Download Now… Free!

May 27th, 2021 By Michael Brown

Introducing a new born-digital collection that includes music production files and uses digital audio workstation software, which is a first for the Library.

Preserving New Zealand’s music production heritage

In recent years the Archive of New Zealand Music at the Turnbull Library has turned its attention toward New Zealand’s music production heritage. Our focus has included preserving the master tapes of labels such as Flying Nun, Viking and Ode, and artists such as Chris Knox and Ian Morris. Now we are venturing into the challenging domain of contemporary music productions which use digital audio workstation software.

Introducing the Luke Rowell Digital Music Collection

Today we are very excited to cut the ribbon on a new born-digital collection donated by Luke Rowell, one of New Zealand’s foremost computer musicians. Over the last 20 years, Luke has performed hundreds of gigs around the world and released over 15 albums of popular electronic music, either as Disasteradio or Eyeliner. Among Luke’s best-known tracks is the synthpop hit ‘Gravy Rainbow’, while his Eyeliner albums are considered among the essential works of the vaporwave movement.

Album cover in bauhaus-style showing an abstract smiley face made of different, colourful shapes on a teal background.
Eyeliner, Buy Now (2015) cover.

What’s in the Luke Rowell Digital Music Collection?

The Luke Rowell Digital Music Collection (ATL-Group-00554) is the product of over a year’s work. At this stage, it comprises a comprehensive array of digital production and master files relating to his acclaimed vaporwave album Buy Now (2015). And, by year’s end, another album’s worth of digital material will be added.

Our excitement is based partly on the amazing material to be found in Luke’s collection, also on the fact this collection can be accessed online by anyone... anywhere... anytime. And what’s more, Luke has generously granted a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence, so you can download the music for remixing and other creative reuse.

The Remix Album

The release of Free — Buy Now: Remixes is another reason for our excitement today. All the tracks are based on material from the Luke Rowell Collection. From Donor Lens’ take on ‘Toy Dog’ through to Monster Munch’s version of ‘Payphone’, the superb remixes on this album were created by artists from around the world and demonstrate just what is possible with a Creative Commons resource of this kind. Huge thanks to the artists for generously lending their talents to the cause of digital music archiving. Needless to say, Free is… well, free: download the album from Bandcamp now.

Embedded content: https://disasteradio.bandcamp.com/album/free-buy-now-remixes

Watch Luke Rowell talk about Eyeliner’s 'Buy Now'

So, whoever you are — a teacher giving a class on digital music, a student with a remix assignment, a musician wanting to try some MIDI arrangements, a researcher studying the history of EDM, or somebody just plain curious about electronic music — the Luke Rowell Collection is here for you to explore. Read on for more details, and also check out Luke’s video about the Disasteradio Project.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNtYYsoxIvA
  • Transcript — Eyeliner 'Buy Now'

    Speaker

    Luke Rowell

    Hello it’s me! Luke Disasteradio & Eyeliner currently in sunny Hong Kong.
    Hopefully by now you are familiar with my smash hit record from 2015,
    Eyeliner’s “Buy Now”

    In late 2018 I started talking with National Libraries New Zealand about
    archiving my music.

    As it’s all made virtually in software, it could make a great open resource for
    noncommercial remixing, research and education.

    Under the keen guidance of the library team and particularly New Zealand
    music curator Michael Brown, we’ve put together a huge archive of
    everything that’s in Buy Now, which will be freely available to the public
    worldwide on May 27th 2021.

    The license these materials will come under is: Creative Commons
    Attribution Noncommercial Sharealike.

    In addition to unmastered work-in-progress mixes, we have each
    instrument as 24 bit / 44.1kHz audio stems. both with and without effects
    and automation.

    If you’re after MIDI, we have both type 0 and 1, as well as classic General
    MIDI files with instrument assignments.

    I’ve somewhat remastered the entire album for General MIDI.

    Every track on the album also has a thirty minute screencast of the
    sessions, with me going through all my technical and artistic decisions,
    think of it as “VH1 Classic Albums” on a budget.

    All the files and videos will all be available May 27th from the NZ National
    Libraries website at the URL in this video description.

    From a preservation point of view, the team at the library and I have come
    to some interesting thoughts and conclusions which will be available in the
    National Libraries blog.

    But that’s not all! We have put together a great remix album called FREE
    with remixes by Eventual Infinity, Vylter, Donor Lens, Stevia Sphere,
    Monster Munch, Misled Convoy and many MORE

    The remix compilation will be available on my bandcamp for free, and any
    donations will be split between the artists involved.

    I hope this library resource will help likeminded musicians and the general
    craft of electronic music and MIDI. It’s been such a fun project and I can’t
    wait to hear what people will make out of it!

    Buy now is freeee.

Transcript — Eyeliner 'Buy Now'

Speaker

Luke Rowell

Hello it’s me! Luke Disasteradio & Eyeliner currently in sunny Hong Kong.
Hopefully by now you are familiar with my smash hit record from 2015,
Eyeliner’s “Buy Now”

In late 2018 I started talking with National Libraries New Zealand about
archiving my music.

As it’s all made virtually in software, it could make a great open resource for
noncommercial remixing, research and education.

Under the keen guidance of the library team and particularly New Zealand
music curator Michael Brown, we’ve put together a huge archive of
everything that’s in Buy Now, which will be freely available to the public
worldwide on May 27th 2021.

The license these materials will come under is: Creative Commons
Attribution Noncommercial Sharealike.

In addition to unmastered work-in-progress mixes, we have each
instrument as 24 bit / 44.1kHz audio stems. both with and without effects
and automation.

