New CD: Beyond the Beyond and Further Beyond…

Instrumental music by Per Boysen for electric string instruments in orchestration. Big thanks to Emmett Chapman and Tim Donahue for inventing and building my magical instruments! On this solo album I’m playing the 12-stringed Chapman Stick Guitar on most pieces, quite a lot NS 5-stringed Cello, some Steel Guitar and Fretless Harp Guitar. For the sparse strings orchestra sweetening I want to thank the guys behind Spitfireaudio.com and LA Scoring Strings for providing the best tools of the trade.
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CDs available at Stick Enterprises, BandCamp, CD Baby and some other places.

Downloadable digital formats available at BandCamp, CD Baby and iTunes.

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This album is a solo project and I’d like to give credits to all the wonderful electric string instruments I am lucky to be working with:

1) The Twelve Stringed Stick Guitar, SG-12.
The 36″ scaled Stick has been around since the early seventies and often used for bass parts on records (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson…). But this little 26,5″ scaled two-handed fretboard tapping instrument offers a rather different tone. My gratitude reaches out to Emmett Chapman for inventing the Stick in the sixties and for putting down the hard labor to develop and manufacture it all since 1974. Check out Stick Enterprises at www.stick.com

2) Electric Cello, NS – Ned Steinberger.
celloThis low price cello model was designed by Ned Steinberger, that used to make guitars before. It doesn’t use electro magnetic pickups, like the Stick and electric guitars do, but some other construction that offers the player to flip a switch to optimise the tone pickup for bowing vs finger plucking. I use both ways of playing in these recordings. My NS cello is the five-stringed model.

3) Fretless Harp Guitar.
pboy_tdhgThis is a wonderful music tool! A fretless ebony board neck with six strings and also six freely twanging harp strings. Both 6-strings groups have EMG electro magnetic pickups and may drive two different amplification rigs, if you like it that way. The harp side does in fact have one “fret”; if moving away your left hand from the fretless neck you can push down any harp strings towards the fret to raise the pitch by a half note. What makes this harp guitar different from traditional harp guitars is that the harp- and neck string groups are tuned in the same octave (traditionally harp guitar’s harp strings are bass strings). Doubling notes for a unison sound or plucking close clusters are techniques I love also on the Stick Guitar.

The man that brought this lovely instrument to the planet is Tim Donahue. He built his first prototypes in the early eighties and still plays the TDHG better than anyone! Tim lives in Japan where he leads manufacturing of these guitars. www.timdonahue.com

4) Steel Guitar.
dusenMine is the Dusenberg Fairytale lap steel model that has two levers that will let you soar into those classical country licks without having to deal with the monstrous pedal steel guitar machinery. I use a heavy steel on the strings which initially felt a bit awkward compared to the feather light glass-slide-on-finger treatment I’m used to give my vintage style Stratocaster.

5) Electric Guitar.
Not much to say about this one, I guess. My oldest premier instrument now used on only one track out of this album. I still love guitar but use it quite rarely these days. You know, sometimes it just sounds so… guitar-ish.

6) Fractal Audio AxeFx II.
This is the very catalyst that unleashes the magic! If you have ever loved the sound of driven tube amps and dusty speaker cabinets this digital modelling device is loaded with the classic models and some new. fractalIt also offers great classic effects and best of all: it will let you patch up different components into a combined amp-cab-effects rig system and develop your own custom patches for instant control of live electronics. Took me about a year of intensive use to get into all of its virtues. Can’t hail this box enough, it is almost too good to be true. What a sound! What a great vibe to play through it! It not just makes all my electric instruments sound good, this amp also maximises the dynamic feel in physically playing string instruments. I’d say that the experience of playing through the AxeFx is that you suddenly gain access to a much wider spectrum for expression! Small moves on the strings makes a bigger difference sonically. http://www.fractalaudio.com/
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Art film soundtrack: Tenor Sax live looping

Pose in Ivana – Reinvention of pose from Heidi on Vimeo.

