Monday, October 30, 2017

Review: The Seventh Victim

The Seventh Victim (1943)
Directed by Mark Robson
Produced by Val Lewton

The premise is standard pulp. A schoolgirl, Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter), searches for her missing sister Jacqueline in New York City. She discovers relationships to a lover, a psychiatrist, and a strange cabal. I won't get too specific here (mild spoiler warning) because I wish to encourage you to view this remarkable film.
Sunday, August 27, 2017

Suggested improvements to the Korg Volcas

This articles is part of my ongoing series on Desktop Electronic Music (DEM). The landing page provides easy access.

I have spent several articles describing the creative use of the Korg Volca Sample. Nonetheless, there are many limitations in the design and implementation. Many of these could easily be remedied, resulting in a much more functional and expressive instrument.

In this article I list 27 (!) improvements. And then present a redesigned interface.
Saturday, August 26, 2017

Mika Vainio and DEM

This articles is part of my ongoing series on Desktop Electronic Music (DEM). The landing page provides easy access.

I have been studying the music of Mika Vainio, after his unexpected death this year. Though I was always aware of Panasonic, I must say that their work had no direct influence on mine (until now) since I was already working in parallel, exploring aspects of noise and decomposed beats. Nonetheless, there is much to learn from him.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Improvisation with the Volca Sample

This articles is part of my ongoing series on Desktop Electronic Music (DEM). The landing page provides easy access.

I've been writing a lot about the Korg Volca. But I've also been making music!

Here you can see me using some of the techniques I outlined in my tips and tricks and article on wavetable synthesis.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Turn your Volca Sample into a synthesiser

This articles is part of my ongoing series on Desktop Electronic Music (DEM). The landing page provides easy access.

In my last article I gave you thirteen tips to get the most out of your Volca Sample, using both tried-and-true sampler techniques and the special capabilities of this surprising little unit.

Now I will go one further and show you how to turn your Sample into a synthesiser. How is this possible? Well, we actually have two different methods.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Volca Sample tips and tricks

This articles is part of my ongoing series on Desktop Electronic Music (DEM). The landing page provides easy access.

My last article presented overview of the Korg Volca Sample. This sample player holds up to 100 different sounds, though the 4MB of memory enforces a total duration of only 65 seconds. If you have experience with old-school samplers, you will be right at home with these restrictions. But readers more familiar with software samplers might be perturbed. How can we get useful results without gigabytes of memory?
Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Overview of the Korg Volca Sample

This articles is part of my ongoing series on Desktop Electronic Music (DEM). The landing page provides easy access.

My last article gave an overview of recent Korg synthesis products. Here I will look in detail at the Korg Volca Sample, illustrating features of note, providing helpful resources, and so on.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Korg synths and the Volca series

This articles is part of my ongoing series on Desktop Electronic Music (DEM). The landing page provides easy access.

In recent years, Korg have combined the nostalgia for analogue synthesis with a desire to innovate. This article will provide a quick overview of their products, specifically the Korg Volca series. To my mind these units are exemplars of the Desktop Electronic music paradigm.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Invisible(s) Archipelago(s) #1 Serendib Rhythms by Stéphane Marin

The contours and frontiers of an island can be designated or traced without difficulty; and within an archipelago, from island to island, circuits of navigation and exchange form fixed and recognized itineraries that draw a clear frontier between the zone of relative identity (recognized identity and established relations) and the external world, a world of absolute foreignness. -- Marc Augé, Non-Places: An Introduction to Super-Modernity
Sunday, August 06, 2017

The fourth wave of electronic music

This articles is part of my ongoing series on Desktop Electronic Music (DEM). The landing page provides easy access.

Electronic music was originally the exclusive activity of those who could gain access to elite computer systems. Now it's an egalitarian process, a collaboration between boutique hardware firms, cottage industries, and musicians of all stripes. A performer might use a MIDI controller connected to a compact synth module. Or homebuilt sensors feeding an Arduino. We're the operators with our pocket calculators... which are actually tiny drum machines. We are the dreamers of dreams... implemented in esoteric Max patches.

The state of the art is fluid and multivalent. It's hard to see a context when you are embedded in it. So perhaps it's useful to share my musings, which outline four paradigms that have shaped our relationship to electronic music.
Saturday, August 05, 2017

Survey of matrix mixers

This articles is part of my ongoing series on Desktop Electronic Music (DEM). The landing page provides easy access.

In my last article I proposed a matrix mixer suitable for DEM. Here I will take a look at those mixers that already exist on the market.

The main criteria for a device to make this list is that it is affordable and compact. Certainly there are studio-quality matrix mixers, from companies like Allen & Heath. But these range in price up to $4000. That's a different domain!
Saturday, August 05, 2017

Proposal for a matrix mixer

This articles is part of my ongoing series on Desktop Electronic Music (DEM). The landing page provides easy access.

