Friday, December 31, 2010

The New Year (Death Cab for Cutie cover)

So since it's a new year and all I decided to throw together a cover of Death Cab For Cutie's "The New Year".

I tried to do as much stereo micing as I could.  Downside to this is that if I want to record more than one instrument at once then I have to set the relative levels of those instruments before recording, and I can't change it afterwards (although I can EQ and reverb it to help things a bit).  Basically what this means to you is that the vocals were too soft, and I muddied up the mix trying to fix it.

Anyway I recorded XY stereo rhythm dobro, mic'd behind the bridge, simultaneously with mono lead vocals.  Then I recorded XY stereo lead dobro, mic'd right in front of the bridge (to get more pick noise).  Then I moved everything around and recorded acoustic bass guitar, AB stereo mic'd at soundhole and 12th fret simultaneously with background vocals.  Then I recorded acoustic guitar, XY stereo mic'd at soundhole.

Then did mixing in ardour, about to do "mastering" (read: normalization) in audacity.

Made video the whole time, once the files transfer from the camera I'll do my usual crappy copypasta video editing then render then encode then upload.  I am thinking about changing my encoding parameters because my other videos kind of look like crap.  I guess if I just double the bitrate it will automagically look better?  No ffmpeg gurus read this, do you?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Aleatoric music, sort of

So on my other less snazzy blog I have been going into detail of the processes that I took to make some aleatoric music. Basically it is not total "chance" music like John Cage but whenever I come to a major decision I would just constrain the decision to a certain number of possibilities and then have make the decision for me.

Two-Part Palindromic Invention

First I wanted to write a two-part invention that sounded the same backwards and forwards, which also obeyed a few of the rules of common period practice theory, namely only consonant intervals allowed and no parallel fifths.

The randomly chosen decisions consisted of precisely which notes to play. However, picking one note narrows down all of the others a tiny bit, so there is much less chaos involved than one might expect. The first few decisions had 7 or 8 possibilities but the final ones only had 2, and there were only 5 or 6 decisions.

I also had write the lyrics: nonsense syllables created by randomly choosing from the consonants, then the vowels, then the consonants. It ended up sounding fairly sinister, but also very interesting.

Here it is: Aleatoric #1 (Two-part palindrome invention)

Rev8 by Walker Shurlds

It ended up a bit more dissonant than it is supposed to be because of my inability to sing in tune.

Three-part Round

Next I made a three-voice round using similar techniques. With desire for consonance I decided to limit the harmony to regular triads built from major and minor thirds. Since it is a round, determining one note actually determines three, and also those three all narrow down the other notes. So there weren't a terrific number of decisions to make there either.

For the lyrics I looked up "most common english words" and had pick actual words instead of just syllables. Seriously these may be some of the best lyrics I've ever written. (I am bad with lyrics.)

Here it is: Aleatoric #2 (Three-voice canon)

Round12 by Walker Shurlds

Aleatoric #3

Then today I decided that I wanted to make one with TONS more decisions to make. I figure there are 42 possible normal triads in the normal 12-note chromatic scale used in western music. So I had give me 20 of them, and then I sang those 20. For the lyrics I asked my friend Taralyn to give me some out of a book she had with her. She only gave me 18 syllables though so I crammed her screenname on the end.

Here it is!

Aleatoric3 by Walker Shurlds

Aleatoric music, good or bad idea?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Generic Subtractive Synthesizer Topology

I just threw this graphic together to explain how the most common synthesizer topology works. I am working on a few posts that will actually explain what these things means but I'll just vaguely describe it here for a bit.


An oscillator is just a circuit that repeats a pattern of voltages over and over. In a very general sense, how fast it does this is what we interpret as "pitch". A VCO, or "Voltage Controlled Oscillator" is an oscillator that can change the pitch it produces when controlled by some other circuit providing a control voltage.

Usually for this topology one will pick a VCO that produces what we call "harmonically rich" waveforms. What that means is that there is energy on lots of frequencies high and low. The pattern of this distribution of energy over frequency is what makes a trumpet sound like a trumpet and not a piano. This is the sensation that we call "timbre". The "subtractive" in "subtractive synthesis" refers to taking a signal with lots of energy all over the place and then removing, or filtering out, some of it so that you can change it to whatever sound you want. The opposite is "additive synthesis" where you take a whole bunch of signals that barely have any harmonic content and then just add them all together.

