HONG KONG pt. 1 : Beyond Digital 852

NOTE: This post went live on the Dutty Artz site 2 weeks ago, a few hours before a deep glitch sent the site offline, so although the Hong Kong trip has already happened, nobody got to read this preview writeup. Check back in a few days for the recap.


I’m about to hop on a 16-hour nonstop flight to Hong Kong (via the Arctic Circle?), where, timeslipped 13 hours ahead into my sleep-deprived Eastern future I’ll step off the plane and head straight to lead a workshop with a half-dozen traditional musicians from HK and my man Chief Boima. What’s going on?! Continue reading HONG KONG pt. 1 : Beyond Digital 852


I have been talking about Sufi Plug Ins for awhile now… But before we get to the download of version 1.0, let’s start at the beginning:

What on earth are Sufi Plug Ins?

[screenshot from Sufi Plug Ins’ clapping drum machine, PALMAS]

To understand where the project is coming from, we must rewind a bit: As a DJ, I’ve always been interested in the creative mis-use of technology. The Art of DJing began, quite literally, with kids in the Bronx using vinyl and record players in ways for which they were not designed. The Technics 1200 turntable was built to be robust enough to withstand constant playback at radio stations. Guys like Kool Herc and Grand Wizard Theodore used its toughness and transformed it into a realtime performance tool. Similarly, ‘finished’ songs pressed on wax were treated with a brilliant irreverence (doubling, scratching, blending, etc), accelerated and reshaped to become elements of an improvisational mix.

[Grand Wizard Theodore on left]

The genius of those early hiphoppers remains a huge inspiration. They took devices intended for playback only and taught kids all over the world to think of records and turntables as hackable tools, as fragments of a conversation, as ours to open up and tinker with. This participates in a long tradition of radicality in black American music – but we’ll save that talk for another time. When I started making music with a computer after years of DJing, I approached the software with very much a DJ mentality, that deep impulse to push the gear – as well as ideas about what a song or performance is – beyond its normal limits, to flip and extend the possible. Which brings us to the next stage…

[Nettle: Abdelhak Rahal on left, myself, cellist Brent Arnold]

When I lived in Barcelona, Spain, I worked a lot with Moroccan violinist Abdelhak Rahal. The 4/4 time signature that virtually all music software defaults to was not the norm for Abdel, steeped as he was in the rich polyrhythmic diversity of Maghrebi & Arabic music. I would try to bend the software towards these rhythms and he would attempt to make long, sliding violin melodies make sense over stuff like a looping hiphop beat – ‘monorhythmic’ the way the software intended. It was fun, rewarding work. Here’s an essay I wrote about music-making in those days, more than seven years ago now! I learned a lot about Moroccan music, yes, but I also learned a lot about the many assumptions built into music software, which is written almost exclusively in Germany (Ableton, Native Instruments, Steinberg) and the U.S.

Sufi Plug Ins grew out of those experiences. After more than 10 years of working with music software, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what values the good folks in Berlin, Hamburg, and Silicon Valley believe is important in music software. But what about other groups, people whose music has inspired me from traditions far from the Eurocentric / Western norm?

[screenshot from Sufi Plug Ins’ BAYATI synthesizer]

What if you could make music software with *different* assumptions, limitations, and beliefs built into it? For example, if West African griots were to design music software, what concepts and functionalities would they be most concerned about translating into the digital? Or a Berber muezzin, who performs the call-to-prayer beautifully but frowns upon music – could one make music software for him? This is not a rhetorical question – we did. It’s called Devotion, and it’s one of 7 different plug-ins we built and are giving away for free. They include 4 unique synthesizers, a drone box, and a clapping drum machine. Here is the Instructional Video for Devotion:

So – with all this in mind, let’s return to the question

What on earth are Sufi Plug Ins?

I can offer at least three answers:

The Big Picture Answer. Sufi Plug Ins is a an interdisciplinary project dedicated to exploring non-western & poetic notions of sound in interaction with alternative interfaces. (When we say ‘alternative’, we mean it.) I’m hoping to return to Cairo to do some music software teaching and take requests for further Sufi Plug Ins from some of the talented kids over there. Listen to them, figure out what kind of tool could be useful to their very specific circumstances, then build it.

The Immediate Answer. Sufi Plug Ins v1.0 is a suite of seven free audio tools for Ableton (Max for Live), including include four distinct synthesizers hardwired to North African & Arabic maqam scales with quartertone tuning built-in, a device called Devotion which lowers your computer’s volume 5 times a day during call to prayer (presets include Agnostic, Fervent, Devout), and a drone machine. The interface is written in the Berber language of Tamazigh, using their neo-Tifinaght script. Roll-over info texts provide fragments of Sufi poetry (plus a little Jean Toomer).

The Answer In Which you Find Yourself. As tools, Sufi Plug Ins are what you do with them. We make the synth, you make it sing. Connect it to whatever else you’ve got going on in your toolbox… Plug-ins, by definition, are about interdependency.