If you’re after MIDI, we have both type 0 and 1, as well as classic General
MIDI files with instrument assignments.

I’ve somewhat remastered the entire album for General MIDI.

Every track on the album also has a thirty minute screencast of the
sessions, with me going through all my technical and artistic decisions,
think of it as “VH1 Classic Albums” on a budget.

All the files and videos will all be available May 27th from the NZ National
Libraries website at the URL in this video description.

From a preservation point of view, the team at the library and I have come
to some interesting thoughts and conclusions which will be available in the
National Libraries blog.

But that’s not all! We have put together a great remix album called FREE
with remixes by Eventual Infinity, Vylter, Donor Lens, Stevia Sphere,
Monster Munch, Misled Convoy and many MORE

The remix compilation will be available on my bandcamp for free, and any
donations will be split between the artists involved.

I hope this library resource will help likeminded musicians and the general
craft of electronic music and MIDI. It’s been such a fun project and I can’t
wait to hear what people will make out of it!

Buy now is freeee.


Digital audio workstations

“It is hard to think of another field of cultural practice that has been as comprehensively turned upside down by the digital revolution as music,” write the editors of the 2018 Cambridge Companion to Music in Digital Culture (1). During the last 20 years, in particular, the ways music is made, distributed, and consumed have all been utterly transformed.

One of the benefits of music’s expansion into the digital realm is that musicians, composers and producers have adopted a wide array of new tools. While not necessarily obvious to the wider music-loving public, digital audio workstations (DAWs) such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro and Cubase have become central to music production, affording almost unlimited scope for creating, editing, transforming, and mixing recorded music. Ever used the Apple programme GarageBand? Then you’ll have a reasonable inkling of what a DAW looks like and does. By introducing so many creative possibilities, DAWs have also fueled the development of new styles and genres, especially in areas such as dance music.

Archiving DAWs productions

At this stage, you may well ask: why is it desirable to archive DAW productions? If the eventual music product (vinyl record, download, stream) is readily available and preservable, why would a music archive want to keep a record of all the fine creative carpentry that precedes it?

Black cassette tape with white label with handwritten title.
JPS Ex / Demos. Ref: FLYC-082. Alexander Turnbull Library.

One answer is that research libraries such as the Turnbull Library have traditionally sought to collect primary sources which help us understand music as a creative process. These sources include manuscript scores and sketches, live recordings, and demo tapes (such as pictured above), all of which help trace the progress of a song or musical work as it’s reworked and refined.

Archives may also collect studio master material — multitrack tapes, outtakes, alternate mixes — which show us how recordings were constructed in the studio context. All this material helps answer basic research questions, such as: where did the musical idea start? What was changed, cut, added along the way and why? What is the role technology plays in creativity? How has the compositional process itself changed over time?

DAW software replicates and extends many techniques that were first developed in an analogue world, such as multitrack recording, tape editing, studio mixing and effects chains. DAWs also offer entirely new possibilities around audio sequencing, synthesized instrumentation, and signal processing. Essentially, the backend files generated by DAWs offer the digital equivalent of what music archives have always collected in analogue form.

Screenshot of a digital audio workstation with various files displayed on a timeline.
Screenshot detail of DAW session for Eyeliner, ‘Showbiz’. Ref: MSDL-4691

Unfortunately, for the reasons discussed below, DAWs also present major digital preservation challenges. The objective of working with Luke on the Disasteradio Project has been to develop sustainable ways to archive the information contained in his DAW productions. We’re hopeful that this research might also prove useful to music creators who want to secure long-term access to their music.

The challenge of digital preservation

What is digital preservation? According to Sarah Slade, David Pearson and (NLNZ’s own) Steve Knight: “Digital preservation combines strategies, policies, and actions to ensure access to both digitized and born-digital content regardless of the challenges of media failure and technological change”. (2)

The ultimate goal, according to the American Library Association, is “the accurate rendering of authenticated content over time”.(3) The digital preservation team here at the Library have written extensively about what this means in theory and practice (check out the National Digital Heritage Archive section on our website).

A key challenge facing digital preservationists is technical obsolescence. As Riccardo Ferrante writes:

Born-digital objects require particular hardware and operating systems in order to be accessed and rendered with integrity. As technology evolves, parts of these technical environments are replaced with newer, faster, smaller components. The hardware and software necessary for a 10-year old object to operate as designed are often no longer readily available; neither is the skill set required to maintain that environment. Innovation in the marketplace is itself a risk to the cultural heritage it produces.(4)

Technical obsolescence

Technical obsolescence can be caused by changes to; the file-format standard of a digital object, the software that opens the file, the computer operating system upon which the software and file format depend, or the underlying hardware architecture that the software and OS were designed for. Ferrante further notes that “Standard-based, open, or nonproprietary [file] formats tend to have an increased life span.”(5) This is why standard audio files such as .wav or .mp3 are currently deemed to pose a low preservation risk.

Session files

DAWs, however, present a far greater level of digital complexity. A DAW production is centred around a session file that stores transformative decisions,for example, editing points, volume and EQ adjustments made to audio assets and/or coded sequences. The session file thus involves dependencies on other files which must also be preserved if the session file is to make sense; a DAW may also generate new audio assets alongside the originals. Some of the signal paths may also be routed through sound modules, external hardware used to generate particular sounds or effects.

Plugins

Adding further complexity are plugins. These third-party software components extend the DAW’s functions to include audio effects (reverb, compression, delay, etc.), virtual instruments, sound libraries, and other functions. Plugins are essential in contemporary music production: a single music track may incorporate a dozen or more. Creating further complications is the proprietary status of most DAW applications: each has its own session file format which generally lacks interoperability with other DAWs and lacks open-source coding which would help understand how it works. All these factors present a massive digital preservation challenge.