Here’s a nice film that uses music I created by playing my Tenor Sax and Mobius looper; i.e. my “meta instrument for live looping”. This approach to live looping is different than the typical “Boss looping pedal layering” technique in that it draws on the methods discovered in the fifties by the folks involved with Musique Concrete at IRCAM in Paris (as well as the San Fransisco Tape Music Centre). Everything Pierre Schaeffer could do in the fifties with tape and scissors can now be done instantly while also playing an instrument to provide the source audio to be processed. The video was shot in New York while the cut-up performing technique of this saxophone goes back to Paris; both cities often associated with the Tenor Sax.

Behold the “Stick Street” CD album!

The physical “Stick Street” CDs just arrived from the pressing plant. I’m mostly selling them hand to hand at concerts, but you can also order a CD from:
http://perboysen.bandcamp.com/album/stick-street (packages posted from Stockholm, Sweden)
and
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/perboysen5 (packages posted from Portland, OR, USA).

Digital Download sales are also available from those two web shops, but also at most other DDL Music web shops on the web.

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Producing octaphonic surround concerts

surround_04I’d like to share my recent experiences from performing live with surround sound. The system dealt with is the diamond shaped surround field of eight full-range speakers. I will not go into discussing 5.1 or other Dolby based formats targeting DVD home theatre systems. These are supported by several DAWs but not a suitable tool for preparation of a partly playable full-range octaphonic live setup. Therefore I decided to roll my own, patching away from scratch. Here’s the story.

Click here for printer friendly PDF!

I had been dreaming about live surround sound for decades but never had a chance to try it out in the real world, as few venues see a point in multiplying their PA system rental cost for putting on just one “experimental concert”. The option finally came up when my duo together with Erdem Helvacıoğlu was booked for Présences Electronique 2011 in Paris by French radio station and software developer ina-GRM. surround_01GRM wanted us to play our album Sub City 2064 and since we are only two musicians the concert would have to be performed as an interaction between Erdem, me and pre prepared sounds remixed out of the album. I immediately contacted the GRM sound engineers and learned that a diamond shaped octaphonic system would be provided on location. Speakers were to be addressed as four stereo pairs fed by eight mono channels with a circular numbering; beginning with speakers 1/2 on the stage, followed by 3/8 acting side fills for the part of the audience sitting close to the stage, 4/7 a little more back in the venue and finally 5/6 behind the audience and a little closer to each other.

Picking a strategy: Taste in music and public presentation

Then began the process of deciding what instruments to play live and what parts of the album to prepare for playback or as interactive electronic elements. I had access to all my files from mixing the stereo album so I didn’t have to worry about anything not being possible to implement technically. Instead I focused on imagining the surround concert just like planning your playing or composing; by taste in music and public presentation.

Generally I tried to put myself at the audiences position and come up with ideas of what would sound really cool that I’d like to experience myself from hearing a surround concert. In the academic world of electronic music it is common to present a piece of octaphonic surround music as plain playback of eight recorded channels but I wanted to stay away from that and put focus on the two live musician’s playing on stage. surround_03So the decision of which instruments to play live was fundamental for the rest of the project; we both played many different instruments on the album and that’s not an option on stage and definitely not if flying in to Paris from Stockholm and Istanbul. The combination of a Erdem playing the Guitarviol and me playing the Stick seemed optimal. The Stick can also play electronics over MIDI and if choosing the smaller Stick Guitar I could make room for also bringing an alto flute for live playing.

Selecting the most exciting parts to be played live on stage

Next task was to identify parts in the music, in the album mix or specific album effect treatments that would make an interesting experience for the audience if performed with the live instruments. So I made a list of all that and filled it up with some extra things that can be added in surround; exciting things that won’t work in stereo like for example having two or four reverbs surrounding the audience and simulating a larger room by sending more or less from certain parts to these reverbs. Another example is to make sounds appear as flying out from the stage over the heads of the audience by using a stereo reverb in speakers 1/2 and a time delayed stereo reverb in the rear 5/6 (plus lots of delicate tweaks in the diffusion and frequency response areas).

