SubCycle is a breakbeat performance engine.
SubCycle changes the nature of the drum programming process, transforming it from a deep editing, sedentary, non-temporal activity to a dynamic real-time experience without compromising the result. SubCycle allows the producer to deliver the art of creative transformation directly to the audience.

Producer --> DJ --> Audience

Producer --> Audience

Drum loops can be layered and fragmented in real-time with what could be described as a combination of fader-control-surface and physical-real-time-step-sequencer.

SubCycle is a touch based instrument.
Music is tactile. SubCycle recognizes the importance of touch in musical performance and provides a physical interface to new forms and processes which have been relying more and more on a computer mouse/keyboard interface.

Drum loops provide the fuel.
SubCycle facilitates the re-contextualization process by networking sound content freely between users without using proprietary file formats or dictating style and genre constraints. Rhythms are pulled out of the database and interctively molded into a performance in a heart beat. Sorting through drum loops is no longer a tedious process.

SubCycle is an open system.
Popular remix tools that are designed to decrease the level of mastery required to develop tracks rely too heavy on constraints. SubCycle is an open system with no constraints. Unpredictable results can be achieved and unique complicated patterns can be performed with a high level of mastery. The shared database of drum loops is completely permeable. Drum loops are added to the knowledgebase by users, not in house designers. The entire system evolves with the community of musicians who use it. An unlimited supply of possibilities with the tools to effectively navigate, and no waiting.

SubCycle subverts the timeline.
SubCycle undermines the static nature of the timeline. While SubCycle can be integrated into a timeline as a virtual instrument (VSTi) it's tendency is change. The rhythm perpetually pushes forward while constantly fragmenting into different variations. SubCycle challenges the very nature of the recording, as a static entity.

SubCycle employs learning behaviors.
To alleviate the sorting process and eliminate downtime, SubCycle can mutate rhythm combinations by using both social and individual histories. Rhythm combinations are documented into user histories during a SubCycle session. When the "mutate" button is depressed, the system will find likely matches based on statistical analysis of histories. A related control "genetic diversity" determines the amount of randomness factored into this calculation.

Community Knowledgebase
Individual histories are pooled into into a collective knowledgebase and the user can draw from the experience of the community of SubCycle musicians. Some musicians may not feel comfortable with the potential for homogeneity that arises from this model and can choose to alter another control related to the mutation process, "social influence". The social influence control alters the percentage of societal history factored into the mutation process.

Levels of mastery
Important issues arise with the inclusion of the knowledgebase. If users of different levels of mastery contribute to the knowledgebase the effects will be diluted for the highest level users. As a solution, users are awarded levels of mastery according to the time they have logged on to the instrument. This will allow more experienced users access to a more refined version of the knowledgebase.

Envisioning a new instrument.
In 1949 when Les Paul modified the Ampex 300 tape recording device to record on 4 separate heads independently layered sound and recotextualized sound compositions became possible. At some point it became clear that the product of the recording device or mixing desk began to transcend the performance.

During the 80's and 90's the mixing desk became digital. Nonlinear editing capabilities, new distribution possibilities, new automation options, decreased production cost and archiving opportunities resulted. Midi protocols made it possible to completely automate every element of the mix and new sound structures were created with every imaginable combination of sound and rhythm. New forms and processes were developed. In the last two years the virtual insrument has become a reality and new avenues of network distribution (i.e. Napster, Hotline) have threatened to alter the notion of intellectual property. This has accellerated the recontextualization proocess and opened up even more possibilities.

The problem is that the tools and techniques utilized in these new processes rely too heavily on mixing desk metaphors. This prevents the process from taking place in real-time. In my view, the D.J. acts as an intermediary between these processes and the immediacy of live performance. A D.J. is limited to two/three souund sources and while the nature of the mechanized turntable mixing process is non-linear, most of the transformation takes place in the studio where the tracks which the D.J. spins are created.

SubCycle is a unique approach to this problem. SubCycle intersects rhythm pulses with media fragments allowing the musician to form complex non-linear patterns in real-time. Drum loops from the database can be layered, fragmented, panned and filtered in real-time in what could only be described as a combination of fader-control-surface and physical-real-time-step-sequencer. To decrease downtime, SubCycle utilizes an evolution metaphor to arrive at layered rhythm combinations based on personal tendencies as well as social tendencies stored in a networked knowledgebase. SubCycle takes drum programming out of the studio and onto the stage where it belongs.

SubCycle is:

  • A tactile, real-time interface to new production techniques (real-time rhythm molding tools).
  • A dynamic, circulating alternative to timeline based drum composition.
  • A permeable, public database of drumloops which can be accessed by musicians fueling rhythm content directly into compositions.

An instrument must be more than just a software and it must be more than just an object. An instrument is an idea. This idea must be flexible to accommodate the dematerialized, networked nature of this wired culture. The instrument must also act as a space where meaningful patterns can be formed out of the multi-stylistic chaos of appropriation and non hierarchal distribution. This requires that the design be firmly grounded in both the physical and dematerialized space.


Diagram 1 - The VSTi skin.

Diagram 2 - Side view of highly stylized physical model.

Diagram 3 - Rear view, ethernet detail.

Diagram 4 - Screen and front panel detail.

Diagram 5 - Media/Logic flow diagram.

Diagram 6 - A centralized, scalable network.

Sample Music
Real-Time-Stretch 3.6 Mb
Shape Shifter 4.5 Mb
Ruin 3.8 Mb
Indes 3.5 Mb
Sand 3.6 Mb
Trainer 6.1 Mb
Vector 4.4 Mb
Wires 5.1 Mb
All drum tracks recorded in one take using the SubCycle instrument.

Video 1 - Video demonstration of the SubCycle instrument.