Anyway, there are usually only a handful of timbres that a VCO can produce. A VCO is usually followed by a filter so that you can achieve a much greater variety of timbres. You can think of a filter like the equalizer on a stereo system, in general, but for synthesizers the most ubiquitous filter is a "low-pass filter with resonance". Your stereo's equalizer has several frequency bands that you can boost or cut to change the sound. A low-pass filter is like this except you get to name a precise frequency. Then everything below that frequency is kept and everything above that frequency is lost. It actually has a rounded response curve to it, which can be made more steep by increasing the number of "filter poles".

"Resonance" means that in addition to cutting the energy above the named frequency, the filter boosts content RIGHT AT that frequency. These are the two most common controls for a filter: cutoff frequency and resonance. By making a filter whose cutoff frequency and resonance are controllable by separate circuits that merely provide a "control voltage", you can make something called a VCF. A "Voltage Controlled Filter".

After that description I'm sure you can imagine that a VCO+VCF can produce a very wide variety of sounds! But there is one problem. When you turn on this basic synthesizer, it will start making noise, and it will continue to make noise until you turn off the power. Furthermore, all of the sound it makes will consistently be of the same volume. This is why you need a Voltage Controlled Amplifier!

A VCA is even simpler than a VCO or VCF. It takes a control voltage input and that level becomes the volume. If you want silence, you put in zero volts, and if you want it loud, then you put in lots of volts. There are special circuits that output control voltages designed to make a VCA mimic the volume-variation characteristics of particular instruments--these and other control voltage sources are what really turn this synth topology into a "real instrument"!

I will go into further detail about VCOs, VCFs, VCAs, subtractive and additive synthesis techniques, definitions of pitch, timbre, volume, etc, and types of control voltage-generating circuits in later posts--I just wanted to throw that diagram out there to make sure I knew how to make one.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Music Monday: Sigur Rós

I've had a bit of coffee: hope this doesn't end up too stream-of consciousness for you.

[Sigur Rós:]

Do y'all remember that one time that Kanye West said "I am the voice of this generation"?

Anyway when he said that my friend who listens to a lot of music like me asked me for my opinion and I agreed with him that if there is a "voice of our generation" that it isn't Kanye. My friend was of the opinion that it's actually Radiohead. He said that Radiohead encapsulates how we feel about the world almost perfectly. Now I am more of a sound guy than a lyrics guy--I think he was talking about both but I mostly think about the mood and feeling that the sound evokes, and he is right to a certain extent. We see everything as dark and mangled and changed forever. The future is here but the future is a parody or a distortion of what the previous generations thought it would be.

For me Radiohead does represent our outlook pretty well, but I told my friend "I think you are close but not 100% there". "I think it is Sigur Rós". When I first told him that it was partially a joke because I just love the way they sound and it was kind of me playing off what he said because Radiohead are kind of the people who "discovered" Sigur Rós or at least are responsible for a lot of their popularity. But anyway after I said it I thought about it harder and harder as time went on and I think I was right.

I mean think about what I am saying here. "I think that the voice of our generation sounds like a cross between a baby whale and a eunuch and sings in a made-up gibberish language half the time." I mean my friend laughed when I said it and he had good reason. But I am serious.

Maybe it is the optimist in me speaking out but I think that it is our desires rather than our current outlook that define our "voice". And that is why I feel like Sigur Rós is a better choice than Radiohead. Radiohead hits the nail on the head concerning our cynical outlook, but Sigur Rós captures perfectly what we desire and how we wish things would be. We want things to be simple and beautiful and light. We are sick of heavy stuff and we want to go back to simpler times without cellphones and radiation and chemicals and gas shortages and wars and hatred. I have mentioned this blog post from Pitchfork Reviews Reviews to like 80 people and they are probably sick of it but I am going to mention it here since I haven't mentioned it here yet. We want to return to the womb.

[Or the next best thing, the ocean:]

[No more wars?]

There are lots of different versions of what heaven is like, but I feel like for us heaven sounds like Sigur Rós more than it sounds like anything else.

[PS Jonsi plays guitar with a violin bow]

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Something? December

Not really feeling up to much blogging or anything. Attempted to vlog earlier but nothing would go my way.

Anyway that sounds like a good time to stick to the style you know, and also to just goof off.

I just made this track, it's 5 guitars playing different voicings of the same chords + two vocal tracks, and has 5-bar phrases.

