Thursday, April 08, 2010

Jam with Faraway Musicians Via Your Laptop: Ohm Studio



Music has always been a collaborative art form. The first popular records were made by bringing all musicians into a studio full of microphones, recording them live all at once. With the advent of multitrack audiotape, each instrument could be recorded a track at a time, and thus, you could get a drummer or a pianist in there one day, then bring in a vocalist on another.

This multitrack metaphor still remains today in digital audio workstation software (or DAW). But there's still the problem of finding good musicians to meet up with you and jam. With the Internet and email and file-sharing, that's much easier. Assuming you find people through any number of sites, you can fling the tracks back and forth to each other wherever you might be -- in your garage in Seattle, or on a Wi-Fi accessible beach in Fiji. But that's still annoying.

Now there's Ohm Studio, a DAW with a social network back-end plus an optimized file-sharing engine within the app. Sounds good, but there are already quite a few DAWs out there. Pro Tools, Sonar, Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Acid, Cubase, Record, Reaper to name a few. Would be great if the social media back-end were an open API so that each DAW developer could tap into it. A standard, like the virtual instrument plugin standard "VST". Ah well.

Someday very soon you can be sitting on the beach, acting like you're the hot shot producer in the control room as you type to your artist "More cowbell."

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share
posted by Brian at 9:10 AM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New Book & CD: Jim Copp, Will You Tell Me a Story?

The vinyl record LPs of Jim Copp and Ed Brown were HUGE influences on me growing up. From the late 50s to the early 70s, These guys made imaginative songs and stories using only 3 Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorders, a couple of microphones, random instruments, and props all in Jim's Los Angeles house (including his bathroom, for its reverb). Then, the two of them would sell the records at upscale department stores directly.

Now there's an illustrated book called Jim Copp, Will You Tell Me a Story? featuring three of his stories, so now you can follow along with the included CD of their original recordings! I also recommend the full CDs (East of Flumdiddle, Thimble Corner, Jim Copp Tales et al.)

NPR (National Public Radio) did a segment about the book over the weekend. Listening to them now I really appreciate the imagination, creativity, tone and sophistication of their work. The music and words are all grown-up. These children's records are not shrill, high caffeine and corn syrup, or attitude-y. Indeed, my three my 3-year-old niece adores them.

Incidentally, one of the pieces in the book is one of my favorites, "Martha Matilda O'Toole", which I, Anita, and Sam performed as a puppet show a few years back for the SF Bay Area Puppeteers Guild and the Puppet Love! Festival:

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share
posted by Brian at 10:10 AM 1 comments links to this post

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Touchscreen DJ rig


Final Product // ATTIGO TT from Scott Hobbs on Vimeo.

Doh! Why didn't we think of that? This is the thesis project of Scott Hobbs, but I can see something like this touchscreen DJ rig being offered by Numark, Vestax, or Stanton someday.

Of course, you can already do this with Mixmeister Scratch and an iPhone:


Inspired by Geekologie.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share
posted by Brian at 10:45 AM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mash-up Idea: The Office theme vs. A-Ha's Take On Me

This mash-up exists only in my head, but it's stuck there like toe fungus at the moment. The theme from the American version of The Office vs. A-Ha's Take On Me.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share
posted by Brian at 11:02 AM 0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tangible User Interface Design: The Step Sequencer

I just love novel computer interfaces. Today's example is a step sequencer, which is the modern-day equivalent of the player piano or music box. Both of those instruments use a mechanically rotating spool of marks indicating notes of a certain pitch. The spacing between the marks indicates timing (i.e. rhythm). As the spool turns, whatever marks arriving over the fixed playback line are the ones that play. There are many incarnations of step sequencers, including electronic and software versions. Both replace the rotating drum with a looping playback line.

Two recent experiments involve using physical objects for the marks, and having a computer recognize the color and position of them. This computer can then playback any sound imaginable.

There's the Bubblegum Ball Sequencer by Hannes Hesse, Andrew McDiarmid and Rosie Han up at UC Berkeley:


Or this Skittles® sequencer by Kyle McDonald:



And really, all these new-fangled music games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band are variations on step sequencers. Instead of a rotating drum (moving marks) with a fixed playback line, or a grid (static marks) with a moving playback line, these games use a conveyor belt of notes flowing down to a fixed playback line that the human player must play at the right time (or risk public humiliation).


via Create Digital Music

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share
posted by Brian at 12:19 PM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Computerized Musical Automaton

Bookmark and Share
posted by Brian at 7:22 PM 0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Drums are the new Exercise Equipment Must-have

Scoot over, Nordic Track™. Step aside, Stair Master™. America's living rooms are tied of boring old exercise equipment taking up space, seldom used except on Sunday morning TV infomercials. Now there's Roland's V-Drum Lite HD-1 for that total upper AND lower body work-out combined with virtual rock-star training.