Utilizing specific surround expression

In the past I have done some surround mixing for recordings to be finalized on DVD video and from that I learned that compared to normal stereo you can have a lot more frequency intensive material in a surround mix since you are not forced to define resolution by timbre, as by “the crowded stereo format”. Surround opens up a much wider canvas of 360 degrees circular directional sound resolution and you can combine fat sound layers that would just not fit into the physical restrictions of stereo sound transmition. Because of this my work from mixing the album could not be directly applied to the preparatory phase of this surround concert project.

Circular Tap Delay routing in LogicIn general I strived for keeping the experienced room ambiences from the album but for the surround implementation I spread them out into the three physical dimensions, rather than trying to fool the listener mind to “hear 3-D sound from two speakers”. I also created some new live effects specifically for the surround field, to play with as a performance. One example is a three dimensional tap delay using eight delay units, one “in each speaker”, all set to 100% wet and sending one delay tap to the next delay unit in line. This way, when sending signal into the delay effect every played note would bounce one full circle around the audience. On my station I kept an expression pedal assigned to the “freeze loop” function in all these eight delays. In Paris we used Logic on my laptop for all this and the delay was the Tape Delay plugin of Logic’s. I did set the eight Tape Delay instances to quite heavy tape flutter to cause a minimal pitch discrepancy in each delay bounce and a degradation of the signal as it jumped around one full circle.

Finally hitting the stage in Paris

When we arrived in Paris to soundcheck we found that there was also an inner circle of smaller speakers surrounding the center core of the big surround field placed like a fence around the live sound engineer’s booth. These small speakers were aiming outwards to the audience, so the audience were actually sitting inside two circles of speakers. As the artists had not been informed about this in advance and because it isn’t traditional “surround comme il faut” we were asked if we wanted them to turn off the inner circle, but we decided to keep those on. People in the audience later told us the inner circle of speakers added an exciting dimension to the show, and we also trusted the engineers at ina-GRM to collaborate with an interesting on-the-fly use of anything at hand.

Choosing software platform – the need for a Graphical Visual Conductor

surround_08Another important decision was what platform to use for surround files playback. Since I also play live electronics hosted in a laptop it would be comfortable to use an application that can handle both these tasks. After having created the general surround concept and created the actual eight mono speaker sound files I tried it all out in Apple Logic, in Ableton Live, in Apple Mainstage and in Plogue Bidule. There was also a second aspect to this: the need for visual cues on stage, “an on-screen graphical conductor”. Some pieces contain key and scale breaking chord changes where there is not rhythm and we wanted to improvise rather freely over these melodic structures with the Guitarviol and Stick/Flute. Mainstage would be the platform best equipped to provide a good “visual screen conductor” function but unfortunately it could not handle the setup in a stable way (back in year 2011). Bidule would also tax the CPU too much since I would have to cable up a lot of “hungry” third-party plugins to realize the setup. Live was not stable enough in general back in 2011 so that left me with Logic. Being the most CPU effective DAW Logic let me implement both my own playable live electronics and the eight surround channels prepared as four stereo files. But I had to think a little extra about avoiding latency because Logic is designed to produce recordings and not like Ableton Live designed as a good compromise between sound design accuracy and live performance playability. The solution to this was to use direct input monitoring in the RME Fireface400 audio interface for Stick and Flute input and stay away from using any live instrument treatments that produce sharp attack transients that would interfere with the natural instrument sound attack. Same goes for software synth sounds; all slow attack sounds leaving room for the RME direct monitoring of “flute air spit” or string tap attack.

The eight outputs from my RME Fireface400 were patched into the PA stage box, targeting the eight surround speakers. Erdem on his side had brought a suitcase with Eventide Eclipse, AxeFx Ultra, Kaoss Pad and similar gear to cable up with a borrowed sixteen channel mixer on a table. From his on-stage mixer bus groups were going into the stage box for the surround speaker channels.

