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 V.17 No.41 | October 9 - 15, 2008 

On the Scene

Fun with Sequencers

Local programmer writes a music program that fills a void

Jim Coker, local software developer behind Numerology
Jim Coker, local software developer behind Numerology

When Jim Coker started performing live electronic shows 12 years ago, he found himself frustrated by the available software. "And I had this other problem, which is that I'm a software developer," he says, half-joking. "Then I had some free time." He got to work on a more ideal music program, and after about a year, he had something worth putting out. It's been five years since Coker, an Albuquerque resident, began. The program's still a work in progress, but he says he's created a product that provides a decent middle ground in the world of electronic music software.

It's called Numerology, because it's numerically based. "A lot of musical composition is based on mathematical ideas," he says. "It just seemed to stick. There's this idea that there's meaning in numbers, and I think that's important."

A screenshot from Numerology. Download a free demo at five12.com.
A screenshot from Numerology. Download a free demo at five12.com.

He'll give a workshop as part of this year's Oscillation Electronic Music Festival, a three-day, all-ages event sporting 18 live bands and six DJs from Oct. 10 through Oct. 12.

Coker's software allows users to compose with more experimental aspects of music and break out of the idea that music needs to work within even patterns. "One of the strengths of the software is you can work with odd-number ratios and patterns," he says. "You can have a pattern of five against a pattern of seven and get a lot of interesting results from that."

The name is intended to bring those ideas to the forefront of what he's created, he says. "Instead of trying to sound like everything else, you can use this to sound a bit different."

"It allows you to experiment without having to read a long manual or learn a lot of details about concepts behind audio synthesis and composition."

You can download a free Numerology demo at Coker's website, five12.com. The demo comes with instructions and examples. After a brief demonstration in the Alibi offices, I decided to try out the program on my home computer to see how challenging it is for a beginner to use. I'm completely unfamiliar with sequencers or the "virtual rack" metaphor that's used in programs like Reason and Numerology. But Coker says his program should be valuable to users with a wide range of musical and technological backgrounds and interests.

A fast-and-dirty description: Numerology breaks the basic elements of music into separate building blocks you can control independently. First, you might add a melody module, then add another block to affect the melody’s rhythmic pattern, then overlay a chord progression for that melody to travel through. The program's controls are simple to use and would be easy to manipulate live. "It allows you to experiment very effectively without having to sit down and read a long manual or learn a lot of details about concepts behind audio synthesis and composition," he says.

Speaking as someone who's fairly anti-manual, I was able to mess around with Numerology during my maiden voyage with some degree of success. It took maybe 30 minutes to figure out which module was controlling what, but once I did, I was able to change the sounds intentionally.

Coker says his program should be useful to anyone interested in electronic music. One drawback is that, so far, you can't output your work directly from Numerology as a WAV file or AIF. Instead, Coker recommends running it in conjunction with recording software like Logic.

Coker's assembling a 12-lesson course for the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, and every once in a while, Numerology composers get together and perform live. He says he values feedback. "I have users all over the world that send me interesting ideas," Coker says. "Some of them are kind of crazy and don't make sense, but some of them are kind of crazy and make a lot of sense."

Coker will present a workshop on Saturday, Oct. 11, at 3 p.m. as part of this year's Oscillation Electronic Music Festival. All workshops take place at The Agency. Cost is $5 for all three, or they come free with a three-day Oscillation Pass. For complete Oscillation lineup and workshop information, go to myspace.com/oscillationfest.

Public Comments (4)
  • where R the album reviews?  [ Sun Oct 12 2008 7:07 PM ]

    Do U not want people commenting on them? The TVOTR review was good - but too damn short! Not that my review is all badass or anything, but why not publish reviews like this-

    Art Rock of the Highest Order

    This album is genius. TVOTR bring a mind-blowing combination of soul, post-punk, techno, funk . . . . . no description is really adequate because they draw from all of these places and more to come up with something all their own. DEAR SCIENCE is awash in their trademark hazy atmospheres sounding like alien radio transmissions. These songs are sophisticated and dense with sound yet they never sound cluttered. Not only are they loaded with . . .

  • cont  [ Sun Oct 12 2008 7:09 PM ]

    . . . electronic programming but each one features horns, flute and/or strings, all beautifully scored. Audiophiles are complaining about the dynamic compression, that the recording is too "hot," but it's silly to get hung up on such a minor quibble with music this great. Unless you're a vinyl afficionado with $3,000 to blow on top of the line tube speakers, there's really no need to get bent out of shape over this issue (OK, that's a lie meant to tee off audiophiles. Supposedly you can get great sound for $200 or less by buying old equipment from the 50s and 60s, but whatever. I could never get the dust out of the grooves of my old records and all the clicking and popping just annoys me, so I was happy to switch to CDs).

    DEAR SCIENCE feels like a celebration. It's far more positive than their previous album, RETURN TO COOKIE MOUNTAIN, which was pretty bleak. This despite lyrics that lament war and the largess of the societal elite. The lyrics are very creative and full of imagery, but they're pretty enigmatic and inscrutable. Many listeners felt that way about . . .

  • cont.  [ Sun Oct 12 2008 7:10 PM ]

    . . . COOKIE MOUNTAIN, but I thought that album was clearly about addiction, effed-up relationships and the search for redemption. And while the lyrics on DEAR SCIENCE are hard to decipher, it's still fun trying to interpret them (one exception - "Lover's Day" is clearly about sex).

    For me, "Crying" is a gorgeous standout with a great disco-fied guitar and a soulful chorus. "Dancing Choose"" has rapid-fire versus while the chorus features a gorgeous melody. "Golden Age" is joyous and funky while "Family Tree" is shimmering and beautiful. "Family Tree" is the only track without percussion (that is, until the end of the song). It features heavenly piano chords with heavy reverb and achingly meloncholy singing. "Shout Me Out" is another killer that finishes off with a wailing post-punkish guitar solo. Every track here, in my humble opinion, is a 5-star song.

  • cont.  [ Sun Oct 12 2008 7:11 PM ]

    Definitely get the Deluxe Edition with the bonus tracks. Unlike anything on the album proper, they're really sexy. "Make Love All Night Long" has a bouncy, sexy groove - "I'm gonna turn you on/ Make love all night long." And "Heroic Dose" is a super sexy slow burner with strange, seductive vocals done in French with a deep, Barry White voice. The vocalist is uncredited, but he doesn't sound a thing like high-pitched wonders Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe. This over seven minute track is totally wigged out. It kinda reminds me of Roxy Music's "The Bogus Man" and "For Your Pleasure" - very trippy. Also, the two remixed tracks are great, sounding even more electronic and techno-fied than the originals.

    I agree with what some other reviewers are saying: this one's a strong candidate for album of the year. "Album of the Year" may be a marketing ploy to sell magazines, but it's still fun to compile your own "best of" list. Honestly, I don't think DEAR SCIENCE is nearly as good as COOKIE MOUNTAIN, but an album this creative is still going to give everyone else a run for their money. Highly recommended!!!

 
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