Screenshot of the plugin which features a piano keyboard along the bottom with a dozen or so banks for different midi sounds and their accompanying variables.
Screenshot of Korg M1 Super Bass, one of the six plugins used for the bass stem in ‘Showbiz’. Ref: MSDL-4691

Preservation action for DAW sessions

Several forms of preservation action could be attempted to ensure a DAW session created in 2021 can still be accessed in 50 or 100 years. These include:

  1. Maintain the original technical environment: i.e. the musician’s computer hardware and sound modules, OS, DAW and associated plugin software, plus the asset structure unique to each project;
  2. Replace the original software, relying on the development of new software which is backwards-compatible for older session files and plugins;
  3. Emulation: create a virtual version of a suitable technical environment.(6)

All three of these strategies have been deemed impractical by the Library’s digital specialists, given the ongoing resourcing they would require. And attempting to collect DAW files from different musicians would only increase the archival commitment, given the different permutations of DAWs, plugins, OS and hardware that would be encountered.

Lots of people are grappling with the challenge

Needless to say, music archivists are not the only ones grappling with this challenge. Canadian musician and academic Colin McGuire describes his experiences accessing some of his older tracks for use on a compilation album:

[A] few were lost to corruption of the media they were stored on, as well as lack of access to the technology to play them back or recreate them. Amongst some of the surviving tracks, I found a couple that I thought could use a bit of remixing. One of them had only raw audio recordings of the main vocals and synthesizer parts to work with because the rest of the track’s sequences and mixing belonged to software that had long since become obsolete.(7)

McGuire here identifies another important reason to preserve DAW sessions. Music is an intrinsically iterative artform, whether in terms of ongoing performances of musical works or recordings of cover versions. Preserving DAW productions enables other iterative processes to continue, such as remixes, mashups and remasters.

The music and film industries have also recognised some of these difficulties and attempted to find their own solutions. In his article ‘Exporting and Importing Between DAWs Without Losing Your Mind’, Matt Vanacoro outlines several strategies in ensuring access to DAW session information over time. These include exporting data in the form of OMF (Open Media Framework) or AAF (Advanced Authoring Format) files, container formats that preserve both editing decisions and source media assets. These formats have been developed to ostensibly allow sessions to be opened in different DAWs on an ongoing basis. While appealing as a concept, there is, unfortunately, no guarantee these complex digital objects will be viable in the long term. From a digital preservation perspective, they represent a risky bet.

More general advice is available from the US Recording Academy, who provide Delivery Recommendations for Recorded Music Projects and for Hi-Resolution Music Productions (pdf, 1.25MB) . While not addressing the DAW obsolescence issue directly, these documents contain valuable guidance around preservation elements, folder structures, and naming conventions for music production archiving — and we found them useful to consult with the Disasteradio Project.

Disasteradio Project

The story of the Disasteradio Project goes back to 2018 when the Turnbull Library announced Flying Nun Records’ donation of its master tape library. On the Library’s Twitter feed, Luke reached out to ask: “Can we submit our own multi-tracks and sessions and MIDI files?” It was fortuitous timing, as we’d already been pondering the DAW obsolescence issue.

By mid-2020, after some brainstorming sessions with Luke, we had a proposal ready: “we” including the Library’s digital archivists Valerie Love and Flora Feltham, and AV conservator Zach Webber. The goal of the Disasteradio Project would be to archive two of Luke’s albums, develop some new digital-preservation approaches along the way, assess what resourcing future projects might need, and explore what outcomes made it a value proposition.

The two albums chosen were the Disasteradio album Visions from 2007, and Eyeliner’s Buy Now. They were created, respectively, on the DAWs Jeskola Buzz and Steinberg Nuendo.

As a stark illustration of the challenges faced, Luke quickly discovered that the Buzz Visions files — only 13 years since they were created — were proving too troublesome to open, even using a Windows 98 virtual machine. Hence another Nuendo album, 2010’s Charisma, was swapped in.

Disasteradio Project approach

The Disasteradio Project approach has been for Luke to create a “package” of production components for each track using only readily-preservable file types such as those found in the UK National Archives PRONOM registry.

If a Nuendo DAW session file represented the native digital object, then essentially we have looked past its archival authenticity and found alternative ways for the information content to be expressed. Some of these alternative expressions will be very familiar to musicians: a final mixdown exported from a DAW session, for instance, or sets of audio stems (individual tracks within a mix).

Importantly, all the files are preservable and the manifest for each track is standardised across the entire collection. So, here is what you can expect to find for every track in the Luke Rowell Collection, with links given to examples for the track ‘Sneakers for Men’:

Description File type Example
Track stems (dry) without effects and automation .wav Stems (dry)
Track stems (wet) with effects and automation .wav Stems (wet)
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) types 0, 1 and General .mid MIDI
Working mixes .wav, .mp3 Working mixes
Final mixes, mastered and unmastered .wav Final mix
Spreadsheet of technical information .xlsx Technical data
Screenshots of session settings .jpg Images
Screencast with commentary .mp4 Screencast
Music videos and promos .mp4 N/A

This material will provide multiple avenues for researchers to investigate the “nuts and bolts” of Luke’s music. Technical data spreadsheets feature a forensic level of detail about every stem, including VST instruments, effects, plugins, MIDI quantisation and swing, all cross-referenced to the archived assets in the collection.

Even more granular information can be gleaned from screenshots showing the settings for every plugin used for every stem. As far as reuse is concerned, both audio and MIDI-orientated musicians are catered for, with two iterations of 24-bit audio stems (dry and wet), and three versions of MIDI — all downloadable.

