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One week until Amsterdam Dance Event

October 4th, 2014

I’m thrilled to be a small part of next month’s Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE)–one of the largest and coolest electronic music festivals in the world–on Sunday, 19 October. Many of you have probably seen all the press recently on the new 4DSOUND system, which will be a central part of ADE this year. As part of an event co-sponsored by Ableton, CDM, Fiber, and Liine, a small group of artists/coders/musicians will be doing a “hack lab” on the system to explore its sonic possibilities and create a series of public performances for the final day of ADE. I’m part of that group and can’t wait to meet everyone and get going.

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SCREENGRAB 6 in Australia

September 4th, 2014

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Very humbled to be a part of SCREENGRAB 6 this month in Queensland, Australia. The show centers on the theme “Velocity.” Besides the obvious (speeding train), I particularly like the theme as it relates to the way I create my art–the quick, forceful manipulation of knobs, buttons and faders. I feel as if I’m always trying to control the speed and aggressiveness of my movements to create delicate results.

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The Art in Pushing Boundaries

August 4th, 2014

While technology creates almost infinite possibilities, I’m a big believer in the inspiration found in systems and constraints. The push and pull found when humans interact with their boundaries seems to be a driving force of art, whether it’s creating a realistic depiction of a face with only a paintbrush or expressing a deep emotion with six strings. We all marvel at how artists translate their messages. I’m neither skilled enough nor smart enough to say that these boundaries are always consciously self-imposed in my own creative process; they often are, but the search for boundaries is also what continually pushes me to do things that are so different and technically complex that my own abilities must be a severe limitation. I often spend just as much time trying to grasp and set systems as I do working on the actual aesthetics of a piece.

One year ago tonight, I was walking my dog in the park outside a hotel in our new home in Germany. I remember being fascinated by all of the lines–everything was straight and ordered, unlike the English-style parks I’m used to with paths serpentining the hills and rivers. It was an odd sight, but also wonderfully inspirational to see something so different. Throughout this year in Europe, I’ve pulled inspiration from observing and experiencing these differences. But I’ve also found wonderful inspiration in adapting to the unique cultural constraints here.

For example, I am not able to play my drumset here at all because I share walls. I left it back in the States knowing this, but I have still needed to create beats for my music. Taking the knowledge of a real kit and adapting it to programming drums on the computer has been enlightening, and without hitting my drums has probably made me a better drummer. I’ve learned what I don’t like about real drumsets and what I really miss. It’s encouraged me to approach every instrument this way, and I’d encourage everyone to do the same. If you play guitar, try programming guitar. See what you can improve and see what you miss. It helps you learn what to emphasize in your own playing.

I’m very much looking forward to our upcoming trips to gather inspiration (and maybe a few field recordings!) Croatia, Berlin, Basel, England, Strasbourg and Munich are all on the docket. But I also look forward to further adapting to the constraints to see what happens. One great year down.

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Channeling Terry and the Computer Musician – Beneath the Crest of the Sea

May 31st, 2014

Never before have I stared at the blank slate of an empty recording session with such apprehension.

Beneath the Crest of the Sea began, in a sense, about 5 years ago–before Brittany and I started doing music together. I was in a band with my best friends, Brian Young and Terry King, called (tentatively) Project 3, and in the middle of one of our practices, Terry put down his guitar and walked over to his keyboard, immediately playing the perfect, most beautiful piano part. Thankfully we were recording the practice… it was one of the last times Terry and I would make music together, as he passed away a bit after.

When Brittany brought the beginnings of what became Beneath the Crest of the Sea to practice last year, I kept hearing Terry’s old piano part in my head. I just knew it would be the perfect addition to the song. I dug up the old recording to work on transposing and playing the key part, and I built it into the song. You can listen to that original Project 3 practice jam below… the piano starts after the 3:14 section change.

With “Beneath the Crest of the Sea,” we couldn’t let Terry or his part down. I knew that from that very beginning, staring at the blank recording session, through the very end. Consequently, the song went through more versions than any other–mostly due to moving the piano part around–Terry’s part throughout, Terry’s part as a coda, Terry’s part in the intro. Nothing seemed to do it justice until I put it right into core the song, fading it in starting at the 2:16 mark. The way it gelled was beautiful, and it led to being able to play off of it for a song ending that’s a bit angelic in his memory.

