28. Robots And Empire

November 11, 2009

I feel as though I had some difficulty writing this song. It is not very long, certainly doesn’t reach the five min. min. (more on that in a moment). Though, at the outset, I had intended it to be a full length song (in the format of most of the others) it seems right, or rather I like it, as it is. Certainly the strongest reason for it not reaching this ‘full length’ is that I reached a dead-end, so to speak, and not primarily because I thought it was better this way (though is there a distinction?).

Backache right click and ‘save as’

As to the issue of the five minute minimum daily length, I feel it is pertinent to address it at this conjecture. I haven’t often met it (indeed, of the ‘songs’, those of days when I have posted only one track, the length has exceeded five minutes only three times), though this doesn’t seem entirely important, despite it being a central aspect of the project (though not to diminish this centrality). It would be very easy for me to pass this off by saying “five minutes was more of a guideline”, and this is true to an extent, though guidelines have a tendency to be bent more and more, and this is something I wanted to avoid. Rather it has always seemed most important that songs be left to their appropriate length. It would have been ridiculous (not to mention easy) to have extended each piece to above five minutes just in order to reach this minimum. The offshoot of this, of course, is that all the songs would have been almost exactly five minutes long, which would be a slightly embarrassing pattern of song writing (to say nothing of the constraints already in place).

The importance of the five minute minimum, therefore, lies in its ability to push me. Despite my lax interpretation of the timespan it invokes, it has still encouraged me to publish one song a day, often, I regret, at the cost of that song’s quality and/or potential. I don’t know how, nor do I expect, things will appear differently once the forty days are up, but it is very difficult for me to say how different things might be if I didn’t have these specific rules/guidelines in place. Would I have spent the entire period working meticulously on one piece? If so, would the piece benefit or suffer as a result? Would I have produced anything at all? Would I be too inhibited to post anything, having not been obliged to?

I realise, with all this conjecture, that it has been a while since I last reminded everyone to keep posting comments: please do!

Auf Wiedersehen, pet.


27. Fishermen

November 10, 2009

I have written another pop song. I feel ambivalent about process and product. This one uses lyrics to an old song, slightly changed and added to. I’ve paid slightly more attention to recording today. Often I gloss over the production process, it’s not what’s most interesting to me, but I felt like part of my disillusionment was down to how poorly recorded and produced the last track was. Blaah. Here it is:

At The Arboretum right click and ‘save as’

It has been one of those non-days. I’m trying to think of something fun to do this evening…

In a while, crocodile.

26. Hands

November 9, 2009

Today my focus has been disparately spread. All these tracks are just little experiments. I don’t really know whether I regard any of them as complete or not.

The first is a very simply created wavetable synth whose operation I attempted to make unique. It takes six wavetables, each 64 samples long, and applies them as modulation to one another. The first three act on each others’ amplitude, the second three act on the first three’s pitch. Using an analogue input (from a MIDI keyboard) I can edit the shape of each wavetable as an invisible head writes across all six in succession. This is quite difficult to explain. Anyway, the result isn’t quite as interesting as the process:

Wavetabler right click and ‘save as’

After lunch I made a very quick device that plays back two samples with three playheads at random speeds and locations. There is a slow (60 second) modulation applied to the random number generator that controls the speed of playback. The hope was to get a noticeable variation in texture over the span of the song. It uses samples of guitar and of fingers tapping on tabletop. The second is a simplified version of the same thing acting on a sample of me reading from John Grisham’s ‘The Summons’ (The Times calls it “Classic Grisham”). Makes a change…


Grisham 3 right click and ‘save as’

Finally this afternoon I returned to an old device that uses the ambient light sensors in the laptop (just a pair of LDRs used to tell the computer when to dim the screen). I added a couple of twiddly controls on keys and messed about for a bit. I think it’s probably a lot more fun to play with than to listen to, but here it is:

Lightning right click and ‘save as’

It has been an exciting jam-packed weekend (by no one’s standards but my own, obviously).

Yesterday provided a welcome opportunity to clean the house of the visitor’s messy remnants. I also did some laundry, which has just finished drying. On Saturday night there was a power cut, which put an abrupt halt to my plans of partying the night away (hoho).

On Friday night something truly horrifying happened. Whilst sitting at the computer doing not very much, I was horrendously startled by a tapping at the window. At first I put it down to just general windy-night noises, but it became so petulant as to be unmistakable. I couldn’t see anything out the windows, so i ventured outside, ready for a punch-up, shaking with adrenaline, no torch, shitting myself, only to discover that it was a distant firework display whose muffled pops had tricked me. It was a very convincing rapping-at-the-window sound which lent my loneliness a sharp, Poe-esque terror.

I have been wondering about my recent difficulties to find real engagement with my work. It occurred to me today that I am absolutely desperate for input and feedback, and I started thinking why that should be the case (apart from the obvious). Actually, I don’t think there is a cause beyond the obvious. So forget it.

