Thursday
Nov052009

A New Video Available on YouTube

I've been deeply involved in preparing the new Fractal library for Algorithmic Arts ArtWonk v4, which is due to be released for public beta testing any day now.  While doing this ongoing (sporadic) research, I encounted a patch I made back in March 2007 to implement a chaotic function called the "One Dimensional Chaos Game."  Once I had successfully made it work, getting the usual Sierpinsky Triangles and the like,

 

I thought it would be nice to make a patch which used it more poetically.  Which I did, and then the work stopped there.   I had made a nice sequence of images, and a nicely interactive patch, where I could change the kinds of OneD Chaos images generated in real time, but couldn't see any way to extend the work into a piece, or to document it, etc.  Suddenly, yesterday (Wednesday, 4 Nov.) I encountered the patches again, and saw that they worked really well, and that I could easily extend what the piece was doing into a small video piece.  Which I did.  

The sound was made with the same patch, using Camel Audio's Alchemy softsynth, which I continue to explore with delight.  I used an additive synthesis timbre, which features higher harmonics which come to the foreground after the initial attack of the sound.  This gives the sound that "feel" of a sustained higher changing sound which "trails" the initial attacks.  I also tuned Alchemy into a microtonal scale of my own invention - one based on ideas in Erv Wilson's "Scale Tree" papers. 

(Here are links to three papers, two by Erv Wilson, and one by David Finnamore about the Scale Tree. Wilson One. Wilson Two. Finnamore. A source of endless hours of amusement for those inclined that way.(And yes, one day I promise to post up here my own article on the Scale Tree and my afternoon-long work using it, "Pythagoras Babylonian Bathtub" from 2004.))

Using the same structure for sounds and images may be seen by some as just an extension of the old "'everything from a single kernel" idea that Western classical music has flirted with for centuries (Bach's motives, Beethoven's even more intense use of motives, Wagner's leitmotifs, total serialism, New York totalism, etc), but for me, seeing as how I'm developing these chaotic tools (hopefully for others to use), my impulse to do this is not motivated by "historical necessity" - I simply want to both see and hear the patterns they have the potential to generate.

It's a rather dark piece - and I mean that literally, not emotionally.  I was really attracted to the idea of chaotic images slowly emerging out of darkness, before they quickly faded away - fleeting visions, maybe.  The sound, on the other hand, is up-front, and continuous, although it, too, is changing the kind of gestures it uses continually.  This kind of change of gesture seems to be a lot more easily seen than heard, so the sound seems more mono-structural than the vision.  To my perception, anyway.  Yours may differ.  Here's the piece - I'm sort of pleased that I finally have the tools and abilities to be able to conceive a multi-media piece, realize it in one day, and then disseminate it on the same day.  There will be other pieces that I'll take a lot more time over, but for today, this new found ability is pretty neat.  Enjoy!

Wednesday
Oct282009

Foley for the next monster flick?

Mean Chihuahau Puppy - make sure your volume is DOWN for this one!

 

 

I've been learning the ins and outs of Camel Audio's marvelous new softsynth Alchemy - a sort of Swiss Army Knife for audio.  I'm especially interested in the Spectral Editor, where you can draw the spectra of a sound and hear the results.  Like Iannis Xenakis and Kenneth Gaburo, I believe that the hand can make gestures that are probably more complex than any mathematical function. When I've been teaching people about Spectral (or Graphic) synthesis, one of my standard jokes is "well, you can import just about any picture and get some kind of sound.  Why not a picture of a chihuahua, for instance?"  And I proceed to go on the net, find a picture of a chihuahua and load it in, and the result is usually undifferentiated noise.  Which allows me to then show people how to get more differentiated sounds with Graphic Synthesis.  However, I was testing out Alchemy's Spectral editor, and it said you could import pictures in .png format, so I decided that yes, I would import a picture of a rather disturbed looking chihuahua obtained off the web, and see what happened.  I did so, and erased all the material around the chihuahua so that one would hear just the sound that resulted from the chihuahua and not the background.  Here's what it looked like:

 

I then heard what this sounded like.  Naturally, for resynthesis, I chose to use Noise instead of sine waves.  And, of course, I decided, quite arbitrarily, to put the whole thing into a microtonal scale - 29 notes per octave - why not? - AND on top of that, thought I might time stretch the whole thing to about 17% of the speed of the original.  And of course, I didn't put the sound through any filters or effects.  That would be just too wimpy for words! (joke)

If you click on the sound above, you'll hear a 1:15 second sound clip.  The first 30 seconds is the chihuahua sound at "original pitch" (whatever that concept might mean for this!).  The next 45 seconds, I improvise a bit, layering pitches in several octaves to make a pretty appalling noiseband. 

When looking at sparrows, I frequently observe pretty aggressive behaviour.  What some of us hear as a cute, or at least innocuous "cheep" is probably, in sparrow terms, a really macho declaration of "I'm the biggest meanest sparrow they ever was!  Watch out for me, beak for brains!"  I think, listening to this sound, that perhaps I've penetrated to the true essence of chihuahua macho.

Wednesday
Oct282009

$15 dollars and a few hours of programming later....