Euphonia - december by Walker Shurlds

I backmasked the lyrics part because I was bored. That's right, if you want to understand the (inconsequential and pointless) lyrics then you will have to download it and play it backwards.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday Noodling: Dual Amps

Maybe I was bored last night, so I guess I threw this together. It's just some noodling with a certain special technique for getting a crazy tone. I've got my guitar being amplified by two amps, one clean and one dirty, and then micing both of them separately and mixing them at slightly different pan points.

Basically I am using my Boss DD-6 Digital Delay as a signal splitter. There are much less expensive ways to do it but this is what I had laying around. Later on I played with some ping-pong delay anyway, so I'm not wasting the pedal.

Anyway what is interesting is that the dirty tone has crunch, but all the dynamics and note attack get compressed out by the crunchiness. The clean tone preserves all of the picking noise and percussiveness of electric guitar but doesn't have the extra harmonics of the dirty tone. Mixing them together gives you all of these and also you get more interesting room sound with two mics, sort of.

The noodling is pretty boring, but starting at like 6 minutes into the video it starts getting good, when I do this old song "Light" with the ping-pong delay.

Anyway I hope that was remotely entertaining... sorry that the video is so dark. I need more lamps.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fragment Friday: Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson

[Fragment Friday is a book blog meme hosted by James at Book Chic. One makes a vlog while reading from a current or favorite book.]

This is another current read. Despite only reading a few of his books, I usually call William Gibson one of my favorite authors. He's mostly known as practically the founder of Cyberpunk and the coiner of the word "cyberspace". I think he also coined the term "The Matrix" in the same context. His three early books, Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive are collectively known as The Sprawl Trilogy. (Although in my opinion they are more of a trio than a trilogy.) Anyway they are the books that are responsible for the style of basically every instance of gritty near-future science/speculative fiction since their release in the mid 80s.

Neuromancer has been one of my favorite books since I read it sometime in high school, but it's taken me a while before I actually got around to reading more of his work. Kind of bad of me, I guess.

I am reading from Mona Lisa Overdrive today, and before I read I talk a bit about the way that Gibson uses technology in his prose. The more I think about it, my other favorite author, Neal Stephenson, does the same thing in his more cyberpunkish books.

I put some background music, as an experiment. In the beginning you are hearing "Circuit Breaker" by Röyksopp, and once I start reading you hear "Sprawl I (Flatland)" and then "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)", both by The Arcade Fire. Chosen for hopefully obvious reasons.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday Tunes? Get Out!

This track started as just a way to test mic placement. Then I threw the drums together last night in hydrogen, using the "K-27 Trash Kit". It's got higher sound quality than some of the other kits, despite being "trash". I'd prefer cheap drums recorded well to good drums recorded poorly any day! But the style is kind of "garage punk" anyway, I think. I actually have no idea what that style is, just making some assumptions.

I am still really bad at making the correct decisions during video editing, but at least I know which buttons do which in the software, right? I spliced in some shots of me playing the bass part, but they turned out really bad because I was too close to the camera. I put a few in anyway just to prove to the viewer that it is me actually playing the bass. Unfortunately I didn't get the bass A/V sync perfect so that kind of ruins that idea anyway. Anyway in terms of production speed I put this one together a billion times faster than anything else! I am proud of myself for that, at least.

Also I screwed up some setting during rendering or maybe encoding trying to help the sync problems but what happened was that it added a big black border that I don't want and it encoded really poorly too. Whatever! I am not fixing it.

Concerning the lyrics, they were improvised. I thought "what would I sing if I was a garage punk band"? It's not about any girl or about society or anything anti-authoritarian or whatever, it's just some random words. [Figure I should say that before anyone in my life gets offended.]

OK! Here is the video! (I made a new video after that one came out so crappy. It took me like 1/5 as much time to edit too, which means I am better than before!)

It probably sounds better in SoundCloud if you're into things that sound better but you can't see them:
Euphonia - get out by Walker Shurlds

Technical things, if you care
Signal chains:
Fender Standard Fat Strat (with a few modifications) >> Peavey Studio Pro 112 (solid state guitar amp) >> ART Tube Studio MP (tube preamp for microphones, being used as an overdrive) >> "T" 60dB attenuator I made myself >> Peavey Studio Pro 112 (effect return) >> Shure SM57 (dynamic microphone) >> Behringer Eurorack UB1202 (analog stereo mixer) >> M-Audio Audiophile 2496 (sound card)
My mouth >> MXL Condenser mic >> Beheringer Eurorack UB1202 >> M-Audio Audiophile 2496
Squier 70s Jazz Bass > Peavey MAX 112 Bass Amp >> Shure SM57 (dynamic microphone) >> Behringer Eurorack UB1202 (analog stereo mixer) >> M-Audio Audiophile 2496 (sound card)
Recorded in ardour, drums generated by hydrogen, sent directly to ardour in software

LADSPA Effects:
Guitar: SC4 stereo compressor
Vocals: Mono Amplifier, SC4 Stereo compressor, plate reverb
Bass: Barry's Satan Maximizer (overzealous compressor distortion)
Drums: Barry's Satan Maximizer, C*EQ2x2 equalizer
Master: SC4 stereo compressor, 2x2 Plate Reverb

Monday, December 13, 2010

Music Monday: The Notwist

I totally had a full post written already about The Notwist. It talked about a lot of things, like the ubiquitous of indietronica as a whole and what I think their place in it, and I kept comparing them to Radiohead and The Postal Service and even The Beta Band and then I hadn't written this part yet but my plan was to note how big of a mark they have made on their scene via 13 & God and by extension all of anticon and also the effect of their numerous side-projects, and then I was going to argue that no other band has been capable of carrying on the German indie lineage started by bands like Can and Kraftwerk, and whatever.

There were some good points in that post but it was boring. I am going to turn it into a list of factoids.
  • The Beta Band were making formless sample-heavy rock music before Radiohead made Kid A
  • The Postal Service is the band responsible for transforming my high school class into indie dorks
  • The Notwist's music is way way more meaningful than that of these
But really who cares? If I can't argue that one of my favorite bands' music is good without comparing it to a bunch of other bands then maybe I shouldn't be writing posts about music. I think that those things above are true, but they are mostly in the realm of opinion. You don't have to agree with me that The Notwist's music is the ultimate indietronica, that is you don't have to agree that they truly synthesize every influence on that subgenre in a more elegant way than their peers or predecessors or anyone, to agree that they can craft really good tunes and make fun tracks and remain listenable in spite of experimentation.

Here's a video:

Instead of jumping into more wankery or technical whatever criticism let me share a memory. I remember discovering the track "Chemicals" on LaunchCast Radio, which eventually got bought by Yahoo and I'm not sure if anyone still uses it. I discovered great band after great band with their similar artist database. Wasn't perfect but was ahead of its time. All I really remember was being completely mesmerized by the vocals. I remember thinking to myself "I wonder what this song is all about?" I am not really a lyrics guy. I get these ... impressions of a song that have little to do with the lyrics. To this day I haven't looked up the lyrics to "Chemicals" but to me it is a song about how everything that really happens is just due to chemicals. Everything bad that ever happens to you, you don't have to worry about it. You can just chalk it up to chemicals and move on with your life. What I mean is that everything you do is really just impulses in your brain and you will always follow certain chemical laws in terms of what you think. This sounds depressing but if you only invoke it in the bad times, then it is liberating.

[This one's video is unofficial:]

I remember making my friend Evan listen to "Chemicals", and the way it starts with just glitchy drums and lo-fi accented vocals all singing about chemicals you know? And he said about ten seconds in "Walker this music is seriously weird". Then about ... ten seconds after than he said "Whoa! This is really good!". I feel like that exemplifies the kind of emotional dynamic that I most often associate with music from The Notwist. There are bands and musicians that are great at contrasting loud and soft or one instrument with another instrument or female with male or sustained with staccato or whatever whatever whatever. The Notwist aren't just contrasting notes, The Notwist contrast emotions. Their music contrasts happy and sad, they contrast chaos and order and they contrast liberty and slavery and control and the lack thereof. They are not just playing notes, they are playing ideas!

[I really wish this video didn't add the train sounds to the original:]

This is one of those things that I feel like is such a monumental achievement that I have no idea how I am the only one who seems to have picked up on it. Why isn't music with this kind of contrast more popular? It isn't a bunch of songs it is art! It's the kind of music I can get behind and say "this is what I like" and people will feel challenged by me.

I think it is not that big of a secret that people are afraid of music that makes them think. I think it is a bigger secret that people are afraid of music that makes them feel.

If I haven't sold you yet, then let me talk about technique. On one hand you can just say what I said earlier: they sound German. Take all of krautrock and modernize it and spin it around in the worldwide indiemobile and see what comes out, that's what they sound like to a certain extent. But that doesn't say anything of quality or restraint, and those are the areas where their technique really shines. They can take any timbre you want and turn it into whatever texture they want. There is something about their skill in crafting sounds into a certain shape that I don't really know of anyone else who comes close.