There’s only two weeks to go now. Every time I realise this fact I am fit to burst with excitement. Thinking about the outside world fills me with a massive nostalgia. What a bizarre emotion that is. I love music which has the same effect. Wax Stag is extremely good at it (see ‘Fantasy Gay’ and ‘George White’) and almost every song of Skate Rock’s album ‘At Home With…’ does it (see the Best New Fun website for free download). There’s some kind of joyous melancholy in the melodies (it’s quite difficult to make coherent comments about music when you can’t listen to it). Makes me feel I would like to try and write something that can evoke that.

Errrr, yeah. See you later.

24. They Aren't

November 7, 2009

Saturdayyy, alright.

The morning was more frustration and uninspired doodling. Post lunch, inspiration struck and I made this little sample-stretch-and-loop-improvisation program. It’s called Margot And Gannet. Here is a picture of the control section:

Margot And Gannet

It uses 4 point interpolating table readers to ‘scrub’ two 10 second samples according to parameters denoted by these controls. You select a region using the sliders (if placed inversely it plays backwards) and the numbers on the left denote volume and, most significantly, read time (in ms). The unique thing about the way this sampler works is that instead of denoting a speed – effectively pitch – you denote a distance and a time. This is quite confusing at first, everything seems to work upside-down, but ultimately it provides a completely different approach to sample playback.

I made various attempts with various different samples. ‘…Grow Old’ uses a sample of mugs struck with a pen and a plastic bottle being crumpled. ‘…Alike And Alike’ uses guitar and an electric heater.

Margot And Gannet Grow Old

Margot And Gannet Alike And Alike right click and ‘save as’

I’m glad to have found something that has engaged me. I’m overflowing with ideas now. At present, I’m entirely of the opinion that this kind of inspiration can be completely self instigated, even forced. Such a polar shift – from yesterday’s black mood (which continued through this morning) to this afternoon’s enthused attitude – apparently purely through my own perseverance, seems to corroborate this notion.

And my beat goes: Bye, bye bye, bye bye, bye.

23. Yeah, Totally

November 6, 2009

It’s the first day I’ve felt a really strong reluctance to work. It set in after lunch. It’s quite demoralising. I suppose this is part of the process, I had certainly ascertained it as a likelihood before I came here, but I never really expected it. It’s to do with being bored of the work I’m making. I shall have to find something that stimulates me.

I haven’t had the determination to return to the song generator, it seems too daunting a task. After I finished this song I started messing around with building a little time-stretch algorithm, which has been really quite fun, so perhaps it’s not as bad as it seems. Here is today’s drudgery:

Sleeveless Top right click and ‘save as’

Cheers mate.

22. Gambol

November 5, 2009

The visitors left today, I promptly scurried across the lawn with all my belongings and reinstated my presence in the house. They left behind some bread, a squiddy smell of bait and messy floors. Looking forward to a hot hot bath and a super supper.

The morning was me working (still in shed) on the song generator. I had planned to have it at a useable state and have recorded a song with it this afternoon, but it didn’t quite work out that way. After I moved back in I felt like recording a song the old fashioned way, so here’s that endeavour:

O Mr right click and ‘save as’

Here’s a tale:

Last night I went outside, as usual, to brush my teeth on the cliff top (no bathroom in shed) and what an exciting flurry of activity I found. The first thing was an unnervingly loud, static-y radio bleep, sounded very proximal, but in fact seemed to be coming from a collection lights, about 200 metres away, dashing about on the water down by the lifeboat station. There were people on the beach and then a big, well-lit boat launched and sailed out a little way.

AND THEN, just as I was resigning myself to the boring conclusion that it was just a lifeboat training excercise: EXPLOSIONS! in the east-south-eastern sky, at least a hundred miles away. It sounds far-fetched, but they were definitely fiery explosions. I couldn’t help but indulge the entertaining notion that the Principality of Sealand was engaging in some familiar fracas, but they’re out of my line of sight on this part of the coast (the Principality of Sealand is a WWII coastal outpost which was commandeered and declared an independent state, a search should provide a fascinating hour or two on the internet). Perhaps they were playing at war with their Dutch enemies (not the state itself, but Dutch nationals), or Holland itself is under attack.

Although these suppositions are fairly ridiculous, it does highlight the questions about my detachment. If Holland was at war, would someone deem it important enough to get on the emergency number? I doubt it, unless it looked like England, and in particular the Norfolk/Suffolk coast, was next on the list. Though I’m not a particularly avid follower of current affairs, it would seem very strange to me if I came out of here and had missed some world changing event. Imagine how it would feel to have gone completely unaware of 9/11 and then emerged to find peoples attitudes and understandings about the world had completely altered.

