Online festivals have often made us miss physical meetings even more, but Apotome at CTM Festival was a real bright spot of the past year. A long-running creation of composer/researcher Khyam Allami in collaboration with creative studio Counterpoint, it became a tool to explore and a platform for collaboration and expression.

So before talking about Apotome, and its companion tool Leimma, it’s worth spending some time just taking in some of the musical inventions that grew out of this process.

The tools themselves are free to use in-browser (Chrome/Chromium-derived browsers working best):

But rather than just showcasing a technology or getting technical with tuning, the project became a portal to blossoming musical ideas shared between artists. And as another side-benefit of the virtual setting, you can listen and re-listen on-demand.

A highlight for me was absolutely the group performance – for the music itself and also the novel model of collaboration it introduced. That’s available in two parts:

Part 1 – Faten Kanaan with Nene H, Tot Onyx, Enyang Ha, Tyler Friedman, Lucy Railton

Part 2 – Khyam Allami with Nene H, Tot Onyx, Enyang Ha, Tyler Friedman, Lucy Railton
Recorded live on 29 January 2021 at silent green, Betonhalle, Berlin

Long in the works, Khyam Allami’s »Apotome« was unveiled during CTM 2021. This web-based software environment was developed in collaboration with creative studio Counterpoint. Apotome was created as a tool to help counter the cultural asymmetry embedded in modern music-making tools, which share a bias inherited from Western music theory and culture. With this technological experiment in progress, the artists point towards more liberated, creative, inclusive, and culturally balanced music-making processes.

Apotome was showcased at CTM 2021 in various ways, including this live streamed concert in which Khyam Allami premiered new work. MIDI signals from the composer via Apotome were sent individually to synth musicians Enyang Ha, Nene H, Tot Onyx, and Tyler Friedman, who in turn modulated the compositions’ timbre, sounds, and other parameters in a shared live composing process. Cellist Lucy Railton contributed an additional layer of live improvisation.

The work was shown as part of CTM’s trans/local performance series, which featured commissioned works that were live streamed from the silent green Betonhalle venue in Berlin. Each performance united Berlin-based artists with creators in other parts of the world, who explore ways of remote collaborative work and performance.

Commissioned by and premiered at CTM Festival 2021 – Transformation.​

There are also some wonderfully personal and intimate artist “takeovers”. Each of the artists worked with music of their own experience – Arabic songs for Deena Abdelwahed, wind and reed tunings of Sumatra and Java for Wahono, and the generative phrase structures of the software itself for Slikback.

[Deena Abdelwahed’s performance was] created and performed in a single take using Apotome from Deena’s home studio in Toulouse.

Wahono, one third of Uwalmassa and head of the DIVISI62 label, takes over the Apotome generative microtonal music environment. The new work is created and performed in a single take using Apotome from his home studio in Jakarta.

And Slikback, from Kenya:

In a nice inversion of how this process normally works, though, CTM festivalgoers were also invited to book performances online, which were streamed live direct from the online interface, open mic style. And that was great, too, as it meant additional feedback on how the tool works. I gave it a try myself – note that this is distinct from the performances above in that we only had the Web tool as interface, not any external gear. (It is possible to use these tools with other hardware and software workflows, though, which I can talk about separately.)

I actually love the thrill of having something happen real-time, which of course we’ve had less of in the era of the pandemic – you learn something different when you do something on the spot.

I partially deconstructed some of the tunings as there’s an FM voice mixed in, but – if we can use the wildly unpredictable frequency possibilities of FM, why can’t we have proper tuning support, too?

Also, I really love the visualizer they made:

But let’s focus on the tool in the hands of its creator! It also gives you some deeper sense of the way you might approach this compositionally – as well as how this tool can help explore connections, not only treat tuning as fixed and exotic, and even critically so.

He explains that musical investigation:

In this episode of Against The Clock, Allami uses Apotome and Leimma in conjunction with the new Ableton Live 11 to explore African tonalities, specifically in relation to Arabic tuning systems. Through the course of his research, Allami discovered an African tuning system very similar to the Arabic maqam bayati, and uses these as the basis for the session.

“Black history and particularly the music of the African continent is intertwined with the Middle East as a result of slavery and the exploitation of African peoples by the Arabs,” Allami says. “This bitter and under-documented history has led to direct musical influences. The rhythmic influences of Sub-Saharan African music on North Africa and the Gulf has been researched, but the links between African and Arabic tonalities and tunings have been little explored.”

“Upon discovering the possibility of an African root to the quintessential Arab melodic intervals, I wanted to highlight it. Imagining a future-music possibility where the tonalities of the two cultures were treated with the same respect and admiration, within the context of digital music making, is a big undertaking in 10 minutes! I tried my best, but this is only the beginning. Leimma and Apotome make this much easier than ever before, but there’s still lots more to read, research and explore.”

Watch – now one of my new favorites of the Against The Clock series: