Monday, October 30, 2006

Performance Premiere: Granulation Knaves

Granulation Knaves
1. Thrown into a canal by a nurse-maid to prevent his tireless crying, Francisco Tárrega's sight was destroyed. Appropriately, his first guitar teacher was "the blind man in the marina".

2. We know the work of this 19th-century master of the classical guitar through a 13 note rendering of his "Gran Vals". This is known as the "Nokia Tune", the standard ringtone for that firm's mobiles for over 13 years.

3. The pine marten (or stoat) is now extinct in the region of its namesake, the Nokianvirta river. Nonetheless, the famous mobile phone company takes its name from the town on this river.

4. There is a myth in the UK that the stoat kills rabbits by sucking their blood. They do in fact attack through the neck, but only to best damage the core centers of the brain, and hence subdue their prey.

5. Granular synthesis is a method of sound synthesis that involves splitting a source sound into small grains along the time axis, and then recombining them at different speeds, amplitude, phase, etc.

6. Dennis Gabor was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who theorised granular synthesis as well as holography, a form of three dimensional image storage.

7. "Granulation Knaves" is an anagram for "Gran Vals Nokia Tune".

8. This is also the title of a piece for Nokia mobile, miscellaneous transducers and software synthesis. It will be premiered tomorrow at Soundings 1031 by escalation 746. Core centers of the brain may be affected, but there is no risk of blindness.

This article is repeated over on the escalation 746 site.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Roundelay: Tribute To Samuel Beckett

Roundelay performance

Last Friday saw the debut performance of Roundelay by the Fourfront Poets. This was a dramatic reading of the poetry of Samuel Beckett, specially for his centenary. It was staged at Impact Theatre as part of the Cuisle International Poetry Festival.

Mark Whelan directed the four readers: Ciaran O'Driscoll, Bertha McCullagh, Mairtin O'Briain and Jo Slade. A very particular atmosphere was set up by way of the staging and other elements. Tom O'Donnell provided the lights and I created a sound design, using the custom software mixer I recently released into the world.

The performance had a great audience and was a huge success. The resemblance to a seance was noted by many people, some of whom believed there was a strong Beckett presence summoned into the room.

The whole of the Cuisle festival was a lot of fun. I got to meet poets I've seen in previous years, the crew from Brighton I met a year ago, and new faces as well.

The photo above was taken by Susannah Kelly and will likely be the basis for a poster design for the next performance.
Thursday, October 19, 2006

Rheostatics One Last Time

It simply cannot be true. The greatest rock group in the world, also known as Rheostatics, are calling it a day. According to their own site, they will play one last gig on 30 March 2007 and then... then, the world will be a poorer place.

Now, I don't often get too concerned about what a group might or might not do. And in close to 100% of cases I'm darned pleased when an act calls it a day. Don't they all overstay their welcome? Well, this is a rare exception.

On my last visit to Canada I picked up their last two records. 2067 is an incredible return to form, full of the usual punk-prog-electro-country-rock-folk vibe that has made Rheostatics so impossible to digest. This is a band you have to chew on for some time, and even then there may be some gristle to spit out. But that's how I like my music, even if it's condemned the group to semi-obscurity for two decades.

Rheostatics are artists. Tielli does in-store painting gigs and the group made an album to accompany a Group Of Seven exhibit. Rheostatics are fun and produced a fantastic kids album. (It was pretty well like one of their regular albums, actually, except there was a narrative.) Rheostatics are documenters and have said more about Canada than most. Of course it must be mentioned that Bidini writes about hockey like no other. Rheostatics are historians and got Stompin' Tom out of hiding. Rheostatics are rockers and produced a double live album that transcended all others. Rheostatics are not afraid to make fools of themselves and not afraid even to take it all too seriously.

The fact that this is the end is brutal news. That's all I can say. Buy their albums. Maybe start backwards, 'cause 2067 is brilliant and melodic and accessible. Then get Introducing Happiness, Whale Music, Harmelodia, The Blue Hysteria, in something like that order. When you've spent a few years digesting all that, get Double Live for a different take.

You can do all this online at Zunior.

