Computers and Africa

02021-03-17 | Computer, Jon Gagan | 3 comments

I am learning how to use a program called Live, made by a company called Ableton. Ableton is headquartered in Berlin and consists of 350 people from 30 different countries. The software has been around for almost twenty years and for much of that time I have used it for really simple things, like taking a drum performance and slowing it down, or speeding it up. In the lingo of Live this is called warping.

Last year I started looking at what my next studio might look like. I have always used ProTools for recording, mixing, and mastering and that’s the software I am most comfortable with. I am pretty sure christmas + santa fe, released in 2000, was the first album I recorded with ProTools. I am using a very old version of the software, 6.9.1, because that’s all my old studio computer can handle. At some point I will have to switch to a newer computer, which is why I am thinking about my next computer as well as the software that I might use. I looked into Logic, but it feels like software for a keyboard player. Great for a person who uses MIDI, but I don’t use MIDI. I installed Luna, but that didn’t feel right to me either. Perhaps I am simply too used to ProTools and therefore I can’t see the possibilities of the other applications. This might be so. However, with Live I do see new possibilities.

In the last few weeks and months I watched a whole bunch of videos on how to use Live and try to work with the app for a few hours every day. Slowly, I understand it a little more. The software might not work as well for audio editing as ProTools does, but I want to try to record “slow2” with it. There is no better way to learn a method than by using it.

Today I messaged Jon that it might be easier for me to work with Live if I had a nice, big external monitor – because Live feels very dense on my laptop. There is a lot packed into the screen space. Our chat turned from huge screens for computers to using goggles instead because they would use less resources… once they exist. Jon wrote that one might need a larger mouse for a huge screen. I replied that it should be called an elephant. Then I wrote that it would be even better if I didn’t have to sit at a computer. If there were cameras in the room, connected to the computer, I could indicate the amount using the space between thumb and finger. Jon mentioned wanting to be able to conduct the software, rather than having to write automation.

Then I mentioned that Brian Eno said in an interview that computers didn’t have enough Africa in them. That led to this TED talk about Fractals at the Heart of African Designs. The talk explains that binary fractal code was used in Africa and then…

In the 12th century, Hugo of Santalla brought it from Islamic mystics into Spain. And there it entered into the alchemy community as geomancy: divination through the earth. This is a geomantic chart drawn for King Richard II in 1390. Leibniz, the German mathematician, talked about geomancy in his dissertation called “De Combinatoria.” And he said, “Well, instead of using one stroke and two strokes, let’s use a one and a zero, and we can count by powers of two.” Right? Ones and zeros, the binary code. George Boole took Leibniz’s binary code and created Boolean algebra, and John von Neumann took Boolean algebra and created the digital computer. So all these little PDAs and laptops — every digital circuit in the world — started in Africa. And I know Brian Eno says there’s not enough Africa in computers, but you know, I don’t think there’s enough African history in Brian Eno.

There you have it. Africa is at the heart of computers.


  1. Steve

    I have to say: I was most impressed / surprised with the performance of … a mac mini. Its running Apple’s M1 CPU and it quite impressive. I think the M1 is a game changer, and I know that phrase is used often but I think it applies here.

    I have been a Logic user since the beginning: back when they were called Emagic and weren’t owned by Apple. Emagic was another German software company but not Berlin like Ableton. I forget where Emagic is originally from in Germany.

    You are right: Logic is a bit midi-centric, but the midi capabilities (especially the midi editor) can do things that would be time consuming, tedious or just impossible in most DAWs. Of course if you don’t use midi none of that matters or impresses you. The nice thing is that all the editing capabilities that Logic has for midi data is also applicable to audio data.

    Logic on an M1 mini is pretty amazing.

    • ottmar

      That’s great to hear. I am hoping to upgrade my aging laptop to a MacBook Pro with the new chip.

      I hear what you are saying about Logic. I didn’t like not being able to choose the zero crossing on which to edit. PT gives me that and so I stuck with them. Ableton is at the other end of the spectrum. It’s ability to recognize patterns and beats is pretty astonishing. Since I don’t use MIDI I feel that Ableton can give me more in terms of playing with the sound of my guitar.

      I wonder how much harder it gets to switch when one is used to PT or to Logic for a decade, say, and what that means about our ability to consider a different POV when it comes to politics, for example.

      • JaneParhamKatz

        I just have to say I’m so glad Ottmar is going to get an updated system!


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