. So you end up with tools that are inherently very idiosyncratic.
The problem then is that you could just as easily use off the shelf software to produce a facsimile of that sound, so it’s important to pervert the whole enterprise every now and then. The best way to do that is to invite criticism from others or use the thing in a context for which it was never designed (live jams, for example).
So what are your musical plans for 2019?
I spent most of 2018 designing audio for various installations, as an accompaniment to video, sculpture, etc, so I still have a backlog of older classical/folky stuff that I’d put on hold but would like to finish and get out there. Lots more of the ravey stuff that I do as XEP-0076 (http://www.soundcloud.com/xep-0076) too. Then there’s a noise and spoken word project that’s been in gestation for about 10 years. Finally got out to a studio recently and recorded some vocals for that, so piecing it all together will be my biggest project for 2019.
As far as hardware and software design goes, I’ve been rather sidetracked after falling completely in love with VCV Rack. I figure I should probably try and design some modules for that while I’m so infatuated. In terms of hardware, I got a little DSP-G1 voice chip a while back that I should probably do something with, but I’m trying to focus on building up some analogue and acoustic stuff (tape delay, spring reverb, etc…).
Thanks for your time Benny. We look forward to hearing your output and projects in 2019.