A selection of stems from ‘Sneakers for Men’ including effects and automation

Don't be alarmed if at first you don't hear anything. Due to the arrangement, some stems include periods of silence.

LinPlug RM-IV Drums (combined percussion)

Korg M1 Bass (Club date)

Korg M1 Bass (Slap ‘n’ Thump)

Korg M1 CoolPiano

Korg M1 HarmoBell (Short)

Korg M1 HarmoBell (Soft)

Download the full set of stem files for ‘Sneakers for Men’ Ref: MSDL-4661

Final mixdown of Eyeliner, ‘Sneakers for Men’ from the album Buy Now

Have a listen to the final mixdown of ‘Sneakers for Men’.

Watch 'Sneakers for men' session breakdown

One of the more novel inclusions are screencasts of the Nuendo DAW sessions for every track. In these Luke gives a guided tour of the track, talking about how it was developed, from musical and cultural reference points down to the finer technical details of DAW production.

Here is Luke’s session breakdown for ‘Sneakers for Men’ Ref: MSDL-4662

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en9TtWlLUB0
  • Transcript — 'Sneakers for men' session breakdown

    Speaker

    Luke Rowell

    OK. Hello. "Sneaker For Men" Essentially a” uncool on purpose” New Jack Swing tribute. If you'd like to look into New Jack Swing, you could consider the works of Keith Sweat and New Edition for instance. So we start with the little scratch sample. All the scratching in here is Yamaha CS1X one-shot it that comes with the keyboard.

    So the idea behind the scratching is that it is actually sampled scratching as opposed to really using normal scratching. There's just something about the statement of using a kind of “fake version” of what you're trying to achieve on purpose that I enjoy.

    "Sneakers For Men" - the song title came from me scouring Amazon product categories for any kind of title. The original title was "Urban Techno" which was kind of an attempt at being incredibly uncool with an uncool song title.

    But I came across "Sneakers For Men" because it had this kind of sense of a metropolitan kind of “skipping down the streets” It has a certain sort of up-tempo vibe that feels like walking with a skip to me. And also there's a bit of a interplay between the idea of “Sneakers for Men” and then “High Heels”. And this curious question that sneakers are generally for men and the idea that you wouldn't interpelllate sneakers as sneakers for me is kind of funny. All shoes are good on everyone. Let's all agree.

    Right. Moving right along. The initial ideas for the song came from this little doohickey called ChordSpace, which is a free midi generator keyboard. These look like they're arranged in a pretty strange way. But these are the Roman chord numbers. And it is (I think) around jazz theory around tetrachords, four note chords.

    So you've got each Roman numeral chord and its substitutions. For example for chord V, I'm slightly out of my depth here, you have B7 and you also have F minor, which are apparently the chord substitutions for chord V in any key. So in this key of B flat. The actual key ended up being more like A flat major. But anyway, as soon as you hear this stuff, you'll hear how this came out.

    [MUSIC PLAYING]

    So I would just sort of lay down a tempo track and just tap. And as you can see, there are different results for different chords. But it is a nice way of laying out chords when you don't understand chord theory from a sort of pianist perspective, rather than more of a sort of geometrical perspective. It's a free plug-in that I think only runs in 32-bit Windows, hence why I'm still running in 32-bit Windows. But one of those little sort of machine-assisted type midi generators that I've used a lot on a lot of records in addition to a few others.

    But this kind of interrupting a kind of keyboard workflow with the strange diagram. So we have a New Jack Swing beat, we have an intentionally uncool set of sounds. We're trying to be uncool on purpose but sort of being lighthearted and sincere about it at the same time. Hence we've got this upright bass which sounds quote unquote "cool" to me.

    The original song was laid up against a breakbeat, which I'll unmute in a second when it comes up. So this breakbeat is not included in the stems because I don't know whether it's my intellectual property or not. I don't know where it came from. It was on a-- it was on a breakbeat pack that I got off the early internet. So here we are.

    Anyway, the idea is that we're using breakbeat architecture and a kind of a looped recording as a kind of basis for the rhythms, and then writing something else with oneshots later. So the idea is that this is an audio clip. We can scrub it.

    But these ones are sort of the same idea of the beat, but just done with oneshots. So this is the drum sampler. And as always, using the hi-hat to kind of “push” the rhythm at the end of the bars with this kind of broken up hi-hat. We'll mute the break beat again because it's no longer relevant.

    [MUSIC PLAYING]

    Now these two types of transition things I would like to show y'all. And it would be this one: “SweetTynes” which is like an electric piano. That sounds more like a harp. As that's panning left to right, that's actually going through, if I'm not wrong, it's going into-- yeah, it's going into a reverb send which is panning off in the opposite direction.

    So this other line of automation down here is actually the effect send for this transition. And I would have moved it in there if later on - working on later records, I would have put that right next to it up here. But we'll keep it where it was just for wholeness’s sake.

    So anyway, the tine gliss runs from the left general to the right channel but the reverb send runs from the right to the left. So you have this kind of rotating effect where the sound moves into one ear and then the aftersound moves into the other ear, which you don't really hear in the mix. And I've made it sort of not obvious and not direct with the exact timing of the sort of delayed out any time it moves. It moves semi-opposite. But just not being too rigid about the - not trying to show off. I'm just trying to make space with this.

    The other transition element that we can have a look at is the pre-verbs. So it's this audio track here. So that's just the sets of bells. The first note of the sets of bells being sort of this A sharp and this A sharp. They’re run through reverb - a single note - hit and then that's reversed so that you have a reverse echo. And hello to the cars honking outside and beautiful dusky Kowloon. OK.