If I told you it was all about glitch beats and banjo samples you'd laugh at me, so I won't, but it is. I mean there is this level of audacity in there, I think. "We can sample banjo and you'll still like it" kind of audacity. Markus Acher's voice is nothing less than mesmerizing. Listening to their albums becomes like a trance when you take in all the lush details at once.

OK hopefully that is enough to spark your interest and cause you to go do some listening. Let me know if you have trouble acquiring their albums or anything and also let me know if you like them!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Statuses

Trying to think up everything I'm currently "working on". More for myself, but thought I'd post it anyway. You can let me know what sounds coolest/most promising if you want.


Cover of A Perfect Circle - "Three Libras"

Got all the arrangement done and recorded the vocal track. Still need to record two dobro tracks, still need to decide how many other tracks there will be and what they will be. I was thinking beat-boxing but that might be too ridiculous. Also need to decide if there will be a second vocal track. (Then the standard mixing, mastering, and video editing. Then the automated rendering, encoding, and uploading.)

Cover of Badly Drawn Boy - "Stone on the Water"

Initial decisions are beginning to be made, and that is about it. Transcription done, that's a decent start. Still need to finalize instrumentation decisions and record the tracks, (then the usual final six steps).

Cover of Elliott Smith - "Somebody That I Used to Know"

I can barely play this guitar part, so I am arranging it for other instruments. I was thinking something similar to what I'm doing for "Stone on the Water", but two like that so close to each other might be lame. Maybe keyboards? I'm even worse at those than I am at that guitar part though. So still need to decide instrumentation, finish arrangement, record tracks, then finalize.

Gravy Song

Then I told Gravy that I would music-ize his poetry, possibly in the style of Metallica. That was a long time ago but I'll still do it. It will probably be crappy though.

Old Songs

I want to start redoing some old instrumental psychedelic post-rock music that I made a whole ton of a few years ago. Some of it is bad and some is good but unfortunately all of the good ones sound really similar. I want to take a few of those and just make a better, more intelligent, restraint-exercising version. Also do that for "Comfortable", easily the best song I've ever recorded, which was in 2008 I think.


I have two posts in progress, one about the physics of sound and the type of language that music theorists and physicists have to use to describe the things that I want to describe in later posts. I want to blog about synthesizers but I have a feeling that this kind of stuff is boring to people who are not yet interested in it, so I am trying really really hard to unboringize it in two ways: making sure the writing is perfect and also easy to read and understand, and by generating interest by posting about other, tangentially related things beforehand. Hopefully as I do more and more of recordings I will start using the digital synths I run with them and that will be a good start. Then I will probably also start posting about other, more easily relate-able topics like analog vs digital and things like guitar effects--topics that share a lot of things with synth building but either require less technical knowledge or that could be made really easy to demostrate with a vlog of me playing with them.

The second post I have in progress is a link page to synth resources on the 'net, intended to be looked back on in the future once I've written tons of over things.

Other posts I have in mind are like descriptions of my production process and details about the instruments and other equipment I own.


I'm not really close to starting my actual synth building. I might try and make that a New Years Resolution? Just build one module at a time until I get that going. That is another thing I should post about--the fact that I plan on using as many recycled parts as I can.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Noodling: Stone on the Bubble Mute

The other day artist Bobby Chiu tweeted "Learning to draw even when you don't feel like it. It's an essential skill to being a successful artist." and that got me really thinking that I don't make much music when I don't feel like making music. Today is one of those days where I don't feel like making music, so I suppose I should just do it anyway. At this point I haven't decided whether I should work on my cover projects or just noodle or maybe redo an old song, or even which instrument I should play. I am thinking that the plan will be to eat a bit first anyway. I'll use horizontal rules to split up when I quit writing this post then did stuff then came back, I think.

So I was thinking that for today's post maybe I should talk about gear, since I have gear nut tendencies and am kind of evangelical about linux, or I could talk about video editing or whatever since I did recently discover how to do simple things like sync up video with external audio and do some cutting and pasting. I want to learn how to do split-screen, but at this point learning to do music better is more worthwhile. But after thinking about those things I thought about that tweet and realized that today at least, the force that is making me want to post about that stuff is the fact that I just don't feel like making music today, and after thinking about it decided that that isn't good enough. As lame as it sounds, I guess I have to push myself, even if I'm pushing myself while holed up as a tiny bedroom recording project. If I do do video today I am going to have to wear something on my head because I am currently hideous.

