Sometimes life takes a major unexpected turn.

Well, friends, this is one of those times. My official association with E-MU Systems is coming to an end. Basically, it appears that our parent company Creative Technology Ltd. has some serious plans for E-MU, and those plans do not include my continuing to work there. So 4 1/2 years of leading the group responsible for award-winning products such as Emulator X2 (winner of the coveted mipa Award) and bringing E-MU to the Mac OSX platform, and six years with the larger organization, comes to a quiet and somewhat undignified conclusion.

Manager, E-MU Software Engineering, March 2003 – July 2007.

It is sad to leave behind friends with the local group, and I do worry a bit for those who remain behind. I am actually looking forward to some of the opportunities ahead for myself. Rather than jump right back into the job market, I think this is a good time to reflect and consider some ideas more ambitious or rewarding than a simple paycheck. Though I do suspect I'll start missing that in a month or so.

For now, things should pretty much go ahead as normal for those of us at CatSynth HQ. And of course this site continues as well. I have been planning to do more weekly features like Weekend Cat Blogging and the CatSynth Channel podcasts, including a weekly CD or film review. I may start a weekly feature on being unemployed as well…for as long it lasts.

Preparing for tonight's performance: Cats, Rehearsal and Software

First, I have to remind myself to ABC: Always Bring a Camera. I missed several photo opportunities before and during our rehearsal in San Francisco on Wednesday. There were some great shots on the new Central Freeway terminal ramp. And then the “kitty moments” during the rehearsal with Polly Moller and John Moreira. I did snap this cell-phone pic of John Moreira's cat Crescenda rolling around among our cue sheets and amps. She and her fellow cat Pearl joined us several times during the rehearsal, but Crescenda's little act stole the show.

Musically, I had a minimal setup – a subset of what brought to the Skonkathon two weeks ago – just the MacBook, the E-MU 0202 | USB and a MIDI keyboard. The Mac was running the new script-based Open Sound World to process live guitar input. The processing worked quite well, I think, with several wavetables, ring modulation, and a rather nasty little FM algorithm (it's a lot like those distortion-modulation “sound mangler” pedals). Both the guitar and processing needed to fit within pieces with voice, flute and existing electronic material.

UPDATE: You can read Polly's account of the rehearsal and Crescenda here.

The one concern was the frequent OSW crashes – it wasn't a huge problem during the rehearsal because the system can reset itself very quickly (far more quickly than the older UI-centric version), with only a few seconds of dead time. But still, that's not cool. I suspected something related to the MIDI input handling. Fortunately, last night I was able to track down the crashes last night. They were indeed in the MIDI handling, some issues exposed by the multi-processing with the Core2 Duo. Easily found and fixed by playing the patch with a lot of MIDI control, with the laptop and keyboard on the coffee table. Actually, I made some interesting lo-fi music with the built-in mic and speaker and feedback while testing and debugging. This will probably form the basis of my next piece.

Preparing for tomorrow's today's performance, part 2

Things were looking pretty dire yesterday afternoon, with major audio problems on both the PC and Mac. Without going into details, I was getting intermittent pops, clicks and stutters on the PC, and the Mac was simply outputting something wrong. Eventually, I was able to get the mac working with clean audio, so that became the computer for today's performance, together with an E-MU 0202 | USB and an Xboard.

Basically, the mac is running Open Sound World, more specifically, the latest version that works with my new Python interface. Without the pesky graphical interface, the system is rock solid and a lot more efficient to program. It's more akin to SuperCollider or the practice of “live coding”, if you are familiar with either of those. So with this setup, I was able to get things up and running for today very quickly. And it is rock solid, though I don't want to jinx the actual performance too much by describing all the things that didn't happen.

The “instrument” for today allows two live recordings to be played back at various rates, controlled by the MIDI keyboard and knobs. I will be playing several of my Indian instruments to feed the recordings, in particular the ektar (single-string instrument) and the gopichand (also single string, with a bendable neck for pitch modulation).

Of course, the ketzela wants to get in the act again, too:

One last-minute change was dealing with my Xboard killing itself (something stupid on my part, really). Fortunately, I also have the Novation keyboard as a backup, and although the keyboard itself isn't as good, the controllers are a better fit.

The setup is also extremely compact. This is all I have to carry:

Well, actually, this and the folding table I usually bring. Still, it will be very light and relatively easy to set up (especially as the mac boots very quickly).

New Podcast: Synth Summit at Luggage Store Gallery, July 2004

Tonight's podcast is an excerpt from the “Synthesizer Summit” at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco. Basically, the performance is an improvisation by several artists playing hardware synths. If I recall correctly, the artists and their respective synths were:

Synthia Payne: Roland JP8000
Amar Chaudhary: E-MU Proteus 2000 (Mo'Phatt + Vintage) and Morpheus
LX Rudis: Oberheim Matrix 12
Jim Ryan: Arp 2600
Will Grant: E-MU UltraProteus

Note: many subscribers may have heard another excerpt fromt the Synthesizer Summit that I accidentally released a few weeks back instead of the advertised Woodstockhausen 2003 performance (that has since been corrected).