    So you’ve got this build of energy where it sort of feels like this thing's coming out of nowhere and then slams on that first note dry. So it's sort of a wetness kind of echo that comes back to - like bam - and you're on this melody.

    And this kind of uncool thing, this whole melody section is just kind of painting by numbers. We're just trying to be - just trying to go with it here. Nothing too engaging. And then there's that glissando from the SweetTynes.

    This whole section's about giving the listener a bit of space before the more complicated bits happen. Same preverb.

    I like how this change just kind of rolls along. It doesn't sort of surprise the listener yet. There's nothing too mega about any of the sections.

    There's quite a nice little pairing of bell sounds between the left and right channels. I will always do this. If I make a sort of bell sound, I'll duplicate - I'm pretty sure this WaterBells left was duplicated to make a HarmoBell on the right. So you basically duplicate the track, change the preset, change the patch, and then pan them left and right so you get a kind of wide sound.

    [MUSIC PLAYING]

    And there's all kind of background detail. We'd let everything just be driven by the chord progression and the main melodies and nothing too flashy.

    In terms of the key, I think it's in A flat major-ish. But there are a lot of minor chords. But what I don't ever really do is minor key music and that's kind of capital S sad. It ends up being more kind of opulent and rich rather than sort of sad. It's a funny dichotomy between major happy, minor sad. I don't really prescribe to it. I've always sort of written in modes and stuff. So I always tend to sort of go halfway between on a minor key. But this kind of C minor 7, D minor 7, C, G minor 7. A flat major 7. So you're hitting the major on the last chord. And one is just a-- pretty sure it's just an inversion of this first section. This is the same chord progression. But the notes have just been moved around a bit.

    Yeah, something like that. So what I would do, I'd still do a lot, is take a chord progression that sort of runs. This kind of goes down and up. Just keep inverting it towards a climb. And you get little weird intervals that you’ve got to deal with. But you get the idea.

    What else can we say about this funny little tune? Left and right offbeats. Always go to the offbeats. That's something I always do that I sort of a bit - it's a little bit Eyeliner being Eyeliner.

    These are bussed out hard left and hard right into a track called “Wide EPiano”. And then we thin up the track using the allocation left and right buses. So it goes in hard left, hard right. And then the group track is used to set the wideness of that bus. It's much easier than trying to dial in something goes left 40, right 40, left 60, right 60. You just got hard left, hard right. And then you use another group channel to change the width of it afterwards.

    [MUSIC PLAYING]

    Trying to find this. There's this one bass note that I really like that I haven't done with much else. Ah, Here it is. Nope. It's bar-- I guess this. We had this little one 16th. Is it even a 16th? Is it 32th? This tiny stutter note that I've only just realized I'm doing that quite on purpose that it crashes again to sort of double accent the one. I really like that. And I'll be using that again in future records. So thank you National Libraries for making me look.

    Because it felt a bit too smooth. There wasn't enough skip in this part. But with this kind of double slam, it makes it a bit more unpredictable. But not too unpredictable.

    And look at the ending now. These little percussion bits, if I see a space, I'll chuck something in there and try to be as sort of fun-loving as I can. It's got the weird little side stick. Whatever that is. Roto toms. Love roto toms. There's a side stick in the actual main percussion track here.

    And in a typical kind of ending where we let it sort of fall apart, just mute sections, mark off time slowly with the kick drum, and roto toms. Little transition effect.

    Then this bell. Now that bell at the end is for Daft Punk's "Aerodynamic". I realized when this bell from this Omnisphere patch very quiet in the mix, and very quiet in velocity until the end I think I just take a little zoomy-looky. Yeah, it doesn't really start kicking in til the last few bars of the whole piece.

    I just noticed that when I hit this last chord, it sounded a lot like the end of "Aerodynamic" by Daft Punk. And I was like, leave that one in. That's a good song.

    The loose sections at the end, there are a lot of ideas here. Hopefully they'll be in the right tempo map. Am I starting on the right bars? Yeah, we look OK. If I'm off time, the shuffle won't work and it'll sound completely discombobulated. So this is slow off beats. This is-- too slow. Then this.

    So typical Eyeliner stuff, you get the chord progression, you arpeggiate it. I like the two sections of these two chords. This could have been a little middle eight in there, but I felt like the tune was sort of busy enough or sort of needed to roll along on its own steam without being that interrupted.

    I don't know what this one is coming up, but we'll-- I think this is the working section for that middle eight type part. Here's the double note but it hasn't made it onto the slap bass which is this track below. Yeah, this is me just trying to work out that climb, and where we land to.

    Yeah, this is a more questioning type version of that bell sound. Too questioning, too like - what are you doing?  
    And this is, I think I was-- yeah I was trying to figure out the melody that was coming-- we can figure it out. Yeah. That became this section. This part. This dum, dum, dum, dum, dum just started out as being a kind of sort of phantom. No, wait, wait, this part.

    So that whole section that I played previously that made it into the song started with this kind of question and answer - answer. It's more of an answer on its own. It's an answer without a question. This would have been figuring out that second section. Ah, yeah.

    Trying variations on-- trying to take this one part, the loops, and building another section onto it. Didn't work. And I believe this is - the first part - was this walking bass line. So it may have been the case that I came up with this walking bassline type thing, and then I grabbed the key - the implied musical key - from this bassline, into ChordSpace and then made the chord structure.

    And that's basically "Sneakers For Men". Oh, additional trivia. There is a vaporwave artist called "Haircuts For Men" that I didn't know about. And if I knew about them, I would have not used it as a song because it is too close to their work. But here we are. So sorry if I missed you. "Sneakers For Men."

