Preparing for tomorrow's performance

Well, the first big solo show since moving to the city is nearly upon us. And it's a big one, at least in terms of the setup and preparation. Indeed, this is the largest and most complex setup I have used for a live show in quite a while, with both Mac and PC laptops, the tablet, MIDI keyboard, the Evolver synth, and the Proteus 2000 module. And of course the rather byzantine wiring and signal routing to keep it all together.

In the photo, one can see not only the equipment, but a couple of the acoustic instruments I will be playing including the ektar and the gopichand.

Why such a complex setup? Well, I wanted to a variety of pieces for this performance, combining both the newer simplified performances (such as those I did last year on tour with Polly Moller and Company), with some of the older more complex works. I also wanted to play the tablet, which I haven't done in a while, and it only runs on the older PC laptop; and include a couple of pieces from the CD, including Chimera and a variation on Xi. I was a little bit concerned about pulling out the old laptop for this performance, but after some effort it's running decently, and it's great to be able to blend elements from my older performances with the more recent ones. And in truth some of the older pieces are more fun to play, such as Chimera on the tablet, and the patch that responds to live drumming (officially called “drummer boy”).

Luna has of course had to make her presence felt during the rehearsals, as you can see here.

After a shaky start, the program has come together quite nicely in the last few days, and I am now looking forward to performing tomorrow.

For those interested, the time and location is:

Thursday, May 8, 8PM
Luggage Store Gallery
1007 Market St.
@ 6th Street
San Francisco, California

More details can be found here.

"Trailer" for Obama NYC Rally

Watch this “movie trailer” for Barack Obama’s rally last week in New York:

The rally may have come and gone, but the video is still quite funny, as the viewer comments suggest – and in that dry sort of way I appreciate most.

But the real reason I’m posting this is to shamelessly but honestly take credit for the music. Yes, I cranked out this orchestral “film score” piece using E-MU Emulator X2 and Modern Symphonic Orchestra in just a couple of days. Most of the effort is in the back and forth that always happens when working on film or video, but I’m very pleased with the result.

With almost 7000 views as of this writing, it might be my most “heard” piece of music. And it joins a small collection of pieces I have done for (other people’s) film and video, including the East Bloc Call To Prayer, and Neptune: Prelude to Xi. You can hear some other of my film or film-ready music here or at myspace.

And if you need music for your film or video project, drop me a line. . 😉

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.

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.








RPM 2007: Twista Dilemma

Latest from my RPM 2007 blog:

I have been playing around with some of the loop-based sound sets that come with Emulator X2, including the “TwistaMania” bank – mostly just looking for some inspiration for the techno and beat-based sections of the album, but I found I really liked what I was playing. Plus, it's got that really addictive funky disco thing going. You can hear a brief sample here. This could be the kernel of a track for the album, possibly even the first full track after the intro – but it leads to what I am calling my “twista dilema.” Anyone else with Emulator X2 could easily do something similar, and more abstractly a 4/4 techno-dancy thing might sound trite in the context of my work.

UPDATE: since the original post on RPM, I heard an interesting, and quite timely, program on radio open source. Between the discussion in praise of creative appropriation, and my own sense of energy and enthusiasm for the funk disco sound, I think this track will be a part of the album – and it will be titled “Twistadilemma”, probably the second full track.

UPDATE: since the original post on RPM, I heard an interesting, and quite timely, program on radio open source. Between the discussion in praise of creative appropriation, and my own sense of energy and enthusiasm for the funk disco sound, I think this track will be a part of the album – and it will be titled “Twistadilemma”, probably the second full track.









RPM 2007: First steps

Report from the first day on the RPM challenge:

The idea that I can spend a month, or even a fraction thereof, doing nothing but working on this album is laughable at best. There will be many distractions in the coming days, just as there have been today. Nonetheless, I made a point to take some first steps this evening..

Based on the “arc” and narrative form I am defining for the album, I went in search of samples to use for the introduction and some beats to use for the first full section. The intro should be an old clip from a big band or jazz recording from the 1940s/1950s – I discovered a really good collection of public-domain big-band radio recordings on The Internet Archive, and quickly settled on my intro.