Building an Octaphonic Surround Channel Mixer in Logic

surround_05For the duo’s second surround concert at Borusan Music House in Istanbul I had done a little more preparations. For one piece that uses element of a guitar based metal style music there is a hysterical synth line throbbing around and I had taken that part and mixed it to sway around rapidly in a full circle. I did this by signal routing in Logic’s mixer using an environment object called “X/Y Vector”. The X/Y Vector pad routing I created for this were simple cross faders of four stereo channels. On one axis I set up arithmetic rules (in a Transformer object) for morphing between the four stereo channels and on the other axis I already had Left and Right stereo as the two crossfade poles. The Vector Pad object data is cabled through a number of Transformer objects where the data stream is transformed to control the four send knobs of Aux channel 11. Each of the four send knobs represents a stereo channel matching one pair of surround speakers in the diamond shaped setup. As you see I have set Aux 11 to “no output” so the send knobs are the only active audio outputs. I was using a joystick on my Faderfox LV3 hand mixer to play the surround field movements of the audio passing through this Aux 11 channelstrip, recording automation and tweaking that to perfection during the general playback files preparation process. As the result the source audio was dynamically distributed over the eight speaker channels to imply a sound source that is circling around the listener.

surround_06An important piece of Logic specific information here is which MIDI CC# numbers that are hardwired in Logic to specific channel send knobs. As you see on the image (click img for bigger size) the incoming CC#2 is being transformed into outgoing CC#28 and that matches the the channelstrip’s first send knob. Second send knob listens to CC#29 and vice versa.

When we arrived at the venue in Istanbul it turned out the stage was in the center surrounded by the audience, and I must say it was really great to play and hear the complete surround field as the audience was hearing it. Paris only offered flat stage monitors in mono because the stage was outside the actual surround field. One issue turned up in Istanbul though: the eight surround channels were not all surrounding us directly; only four speakers were, while the other four speakers were placed in an similar circle four meters up in the air where a round balcony was surrounding the stage on the ground floor. surround_07Luckily I had kept reverb channels rather free from not reverb treated parts (following the approach to use reverb as an “answer” to indicate space) so at the soundcheck we could re-direct the reverb channels to be coming “from above”. This was not planned but turned out to fit very well in with the scenario of doing an instrumental under-water opera suggesting a soundtrack for life in a submarine city, as room ambience were now experienced “above” just as you experience the surface of the sea when diving (click image for big size).


Ableton Live, stage screenIn Istanbul we used Ableton Live on my laptop, but that was not so good as Logic due to the lack of stable “visual graphical conductor function” in Live. Erdem got an external monitor on his side of the table to be able to follow arrangements but as you might know Live only shows the audio wave file of the selected track and as I was goofing around to process things live in Live this display kept disappearing and reappearing on both my MBP screen and Erdems externally added 17″ screen.

Mainstage at North Sea Jazz – the most superior Visual Conductor Screen

Mainstage on stage graphic conductor screenThe third concert we did on the Sub City 2064 album material was booked by the North Sea Jazz festival in Rotterdam. This is a very big annual festival with no room for surround performance but I just want to mention it briefly here because at that time, July 2012, Mainstage had been updated and we could benefit from the awesome visual conducting leads it can provide. Doing surround in Mainstage is simply a matter of directing live processing and the eight surround speaker files, handled by the Playback plugin, to separate outputs – but for this stereo gig I routed them all to one stereo output.

As for the visual conductor aspect, Mainstage is totally configurable so I could pick the waveform that kind of shows best where the crescendi are coming up and I was also able to name text objects with the chord names and short reminders for us how to play. On the Mainstage screen I put two counters and text objects; one that displays the name of and counts down the beats (eight notes) to the next cue and another that displays the name of the current cue. This worked much better than in Ableton Live and Logic. Before that gig I snatched screenshot videos of the the Mainstage screen display and uploaded to YouTube with only permission for Erdem to watch, so that he would be able to rehearse at his Instanbul studio and prepare his live effects setup. We were not given any rehearsal or soundcheck time in Rotterdam.