Ended up napping for two or three hours but I still feel bushed from work. I am thinking about trying to lay down either an a capella or a vox + horns version of "Stone on the Water". I was thinking a capella before the nap but now I feel differently. This room is live enough to get really good horn sound. I am thinking a chorus of bubble-muted trumpets for now. I have to do a transcription first in any case, though.

This is the song. I'm not certain but I think this video is unofficial:

First I am laying out the form.

all time 4/4 except where noted
riff a: em E                   
riff a: em E
riff a: em E            cello
riff a: em E            viola
riff b: em 9-8 suspension
riff b: 7/8: em 9-8 sus
riff a: em E                    +piano
riff a: em E
riff a: em E            cello
riff a: em E            viola
riff b: em 9-8 sus        +dbass
riff b: 7/8: em 9-8 sus
riff a: em E                   
riff a: em E
riff a: em E            +violins    sample
riff a: em E           
riff b: em 9-8 sus        only violins and guitars
riff b: em 9-8 sus        "

b part: vox enter           
em em em em    so we restore harmony smooth the lines on the
C  C  C  C        face of an old enemy but there's no
am D  em em    wood on the fire again we could meet any
am D  G     G    place you know where i know when ... to
B7 B7 B7 B7    go
B7 B7 B7 B7

em C  G  B7    skip like a stone on the water
3/4: em C G    fall with no trace to lie permanent
B7 B7 B7 B7    ly
B7 B7 B7 B7    oooh oooh
em 9-8 sus    oooh
em 9-8 sus    [filled to 4 by drums]

em em em em    into the valley we roll where we fumble a
C  C  C  C    round till we find our way home yet all we
am D  em em    have is an old ball of string will it reach to the
am D  G     G    end of this dark labyrinth
B7 B7 B7 B7    no
B7 B7 B7 B7

em C  G  B7    skip like a stone on the water
3/4: em C G     fall with no trace to lie permanent
B7 B7 B7 B7    ly ... ... ooh
B7 B7 B7 B7    oooh ...  oooh
em 9-8 sus    oooh
em 9-8 sus   

I guess I am known for (read: I guess I know myself for) meticulous transcription. There are way more details than anyone needs in there. I can't seem to remember how to do tabs in HTML correctly at the moment though, so I copypasta'd into an editor that renders them correctly for me. What I need to do now is lay down a set of parts that vaguely represents those chords and form and then do a note-for-note transcription of the one guitar bassline part, and that is all for the moment. The bassline will mostly consist of "do this for every B7 chord, do this for every G chord, etc."

Ugh there is no way that I am going to get any good sounds with these methods tonight. Combine how rusty I am at trumpet with intonation problems resulting from muting combined with general lack of inspiration when I thought up the idea. I did the first half of the A section but if I keep this up all night I will end up in tears (also with a busted lip.)

But you get to listen to it anyway!

Bad-rough-stone by Walker Shurlds

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fragment Friday: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

So since I've sort of thought about doing book blogging I figured I would participate in a book blogging "thing".

I am currently reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It is pretty intense but is great and is really enjoyable. Wallace's prose is on a different level than anything I've ever read. According to Dave Eggers' intro to the book it is a book everyone should read because reading it will change you into a better person. Pretty high praise I think, but so far it is true. I hope you agree with me that what I read is intense or else I will feel foolish.

Anyway Fragment Friday is a meme hosted by Book Chic Club where people all read from their current or favorite read and make vlogs out of it and post them and he links to all of them and then everyone comments on each other and stuff. IDK if Infinite Jest is the kind of thing they usually read but whatever.

Anyway here is my vlog:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The DS Sleeps Alone Tonight

The other day I mentioned in passing the Korg DS-10. It is a digital synthesizer for the Nintendo DS--meaning that it is very small and also very affordable, costing about the same as any other DS cartridge. Supposedly it is an emulator for the beloved Korg MS-10 semi-modular analogue synthesizer. It has most of the same features as the MS-10 (and adds some) but the tone really doesn't come close.

But I don't care, it's still a really cool device and really fun to play, and that's what matters, sometimes. I have this dream where I will be in an electro group that only uses tiny instruments, maybe I said that already in the post about the Korg Monotron though.

Anyway there is a song that I cover seemingly all the time, and I decided to do it on the DS-10, to show you what it can sound like. I made a video because I wanted to practice my video-making chops. The A/V sync is almost, but not quite, perfect, which bums me out. Anyway I did it in a kind of vlog form. If you only care about seeing the actual song, go check it out on youtube.