Also unique to this song is the fourth musician–besides Brittany, Will, Terry–there was the computer. Throughout the song (most clearly in the beginning), you hear Brittany’s vocals come in and out with different effects. The levels of the vocals and the effects were not done by either of us… instead, I used some generative programming via Max for Live and let the computer do it completely randomly upon the song render once we’d finished the other parts. It took about 15 renders for the computer to spit out a part that worked with the song. So imagine me in the studio hitting “render,” waiting an hour, coming back to listen, deleting it, hitting “render” again… you get the idea. But at that last render… wow. I couldn’t be happier with the results… my favorite is the “eyes” that swells out of the background at 2:14.

I have mixed feelings about the song… I knew I would never be completely happy with it, and I’ve listened to it so many times that I can’t really hear it for what it is anymore. I even recalled the whole CD from the production site once to make a tiny edit because it just wasn’t perfect enough. It almost drove me insane… Hopefully time provides the distance I need to come back and appreciate it. For now, I hope you enjoy listening… and I hope Terry would give it his ringing endorsement:

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Miss you, Terry King!

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“Target” Premieres in Stuttgart, Germany

May 17th, 2014

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Target, the third piece in the Passenger Car trilogy, opened at the DAZ in downtown Stuttgart last night. I was thrilled to be a part of the show, which features some absolutely incredible art. I was very drawn to some of the photography and abstract work, and I highly recommend anyone in the area check it out.

I created first the part of the trilogy, The Passenger Car, while still in the U.S. I created the second part, Traffic Red, right as I prepared to move. To show the third piece here, which I created in Germany with footage I shot upon my arrival, feels like I have really completed the trilogy (and my journey/settling in here). I also made some great contacts and had some wonderful friends come visit. Can’t ask for more than that.

The show will be up through the beginning of June at:

17 Charlottenplatz
70173 Stuttgart

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Gorgeous night…thanks to Emily for the pictures.

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Sandbridge – Building Track #1

April 28th, 2014

Sandbridge is a small, perfect beach nestled away from the crowds in Virginia Beach, Virginia (right by where Emily grew up). I cherish memories of heading there in the morning with my mother-in-law and my pup Rosie to get coffee and walk along the beach while the world around us thought about waking up.

Christmas saw us back on that beach during a brief return to the U.S., and one of my main goals was to take my field recorder out to Sandbridge to capture the wave sounds for a song Brittany and I were working on. Emily and I snuck out onto the beach late in the still night to capture the waves without the sound of cars and talk that are ever present there during the day.

The waves seemed a bit too fast at first, but upon bringing them into the song, I found them to be perfect. I spent hours tweaking my synth sounds to pulse to the rhythm of the waves, building a bed for the song that transported it right to Sandbridge beach.

Brittany had done early versions of the guitar and vocals back in our full-band days, and with some great adaptations, they worked perfectly here. Even back in those days, I had always pictured the song coming to a huge, glistening crescendo like it does here. I listened back to our early full-band demo versions of the song and one thing stood out to me in particular—the backup crash cymbal I’d used for song demos sounded just perfect. I couldn’t imagine the song without it. I went back to our practice space in Alexandria, Virginia to sample it (alongside the rest of my drum kit) and mixed it in with the rest of the drums.

All things considered, once I’d gotten the sounds together the song came together very quickly, but it wasn’t ending quite right until we built in the section change around 3:16 where the drums are roped in and the synth jumps to the front. I’ve always been inspired by reading about how Jeff Blenkinsopp recorded the first Secret Machines album, taking almost all of the parts and running them individually through various combinations of custom filters. I ran the synths through a combination of my own filters (like the ones built into my Diva synth and PSP Nitro) and tweaked them as musically as I could to strive for a similar effect… I’m happy with how it sounded and the resulting change of pace. This method was common throughout all of Places, but as the synths are fairly present here, it is perhaps most noticeable in this song.