Transcript — 'Sneakers for men' session breakdown

Speaker

Luke Rowell

OK. Hello. "Sneaker For Men" Essentially a” uncool on purpose” New Jack Swing tribute. If you'd like to look into New Jack Swing, you could consider the works of Keith Sweat and New Edition for instance. So we start with the little scratch sample. All the scratching in here is Yamaha CS1X one-shot it that comes with the keyboard.

So the idea behind the scratching is that it is actually sampled scratching as opposed to really using normal scratching. There's just something about the statement of using a kind of “fake version” of what you're trying to achieve on purpose that I enjoy.

"Sneakers For Men" - the song title came from me scouring Amazon product categories for any kind of title. The original title was "Urban Techno" which was kind of an attempt at being incredibly uncool with an uncool song title.

But I came across "Sneakers For Men" because it had this kind of sense of a metropolitan kind of “skipping down the streets” It has a certain sort of up-tempo vibe that feels like walking with a skip to me. And also there's a bit of a interplay between the idea of “Sneakers for Men” and then “High Heels”. And this curious question that sneakers are generally for men and the idea that you wouldn't interpelllate sneakers as sneakers for me is kind of funny. All shoes are good on everyone. Let's all agree.

Right. Moving right along. The initial ideas for the song came from this little doohickey called ChordSpace, which is a free midi generator keyboard. These look like they're arranged in a pretty strange way. But these are the Roman chord numbers. And it is (I think) around jazz theory around tetrachords, four note chords.

So you've got each Roman numeral chord and its substitutions. For example for chord V, I'm slightly out of my depth here, you have B7 and you also have F minor, which are apparently the chord substitutions for chord V in any key. So in this key of B flat. The actual key ended up being more like A flat major. But anyway, as soon as you hear this stuff, you'll hear how this came out.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

So I would just sort of lay down a tempo track and just tap. And as you can see, there are different results for different chords. But it is a nice way of laying out chords when you don't understand chord theory from a sort of pianist perspective, rather than more of a sort of geometrical perspective. It's a free plug-in that I think only runs in 32-bit Windows, hence why I'm still running in 32-bit Windows. But one of those little sort of machine-assisted type midi generators that I've used a lot on a lot of records in addition to a few others.

But this kind of interrupting a kind of keyboard workflow with the strange diagram. So we have a New Jack Swing beat, we have an intentionally uncool set of sounds. We're trying to be uncool on purpose but sort of being lighthearted and sincere about it at the same time. Hence we've got this upright bass which sounds quote unquote "cool" to me.

The original song was laid up against a breakbeat, which I'll unmute in a second when it comes up. So this breakbeat is not included in the stems because I don't know whether it's my intellectual property or not. I don't know where it came from. It was on a-- it was on a breakbeat pack that I got off the early internet. So here we are.

Anyway, the idea is that we're using breakbeat architecture and a kind of a looped recording as a kind of basis for the rhythms, and then writing something else with oneshots later. So the idea is that this is an audio clip. We can scrub it.

But these ones are sort of the same idea of the beat, but just done with oneshots. So this is the drum sampler. And as always, using the hi-hat to kind of “push” the rhythm at the end of the bars with this kind of broken up hi-hat. We'll mute the break beat again because it's no longer relevant.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Now these two types of transition things I would like to show y'all. And it would be this one: “SweetTynes” which is like an electric piano. That sounds more like a harp. As that's panning left to right, that's actually going through, if I'm not wrong, it's going into-- yeah, it's going into a reverb send which is panning off in the opposite direction.

So this other line of automation down here is actually the effect send for this transition. And I would have moved it in there if later on - working on later records, I would have put that right next to it up here. But we'll keep it where it was just for wholeness’s sake.

So anyway, the tine gliss runs from the left general to the right channel but the reverb send runs from the right to the left. So you have this kind of rotating effect where the sound moves into one ear and then the aftersound moves into the other ear, which you don't really hear in the mix. And I've made it sort of not obvious and not direct with the exact timing of the sort of delayed out any time it moves. It moves semi-opposite. But just not being too rigid about the - not trying to show off. I'm just trying to make space with this.

The other transition element that we can have a look at is the pre-verbs. So it's this audio track here. So that's just the sets of bells. The first note of the sets of bells being sort of this A sharp and this A sharp. They’re run through reverb - a single note - hit and then that's reversed so that you have a reverse echo. And hello to the cars honking outside and beautiful dusky Kowloon. OK.

So you’ve got this build of energy where it sort of feels like this thing's coming out of nowhere and then slams on that first note dry. So it's sort of a wetness kind of echo that comes back to - like bam - and you're on this melody.

And this kind of uncool thing, this whole melody section is just kind of painting by numbers. We're just trying to be - just trying to go with it here. Nothing too engaging. And then there's that glissando from the SweetTynes.

This whole section's about giving the listener a bit of space before the more complicated bits happen. Same preverb.

I like how this change just kind of rolls along. It doesn't sort of surprise the listener yet. There's nothing too mega about any of the sections.

There's quite a nice little pairing of bell sounds between the left and right channels. I will always do this. If I make a sort of bell sound, I'll duplicate - I'm pretty sure this WaterBells left was duplicated to make a HarmoBell on the right. So you basically duplicate the track, change the preset, change the patch, and then pan them left and right so you get a kind of wide sound.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

And there's all kind of background detail. We'd let everything just be driven by the chord progression and the main melodies and nothing too flashy.

