Thursday, 13 September 2012

The wonderful world of Controllerism

Controllerism is the art and practice of using musical software controllers, e.g. MIDI, Open Sound Control (OSC), joystick, etc., to build upon, mix, scratch, remix, effect, modify, or otherwise create music, usually by a Digital DJ or "controllerist". Controllerism developed at the peak of USB MIDI controller market around the year 2000. Often on the side of virtuoso performance art, controllerism is also a nod to traditional musicianship and instrumental-ism paired with modern computer sequencing software such as Ableton Live and Native Instruments Traktor.
However a working knowledge of scales and chords is not necessarily required as the performers typically focus their efforts more on sequencing events, software effect and instrument manipulations using buttons, knobs, faders, keys, foot switches and pedals than on instrumental notes played in real time. The term was coined by Matt Moldover. Controllerism, starting in 2007, was popularized by Moldover and Ean Golden to describe the process while paying homage to and giving respect to the art of turntablism. Moldover collaborated with DJ Buddy Holly to make a song called "Controllerism" in 2012. Controllerism, like turntablism typically involves complex musical routines using the controller in the manner of a musical instrument rather than a simple mixer.

Older controllers occasionally used standard MIDI connectors, most controllers today are USB-based. Some controllers depart from the traditional two-deck system and incorporate four decks, effects sections, or do away with the traditional deck/mixer setup altogether, using touch-screen interfaces, arcade buttons and other devices. Many DJs use turntables with timecode records to utilize a turntable in a similar manner as a controller. The software that interprets the timecode vinyl is called vinyl emulation software. As controllerism gains acceptance in the DJ World and the club scenes, many controllerist DJs have begun to collaborate and compete in the same manner that turntablists have been doing for many years in events such as in the DMC Championship.

Another type of interface other then using old keyboard parts hacked by the musician /DJ, is a HID or human interface device. HID is a type of computer device that interacts directly with, and most often takes input from, humans and may deliver output to humans. The term "HID" most commonly refers to the USB-HID specification. The term was coined by Mike Van Flandern of Microsoft when he proposed the USB committee create a Human Input Device class working group. The working group was renamed as the Human Interface Device class at the suggestion of Tom Schmidt of DEC because the proposed standard supported bi-directional communication.
The Universal Joystick Controller BU0836X is a highly configurable circuit board that has 32 digital inputs for switches 8 analogue inputs to connect with a PC or mac via USB. once connected to a computer and a simple button array has been configured a simple software that that talks to the HID board and the computer but as MIDI information virtuasonic recommended for the PC or Junxion by Stiem for Mac operating systems. The HID to midi converter can then talk to the music sequencer and trigger various filters or samples once you have assigned the buttons on the converter and then on the Sequencer. It may sound long winded but once you have saved the settings, the learning curve of exploring your controls to each samples and filter and mute controls can be fun.
Once configured with a full set of controls the samples can be played in a highly complex and expressive manner. Controllerism can be considered a new music art-form which mixes electronics, or hacking electronics with the DJ like art of music matching. The natural progression of music, in this form suggests that controllerism is a new type of instrument. Despite traditional music in any of its genres, there has not been any changes or new instruments in contemporary music. Electronic music for controllerism seems to be gathering up speed slowly and the pioneers and technicians are embracing this new technology.
One of the first organizations to bring controllerism to the mainstream was the Midi Fight Club, a tour of Controllerist and Controllerist/Turntablist DJs including such notables as DJ Shiftee, DJ Craze, Ean Golden, Miami's The Overthrow, Ed Paris, DJ Dystopic, DJ Velz, Detroit's Edison, Ryan Start, and Hedgehog.

Internet videos for controllerism gather up hundreds of thousands of viewers looking in fascination on how the non traditional musician can perform music without picking up a guitar or keyboard. Electronics enthusiasts like myself like to marvel at the hacking potential of creating a personnel machine to explore music. Hacking technology can be a challenge for most people but when it is conquered and posted up for most people to try out, it can be extremely rewarding. New personalized controls is not a new concept. Hendrix helped to popularize use of the wah-wah pedal in mainstream rock, which he often used to deliver tonal exaggerations in his solos, particularly with high bends, complex guitar playing. Other people have changed their instruments and controls including Tom Morellos' early music career, used the guitar pick up switch as a crude mute control for staccato expressions. Modern Controllerism seems like one part of the equation for expressive musical electronics, the other is Circuit bending... hopefully I'll explain later...

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