The final touch was a return to theme; I had originally brought the guitar back to fade into the waves, but the transition back out of the electronics was a little harsh. So instead, I used Ableton to run a melody analysis on the guitar track and used the notes the computer generated to play the outro piano part. It is entirely an unaltered, computer-generated part based on what Brittany was doing with some basic effects on it. It is a bit eerie, a bit beautiful, and a wonderful echo of Brittany’s opening guitar part.

I’m exhausted and headed to sleep (it’s my birthday tomorrow…clearly gettin old)… so I will just say that, of course, none of those tweaks would have mattered much without incredible performances from Brittany. Check her out at www.brittanyjeanmusic.com

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New Album “Places” Out Now!

April 15th, 2014

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Just about every song I’ve written has found its inspiration somewhere–sometimes the trigger is something special, but usually it’s found in observing the beauty of the ordinary. I’ve spent a good amount of money on gear for my studio to help me record these songs and keep the sounds of the world that inspired me away from my microphones.

As you know, I also moved to Germany last summer. I left behind bands that I’d put a lot of work into, most recently in playing with Brittany Jean. A move like that may have severed ties before (and I would not have done it), but in the digital age, it only means an opportunity to adjust how you collaborate.

I realized that quickly. The night after I arrived in Germany, I was walking through the park across from our hotel, lit up by the summer moon, and I was just overtaken by the beauty of the long, straight lines in the park (as opposed to the meandering paths I’m more used to). I walked back to my hotel, pulled out my gear, and started writing.

As I began to explore Europe, just as I have been doing for the past few years in the U.S., I brought my field recorder. Certain cities here have their own sound: the bells ring by Mozart’s home in Salzburg; voices echo as they bounce off the grand buildings in St. Petersburg; the waves crash in gentle rhythms off the cliffs of Northern Ireland. I brought these sounds back to my studio as Brittany and I poured through her back catalog, picking songs (and eventually writing many new ones) to weave in with them. From there, we chopped and sampled and adjusted every sound while bringing in layers of synths, electric guitar, and drums. We featured and found inspiration in the field recordings, instead of continuing to try to keep the sounds of nature away.

Out of this framework, Places was born.

The album was soon a collection of eight songs; although Brittany and I were more than 4,000 miles apart, setting them in these sonic worlds imparted an intimacy that I’ve never been able to accomplish in my music before.

And wow, what a voice and talent Brittany has. I’m incredibly fortunate to collaborate with someone so incredibly awesome and talented, and I hope we can do it again. I think we made something truly special and unique together–the album represents a form of ourselves–it is imperfect, it is random, it finds happiness in its surroundings… we hope you find it as beautiful as we do.

It’s now available now:

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Webinar for Kennedy Center: Online Media and Marketing for Artists with Disabilities

March 28th, 2014

Just a quick note! I co-presented a webinar with my good friend Clinton Bowman early last week called “Online Media and Marketing for Artists with Disabilities” on behalf of The Kennedy Center and VSA. We had a fantastic time talking with everyone (hello to anyone who came to my site from there!) and really boiled down our (different) approaches to representing ourselves and interacting with others online. As long as the link works, you can register to watch a recording of the presentation here:

https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/579608670

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ALBUM ANNOUNCEMENT

March 16th, 2014

Brittany Jean and I announced that we were doing an album together just a few weeks ago, but the album has been in work for months upon months, from pre-sunrise wakeups every day to fine-tuning and scheming well past midnight. And all more than 4,000 miles apart. Through coping with death to loving life, to dealing with moves and traveling strange lands, this album contains our most jubilant highs and most introspective lows.

We’ve put in everything we’ve learned and dwelled on every song we’ve written to get here. The vocals were done just outside DC, the synths were done in Germany, and the field recordings done just about everywhere else–Virginia Beach, California, St. Petersburg (Russia), Salzburg (Austria), and more… we cannot wait to share it with the world.

It is with the utmost joy that we can share with you a little piece of the album in this video:

Brittany Jean and Will Copps – Album Announcement from Will Copps on Vimeo.

More very soon.

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