RPM continues

I actually had a very productive day working on the RPM Challenge. I now have three “completed” tracks, one half-baked, and the prologue and epilogue tracks done. However, that is only about 12 minutes, one third of the required length (35 minutes). Here's a little from the latest RPM blog entry (and this one is relatively optimistic):

Well, it looks like I managed to finish another track for tonight, it's entitled “ghanaplasticity”, named for the demo on a hacked E-MU Morpheus that I used as the original source. I then imported the source into Emulator X2 and performed it using the keyboard to process the original in a variety of ways.

Compared to the previous tracks, this one was remarkably quick to produce, and quite a pleasure to create. It was more like a live performance. I can listen to the seemingly strange timbres and rhythms and intuitively find something to enjoy in it, much like I do in abstract visual art.

So this one feels right, while the more structured tracks feel half baked at this time, which is why things have dragged on this long. So the question becomes, do I give up on structure and composition in order to “get this thing done?”

Other RPM participants can hear the works in progress using the Sample Engine. Everyone else will have to wait until at least next podcast, which is probably this coming Sunday.

E-MU Introduces Beta Mac OS X Drivers For 0202 And 0404 USB 2.0 Interfaces

I suppose on the eve of MacWorld, I can take a moment to brag about a recent Mac-related accomplishment of mine:

E-MU® Systems has announced the release of a Beta Macintosh OS X driver (Apple CoreAudio) for its 0202 USB 2.0 audio interface and 0404 USB 2.0 audio/MIDI interface…
…E-MU's new Beta Macintosh OS X driver is now available for free download at

New Podcast: Fun w/ Emulator X and harmonica samples

I spent a little time yesterday experimenting with modulated loop selection in Emulator X on a variety of sounds. One sound set that I particularly enjoyed playing was a set of blues harmonica samples at freesound created by TexasMusicForge. For those who are not familiar with the freesound project, it is a great collection of user-submitted samples licensed via the Creative Commons. Anyhow, I created a new EX instrument based on these samples and added multiple loops to a couple of them (actually up to 60 loops in one of the samples!), modulated with random LFOs. The result was quite playable – you can hear an example on the podcast. I would ultimately like to create a full composition with this instrument by refining this improvisation and combining it with other elements. It's not a sound I have used very much in the past, so I'm interested to see what I can do with it.

Preparing for tomorrow's radio performance and more ICMC

In order prepare for tomorrow’s performance on WTUL 91.5FM, I have set up a “compact” system here in a corner of the hotel room with laptop, audio interface, mic, small tablet and keyboard:

The only thing I wasn’t able to get running simultaneously was the Evolver, which is only used for a small part of the performance – the problem was not enough nearby outlets.

Performing live on radio presents some additional challenges because of the time constraints, constant sound-level requirements, and of course the fact than any flaws in the technology or my performance will be part of the broadcast and what everyone listening hears…and remembers. So I have been spending extra time preparing and practicing.

Musicially, The Wooden Fish is not a difficult piece. Basically, it is a guided improvisation based on a few short rhythm patterns in 3/4 and a graphical score. The technologies for this performance are straight-forward as well. The initial delay/loop section and a tablet-controlled loop are programmed in OSW, and other variations of the patterns are done in Emulator X2, including one variation using the Twistaloop feature. Both applications are running simulataneously, allowing me to easily switch between at any given point. So far this seems to be working fine – I am just a little wary after a nasty crash at a performance a few weeks ago.

I did take some time out of today’s preparations to return to the conference for the SEAMUS concert and Max Matthews’ keynote address. Matthews, who turns 80 next week, is considered the “father of computer music” and was received very warmly by everyone. While it is inspiring to hear from giants in one’s field, I couldn’t help feel a little demoralized during his relating of past accomplishments and interactions with others – it’s hard live up to those kind of standards, or even see how one could try given the way the computer-music community has evolved. But on balance, it was inspiring – at the very least I would like to explore some of the books and records he recommended. It was also great to see someone who at 80 can talk at length not only about theories and foundational work on mainframes, but also on the latest laptop technologies (like Mac core-duo) and sensor technologies for interactive music performance.

I also found myself more aesthetically in tune with what the SEAMUS musicians were doing than many of the pieces from the ICMC.

Those who are interested in turning in to the radio performance tomorrow can click here for the live internet stream.

Recent synthesizer acquisitions: E-MU Orbit V2 and "hacked" Morpheus

This town is full of old E-MU gear (as well as old E-MU employees). In recent weeks I was able to pick up two old modules for my substantial E-MU synth collection. The first is a fully functional Orbit V2:

This module was quite popular in its day, it features techno sounds that I don't believe E-MU has re-released for Emulator X or Proteus X. It is also as far as I know the only one of the modules with the special “scratcher” function that models turntable scratching of samples.

I also aquired another pre-run Morpheus. I'm not sure it has quite the extensive collection of non-production filters as my main Morpheus, but it does have a rather interesting demo track,a small clip of which I provide here for your listening pleasure.

The full demo is a little over two minutes long, and practically begs to be imported into Emulator X2 and used as the source for a new composition. Stay tuned…

catsynth pic: Sneaky w/ E-MU Xboard

Sneaky impersonates Schroder from Peanuts atop an E-MU Xboard 49.