In terms of the key, I think it's in A flat major-ish. But there are a lot of minor chords. But what I don't ever really do is minor key music and that's kind of capital S sad. It ends up being more kind of opulent and rich rather than sort of sad. It's a funny dichotomy between major happy, minor sad. I don't really prescribe to it. I've always sort of written in modes and stuff. So I always tend to sort of go halfway between on a minor key. But this kind of C minor 7, D minor 7, C, G minor 7. A flat major 7. So you're hitting the major on the last chord. And one is just a-- pretty sure it's just an inversion of this first section. This is the same chord progression. But the notes have just been moved around a bit.

Yeah, something like that. So what I would do, I'd still do a lot, is take a chord progression that sort of runs. This kind of goes down and up. Just keep inverting it towards a climb. And you get little weird intervals that you’ve got to deal with. But you get the idea.

What else can we say about this funny little tune? Left and right offbeats. Always go to the offbeats. That's something I always do that I sort of a bit - it's a little bit Eyeliner being Eyeliner.

These are bussed out hard left and hard right into a track called “Wide EPiano”. And then we thin up the track using the allocation left and right buses. So it goes in hard left, hard right. And then the group track is used to set the wideness of that bus. It's much easier than trying to dial in something goes left 40, right 40, left 60, right 60. You just got hard left, hard right. And then you use another group channel to change the width of it afterwards.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Trying to find this. There's this one bass note that I really like that I haven't done with much else. Ah, Here it is. Nope. It's bar-- I guess this. We had this little one 16th. Is it even a 16th? Is it 32th? This tiny stutter note that I've only just realized I'm doing that quite on purpose that it crashes again to sort of double accent the one. I really like that. And I'll be using that again in future records. So thank you National Libraries for making me look.

Because it felt a bit too smooth. There wasn't enough skip in this part. But with this kind of double slam, it makes it a bit more unpredictable. But not too unpredictable.

And look at the ending now. These little percussion bits, if I see a space, I'll chuck something in there and try to be as sort of fun-loving as I can. It's got the weird little side stick. Whatever that is. Roto toms. Love roto toms. There's a side stick in the actual main percussion track here.

And in a typical kind of ending where we let it sort of fall apart, just mute sections, mark off time slowly with the kick drum, and roto toms. Little transition effect.

Then this bell. Now that bell at the end is for Daft Punk's "Aerodynamic". I realized when this bell from this Omnisphere patch very quiet in the mix, and very quiet in velocity until the end I think I just take a little zoomy-looky. Yeah, it doesn't really start kicking in til the last few bars of the whole piece.

I just noticed that when I hit this last chord, it sounded a lot like the end of "Aerodynamic" by Daft Punk. And I was like, leave that one in. That's a good song.

The loose sections at the end, there are a lot of ideas here. Hopefully they'll be in the right tempo map. Am I starting on the right bars? Yeah, we look OK. If I'm off time, the shuffle won't work and it'll sound completely discombobulated. So this is slow off beats. This is-- too slow. Then this.

So typical Eyeliner stuff, you get the chord progression, you arpeggiate it. I like the two sections of these two chords. This could have been a little middle eight in there, but I felt like the tune was sort of busy enough or sort of needed to roll along on its own steam without being that interrupted.

I don't know what this one is coming up, but we'll-- I think this is the working section for that middle eight type part. Here's the double note but it hasn't made it onto the slap bass which is this track below. Yeah, this is me just trying to work out that climb, and where we land to.

Yeah, this is a more questioning type version of that bell sound. Too questioning, too like - what are you doing?  
And this is, I think I was-- yeah I was trying to figure out the melody that was coming-- we can figure it out. Yeah. That became this section. This part. This dum, dum, dum, dum, dum just started out as being a kind of sort of phantom. No, wait, wait, this part.

So that whole section that I played previously that made it into the song started with this kind of question and answer - answer. It's more of an answer on its own. It's an answer without a question. This would have been figuring out that second section. Ah, yeah.

Trying variations on-- trying to take this one part, the loops, and building another section onto it. Didn't work. And I believe this is - the first part - was this walking bass line. So it may have been the case that I came up with this walking bassline type thing, and then I grabbed the key - the implied musical key - from this bassline, into ChordSpace and then made the chord structure.

And that's basically "Sneakers For Men". Oh, additional trivia. There is a vaporwave artist called "Haircuts For Men" that I didn't know about. And if I knew about them, I would have not used it as a song because it is too close to their work. But here we are. So sorry if I missed you. "Sneakers For Men."


Migration — a digital preservation action

From an archival perspective, the process whereby Luke creates the file “packages” is effectively a digital-preservation action in its own right, what is known as Migration or “the process of converting digital content from its original file format into a new format that can be accessed.”(8) Migration is an alternative to the other actions discussed above (e.g., replacing original software, emulation).

Having Luke perform this work preemptively is a major advantage of the overall Disasteradio Project approach. Normally, digital archivists at the Library would manage the migration process following receipt of the original files, work that can involve a lengthy process of research and file conditioning to convert the material into stable formats.

The Disasteradio Project represents a major deviation from this archival orthodoxy, migration being undertaken before transfer and by Luke, probably the person best placed to understand his own setup and efficiently accomplish the task.

Discover, research and re-use

The Luke Rowell Collection can be discovered most directly through the Turnbull archival collections database Tiaki, as well as via the National Library website and Digital New Zealand.

The Collection is arranged hierarchically, with an overarching description at the top. At the bottom of the Turnbull archival collections database Tiaki screen, you will find a series of "Child records" that correspond to the album Buy Now.

Clicking on a child record will take you to a page with each individual track listed at the bottom.

Screenshot of Tiaki database.
Screenshot of Tiaki database showing item record display with details about the 'Buy now' album including file types, dates and other descriptive metadata.