Also I moved my studio to a different room. I talk about that a tiny bit but not too much.

[Played on a Nintendo DS with Korg DS-10 cartriged and a MXL condenser mic, mixed in analog on a Behringer mixer down to two tracks into an M-Audio audiophile 2496 PCI soundcard, digitally recorded in ardour using jack, in ardour gain automation and ladspa effects SC4 and plate reverb were added, then exported to audacity and mastered. A/V sync and video editing in cinelerra. Encoded to flv by ffmpeg then uploaded to youtube using ... firefox.]

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Small Synthesizers: The Korg Monotron

Today I decided to ask Old Ho Ho for a Korg Monotron for Christmas.


Here are some things that make the Korg Monotron ridiculously cool:

First, it is tiny. It is less than five inches long, less than three inches wide, and a tiny bit more than one inch thick. It weighs about four ounces with batteries. There is something incredibly futuristic about things that are tiny. I have this idea in my head that I will have a band or be an artist where I will be playing a show and I will run all my softsynths off of netbooks less than 10 inches wide and I will use (mostly Korg-made) controllers and synths Korg nanoKontrol and the Korg Monotron and maybe even the Nintendo DS Korg MS-10 emulator or that sine-sequencer for the iPhone. I mean I could fit enough equipment to generate like 10 tracks of audio on a coffee-table with the way that technology has been going.

It is analogue. "Digital" used to mean "cool". But the meaning has gone too far and now it means "cold". Analogue synthesizers are considered to be warmer and richer at a small expense of versatility. If you told me that you had a tiny synth, I would tell you "that is cool but digital is lame". Then you would have to tell me "actually it is analogue, we have precision machining and circuit-board technology to make a 3-module analogue synth take up fifteen square inches now." Then I would be all like "whoa!" However, I discovered the Korg Monotron before you did, so I get to be the one telling you that while you can find good analogue equipment and hip tiny things easily enough, good analogue hip tiny things are still rare, yet here one is! I will probably be explaining the facts about analogue vs digital sound and synths in later posts. For now just go with and remember "analogue equals good" until I flesh out the details.

It is semi-modular. Things that suck about that sequencer for the iPhone and the Nintendo DS MS-10 emulator and so on are that all they do is output a signal, they have no way to sync up with or react to other synth channels and also they can only generate sounds from scratch--not modify existing sounds. This is one of those things--as you make things smaller you have to remove features, and modularity is one of the first things to go. However, the Korg Monotron's VCF can take external inputs. Basically what this means is that it is instantly a wah-wah or auto-wah pedal for guitar, if you suddenly need one, or it is a hiss remover for a noisy track or it is a drum darkener or whatever else you can use a filter for. With the LFO cranked up it is suddenly some kind of weird FM/ring-moddy sounding thingy.

Other things: It has its own built in speaker. Convenient if not that useful for live stuff. It represents a return to ribbon controllers--this is an interesting historical note. Its circuitry is based on the MS-10. Meaning its sound is already a well-established vintage synthesizer sound that already has a huge following.

Here are some Youtube videos I found displaying its awesome features:

This guy uses it simultaneously with a pre-programmed Korg DS-10 for the Nintendo DS. (I have that too):

Is it just me, or is smaller totally better than bigger?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Review: Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

[Since I am thinking about doing book blogging I decided to copypasta my most recent Goodreads review here. Let me know if this is interesting or not.]

Cat's EyeCat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This isn't the kind of book that I would expect to be "my kind of book", besides the fact that I am a fan of Atwood's wit, but wit is pretty general and this book is about a girl's life and it isn't about much else more on the surface and that description makes it sound like a really ordinary read but I found that as I read it I kept mentioning it to people over and over and if all those people got together and compared notes then they would think I was a loser who only talked about one book, so I guess that is evidence that it was a very meaningful read for me.

There is a lot of imagery and juxtaposition and allusion and so forth, that means it's good and all, you know. This one chapter toward the end reminded me of Don DeLillo, and he kind of has a similar wit sometimes, so if you like him maybe you'll like this book, maybe not.

Anyway it is kind of like a biography taken apart and retold out of time, which I feel like is kind of a metaphor for book-reading as a whole, and that is a part of why I really liked it, it explored the medium as a whole in an insightful way while not actually being meta- because it's not about books, it's actually about a woman who is a painter, which is completely different, but it really isn't because time doesn't exist in a painting either, and that's what the book does, it removes time from her life to mitigate the order of the story and turn the story from a temporally structured event into more like a portrait, and that's why she's a painter.

