Reuse and Rework

Our theme this month, Explore, makes me think about heading out, looking around and discovering something new. But I’m also finding some real value in drilling down, reworking the same subject and learning more each time. It reminds me of making stock from last night’s roast chicken. Every stage of the process is fulfilling, and nothing goes to waste!

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with reworking the same image over and over again, leveraging the latest iteration for the next one. (I guess you could call these iterative studies?) I’m working in a different medium each time, and noticing how the capacities of different approaches and tools changes the outcome.

Here’s a recent example: In my painting class, we had an assignment to find a single plant and study it. I landed on this small, humble patch of clover in our yard:

Here’s Study #1 in colored pencils, just starting to explore colors and shapes:

Study #2 as a digital illustration:

and Study #3 in gouache watercolor:

The last study is my favorite because the colors are amping up and everything that’s not essential is washing away through the repeated cycles of my attention. I’m curious about going one level deeper and using this study as a reference for an oil painting. Maybe after that, I’ll be ready to move on to the next subject that catches me. And maybe I’ll start to notice a theme. Seems like this kind of exploration could be an entry point into a whole body of work based on attraction, attention and slowing down.

I talked to Sean about how this practice applies to music and audio:

One of my favorite concepts is from Oblique Strategies: “Repetition as a form of change.” I feel this can be extended to all areas of music, whether it is minimalist music made from playing the same phrase over and over, the “process” music created by playing through a looping delay, the repeating sequences of electronic music, and so forth.

The area where “reusing and reworking” has had the biggest impact is in my algorithm creation. I’ve been working on reverb algorithms since 1999. I’ve found myself iterating over some of the same ideas over and over in the last few decades, reworking and revisiting them, until they finally either find a home in one of my plugins, or are put back on the shelf.

ValhallaSupermassive is a great example of this. The algorithms in Supermassive started off as an exploration of some of Michael Gerzon’s reverberation ideas, which I was first introduced to back in 2001. These algorithms can result in a quick build of echo density, and were great for experimental reverb sounds, but I always found them unwieldy when trying to put them into a more general purpose reverb algorithm. I ended up revisiting these algorithms many times over the years, playing with them, and keeping them on the back burner.

In early 2020, I was invited to give a few guest lectures at the University of Victoria. I prepared a series of Max4Live patches to illustrate the basic principles of reverb design. Most of these were very simple, but a few sounded really nice. When I returned back home, I kept experimenting with these designs, and created a simple C++ framework to explore them in detail.

Once these had been ported to C++, I was able to extend them with the Michael Gerzon ideas that I had played with in the past. The end results sounded weird and awesome, but were still unruly and difficult to tame. The solution was easy: Give up “well behaved” as a goal, and let it be weird!

I’ve been repeating my exploration of reverb topologies over a span of several decades, versus Kristin’s example of a few weeks exploring that patch of clover. I find it fascinating that reworking ideas can yield good results on such different time scales!

What are some creative ideas that you have reworked and repeated over the past few days/weeks/months/years? Let us know in the comments below!

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