You can check out some of the early reactions – here’s a lovely write-up by the wizards of Ableton Live, and a smart article over at Create Digital Music.

The plug-ins themselves have been available individually for over a week, but today we’re doing the full official launch. Ableton Live users equipped with Max For Live, head here to download. Not a producer? Don’t use Ableton? No worries: Even if you don’t make music, you can show your support of Sufi Plug Ins with a nice t-shirt.

White logo on black cotton. $20 for U.S. orders includes shipping, $25 includes airmail shipping to rest of world.

U.S. orders – choose your size

* * *

International orders – choose your size

* * *

I also made artist print versions of the Bayati synth and Palmas drum machine plug-ins, available in an edition of 7.

Let’s close with the Instructional Video for Drone. This should explain everything you need to know about this particular Sufi Plug In, and helps voice the project as a whole:


Fantastic, ear- and mind-opening radio show this Monday, thanks to special guest Chris Kirkley of SahelSounds and the Music for Saharan Cellphones comp (among other projects).

Got some great feedback from this show, like this email: “your interview with Chris Kirkley was inspiring …great job ..its amazing because each time he played something i wanted to ask him a question and you asked the same question right afetrwards…i like his method of finding weddings by taxi ..what an optimist !! I love the idea that music ends up being spread by whatever technology is widely available in this case via the shitty speaker of a cell phone …soundwise not so different from transistor radios 40 years ago …some great music he found …hes a brave man”

you can listen up here :

As always, you can subscribe to the Mudd Up! podcast for downloadable versions, issued about a week after FM broadcast: , Mudd Up! RSS. Also useful: WFMU’s free iPhone app. We also have a version for Android (search for “WFMU” in the marketplace).



[The poster uses 3 alphabet character sets: Arabic, Tifinagh, Latin]

This Friday we’re presenting Beyond Digital Morocco at the Cinematheque de Tanger, then moving outdoors for a free concert featuring Nettle (here in Morocco Nettle is a trio: myself, Lindsay Cuff, and Brent Arnold) and Hassan Wargui (Imanaren). All happening in Tangiers’ incredible medina.

Nettle is from NYC, and Hassan’s from Souss Berber country in Morocco’s south — we’re using these days to develop and record new songs together. It’s not that music ‘transcends’ language, it’s that music is language, and our motley crew is enjoying its communicative glow. Lindsay’s learning the words (in the Berber language of Tashelhit) to an Archach song we’ll cover; Hassan’s Amazigh banjo lines help us extend ‘Mole in the Ground’ even further; Abdellah’s joining in on rebab and bendir… and things are just getting started.

Here’s a quick video of our first practice together:


RSVP on the Facebook event page if you’d like to let the C.I.A. know you support us. Offline, we’re making event posters at a truly special letterpress studio that’s been open for over half a century.

bonus: late-night afterparty at Morocco Palace (located on a street called ‘the Devil’s Alley’, one block over from Tangiers’ synagogue, which had a congregation of around 200,000 during its heyday) with Adil El Miloudi!!


I’m very excited to present this video. It’s a short Behind The Scenes look at our Beyond Digital: Morocco art project. You can also check out my series of Fader posts, and the BD website itself, but this video is by far the best summary and explanation of what we were up to in June, and in so doing it provides glimpses of what’s to come: an incredible photo series by John Francis Peters; poignant video essays by Maggie Schmitt and Juan Alcon Duran; my free Max4Live audio tools suite, Sufi Plug-Ins; Maghrebi percussion sample pack & music by Maga Bo; and more… We are also doing an event in Tangier on September 9th, info next week.

Auto-tune lovers take note: the video previews a snippet from the best auto-tune interview ever, when we spoke with Moroccan pop star Adil El Miloudi in his home.


Adil El Miloudi: “Autotune gives you a ‘me’ that is better.”



[Rainstorm in Issafn, photo by John Francis Peters for The Fader]

The group blog over at our Beyond Digital: Morocco site has been lively as things accelerate. Each week John Francis Peters and I find time to join photos and text documenting some of our time here. The series is here, and you can go direct to this week’s post – Village Boys, Village Magic, and the Best Breakfast Ever.

excerpt 1

Issafn’s empty adobe houses crumble back into the rocky landscape. It’s newer self-built cinderblock palaces line a sliver of green—date palms, figs, monstrous olive trees—around a riverbed that’s walkable barring flash-floods. Ten years ago Issafn had no electricity. Powerlines were strung when the new king came to power, and now local hiphop crews post online videos of themselves rapping in Tashelhit. Hassan and his buddies put together an hourlong DVD (that’s genre-scramble seems inspired by Bollywood’s action-romance-spy-comedy-melodrama-all-at-once attitude) that they shot in the hills. The women still haul water up from the creek pre-dawn, and the cybercafe’s sign has been around so long that it’s rusted, nearly out of legibility. What’s gonna happen in the next decade?

