SoundHouse lets DJs be Herd

They may be newcomers to the nation’s airwaves, but Sydney DJs The Herd are pioneers of digital music, and innovators of the network jam session.

Over the last few years, the group has performed countless shows with notebooks as its instrument of choice. On stage, six to seven DJs mix sounds with a minimum of three notebooks, backed by a bass player.

However, what’s set these performances apart from other electronic music shows is The Herd’s own freely-available software, DASE (Distributed Audio SEquencer).

The Java program lets computer users simultaneously create one piece of music over a network connection, including the Internet.

“There’s no other jamming software used by professionals that I’ve heard of,” said The Herd’s producer and DASE developer, Kenny Sabir.

“It’s also quite popular for people who don’t have a music background."

DASE has an eight bar loop which can be modified by different users on the fly.

“You all work non-stop on the loop,” said Sabir. “It’s always changing, so you’re dropping kicks and snares on the fly.”

During performances, The Herd uses a LAN consisting of one server, the ‘castle’, and six or seven client PCs, the ‘peasants’.

“The clients let people plot the beats,” said Sabir.

“There’s one program that accesses the server; [the castle] gets all the audio. So there’s one [server] PC that does this and plays the audio."

Collaboration works by each user creating sounds on their PC, then sending these to a pool of sound which everyone can hear.

“Before big shows we usually pre-send sounds,” said Sabir.

DASE helps organise Internet collaborations by displaying the IP address of the initiating user. This can then be e-mailed to other users who click the link to join the jam.

DASE in the place

Sabir first developed DASE while studying for a computer engineering degree in 1999.

“I was a beta tester for a company called ResRocket. The company’s not around anymore, but their product was Rocket Network. That was a compositional tool which plugged into existing sequencers,” he said.

“But mine was about performance over the Net.”

Sabir’s group launched DASE at the Australian Computer Music Conference in 2000 by jamming with a remote Internet user.

Via a mutual acquaintance, DASE was later part of the launch of the SoundHouse at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum in 2001. The music studio focuses on school and rural computer-based music education, and has boosted the capability and popularity of DASE.

“I re-wrote DASE for the second version, which was exclusively licensed to the Museum. So they wanted to add things like MP3 support, etc.,” said Sabir.

The SoundHouse has used DASE for online collaborations with people in places as far away as the UK.

“We’ve also had our 16 PCs synched for one musical output, using our LAN,” said SoundHouse project manager Peter Mahony.

“It’s always an experiment [using DASE],” he said. “You have to have the willingness to try things out.”

Another computer-literate musician, Mahony rates DASE highly alongside the SoundHouse’s plethora of music software.

“It’s similar to Fruity Loops. We use FL Studio 4, which is a complete solution for audio on PC. That’s an amazing program,” said Mahony.

The SoundHouse also uses ACID Pro 4, Sound Forge 6, Vegas 4.0, Super Duper Music Looper (for kids), and Sonar for MIDI sequencing.

These can be used with the array of sounds that the SoundHouse’s Kawai MIDI controllers and Fender G-Ready Stratocaster (a guitar with MIDI output) can produce.

Playing any of the 61 keys on the MIDI controllers or strumming the Stratocaster sends sound to the Sonar MIDI software as note on/off data.

Using the software, a user can then choose the instrument voice from either the wave table of the Audigy sound card or from the Roland sound canvas module.

The Roland sound canvas module is a sound bank of 350 instruments, and about six drum kits, said Mahony.

“So this changes the way a performance is rendered in real-time. It allows you to play on the guitar as a banjo, an organ, etc.,” he said.

The SoundHouse team is also creative on the software side, and will next year present its special access kit for people with a disability to a conference in Berlin.

As for DASE, Sabir said he doesn’t work on the application these days, instead managing his record label eLefant traks.

The Herd also moved on from DASE last year, as the creativity allowed by the program meant it was hard to reproduce songs.

“As we got bigger, we needed consistency in our performance,” said Sabir.

The Herd currently uses Ableton Live software, and although it’s not able to be networked, the group synchronises it via a MIDI clock.

DASE is available for download via the SoundHouse’s Web site, and online collaborations should run well on a 56Kbps connection and higher, according to Sabir.

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