In a recent article I evaluated the feature sets of tiny line mixers, in order to find one suitable for DEM (Desktop Electronic Music). It was difficult to find a perfect tool for the current ecosystem of small synths, drum machines, tablets, phones, and other consumer devices. For example, of the ten units considered, only three worked with stereo minijacks, since they targetted an earlier music-making paradigm.

In this article I'd like to add some further functionality to my specification, and propose a mixer design. There's a real gap in the market for a compact mixer than can be used as a creative tool in its own right.
Friday, August 04, 2017

MIDI wiring diagrams

This article is part of an ongoing series on Desktop Electronic Music (DEM). The landing page provides easy access.

This article will explain how MIDI cables are wired, starting with conventional DIN-5 sockets, then looking at TRS connectors. This will help anyone who needs to trouble-shoot wiring or solder their own cables.

DIN-5 connectors are paired as male and female ends. But there are two tricks.

First, the pin-out diagrams are sometimes presented from the point-of-view of wiring the plug. But, commonly, when using the MIDI cables, we might prefer the point-of-view of how the plug looks externally. One is a mirror image of another. (This might be obvious to all but me, since I swear I am topologically impaired.)

Second, the MIDI in and MIDI out sides of the cable are wired opposite each other, so that when they are paired, the current flows correctly. Electrically, that makes sense. But pragmatically this might be counter-intuitive. After all, when we examine a MIDI cable, it isn't labelled as to which end is which (in or out).
Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Mixers for desktop music

This articles is part of my ongoing series on Desktop Electronic Music (DEM). The landing page provides easy access.

If you are anything like the typical DEM practitioner, your desktop is a tangle of cables, interlocking musical devices, power supplies, and patch-cords. How can we tame this mess? Here I will tackle one aspect of the problem, by evaluating portable mixers.

UPDATE 16 August 2017: Two additional mixers added, for twelve in total.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

On conspiracy theories

It's time for me to make a few observations about conspiracy theories, if only to get all my thoughts in a row. I've been asked a few questions lately, and it gets repetitive repeating fragments. Here they can live in context, under one handy heading.

First, I need to contextualise these comments by saying they only apply to the armchair thoughts of those in the relatively comfortable embrace of "Western society". I have no experience with how these patterns of thought play out in other places. Second, I will use the conventional phrase "conspiracy theory", even though these random persecution fantasies do not deserve the term "theory". By their nature they lack the required rigour, testability, etc.

Third, I am not using the word "conspiracy" in the strict legal sense, but rather follow common usage. These conspiracy fantasies involve hundreds or even thousands of participants, elaborately-constructed plots, duping of large sectors of the media, etc. There is no doubt that small conspiracies with a very limited number of participants have existed and will continue to exist. These generally get exposed in short order. Examples include a break-in at the Watergate apartments or a meeting between the Trump administration and some Russian officials.

But I think we all know what falls under the category discussed here. The government has a UFO under wraps at Roswell. The Twin Tower attacks on 9-11 were an "inside job". Water fluoridation is a plot by a cabal of dentists. Etc.
Monday, July 03, 2017

"Audio Culture": quick look at the revised edition

Published in 2004, Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music provided a one-stop reader for those interested in contemporary creative sound practice. Editors Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner performed an admirable service in bringing together classic pieces from Attali, Russolo, Cage, Cascone, WS Burroughs, Schafer, and many others.

Thirteen years later a revised edition is being published by Bloomsbury, so I thought I'd have a look at what's changed. I haven't had a chance to review a copy of the book, so this is only a consideration of the scope.
Friday, June 30, 2017

Rebuttal to "There Is No Scientific Method"


It's been a year since the opinion piece "There Is No Scientific Method" by James Blachowicz was published in the New York Times. But only now did a friend on Facebook bring it to my attention.

The author's mission is to pull science down from some perceived pedestal, by way of comparison to poetry. The sad and unfortunate effect is to diminish both vital processes to mere communication. I will review this article in order to assert the exact opposite. The scientific method is indeed special and valuable. Poetry is not limited to mere advertising of meaning, but is the veritable wellspring of life.
Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"Got a light?" The blind centre of the atomic experience (Twin Peaks redux)

The Lynch universe is full of record players, speakers, radios, and other sonic devices. It also sometimes permits a television or movie screen. A chilling scene in Fire Walk With Me froze Agent Cooper's after-image on a CCTV screen, as Phillip Jeffries stormed down a hallway. Here the televisual augurs the supernatural effects that lie behind the normative facade of everyday life. Twin Peaks: The Return has extended this idea beyond all expectation. In episode 8 it literally blows up in our face.
Sunday, June 04, 2017

Sgt. Pepper 2017 and the loudness wars

Anyone with a passing interest in pop music or studio production could not help but notice the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It's the first time an album by this seminal group has been released in archival fashion, which is perhaps surprising. There's lots of exciting news here, most prominent being a brand new remix from the original masters, by none other than George Martin's son Giles.

