We caught up with Vermont-based producer and record shop owner Greg Davis, for a chat on his sublime new record, upcoming on the greyfade label. ‘New Primes’ is based on a bespoke max/msp patch, to translate prime number sequences into a web of pure microtonal sine waves and Greg gives us some insights on his compositional and technical process.
- Tell us a bit on how this record came to light.
Joe Branciforte, owner of greyfade, emailed me back in 2016 because he had discovered my Primes CD (released on my own Autumn Records label in 2009) and was really into it. The conversation started with a back and forth about how i made that music & geeking out about the max/MSP patch i built for it but after awhile Joe encouraged me to make a newer, updated version of my software system & try to develop some new music from it. in 2018, he was starting to launch greyfade and asked me to make a record for his new label. i kept working on my patch and rebuilding it for an 8 channel performance at the Fridman Gallery in 2019. then from 2019-2021 i worked on finalizing the current patch and recording many different prime number set outputs from it. in 2020, i spent a couple of days with Joe at his studio mixing a bunch of pieces intended for the record. then we worked on selecting, editing, and sequencing the 6 pieces you hear on the record. New Primes is a distinct evolution from Primes but still retains a similar soundworld and tuning relationships.
- Which came first, composition or software (for you)?
For this specific New Primes music, the idea of using prime number sets as a way to determine frequency and tuning relationships came about in 2008 when i was invited by Duane Pitre to compose something for a compilation of music in Just Intonation for Important Records. i wanted to find a unique and personal way to approach JI and this is what i came up with. once i landed on the idea of using prime number sets to set the parameters for all aspects of this generative music then i set about building a max/MSP patch to realize the ideas. I think that when i was first starting with max/MSP i did alot more experimentation, breaking apart existing patches, messing with stuff, building things up from basic tutorial patches, just seeing what specific objects could and discovering cool sounds and things that way, but now, since ive been programming with max/MSP for over 20 years now, i usually start with an idea and build a patch to realize it. as you know though, there is always exapnsion and exploration whenever you build something, it starts as one thing but keeps growing and evolving over time, especially the more you use it.
- Any tips you can share on your patching process? How does a session begin for you on max/msp?
my patching process is always a bit different, but usually it is in service of a musical idea that i want to create. once i build up some basic parts of what im trying to do then it grows and develops from there as i try to refine it and use it make whatever music im trying to make. a patching session can begin in a bunch of different ways for me, sometimes i like to experiment and play around with different sets of objects and their tutorial patches, ripping and pulling bits of patches from different places as i start to put things together. but usually i just start with the blank page! which is one of the most beautiful things about max/MSP. in the end, my patching is always guided by my ear and trying to achieve something that im trying to do sonically / musically. experiments & messing around with patches are good starting points but i always try to refine them to create some sort of sounds that im really resonating with or discover some new sounds that really turns me on or something that im imagining ahead of time for a certain piece of music.
- What’s next? Any plans to perform this material live?
as for this Primes material, i think this is my final statement with this software system and music. it feels like a good resting place for it after the initial ideas sprouted almost 15 years ago now. its cool to take a longer arc of time on something and watch it develop over many years and im really happy with the results of New Primes. i would like to perform this music live a bit after the record comes out. my time and energy for touring and playing shows is super limited these days (i have a family and i own a record shop here in Vermont) but id like to get out there a bit and present this music in different spaces and contexts.