Next up is selecting some initial beats for the beat-based / techo part of the album. I selected several drum-beat samples, and imported them into Emulator X. Using the beat-analysis (aka “Twistaloop” features), I created several seven-beat loops.

The initial rhythmic section will employ a 7-beat meter and combine drum loops and Proteus patterns inside Emulator X, as well as 7-beat/14-beat Indian thekas for tabla. This will probably also be the first opportunity to use the DSI evolver in a compositional setting (as oppose to live improvisation).

That will probably be all I get done tonite, as I take some time to relax while writing this blog entry and getting some “kitty love” from Luna (she's snuggling in on my chest as I write this).










Catsynth pic: actual cat with Octave CAT… and Kitten in Emulator X

Well, here's another cat sitting next to an Octave CAT – wonder why that comes up so much.

Actually I am quite interested in the Octave CAT and Kitten synths, I'm trying (yet again) to bid on one on eBay.

In the meantime, I have been trying several methods to emulate them, including building an Emulator X patch. The Kitten is definitely more feasible because it only has one oscillator and thus no FM – FM is nearly impossible to do on the Emulator platform. However, I did one out of MIDI controllers. So the end result is a “Kitten lite” that contains all the oscillator waveforms (Saw, Triangle and Square/PWM), the two independent sub-octave waveforms, square and sine LFOs, filter with realtime cutoff and Q and envelope mod, and of course ADSR envelope.

While not a real Octave Kitten, it's a nice little playable instrument.





New Podcast: Fun w/ Emulator X and freesound.org 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.

Fun with Emulator X: Bohlen 833 cents scale and harmonics

I have been experimenting lately with alternate tunings and scales. A couple that have particularly piqued my interest are the Bohlen-Pierce scale and the much-less-used Bohlen 833 cents scale. The latter is intriguing in that it is based on properties of the fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio (although Bohlen admits he did not have those concepts in mind when he stumbled upon this scale).

Based on the golden ratio (1.618034…), one can construct a harmonic series as multiples of 833 cents that has a very distinct timbre. This can be easily implemented in Emulator X as a series of sinewave voices (or voices of any other harmonic single-wave sample) tuned multiples of 833 cents above the fundamental:

The series above consists of a fundamental, three golden-ratio harmonics, followed by the octave above the fundamental (traditional first harmonic 2:1 ratio), and the three-golden-ratio sub-harmonics of the octave.

Using these and other harmonics, Bohlen was able to construct the following seven-step scale between the tonic and the tone 833 above.

Step
Ratio (dec.)
Ratio (cents)

Diff. to previous step (cents)
0
1.0000
0
1
1.0590
99.27
99.27
2
1.1459
235.77
136.50
3
1.2361
366.91
131.14
4
1.3090
466.18
99.27
5
1.4120
597.32
131.14
6
1.5279
733.82
136.50
7
1.6180
833.09
99.27

Emulator X does not have editable tuning tables, although it does have a 36ET tuning (36 divisions of the octave). Bohlen suggests that playing specific steps out of the 36ET scale yields a good appoximation of the 833 scale:

Step (just)
Cents (just)
Step (36/octave)
Cents (36/octave)
0
0
0
0
1
99.27
3
100.00
2
235.77
7
233.33
3
366.91
11
366.67
4
466.18
14
466.67
5
597.32
18
600.00
6
733.82
22
733.33
7
833.09
25
833.33

Combining the Bohlen 833 scale and harmonic series, which are both based on the golden ratio yields a new tonality. Although it is quite different from the traditional Western tonality based on integer ratios, it is nonetheless “harmonic” with respect to its own overtone series. This is perhaps a simple counter-example to to the Monk's Musical Musings from an earlier article.

But how does it sound? To that end, I provide the following audio example consisting of the scale played on the 833-timbre in Emulator X, along with some additional intervals. Because this is only an approximation using 36ET, things aren't perfectly “harmonic,” but I think one can get a feel for the tonality. I particularly like the “tri-tone” (600 cents above fundamental) here.

The next steps are to come up with a more musical timbre based on the harmonic series, as well as short composition using the scale…