David Davies speaks to FLUX project creator, former King Crimson guitarist/singer and all-round musical renaissance man Adrian Belew, to find out if his new FLUX project is a music app, an audio manipulation tool or even a radical new approach to live performance…
If you’ve spent any real time exploring the darker, stranger reaches of rock over the last 30 years, you won’t have failed to encounter Adrian Belew in at least one of his many guises. From featured guitarist with Frank Zappa’s frequently jaw-dropping late 1970s band to a driving force of the post-new wave reboot of King Crimson in the ‘80s (best sampled on long-term PSNEurope favourite Discipline), and beyond that to an eclectic body of solo work that most recently yielded the 43-minute through-composition ‘e’, Belew has been an admirably questing force in modern music.
But these often ambitious undertakings almost pale a little when compared to the scale of his new, cross-disciplinary project, FLUX. Encompassing a multi-effects audio processor app for the iPad, a music app featuring hundreds of newly recorded pieces, and even a fresh approach towards live performance, FLUX has occupied the greater part of the last two years of Belew’s working life. “It’s a massive project and we’re still tweaking now [but] we are planning for launch in November,” says Nashville-based Belew, who guided PSNEurope through the finer intricacies of FLUX in the company of his engineer and co-developer colleague Daniel Rowland (pictured with Belew on guitar, above).
FLUX… the music app
For some time prior to the full-scale initiation of the project, Belew had been pondering the notion of delivering “music that never played the same way twice”. He had already stockpiled many short extracts when a conversation with an old friend, MobGen creative director Nick Mueller, convinced him that a dedicated music app represented the best way forward.
The result, two years on, is a vast collection of several hundred partial- and full-songs, everyday household sounds and all manner of other aural material making up a music app in which “everything is chopped up into random bits,” says Belew. “Every now and then you hear a whole song, but mostly just a portion of it. Songs and sounds do repeat themselves over time, [but] the basic idea is that you are constantly surprised and sent off in another direction. I also think this reflects the way in which people experience music these days… it’s rare that they will sit down and listen to an hour of music [all the way through].”
Belew obviously can’t be sure how long people will surrender to the FLUX experience on any give occasion, but suggests that 30 minutes of “being on this randomised musical rollercoaster” might be about right. The app is currently with Apple for approval, although Belew and Rowland – who is also on the Music Tech Faculty of Middle Tennessee State University – are continuing to finetune the amount of content that will actually be included.
“There is a lot of content, including video, and we are working to make it as lightly compressed as humanly possible because we don’t want it to be so bloated that people won’t download it. [At the same time] we don’t want to degrade the sonics of the music so we will pull out songs before we do that,” says Rowland, who anticipates higher bit-rate conventional CD or Super Audio releases of some material further down the line.
Fresh off a tour playing King Crimson classics with former KC colleagues Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto, Belew is continuing to record new music for the app at his home studio. With the assistance of Rowland, Belew’s “pretty streamlined” digital set-up revolves around a computer, Metric Halo ULN-8 interfaces and Genelec 1040 monitors (he still owns a classic Neotek console, but it's in storage). Pro Tools HD is the primary recording platform, although Ableton Live also sees service – not least in conjunction with the vast array of gear occupying a converted walk-in space.
Rowland explains the origins of the so-called Magic Closet (pictured): “The closet has over 70 pedals, along with iPads, Maschine, Push, Kemper, Axe FX, theremins, tape machines, [an Eventide] H3000 [Harmonizer], various amps, guitar synths and more. Each piece of gear is individually wired to the five 48-point bays, so along with some Great Divide routing hardware and Pigtronix Keymasters you can get a number of different parallel paths, feed them back in to each other, and multitrack everything to eight tracks in Pro Tools or Ableton. It’s reamping and sound design heaven!”
FLUX… the production app
As it turns out, the Magic Closet also offers more than a few clues to the nature of the iPad audio production app (“FLUX:FX is basically our portable version of it,” says Rowland). It was Mueller’s suggestion that the eternally tech-savvy Belew consider developing his own audio production app, and over the last few years that too has taken shape – in this case through collaboration with MobGen and audio software developer elephantcandy under the collective umbrella of NOII.SE.
Designed for studio and live applications, FLUX:FX allows users to manipulate any audio signal with an “almost unlimited” range of effects options. It should not, however, be construed as a replacement for existing effects processors and pedals. “What is cool about this is that there are so many combinations that you could never otherwise make, and also by the nature of the way it operates [the result] is always going to be random to a certain degree,” says Belew. “It doesn’t really change all the stuff I have or replace it; instead, it’s a crazy addition.”
“Virtually all” audio interfaces will work with the production app, which features more than 30 studio-quality effects and the ability to chain five together for greater aural impact. Belew is currently assessing the extent to which he can incorporate the app into this autumn’s Power Trio tour, but is confident of greater integration for subsequent road work.
In the meantime, he is hopeful that the FLUX project, and in particular the music app, will provide a constructive complement to the increasingly fractured consumption patterns of the digital music era. “These days most people hear little snippets because that is how the internet has told people to process information,” he says. “Music doesn't reflect that and to date no one has really made use of [that change]… but FLUX does.”