Archive for the 'Musical Instruments' Category

30
Mar
10

Tex Avery / Walter Lantz: Sssshhhh!

Picked this up from the incomparable Drew Friedman, sending it right back out to Mike Greenlees and all the crumbsnatcher Tex Avery fans at Casa de Greenlees: Sssshhh! Haven’t seen it in years, probably not since Channel 32 used to show Woody Woodpecker cartoons after-school in the late 70s. It’s got the Tex Avery silly/goofy physics and signage right along with that Walter Lantz subtle weirdness – all mixed in with the Okeh Laughing Record. Sssshhh!

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07
Nov
09

Trumpet 1, Rifle 0

If video embed isn’t displaying:
http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/us/2009/11/03/vif2.music.save.my.life.cnn.html

WWII USAAF pilot and trumpeter Col. Jack Teuller (ret.) tells a war story of how music preempted killing one night in Normandy. Even if it may be, as are so many stories told in uniform, bullshit, it’s beautiful bullshit.

One can only hope that a similar tale may one day be told by a veteran from our Middle East adventures. Perhaps a poppy-growing sniper in Afghanistan will be soothed and disarmed by hooking an iPod to a Humvee PA system to blast the Insane Clown Posse, leading to a tearful thug-hug.

13
Aug
09

Les Paul 1915-2009

les paulThe story of electrified music is dotted with figures who have been blessed with broad inventive genius, equally at home in the worlds of hard engineering and musical aesthetics as if such a thing was easy or normal.  It was these people who gave us the tools that defined a century’s most lasting sounds. The biggest of these names was Les Paul, who passed away today at the age of 94.  Any survey of rock music or the modern recording studio would take less time to count the things that Les didn’t innovate, champion, or outright invent rather than what he did.  Overdubbing.  Sound-on-sound.  Delay.  Phasing.  Multi-track recording.  The solid-body electric guitar.  Every power chord played upon one owes him a debt.

When I was Editor of Gearwire.com in 2007, I got a chance to interview Les. Calling him at his New Jersey home, I found him to be every bit a sweetheart as he was an American treasure.  We kind of rambled around for a while, and Gearwire still hosts the audio.  Check it out.

Part 1: Les Paul Talks Guitar Tone (MP3 Audio)

Part 2: Les Talks The End OF Magentic Tape (MP3 Audio)

Part 3: When Les Met Django Reinhardt (MP3 Audio)

So long and thanks for everything, Lester William Polfuss.

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08
Jun
09

Invent Something Before Breakfast: Egovore

The arrangement view in Ableton Live 6.

For some reason, I woke up today thinking about digital audio workstations (DAWs) and how these exceptional programs nonetheless have basic similarities to any other software running on a system. A DAW, used well, simultaneously inscribes output and collaborates with the operator on the form of that output. Only the operator knows how much a musical piece or moment owes to inscription or to collaboration. This fact of life made me think about the submerged, “mundane” part of the DAW running a sequence. It chugs away under the hood, grabbing x disk resources, allocating y RAM, balancing z threads. These real-time values are resultant of the music in a real sense: could they not be themselves incorporated into the music, be presented as input for musical processing, which would change the underlying values slightly, which would alter the input, which would change the underlying values slightly, which would….ad infinitum.

So I sketched out a design and gave it a name. Egovore is an AU audio software plug-in design.  It runs as a AU plugin under a host DAW (Ableton Live, Reaper, Audiomulch) or under another plugin.

While executing a sequence, Egovore reads the host DAW’s own process space variables, including, optionally its own, and incorporates that data as input.  Egovore’s job is to process that data in realtime, musically, and output it as a musical element.

In this manner, a dynamic, self-referential, self-reflexive source of data concerning the music itself, as represented in the host machine’s process tables is incorporated into the audible portion of the music.