In addition, it raises the concern about the futility of only being able to receive emergency news via text message. What if (and I’m aware of how ridiculous this all is) an invasion was just hours away and I was happily diddling about with a keyboard whilst loved-ones desperately tried to alert my attention. I can just see the logging-on-text-reading and simultaneous hostile landing mounting the sea-defence and running down the lawn.

Enough blllllaaaaa.

Ok then, right, Ok. Well, Ok. Ok bye. Bye now. Bye.

21. Rafting, White Water

November 4, 2009

Today has been graft. What I have achieved is only half complete: a machine that randomly generates whole instrumental tracks to have lyrics written and recorded atop, acting as self critique by reducing process and decision making to random number generators. It might be pertinent to reference Microsft’s Songsmith here (a quick youtube search will yield some hilarious results), a program that listens to sung melodies and then generates backing tracks beneath according to very few user decisions. Ultimately it would be nice if my program even generated lyrical text, but I sense this is way out my league.

These are demonstrations of works in progress, I rushed the final actual noise making segment of the program in the last hour before it was time to start uploading, so it sounds pretty rough. It took all morning just to generate lists for denoting structure, it is definitely the most complex piece of design I’ve ever tried to implement.

For something that has riveted my attention so unfalteringly, the results are perhaps a tad banal, but I’m hoping completion of the project will be a little more exciting.

Such A Simple Sally

Oh Obvious Ollie right click and ‘save as’

This evening I cooked the worst pasta of my life on my tiny camping stove. The water never quite boiled so the meal was a starchy struggle.

The sun was uninhibited again today, the room reached a lovely heat. Within five minutes of the sun dipping behind the house it is cold and my fingers start to go numb. I hope it’s nice tomorrow.

Ok, then, bye, bubye now.

20. Porsche Cabriolet

November 3, 2009

This morning was a damp chill pervading the room. I slept with a duvet stuffed inside my sleeping bag. It was confined, but warm. The afternoon saw a heavy downpour, my little shack made a meal out of it. Twilight cleared to a stunning sunset.

I have been working more on random music, though today’s progression is not that dramatic. It is a fairly basic extension of yesterdays program, with the addition of playing through a synth (called Sweet Synth) which I built myself. The device which plays it (Showman) is a more advanced version of yesterdays program. The outcome is much closer to what I was hoping to achieve, much more texturally focused than yesterday’s melodic outing. The first of these two, however, lacked a little melody, the random controller giving too much weight to heavy modulation. The second has quadratic curves applied to the probability going to the modulators and the melody is thus allowed to shine a little more. It’s not exactly where I was hoping to go, but it’s close.

Showman Plays Sweet Synth (excerpt)

Showman Plays Sweet Synth 2 (excerpt) right click and ‘save as’

I am hoping to leave this infant jaunt into random music behind and start a new project which sees various instruments playing together and biasing random decisions on what they ‘hear’ from the other instruments. I’m sure this goal will mutate.

Ciao for now.

19. Hot House

November 2, 2009

It has been an exciting weekend. I moved my self and belongings into this tiny wooden-box-conservatory-come-shed at the end of the garden. The life here makes the one in the house look obscene in its complexity and wastefulness. I have a two small rooms, one piled with junk such that only a passage way between doors remains. The other has glass on two sides and its walls and ceiling are paper thin. It noisily feels the wind and retains heat like a corpse. Having said that, in the day – or at least in today’s block blue sky and fierce sun – it is disrobingly hot. Despite all this, I am pleasantly surprised to find myself happy and comfortable, its almost as though materiality is not connected to wellbeing…

The visitors arrived late last night, long after my frantic removal, and have inspired in me a shameful depth of curiosity. Every time their door opens it demands a herculean effort for me to keep my eyes focused on my work.

I have finally found some conceptual interest in my work. I have been thinking about random music generation. The initial idea was to build a device which would randomly generate electronic dance music, slowing progressing through all its sub-genres by giving random number generators specific rules. The rules themselves would be based upon defining aspects of each sub-genre, for example tempo between 160 and 190 bpm for drum n bass, etc. etc.. The concept is to prove the limiting nature of genre classification and to demonstrate how vast reams of work are shamelessly tied to these limitations.

This has proven to be a monumental task. Here are my very first attempts at random music, an area no doubt much better trod than these first tentative steps achieve. It essentially just generates random melody based on a few possible mechanisms for it to (randomly) choose from, such things as, arpeggiating, melodic runs, trilling etc.. It applies rhythm according to a constant pulse whose interval fluctuates between 50ms and 1s. It slowly manipulates various textural aspects of the synth. It is not altogether a very satisfactory result, sounding rather like the idiotic twiddlings of an engrossed synth-showman straight out of a electro-shocked 80’s (sweet pun). But here it is anyway:

Showman (excerpt) right click and ‘save as’

Must dash.

17. Ghosts and Fivers

October 31, 2009

Happy Hallowe’en.

Ghost Town right click and ‘save as’