Lose weight while playing along to your favorite hits produced back when they used actual drummers. Tone those arms so that you can beat all your friends playing Rock Band™ on your PS3 & XBox. Or, if music is not your thing, use it as an avant-guarde techno sculpture center-piece.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share
posted by Brian at 11:40 AM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bent '07: Acoustic Torture

A few weeks ago, I decided to get a full pass to the Bent '07 Circuit Bending Festival, meaning I could attend workshops and three concerts-worth of music made with electronics, preferably found and mangled together.

(Above)Yes, that really is a carrot inside a antique hand-cranked grinder...

Overall, I would have to say to anyone thinking about attending such concerts: DON'T, unless your idea of music is hair dryers, band saws, static, and high pitched squeels. With not even a handful of exceptions, these were not musicians; these were scientists and hobbyists tinkering with ugly noisy repetitive sounds for way too long, having way more fun (or sometimes looking even more bored) than an audience listening. It turns out that attaching any old random non-musical electronic equipment to speakers, even if you pour water on it (!) still sounds like shit noise, unless you endow it with something. Rhythm, dynamics, melody, tonality, music theory of any sort, really -- all conspicuously absent here. Uninvited. Still, everyone else seemed to be rooting for sonic obnoxiousness (either noisy sounds, or god-awful playing of standard instruments), and if you're that sort, by all means go!

(Above) A trio for cassette decks and viola

The one act I did like (and which actually did involve what I thought of as Circuit Bending) was a Japanese fellow wearing sci-fi goggles, pulling out bright plasticky toy electronic instruments from a box, hooking them up via cable one by one to his rig which inclued a pair of Alesis AirFX boxes, a Korg KaossPad, a CD player, and strange vintage electronic toys that I couldn't identify. The result was enjoyable techno music.

I did enjoy the workshops though. In the morning, our instructor had us each build an oscillator and then a primitive 4 note sequencer:

Then, outside a few of us ripped open a cheezy plastic keyboard, found a resistor, attached some alligator clips and a potentiometer to it. Suddenly we could play a demented version of "Happy Birthday," violating Copyright, the warranty, and probably some end-user license agreements in one fell swoop.

Finally, a guy showed us how to make unusual instrument controllers, including this one made of Jell-O™:


Ironically, I was able to go home, wake up the next day and finally enjoy the cacaphonous condo construction symphony outside my window for a change. At least it has rhythm.

To hear acoustic examples, try this Associated Press Podcast.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share
posted by Brian at 6:06 PM 0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Behold! Neat-o Keyboard from the Future!


Have a look at this new British MIDI controller interface called the Axis Natural Keyboard.

A traditional piano keyboard looks like this:

Whereas, this instrument looks like this:


I had thought this layout was a completely original, from-the-future concept. But like all ideas, it has some connection to the past. Here's a musical reed instrument produced in the 1950s with a similar interface, the Harmonetta.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share
posted by Brian at 12:10 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, January 22, 2007

Computers -- Bad for Music Creativity?

I really have to agree with this article from the Chip Collection Blog. When I first began composing with a computer, I had an 8Mhz 2 Mb RAM Atari ST running a very simple sequencer called Hybrid Arts EZ Track, with a total of maybe 16 total MIDI-only tracks. I had one keyboard (a Korg M1) that could play up to 8 instruments at a time. I had one drum machine for better drum sounds. With it, I was quite productive. It never crashed. Once I figured out the basics of my equipment, I was ready to go.

Since I moved to the PC, I've barely finished a piece. First, getting all the drivers for the audio & MIDI interfaces to co-exist on a single version of Windows has been gnarly. Then, whenever I chose a platform to learn, the company making it would either die or get bought out and abandoned, rendering my tool extinct. Finally, the sequencers out now are ridiculously complicated. Sure, they're powerful, but sometimes you don't need an F-16 fighter plane to get to store to buy some milk. And they crash, put glitches in your music during playback, and make my brain work really hard to the point where I lose interest and go watch another episode of The Office.

Granted, the short bits I do end up making can sound amazing. With dozens of software instruments and thousands of sounds and samples, I could sound like Vangelis, or Vince Clark, any Hip-Hop / Rap piece or The Orb if I wanted to.

But ultimately, the PC has taken a decade to where it is remotely useful to me for making music in an inspired, relaxed way. Interface design and stability are the culprits, in my opinion.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share
posted by Brian at 3:45 PM 0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Digital Trumpet Controller!

At last, you trumpet players can get into the digital music game previously reserved for keyboardists, drummers, reed-instrument players, guitarists, and violinists.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share
posted by Brian at 1:14 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, May 30, 2003

Sleep, New Music Computer, and Obsessive Copyright Enforcement

Remember that sleep is important, especially if one is to be ready for impromptu technical interviews over the phone.

I'm getting a music workstation upgrade. It will also allow me to brush up on 3D and video skills.

It's nice to know the Constitution & Bill of Rights are still enforced... except when you MIGHT have violated copyrights. The Court ruled it's okay to shutdown websites without a warrant.

Back to mundane life.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share
posted by Brian at 3:30 PM 0 comments links to this post