The rest I leave up to the band:

Right now, we are making progress
We are making dreams come true
Just like we discussed
In our most recent letters
Communiques and measures
Memories and treasures
Kept in bricks and mortar
And I won't last forever
I won't even try to
I'm just making progress
I don't know what else to do.
-- "Making Progress"

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

My First Reaktor Instrument: eMix

screenshot of eMix
For some time I've been enthralled by Reaktor, the software toolkit that lets you build practically any audio device imaginable: synthesizers, effects, remixing gizmos, even games. Now I've finally released an "instrument" of my own, a studio mixer that has a couple of unique twists. You can find eMix in the user libraries, if you are a registered user of Reaktor.

eMix is a studio mixer with 4 mono channels, 4 stereo channels and 4 sends. EQ, solo and mute are available on all strips as appropriate.

Solo is implemented so that the entire channel strip is still active. In other words, solo is not a separate bus, but simply tells that channel to be on, along with any other selected solo channels (but without any that are not soloed). In other words, it's a Solo-In-Place implementation. I find this most useful, as the level, balance, EQ, etc. of the track are preserved.

The sends are stereo on the stereo channels. The knobs control how much signal is sent to auxiliary sends 1/2 and 3/4 respectively, with on buttons for each pair. On the mono channels there is still only one knob per pair, but each of the four sends can be selected individually. This gives a greater degree of control than is usual in hardware consoles.

I think the most innovative feature is the presence of a cross-fader, since these generally only exist on DJ mixers. Any of the stereo pairs (or mono channels in combination) can be assigned to either side ("deck") of this cross-fader. When you turn the strip on, the master is fed by the output of the cross-fader. Otherwise the master is fed from the normal summed stereo bus. Note that in either case the meters on this strip are active, so you have some idea of the signal before you punch in the cross-fader.

The master section has a fader both pre- and post- the master compressor. This is a 2-knee design, with a low and high threshold, each with its own ratio. As is usual, there is an attack and release control, calibrated in milliseconds. The vertical display show you visually where the thresholds are set.

This instrument consumes about 9% of the CPU on my computer. For reference, this is about half of what Carbon 2 uses.

Of course you'll want to patch in various instruments, effects, inputs and so on to turn this into a full studio.

The only thing I would like to add is a cue function, so that any channels can be sent to a separate stereo cue mix, with master volume. But I thought I would put eMix out the door now for comments, or I'd never release it.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Strawberry Milkshake

Want to know what's in artificial strawberry flavour, such as that used in your favourite strawberry milkshake? No, didn't think you did, but it's fascinating just the same. This is taken from Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation.

amyl acetate
amyl butyrate
amyl valerate
anisyl formate
benzyl acetate
benzyl isobutyrate
butyric acid
cinnamyl isobutyrate
cinnamyl valerate
cognac essential oil
dipropyl ketone
ethyl acetate
ethyl amyl ketone
ethyl butyrate
ethyl cinnamate
ethyl heptanoate
ethyl heptylate
ethyl lactate
ethyl methylphenylglycidate
ethyl nitrate
ethyl propionate
ethyl valerate
hydroxyphenyl-2-butanone (10 percent solution in alcohol)
isobutyl anthranilate
isobutyl butyrate
lemon essential oil
methyl anthranilate
methyl benzoate
methyl cinnamate
methyl heptine carbonate
methyl naphthyl ketone
methyl salicylate
mint essential oil
neroli essential oil
neryl isobutyrate
orris butter
phenethyl alcohol
rum ether
Monday, October 09, 2006

Strange Musical Instruments

Every so often I stumble across some unusual items that can best be described as musical instruments. Here I present to you the Bottle Organ and Pikasso guitar.

It's hard to imagine that such things exist, or that someone is willing to pay so much for them. But apparently there are quaint little bars in the United States that think it completely reasonable to pay 39 grand for a MIDI controlled device that plays... beer bottles! I can only quote from the site in awe and befuddlement.
The Bottle Organ is a real showstopper! It plays by blowing across the tops of real beer bottles, which are permanently tuned. And the music is so lovable! Driven by contemporary MIDI technology, the Bottle Organ is ideal for pubs and restaurants with a reputation for fun, where the past is respected, and where patrons appreciate the rare and unusual. Custom fabrication assures quality of the highest standard.

Pat Metheny is not just any guitar player, he is a guitar player who owns an instrument built specifically for him in 1984, designed to contain "as many strings as possible". Now who would want that? Check out the Pikasso guitar.