Sgt. Pepper is often mooted as the band's finest album... indeed the best record of all time. It isn't, not by a fair shot. I would give Abbey Road and The Beatles precedence, and have sympathy for those who choose Revolver as well. It's also called the first concept album, though the conceit was paper thin. Mishearing the words "salt and pepper", McCartney imagined alternative identities for his bandmates as part of some local music hall act. This was by no means a bad strategy to break them out of their equally artificial roles as John, Paul, George, and Ringo. But the only trace of this concept that made it to vinyl were the two renderings of the title track and their dress-up antics on the cover. So, no, not really a concept album and certainly not a good example of one.

But what the album does have are cracking songs, fluid performances, unusual songwriting, imagination to burn, and timbres previously unheard on record. It was an experimental album in a way pop music can never again be. Back in 1966 there was technology to figure out. The musicians were continuously asking themselves questions like: "What strange thing can we do with this tape deck that serves the song?" and "What if we played three pianos simultaneously and miked up the full decay?" and "What if we played this backwards, or down a fifth or up an octave?" There are only so many times you can ask these questions before they become part of the formula. The Beatles and George Martin asked these questions first. And, incredibly, answered them best. (I should not forget the wonderful engineer Geoff Emerick.)
Thursday, May 25, 2017

Arduino IDE: Best practices and gotchas

Programming for the Arduino is designed to be easy for beginners. The Integrated Development Environment (IDE) provides a safe place to write code, and handles the make and compiler steps that are required to create processor instructions from your C++ code.

This is fine for trivial applications and school exercises. But as soon as you try to use structured code (including classes and custom libraries) on a larger project, mysterious errors and roadblocks become the order of the day.

This article will consider best practices for working within the IDE. I will document a number of common errors and their workarounds. My perspective is of an experienced Python coder who finds C++ full of needless obfuscation. But we can make it work!
Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Valentine's Day microphone test revisited

In the original Valentine's Day microphone comparison I tested three sets of mics in different scenarios. The files are still available, so you should visit that article if you haven't already.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Great invention: flash memory

So, as I got ready for my next field recording excursion I reflected on how much easier things are, now we have flash memory. I mean, what a great invention! Non-volatile, no moving parts, light as a feather, and tiny. Did someone win a Nobel prize for this? I hope so.

It's also truly ridiculous how much memory I carry. For fun I thought I'd do a little inventory.
Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Comments on field recording gear

This article will provide technical details and discussion for my Valentine's Day microphone comparison. First I will outline some requirements for field recording and discuss one useful specification. Then I'll discuss the specifics of the gear, typical pricing, and conclude with some remarks about relative value.

Hopefully this article will suit beginners as well as slightly more seasoned recordists.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day microphone comparison

It's Valentine's Day, which means that spring has sprung here in Ireland. I know my Canadian friends will find that hard to believe! But the crocus are out, the trees are budding, and birds are starting their courtship and territory marking.

So I did what every field recording mammal does on a day like today... I went out for a walk with two different recorders and three sets of stereo microphones. I thought I'd share with you some sounds, since every now and then it's fun to compare gear. Well, in truth I have been in more of a philosophical than technical mindset lately, so this was a nice change of pace.

What follows is a microphone comparison that developed over three updates. I think it's done now!
Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Zoom F8 Firmware Update 3

This is a rather belated post. But, as you can see from my website, I've been rather busy.

In August of last year I wrote a number of articles on the Zoom F8. One of these listed firmware suggestions to improve the recorder. Since then Firmware 3.0 was released, so I've edited that article to indicate which of the suggestions have been implemented. The majority have, which is incredible service on the part of Zoom. (I know some of you are reading this, so thanks!)
Thursday, January 05, 2017

The Devil's Dictionary of internet terminology

This internet business is big money, people tell me. And apparently most of the money is spent by the marketing department, inventing new buzzwords. If I had a penny for every time someone used one of these nonsensical terms, well, then I'd have an internet business model.

To aid in linguistic understanding and to further world peace, I've been compiling a helpful dictionary. The start of a new year seems a good time to share, before we are overwhelmed with a new crop of jargon.

Virtual: On a computer.

The cloud: On someone else's computer, trusted implicitly for your security and privacy.

Platform as a service: On the internet.

Web 2.0: A method of refreshing advertisements without reloading the entire web page.

User-driven: Market-driven.

Market-driven: Profit-driven.