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In With the New, Part 1: Shock the Monkey (or Five At Once)

In With the New, Part 1: Shock the Monkey (or Five At Once) published on 5 Comments on In With the New, Part 1: Shock the Monkey (or Five At Once)

So this is what I have on the 2005 agenda:

Dominic Frasca, one of the most amazing guitarists I’ve ever heard, has booked me for three nights of solo gigs at his Manhattan performance space in mid-March. Holy cow, am I happy about this.

There is one little wrinkle, however, to add a healthy dose of anxiety to the mix: Dominic has requested that, since his space (called “The Monkey”) is a 5.1 surround sound environment, that I perform with five Echoplexes at the same time.

Good God, y’all…

To give a bit of explanation: I’ve only ever performed with one Echoplex at any given time, using a dedicated MIDI footcontroller programmed with numerous functions which I’ve tailored to my own performance needs, over the course of about three years of exploration. One of the core foundations of my looping approach has been to try and use the barest minimum of gear as deeply as I possibly can.

So, in order to use five at the same time, I need to deal with the following issues:

a) Synchronizing the units together, so that each Echoplex’s loops will be locked together rhythmically. If they’re not synchronized, then each Echoplex will drift out of rhythmic phase with the other four. This can be a cool approach under certain circumstances, and I suspect I’ll play with it to some degree.

But having five unsynchronized Echoplexes running simultaneously is sort of the rhythmic equivalent of having five musicians who can’t hear each other – synchronization is the thing that lets the Echoplexes “talk” to one another, in terms of making loops that stay together. For someone like me, whose looping is based more on rhythm than just about any other element, this is crucial.

Sync could be done in various ways – through MIDI, through audio sync (called “BeatSync” in Echoplex-speak), or through “BrotherSync,” which is a proprietary Echoplex method that locks two units together to a sample-accurate degree. Figuring out what sort of approach will work best is definitely a big priority.

b) Controlling five different units at the same time. Sure, each Echoplex has buttons on the front panel, but I have to take my hands off the guitar and reach over to a unit to punch those buttons. So I use a MIDI footpedal for my current approach – different functions and commands are sent to the Echoplex by stepping on different pedals, which are programmed to send specific messages that trigger various functions, while I’m playing my guitar at the same time.

But how do I control five at the same time?! Five different footpedals? Two footpedals for two Echoplex pairs? One footpedal that goes through a MIDI router, where I can choose which of the five units receive commands at any given time? A manual MIDI controller, to access basic functions for some or all of the units on the fly with my hands? Five different volume pedals to control the output level or feedback of each loop? Set up all five Echoplexes next to each other, and tap the front panel buttons with my toes? (I’m only half-joking on that last part…)

c) Most daunting – and most exciting – of all: What do I do musically? This is what I’ve spent most of my time thinking about, and the options I want to achieve musically will probably end up dictating how the sync and control issues end up being addressed.

What I’m realizing more and more is that these gigs aren’t just about having five Echoplexes looping at the same time; they’re about having five discreet sources of sound projection, which I can selectively use (or not) to get sonic environments I couldn’t get out of a regular stereo set-up.

(Here’s a funny irony: while a lot of looping musicians use heavy electronic processing, with huge, lush stereo textures, my whole conception of the Echoplex these days is related to an unprocessed, unaffected electric guitar through a tube amp… which is a mono signal.)

So what kinds of possibilities are spinning through my head?

Melodies coming out of side speakers, with rhythmic grooves from the front, while unsynchronized, arythmic abstraction hovers in the rear…

…five different loops of five rhythmically/mathematically compatible lengths – a master loop of, say, two seconds, a second one of four seconds, a third one of three seconds, a fourth of five and a half seconds, a fifth of seven seconds, all phasing in and out of each other…

…five Echoplexes with the same precise loop length, with each one fragmenting the input signal into different rhythmic subdivisions: unit 1 quantizes to the nearest third, unit 2 to the nearest sixth, unit 3 to the nearest fourth, unit five to the nearest 8th, while unit five holds down a support ostinato (huge thanks to Bernhard Wagner for hipping me to this idea)…

…each Echoplex as a seperate “track” within a master loop, each of which can be faded, mixed, muted…

…slabs of sound, complex and microscopic in detail, filling the room with a separation and definition that would be impossible to achieve without a 5.1 system…

…different harmonies, or harmonizations of melodies, happening in different speakers simultaneously…

These are some of the things that were flowing through my head last night, and most nights before for the last month or two. It should be a hell of a three gigs, in spite of (or maybe because of) the multiple nervous breakdowns I anticipate having on stage.

Oh, and did I mention I only own two Echoplexes? Anyone want to donate another three, so we don’t have to beg and borrow from various New Yorkers?

In all seriousness, I’ve been thinking about working with multiple Echoplexes for a while, and Dominic’s suggestion to use five at once was made with the utmost goodwill and humor on his part. These are some ridiculously nice problems to have, which I’m extremely fortunate and grateful to have been invited to wrestle with. So I’m relishing the challenge (and the brain-freeze that goes with it), even as I’ll spend an awful lot of the next nine or ten weeks wondering exactly what on Earth I’ve gotten myself into…



Well Andre I am in New York and I guess I could loan you mine (last Beigeface series Loop IV) I was at your Seminar at Todds place in Queens last year. Let me know if my unit will help and then I will send you an email to confirm the details with you. I am sure a few of those folks that were at the seminar could help you out with an extra unit or two depending on compatability issues.

some suggestions

risking that what i may have to say may strike you as obvious or as something you’ve already pondered, here goes–
– i’m not familiar with the midi pedal you use, but i’d recommend perhaps looking into the behringer fcb1010 (not too expensive, about $100 new, significantly less on ebay, and it’s rock-solid and durable), it’s got 10 banks, with each bank containing 10 footswitches and 2 expression pedals, plus amp channel switching. i’m not sure, but i think you can program each bank to a different midi channel, that way you can set up each echoplex to a midi channel and that way you’ll have control over all of them from one pedal. another way would be to have each echoplex programmed to recognize different midi cc messages for each of its functions. for example for the 7 switches of the 1st echoplex, it would recogniwe midi cc 0 though 6, the 2nd echoplex 7 through 13, and so on. that way they could all be on the same midi channel if the midi footcontroller can only be assigned to a single channel.
– as for syncronization, i’d probably just go with midi clock, with a 1st echoplex being a master, sending out the midi clock on its midi out port, and then you could just chain the clock signal on the other echoplexs via midi thru. i’ve tried this before, and you can actually stream all the midi control messages and the midi clock signals with no problems in performance, control, and sync. issues.
i hope this helps. i’ve been following your work for a few years now, and would have always loved to come out and see you, all the moreso for the 5.1 performance, but that’s a bit unfeasable at the moment. all the best.

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