Merlin Ettore combines percussion, live electronics and machine learning

Exploring the interplay between acoustic, analogue and computational processes.

Dominant Patterns is an electrifying snapshot of the improvisational, hybrid audiovisual practice of Merlin Ettore, recorded in the artist’s Berlin studio over three days back in February. Layering acoustic percussion, live electronics and custom-made GAN animations, Ettore has developed a richly textured and hyperkinetic mode of performance which takes the form of a kind of multidisciplinary improvisation. “This musical work is essentially a snapshot of my exploration process towards the interplay and dialogue of live drums and electronics, he explains. “Everything is improvised and spontaneously manoeuvred. The base concept of my setup is that it should sound like one single sonic source. I am constantly trying to find ways to ‘glue’ the sound together.”

Merlin Ettore

“Very often the electronic counterpart is reactive to my drum sound,” he continues, “meaning that the drum performance controls and expresses the parameters of the machines, this impacts my musical choices as I am listening to what is happening in the machines and use that as inspiration to come up with the drum patterns and vice versa, I try to “excite” or articulate the electronic sounds using my drums as a remote control.” Unleashing waves of dense, distorted noise, Ettore punctuates analogue synthesis with primal drum improvisations, weaving ragged polyrhythms into the sonic fabric of his performance, mixed by none other than Emptyset’s James Ginzburg. “My modules are controlled via audio to CV conversion with envelope followers,” he explains. “The saturation is created by feedback loops inside the mixer multiplying the stereo drum mix and layering it on itself with different compressors in the processing chain.” 

Merlin Ettore

For the visual element, Ettore created his own GAN animations as mind-expanding visualisations of his singular sound. “All the models are custom made,” he says. “I tamper with data sets, morph models together and interrupt the training progress to create abstract results. The mixed input data sets that are used for training are treated kind of like my colour palette. The second stage comes to the selection of synthesised new iterations of these models that I align to a linear interpolation (latent space) video export. Afterwards, the resolution of these exports are enhanced with an AI-based upscaling software.” Cutting between high-intensity performance footage and these machine learning-driven animations, Dominant Patterns represents a holistic snapshot of Ettore’s practice, a seamless fusion of acoustic, analogue and computational process.

You can find Merlin Ettore on Instagram and check out his music at Bandcamp. He has a new EP forthcoming as Sorcery, which will be released via Bedouin Records.

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