Example:  the running process’s statistical samples (ram usage, ticks, disk usage, process ID, address space ranges, number of threads, userid, load averages, swap, sharedlibs)

Example data flow:

main sequence---------------------------------------------------->output
       |                                ^    ^
       |                                |    |
       egovore(main())                  |    |
       |                                |    |
       |                                |    |
       pid                              |    |
       ram                              |    |
       threads                          |    |
       ...                              |    |
       |                                |    |
       |                                |    |
       -----------> midi ---> synth --->|    |
       |                                     |
       |                                     |
       ----------->SpeechSynth--->chopper--->|

In the above, Egovore loops n times, calling top(), reads the line corresponding to the host application as well as the data summary.  The columnar data are read into an input buffer.  Egovore operates on that data, looping through changes as time proceeds, and produces source data for input to processes such as a MIDI synth, or the system’s Speech Synth.  User-controllable parameters such as “Sensitivity” “Random Seed” “Random Amplification” “Scale” serve to tie the output to the musical milieu of the calling sequence as well as goose a range of results out of the processing.

Egovore’s output is both MIDI and audio.  The operator/programmer of the host DAW obviously controls Egovore’s mix position and routing posture.

Of course, the name Egovore comes from the fact that the design uses the “self” of the music as represented by the operating system as input.  In a conceptual sense, the music is consuming itself, hence Egovore.  Plus, it’s a near-Googlewhackblatt right now, showing only 200-odd results.

Surely there’s a DSP programming student out there looking for a cool plugin idea to bang on.  If that’s you, have at it.

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31
Mar
08

Where’s That Music Coming From?

No discussion on child-rearing is complete without…

The guys at the always-excellent animation blog Cartoon Brew celebrated their fourth birthday today and dredged up a link from February about the improbable Sponge Bob Square Pants Musical Rectal Thermometer (pictured above, business end presumably at the left).

While a complete assessment of the tuneful device’s impact on the development of human dignity won’t be in for years, it’s safe to say that the price of parental failure to closely read operation instructions just went way up.

13
Feb
08

What’s In Devo’s Basement?

General Boy’s Boy, Mark Mothersbaugh

Once, I produced music technology video and stuff for Gearwire.com, but nothing as cool as this piece wherein GW producers Bill Holland and Gretchen Hasse are invited into the basement of Mutato Muzika, the Los Angeles studio home of Devo. Gretchen turns on the nightvision and Bill leads us through the Mines of Mutato.

Artifacts spanning Devo’s career as well as Mutato’s business of soundtrack composition for the likes of feature film director Wes Anderson are casually piled hither and yon in the ghostly Baghdad-esque nightvision light. We stub our toe on the Wasp bass synth, almost knock over the Acoustic Reverbrato used on the keyboards on Devo’s “Gut Feeling” (!!), spot Devo’s Roland D-50 leaned up against the wall with “Gates Of Steel” patch numbers helpfully written thereupon and get an earful of guidance from Mutato composer / curator John Enroth.

Just when it couldn’t get any cooler, we find Raymond Scott‘s (broken) Electronium – the world’s first sequencer – complete with “Doo Wah” knob. It goes to prove what I always guessed: Mark Mothersbaugh + major-league film budgets + Ebay = The Coolest Basement In The Western World.

Gear porn doesn’t get any better than this. Nice work Gearwire!

12
Oct
07

Popular Science, April ’33: Build a Proto-Stylophone

How To Build An Electric Organ For About Five DollarsBzzzzzzzweeeeEEEEzzzzzzzz

The always-cool Modern Mechanix ran this 1933 Popular Science story reprint yesterday. The message: chase away the blues of the Great Depression by building, tuning and playing an inexpensive monotimbral “electric organ”. If for no reason other than the one-note, tuned-resistor characteristic, I thought right away of the electrical and likely tonal similarities to the much-later Stylophone – and its good works in the hands of Kraftwerk (“Pocket Calculator”) and Bowie (“Ashes To Ashes”). No matter what decade, it’s always a miracle when you can make music from the sound of a crappy apartment building door buzzer. Plans here.




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