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TrackTalk005: Deerful – “Bloom”

TrackTalk is a new feature from the Adafruit music team. In this companion to the MusicMakers Q&A series, we invite artists to take us behind the scenes of a particular track to talk creative process, recording set up, and more.

Photo courtesy of Ed Sprake

We’re big fans of Emma Winston aka Deerful at Adafruit. Back in July of last year we gushed about her Gameboy pop and robot duets, then in December we debuted our MusicMakers Q&A series with Deerful in MusicMakers001! Her creativity, unique thinking and passion for DIY, tech and experimentation make her an ideal guest for the Adafruit blog as we hope to inspire artists and makers to pursue their own creative ideas.

Her aptly titled new mini-album Tell Me I Can Fix This on My Own was self-produced, self-mastered and self-released earlier this month and shows Deerful at her inspired best. Seven beautifully personal and textured songs live-coded and composed through Ixi lang (if you’d like to know more about ixl lang then stick around to the end of the post as there’s a heap of great resources from Winston below). Her sound is whole but fractured, glitchy but melodic, robotic but intimate. Winston’s Deerful project continues to produce powerful and curious new sounds filled with innovation and emotion.

In perhaps our most unique TrackTalk feature yet, we are delighted to welcome Deerful back to the Adafruit blog to talk us through “Bloom” from the new record. As ever, we hope you find some ideas in her work that will inspire you to experiment, get creative, try a new project and make more.

Emma Winston on “Bloom” by Deerful:

“Ixi lang is a programming language for making music; it’s designed for live-coding, which means it updates itself in real-time; run some code to play a melody, change a note in the score, re-evaluate that line of code again, and listen to the melody change live. I first learned it in an academic creative practice workshop in 2016 and was immediately taken with how simple and fun it was, but then promptly forgot about it. I spend a lot of time playing around with new interfaces and tools to inspire myself to write, and in late June I found myself at a loose end. I found ixi lang still installed on my Mac, opened it, glanced through the manual, and started typing.

‘Bloom’ was the first song on Tell Me I Can Fix This On My Own to be written, and the entire thing grew out of the second line of glockenspiels, which you can hear a few seconds into the track. It’s notated like this in the code:

glock1 -> glock[1 2 3 5 6 5 86 1 2 3 5 6 53   ]

Photo courtesy of Ed Sprake

‘glock1’ names the part (it should have been glock2 really but in the early versions of the song it was the first part to come in). ‘glock’ specifies the sample used to play the part. The numbers represent a kind of score – in C major, 1 is C, 2 is D, 3 is E, etcetera. I had planned for the song to be in a straight 4/4 but I think I left a space out before the closing bracket, which suddenly gave the interlocking glockenspiels a slightly wonky, odd feel. I loved it, so I kept it. I’m not even sure what time signature it’s in any more (possibly alternating 4/4 and 7/8? 15/16? Something like that. Almost 4/4, but not quite).

I was imagining something like Holly Waxwing or Cocorosie when I programmed the percussion; weird little found sounds, clicks and mechanical noises, organic and artificial at the same time. Working with ixi lang for me is always a balance between messy, happy accidents and careful planning and machine-like precision; maybe that’s why I gravitated towards these sounds. I pinned the whole thing down with a drone alternating between C and F, and a bassline that sits slightly out of phase, in a different time signature from the other parts, so that the riff being played is another polyrhythm, evolving against the rest of the track. The synth in the second section is a preset ixi lang one; I programmed a few of my own synths for the album, but I loved this one and couldn’t find anything I liked as much to replace it.

And then I started singing, and the song poured out in one go.

I’m not always the best at taking care of myself. I’d started growing roses and lavender in my tiny postage-stamp of a city garden (really a patio), and I was thinking a lot about what it meant to have to remember to water and feed something other than myself, what it meant to commit to keeping plants alive, what it meant to commit to keeping yourself alive. I thought about how they kept growing in the middle of the city where nothing really should. I thought about whether I could do the same.”

Photo courtesy of Ed Sprake

If you’d like to know more Ixl lang, Winston wrote an introductory guide, produced an episode of her Too Much Not Enough podcast on the subject and you can even get the open sourced code for the mini-album on GitHub.

Tell Me I Can Fix This on My Own is out now.

Deerful will be supporting flirting at The Old Blue Last in London on October 6th.

Follow Deerful on Bandcamp, Spotify, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, GitHub and her website.

Check out more MusicMakers Q&A’s (feat. Deerful, Frankie Cosmos, Jeffrey Lewis, Haiku Salut, Bedbug, Pom Pom Squad and more), TrackTalk, TasteMakers and the Adafruit Artist Spotlight for DIY tips and music discovery. Plus, you can follow Adafruit on Soundcloud and Hype Machine.


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