Open one of these and you will find item records for each set of production components. To access the actual digital files, follow the links, which open a separate browser tab.

Screenshot view showing the digital archive viewer.
Screenshot view showing the digital archive viewer with various files and stems from the song 'High heels'.

All the files can be viewed, listened to or watched in the browser, from anywhere. Most files — including the audio stems, MIDI, mixes and spreadsheets — can be automatically downloaded, by clicking on a button in the top right of the screen. MIDI and Excel files will automatically download.

For the others, you may be presented with two options. “Download File” enables you to download the single file that is currently playing in the NDHA player. For situations where multiple files are available, such as stems, click on “Download Derivative Copy” to download a ZIP file containing all the files. Please be patient with the download: the ZIP files can be large (1GB or more) and take up to 30 seconds to prepare.

A close-up screenshot indicating where to click in order to download the file from the digital archive.

Download the Luke Rowell Digital Music Collection

Access and download the Luke Rowell Digital Music Collection — Turnbull archival collections database Tiaki.

Creative Commons licence and attribution

Downloadable material is available for anybody to reuse under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence. This means that you can remix, resample, mashup, and rearrange the music, and even upload the result if you wish. The main requirements are that:

  • BY: Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made,
  • NC: NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes, and
  • SA: ShareAlike — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.

Examples of what you could do

To give just a few examples of what you might do, consider the MIDI files available for each track. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and is a method of digitally encoding musical compositions. Much of Luke’s music as Eyeliner is composed using MIDI sequences to trigger simulations of classic synth keyboards such as the Korg M1 or Fairlight CMI.

This approach gives his work its immaculate surface which, as with vaporwave more generally, nostalgically and ironically evokes the popular cultural soundscapes of the 1980s: the ambience of shopping malls, elevator music, and half-remembered television themes. Take the track ‘Pinot Noir’:

Eyeliner, ‘Pinot Noir’ from the album Buy Now

The MIDI for this track could be reprogrammed with different instruments or perhaps stripping back some instrumentation and adding entirely new layers. To give a sense of the possibilities of MIDI re-arrangement or stem remixing, here is ‘Pinot Noir’ remixed by Misled Convoy (a.k.a. Mike Hodgson of group Pitch Black):

Misled Convoy, ‘Pinot Noir (What does wine sound like remix)’, from the album Free

Export sheet music

Using certain DAWs or a scorewriter programme such as Sibelius, you can also import MIDI and, with a little bit of tinkering, export it as sheet music. Here is ‘Pinot Noir’ decanted as a piano arrangement:

Eight bars of music written in black ink with the title in bold at the top.
Eyeliner, ‘Pinot Noir’. Detail of piano arrangement by Luke Rowell. Download full PDF.

Visualisation engine

Or getting a bit more fringe, one could pour the ‘Pinot Noir’ MIDI into a visualisation engine such as Scott Haag's MIDIJam 1.12 (2007) playback software, available here via the Internet Archive:

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=mZ0SA4KPV1s

To be continued...

So there you have it: Buy Now… Free!

As noted above, the Disasteradio Project is still in progress and we hope to have materials for the Disasteradio album Charisma available in the next few months. This will also be followed by some more reflection on the process, and hopefully some guidelines we can share with the music community.

For now, have fun exploring and reusing the Luke Rowell Digital Music Collection — and check out Free – Buy Now: Remixes for some free inspiration.

And please feel free to share your comments, questions, and links to any remixes you come up with, either in the comments below or on our social media feeds, Facebook and Twitter.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the Disasteradio Project team (Flora Feltham, Valerie Love, Zach Webber, Jess Moran); to Kirsty Smith, Mary Hay, Jay Buzenberg, Sholto Duncan, and Chris Szekely; and to Jay Gattuso, Michael Norris and Kane Power for discussions that have fed into this project. Appreciative thanks, of course, to Luke Rowell and everybody involved in the remixes album Free:

A GIF showing six large shapes that alternate colours on a blue background.

Endnotes

  1. Nicholas Cook, Monique M. Ingalls and David Trippett, ‘Introduction’, in Nicholas Cook, Monique M. Ingalls and David Trippett, eds, The Cambridge Companion to Music in Digital Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), p.1.
  2. Sarah Slade, David Pearson and Steve Knight, ‘An introduction to Digital Preservation’ in Lisa Elkin and Christopher A. Norris, eds, Preventive Conservation: Collection Storage (Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections et al), p.811.
  3. American Library Association quoted in Slade, Pearson and Knight, ‘An Introduction’, p.811.
  4. Riccardo Ferrante, ‘Care of Born-Digital Objects’ in Lisa Elkin and Christopher A. Norris, eds, Preventive Conservation: Collection Storage (Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections et al), p.832.
  5. Ferrante, ‘Care’, p.835.
  6. Sarah Slade, David Pearson and Steve Knight, ‘An Introduction’, pp.823-824.
  7. Colin McGuire, ‘The Concrete and the Ephemeral of Electronic Music Production’, Dancecult 6/1 (2014).
  8. Sarah Slade, David Pearson and Steve Knight, ‘An Introduction’, p.823.

Post a blog comment

(Your email will never be made public)
whereistimbo (Timbo Hidayat Siregar)
11 June 2021 1:16am

Such an amazing accomplishment for Luke Rowell's work to be acknowledged by a government agency and preserved in National Library. Not only for Luke Rowell, I believe it's also an amazing accomplishment for VAPORWAVEto be acknowledged and preserved! Kudos to Luke Rowell!

-a broke fan of both eyeliner and vaporwave

Dale Cotton
29 May 2021 1:54pm

Two Words : Denis Smalley ... Yup !