Little March 28 Oct 09

So I got this email from PrecisionSound, saying that their Weltmeister Accordion sample set was reduced to $15 until November 1st.  Normally, if I want accordion sounds, I'll just play one of my several accordions.   But I listened to the demos, and the volume control, and the fact that there were separate samples for push and pull of the bellows seemed to make these samples just a bit better than normal.  Plus, I could load the samples into any one of my softsynths which allow microtonality, and that would give me a fairly realistic sounding microtonal accordion-like thing.  So, I decided to take a chance, and bought the sample sets.  I then found that the key to the volume changes was to use midi continuous controller 7 - very nice swells and diminuendos that way.  I made an ArtWonk patch which plays notes and rests, and has swells for the accordion parts, and is tuned in one of Erv Wilson's "Scale Tree" MOS scales - a 13 notes in the octave one - and voila!  A nice little march, one minute and 4 seconds long.  It was fun to make, and I hope it's fun for you to hear.  Enjoy!

Wednesday
Oct282009

The joys of lo-fi and on being a closet 12-tone composer

Fantasia 1986

Recently, I was emailed about a new software synthesizer - Plogue Chipsounds - from the Plogue folks in Montreal.  This is a device which promises to emulate 8 of the most popular 8-bit game and other sound chips from the 1980s.  Although I had worked a bit with those chips, in the early 1980s I was very involved with "rolling my own" sounds, using an AIM-65 single board microcomputer.  As I remember, the AIM had a couple of outputs, where you could access the 8 bits of the numbers as individual outputs.  I took those, and put them through the Control Voltage Processor on my Serge synthesizer, creating a crude non-linear digital-to-analog converter (DAC).  I then spilled the contents of the memory out through the port, and voila!  Instant sound synthesis.  I made some interesting pieces with this, and I'll post those pieces in the next few days.  My interest in lo-fi, of course, was an extension of the work I'd done in the 1970s with Ron Nagorcka in the group Plastic Platypus.  We used cassette recorders as our main musical instruments, as well as a variety of electronic toys. 

Well, I bought the softsynth from Plogue (at $75 US it was irresistible, and the currently strong Aussie dollar helped, too), and it's a delight.  And, because it uses the ARIA engine Plogue developed, all the chipsounds are totally microtonally controllable using Scala files.  Fun for the whole family!  (If your family consists of, as mine does, two composers who both like raw electronic sounds and microtonality!)  While working with this synth, I was reminded of another piece of mine from 1986 - Fantasia.  This was a piece I wrote at Serge Tcherepnin's place in San Francisco, on a visit.  He had an early Mac, and it had a notation program which played out through the Mac's internal sound chip.  The sounds were pretty crude, and the notation program was pretty limited.  It would only play in normal 12-tone tuning, so I thought, "Why not a 12-tone piece?"  Unlike a lot of my composer colleagues, I don't fall into paroxysms of negativity when I hear the words "12-tone composition," nor do I fall into spasms of admiration for the technique either.  To me, it's just another way of making music, one that has a certain amount of fun involved in the figuring out of various melodic and harmonic combinations inherent in one's chosen material.  I quickly composed a little 1 minute piece - making the sort of "uptown electronic music" that had appealed to me as a student in the late 1960s.  I thought it was fun at the time, and in light of the whole chiptune thing that's happening now, I still think it's a fun piece.  And so I hope, do you.  Click on "Fantasia" above to hear it.  OR, if you want to download it, right click HERE.  And to hear a soundtrack I did with Chipsounds, see the blog entry a couple of entries before this for a link to "Hilbert Trace" on YouTube.

This little "Fantasia" wouldn't sit still, however, and eventually, it became the first section of a nine-section piece - "Fantasias Quartets and Nocturnes" - here's a description of the piece from my CD catalog - you can order the CD by clicking on "order CDs" in the right hand column of this page.

33. Fantasias, Quartets and Nocturnes (1986-88) ( TWO CD )

Three similar sets of pieces, in three different tunings: 12 tone, 19 tone and 31 tone equal temperament. The Fantasias are nostalgic exercises in free expressionist composition, ala Schoenberg, updated to the world of computer controlled analog synthesis; the Quartets are rigorous 1950s serialist “change-ringing pieces”, and the Nocturnes are experiments in composing on the edge of sleep. Just before bed, each night, I would improvise into my sequencer until I dropped off to sleep. The Nocturnes consist of spliced together phrases made just on the edge of sleep. The exploration of the subconscious in the Nocturnes contrasts vividly with the caffeinated consciousness of the Fantasias and Quartets.

 

Wednesday
Oct282009

A new essay on the importance of non-verbal intelligence.

I've just uploaded an essay I wrote in September for presentation at the Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Wollongong, Postgraduate Week.  This is a time when all the staff and faculty at FCA do talks about their work.  I decided to do a talk about the importance of non-verbal modes of expression.  Of course, I tried to deliver it in as professional a manner as possible - using virtuoso words to try to express the importance of getting beyond words.   You can read the essay on line HERE.  And you can download it in pdf form HERE.  I'd be interested in getting feedback from folks on the essay.  Just drop an email to me using the contact form here and let me know what you think.  Thanks.