I think that was about everything I learned in the process, and the typical stuff I was wondering about myself three years ago and wished there would have been someone to spell out for me :-)



Addendum – Octaphonic surround preparation tools for your DAW

This article was about creating your own tools as you go, by basic traditional signal addressing. But there are indeed appropriate specialized software tools available. surround_12The good guys at ina-GRM in Paris offers a nice option as part of their GRM-Tools plugins suit. Delays, Doppler, Reson and Shuffling are the specific GRM-Tools plugins supporting this 7.1 non-standard. For an AU DAW channels correspond as on this image. You need to switch your DAW to 7.1 surround support and then the plugins will output audio for octaphonics through the DAWs 7.1 channels. This means that the sub bass channel [LFE] will become one of the eight full-range speaker channels, so you need to make sure your DAW doesn’t by default apply any low pass filtering to that channel. Another fairly recent new option for Ableton Live users is to seek out Max for Live patches for octaphonic surround processing.

Here’s a link to read or download a printable PDF of this article!

Lovely Harp Guitar!

Just a quick video upload testing out my new Tim Donahue signature Electric Fretless Harp Guitar. I think it plays like a dream… in fact I have been dreaming for decades about certain aspects of what this instrument has to offer. Tim designed it and has been playing this and the fretted version since the eighties and just recently initiating manufacturing of his harp guitars. You’ll find more on that at www.timdonahue.com

Playing at North Sea Jazz 2012 and more

Finally I am allowed to tell the news that we’re booked to play at the North Sea Jazz festival on July 8. The Erdem Helvacıoğlu and Per Boysen Duo has more than an hour to perform our live extension of the album Sub City 2064. I like the format of this duo, we’re picking the best parts of precise electronic sound design and healthy risk taking by improvisation as the music happens on stage. Click the link to check out the full artist line-up over the three festival days, there are many acts I’d love to see if I just had some time off! Right after our concert I hope I will get a chance to run over and see Wayne Shorter Quartet and Archie Shepp Quartet.

At NSJ in Rotterdam I will be playing the Grand Chapman Stick with electronics extension. That will happen on July 8 but much earlier than so another big thing is about to rock my world; I just got word from Japan that my new fretless electric harp guitar is about to ship! Designed by the the great Tim Donahue himself that has been playing this wonderful instrument since 1984. Myself, I ruined my first electric guitar in 1978 by defretting it in a clumsy way. Since then I have defretted two more guitars “clumsy but good enough” searching for that special sound I keep hearing in my head from my future self – hopelully I will get there soon. Over time I came to realize that a good fretless really has to be built from the ground up as a fretless and I tried to buy a Vigier Sufragette from France. Luckily they never answered my emails and it turned out I got a Stick instead and stayed with my old clumsily defretted fretless guitar wrecks. By playing the Chapman Stick for two years I learned how much more fun it can be to use both your hands independently. Playing two-handed opened up a lot of new musical inspiration, I became able to enter poly rhythm territories traditionally dominated by instruments like the piano, harp and drum kit. So when I heard that Tim Donahue is starting up manufacturing of his harp guitar I just had to get one! A really good fretless guitar for tapping plus six harp strings for plucking by the other hand, all in the same instrument and instantly playable!

A closed corporate Stick concert is coming up in late May and in June it’s time for the the Blekinge Jazz & World Music Camp. I just finished the second post production media music album for AMG Scandinavia and will now put more time into mixing the second album with The Erdem Helvacıoğlu and Per Boysen Duo. BTW, the TogaMan GuitarViol Erdem plays is also a fantastic instrument. TogaMan and Stick is such a perfect sonic match! Last piece of news is that I’m about to play in London on October 2 (harp guitar and interactive electronics).

Solo Concerts | Film/media Music