Maghreb Mix Party, Track 9 (Sexy Back Blend) by The FADER



[The King’s Speech, photo by John Francis Peters for The Fader]

excerpt 2

Walking around Issafn, we are the aliens. Most of our crew doesn’t speak Arabic or French, not that those would help much. Tashelhit is the first language of everybody else here, and many of the older generation don’t speak Arabic. So communication turns into gestures and patience. We learn that the Berber term for beetle is iguiliguiz, a word impossible to pronounce without smiling. We learn that a great magic bird named Baz taught people in this land how to make music. We learn that honeycomb and homemade almond paste and olive oil and round bread is the best breakfast ever.

Maghreb Mix Party, Track 10 by The FADER


As announced in this post, the Mudd Up Book Clubb kicks off this month. We have a time and location now: It’s going down on Monday June 27th, at 7pm on the rooftop near rue Jean Jaures in Gauthier, Casablanca. It’s a particularly appropriate place to sit down and discuss Maureen F. McHugh’s Nekropolis, a science fiction novel set in 22nd century Morocco involving biochemical slavery, immigration, genetic chimeras and more. See the original post for more info on the event and the book.

We’ll have a Ustream feed going for everyone elsewhere. I’m looking at a Filastine’s Barcelona rooftop for the next edition, let’s keep these pages turning…


last minute but hey – tonight we’re giving a free party at the Instituto Cervantes in Casablanca, Morocco. Info here (francais, arabic, espanol).

The party kicks off this week’s Beyond Digital series at the Instituto Cervantes. All events are free and open to the public, and will be conducted primarily in French.


[photo by John Francis Peters]

Tomorrow, Wednesday June 22, we’ll be having a work-in-progress presentation on our Beyond Digital project.

And on Thursday June 23, Fader photo editor John Francis Peters will give a photo workshop session, walking us through his editing process and approach to documentary photography. His growing body of work here is stunning, check our weekly Fader updates for a taste.



Mardi 21, mercredi 22 et jeudi 23 juin

Beyond Digital présente un projet qui vise la relation qu’il y a entre le digital et le traditionnel dans le monde contemporain de la musique chaabi et bereber. Avec la collaboration d’une équipe internationale d’artistes, le projet explore le monde de cette musique à travers l’usage de la vidéo, de la photographie et de la collaboration musicale.

Mardi 21 juin à 21h DJ Sessions avec DJ/Rupture et Maga Bo. Deux DJs de renom international qui proposent une soirée sans frontières. Maga Bo: basse transnational. DJ/Rupture : rythmes inattendus, intelligent + dansant.

Mercredi 22 juin à 19h Introduction: work-in-progress (travaux en cours). L’équipe de Beyond Digital partage un échantillon du travail accompli jusqu’à présent à Casablanca : fragments de vidéo, musique, photographie, encore inachevés. Une invitation à venir débattre et à participer.

Jeudi 23 juin à 19h Atelier: édition de photographie. John Francis Peters, éditeur de photographie de la revue new-yorkaise Fader et photographe de Beyond Digital, nous montre ses photos faites à Casablanca et avec ce matériel – en plus d’autres ouvrages de photographie documentaire – nous propose un atelier participatif sur le travail d’édition.



[M’hamed Tijdity at Le Comptoir Marocain de Distribution de Disques, photo by John Francis Peters for The Fader]

Head over to The Fader to check out the first of my weekly Morocco updates for the month of June, accompanied by photos from John Francis Peters and, of course, music.

excerpt 1:

Forget Bogart. Casablanca is an utterly modern city, North Africa’s largest, with traffic-choked roadways and upscale neighborhoods and swaths of shantytowns whose residents have satellite dishes but no running water. While most tourists skip Casa to spend their dirhams in more scenic towns, the gritty magnet metropolis pulls in folks from all over the country looking for work, and powers Morocco’s music and art scenes. I’m here for a month with FADER photo editor John Francis Peters and an international crew of six others. Music brought us. . .

excerpt 2:

This next tune is a song halfway between traditional Berber songs from rural Morocco—popularized in the 1970s by Le Comptoir’s main artist, Mohammed Rouicha—and our Auto-Tuned, pixelated tomorrow. It’s by Adil El Miloudi. Adil performs across Europe and tells me that this summer he’ll be making appearances in to Florida and Boston, for the first time. His breakthrough song, “Nothing Nothing”, has well over a million YouTube views. Adil lives in Kenitra and performs regularly at a Tangier nightclub called the Morocco Palace (free entrance but they gouge you on shisha and drink prices).

The Palace has a light-up disco dance floor and really good subwoofers. Everything else is covered in intricate Islamic pattern woodcarvings, except the enormous flatscreen TV right above the stage, which is set to a music video channel and is never, ever turned off, even when live bands are performing underneath it. Adil rolls around town with a phalanx of young guys whose primary duty seems to be handing him various cellphones at the appropriate moment. I know this because, after calling several of those phones, I found myself, along with Maga Bo, at Adil’s house at four in the morning a month ago. “This is Tom,” he said, pointing at his manager. “And this is Jerry,” he said, pointing at his cat.

Adil El Miloudi, “Track 2” by The FADER