But Atwood is more than just some postmodern wank who does nothing but be meta- in whatever way or whatever, the story isn't just some exploration of medium or whatever I just said. It also happens to be a damn good story that kept me engrossed the whole time, and made me care about the characters and wonder at their mysteries and feel what they feel, which is an accomplishment in itself, but I shouldn't have to say that.

So that's two levels that Cat's Eye works on and those are good levels to talk about and I should probably leave it at that because the other big level it works on is one that I try not to talk about because I am afraid of what people think of me and that level is "feminism". The character struggles with her identity in several ways and identity as a whole is explored a bunch, but one part of her identity is that of a feminist or not, and I don't really talk about feminism. I think that I agree with Atwood or with her character or whoever if the book can be said to have something to agree or disagree with; that no matter what you try to be there will be people who don't think that you are it enough, and this theme is repeated throughout. You aren't a real girl because only own one dress. You're not a real painter because you take jobs painting advertisements. You aren't a real feminist because you aren't a lesbian. I mean I am totally OK with calling little girls judgmental and people will probably be OK with that, but if I start applying that word to feminists then I could probably get stoned next time I go outside, so I guess I should come up with a different word. But I'm at a loss and what I really want to do is not describe groups like "feminists" and instead just say "all people" because it's not a failing of feminism, it's a failing of humanity, to judge someone's identity as "not enough". So I think we should stop that and that is part of what I got out of this book.

I hope this !review is tolerable, I tried to focus on sharing what I learned without really focusing on writing a proper review but maybe I failed in one way.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 6, 2010

Music Monday: Shellac

Maybe every Monday (until I go Johnny Cash crazy) I will share some music that I am obsessed with.

My favorite band for the past few months has been Shellac. They self-describe as a "minimalist rock trio" although others have called them silly words like noise-rock and math-rock or sometimes just indie rock or whatever. Anyway the best thing about Shellac is that it is made up of three guys who are not crazy about being rock stars or anything. They only play music because they really like playing music. Guitarist Steve Albini and bassist Bob Weston both are well-renowned recording engineers in the indie scene. I know the most about Steve Albini--he is basically my hero but if I knew as much about Bob Weston and Todd Trainer they would probably be my heroes too. All I know is that they do Shellac because they love making music, and for no other reason at all. This is the best reason to make music.

The band started as an outlet for Albini's interest in vintage Travis Bean aluminum bodied guitars as well as the Interfax "Harmonic Percolator" distortion pedal. There are people who seek out unique tones and so forth but no one goes as far, or is capable of going as far as a guy who is in the running for greatest record producer ever. When Albini buys guitar effects he buys like half a dozen of the same pedal and then tries out all of them to figure out what minute differences due to manufacturing tolerances there are in each instance of the pedal. I watched him do it in a youtube video where he reviewed some Harmonic Percolator replicas. Anyway you are unlikely to hear a guitar tone that sounds like his, ever. That was the point.

[Yes he is wearing stilts for no discernible reason.]

Anyway I could describe Shellac's credentials and reputation forever. What I should really be talking about is their music. Shellac epitomizes everything good about minimalist rock that has ever been said. They limit themselves to a very small set of musical timbres but not only in spite of, but because of that limitation they achieve greatness. Albini's repetitive barely-tonal riffs establish more mood than harmony, with Weston's grooves wandering and meandering throughout, all over Trainer's aggressive drumming that the critics can't seem to think of any better word for than "primal". If I asked you "how much do you think a band could actually say with that kind of palette?" then your answer would probably be very little, but Shellac takes that as a challenge and creates some of the most dynamic and diverse music still being made.

The fact that they are basically the "tightest" band ever is a large part of this. They are capable of playing seemingly random unrelated things, but these musical ideas always converge together perfectly, and and when they do the full aural power of their sound is unleashed. In an interview Albini talked about dynamics saying that if your band is tight enough, you should go with a three-piece, because when there are only three of you then every entrance and every change that any of you make in the music becomes way way way more dramatic. But that is only if you are capable of pulling it off at all, of course. Most musicians aren't.

I guess a lot of the stuff I am writing in this post is exactly what they are saying in the video. Whoops. Anyway they are amazing and this is my favorite song off their newer album.

Here is another good Albini video on the music industry in general:

Hopefully you can see why they are my heroes. You should buy all of their records, preferably on vinyl because that is what they would want me to say, but if you're not into that then whatever. Let me know if you need help finding them, I am good at finding things.