Against The Clock is a series where we give an artist 10 minutes in the studio and see what they come up with.

Multidisciplinary artist Mark Fell has been pushing the boundaries of experimental music and sound art since the 1990s, using software tools such as Max/MSP to compose tracks that challenge the conventions of established genre structures. Fell’s son, Rian Treanor, is equally as inquisitive: across records for Planet Mu and The Death of Rave, he has created unclassifiable rave music built around hyperactive digital frameworks.

Both have a keen interest in developing their own software tools to create music, and last year, as the pair were locked down at their family home in Rotherham, they began to develop a collaborative software platform for music production in Max/MSP, which was tested by a group of 10-year-olds from the local area, who recorded sounds at home, arranged them in a sequencer and performed together remotely.

This concept has since expanded into Intersymmetric Sequencer 1, an online collaborative instrument commissioned by Sheffield’s No Bounds Festival for its 2021 edition. The instrument is a multiplayer drum machine that allows people to connect remotely with shared interfaces, pattern generation and sound synthesis, all of which can be tweaked in real time by any user.

Earlier this month, Fact travelled to the north of England for what might be our most ambitious episode of Against the Clock yet, featuring Fell, Treanor, a group of aspiring young producers and Fell’s mother Doreen, all collaborating in real time from different locations. In order to fully test the real-time capabilities of the software, Fell connected from the Peak District National Park, while a group of young people from Highfield Adventure Playground performed from their exhibition at Yorkshire Artspace in Sheffield alongside Treanor.

“Part of our idea was how can we make a multiplayer drum machine that kids can use to make club music,” Treanor explains of the software, which is intended to be accessible to those with little or no musical training. “It’s a standard drum machine – but there are macro controls mapped to other parameters that are going off under the hood. That type of thing takes a while to program, but with a macro controller you have an immediate playability and that’s how this instrument developed.”

“That’s what we’re exploring today – getting a group of people together, and the fine tuning things are already there, so the things we’ll be doing is making noises and patterns with it and seeing how we can control it as a group remotely.”

Both Rian Treanor and Mark Fell will be presenting individual projects at No Bounds Festival, which takes place from Friday, October 15 to Sunday, October 17 at multiple venues across Sheffield. Fell will be presenting a site-specific spatial sound work called Interchange, composed for the Maltby Miners’ Welfare Band, which distributes the players around Sheffield’s Pond Street bus station and responds to the building’s sonic character. Treanor will be premiering a new live dance performance with Leila Ziu.

You can play Intersymmetric Sequencer 1 for yourself here. For more information on this year’s No Bounds Festival, including tickets and lineup, visit its website.

Intersymmetric Sequencer 1

Developed by Mark Fell and Rian Treanor
Programming by James Bradbury
Graphic Design by Joe Gilmore
Commissioned by No Bounds 2021 

Thanks to No Bounds, Site Gallery, Yorkshire Artspace, Hope Works, Highfield Adventure Playground, Christopher Jarratt and all participants

Watch next: Against The Clock: Blue Lab Beats

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