Jun 6, 2009


Computer Music magazine is not really my cup of tea. And there's a reason that too: the oh-so-dangerous semiotic fuel to the app upgrade race that happens to benefit only the advertisers that take up about 50% of the magazine's publishing space. In their correspondence section of the latest issue (June 2009), some reader complainted about their lack of coverage on freeware utilities, arguing that a digest of the most pertinent happenings in such a chaotic universe would be very welcome to Computer Music magazine readers. The magazine replied that, since freewares are free to try, why should they deny their reader-base such joy. Aren't they such darlings? Yep, that's right: Computer Music magazine is intended to be a buyer's guide, not journalism. Luckilly, they betray their intentions from time to time and in their single-page eye-on-freebies section of the same issue, they present us with the acknowledgement of the existence of a gem: Nodal. No tutorials, no raving reviews, just a screenshot and two paragraphs of briefly telling what it is. Oh, and a URL for whoever gives a fuck - and so I did. But enough with the bile.
Nodal is a MIDI manipulation tool. It's grid-like interface supports a non-linear sequencing of MIDI instructions in a circuitry logic. Remember Pipe Dreams? That's what you do to the MIDI signal in Nodal. The lenght of the side of each square in the grid is a beat in a definable BPM tempo. You can also create nodes in the plumming (hence the name), where you can edit many aspects of the signal and control it's flow around your circuit. The idea is to create a (not necessarily linear) sequence of MIDI messages, yielded to a third-party MIDI receiver. The downloadable pdf tutorial shows you the ropes proper, so be sure to get it.
Like they say on the webpage, Nodal doesn't make a sound by itself. In my system Nodal found the soundcard's synth by default, wich in turn produced sound. But you can route it to a hard synth, if that's your thing. Routing it to anything "software" is not trivial, though, and it depends on the MIDI slave, really. For example, Nodal can produce different MIDI notes, in different programmes (or "instruments"), in up to 10 MIDI channels. You must also understand that there's no concept of transport (play, stop, record, etc) yielded by Nodal, just the MIDI protocol. I tried to use Reason for a slave and eventually gave up when I learned how tricky that can get in a couple of forums. In those forums, people kept asking for rewire, vst versions, etc. But, if you a take closer look at Nodal, you will understand that this would cripple it's possibilities.
My suggestion is to use it on Plogue's Bidule, where you can liberally create MIDI-ins for whatever Nodal needs and route them to your weapon-of-choice favourite softsynth or effect, or even to Reason, through Bidule's Rewire. MIDI Yoke as a virtual MIDI port takes care of the harware-to-sofware bridge and Bidule picks it up with no fuss. I havent's tried Nodal on Audiomulch yet, but I guess you can get it to wait for an incoming MIDI message in mapping certain parameters.
What's exciting about Nodal is the possibilities it opens in MIDI management, be it generative music composition (scales, chords, etc), be it stochastic control over MIDI acessible parameters.

Apr 28, 2009

Long time no see...

Hi there you all..
This dark alley is getting damper by the minute...
A lot is going on, not necessarily music-wise (unfortunately)...
My latest undisclosed craze is getting the better of me, and succeeding in keeping me at bay of everything creative (music included).. However this "craze" just might get the better of me for the time being as it promises to contribute to my financial health... (in the long run).
I switched computers... again... and lost most of my news-feeders (which remain in my laptop), but expect something new this week!
I know my buddy is keeping up the good work back in the Capital, and we're still to post some snippets of the "Belarmino Project". Hopefully this weekend something will be done.
I got a lot of info regarding the Sheep-Daw series in the drawer/closet/bag, which I promise I will post in the utmost urgency (sometime this year). Just remember the name "Usine"... a definitive winner in this department.
Once I get my hands in my MIDI-interface I'll be able to use my still-unexplored Korg ES1-MK2 as a übber-Controller (in Live), and also cooking is the KAOS PAD3 which my buddy has befriended for some time now (let's hope they get married soon!!!)

Big hugs and stuff!!!
Cya soon!!!!!!

Apr 2, 2009

Great show. Makes me wonder how nice TV could be. Besides the biographical information about Steve Reich, the real nuggets here are the technical explanations and compositional aesthetic considerations. I stumbled across It's Gonna Rain by pure chance and, funnilly enough, I found out I was going pretty reichian on the Belarmino project.

Mar 29, 2009

Ever wanted to do a cover of a brazillian song? What about a little touch of the Bossa Nova laid-back cool on your material? Check Beatriz Kauffmann's massive midi archive. And you know what? It's all free!
The site is in portuguese, so for all you non-portuguese speakers, too bad! Just kidding: scroll down and you'll find an alphabetical index to take you pretty much wherever you want to go.
Four Tet - Everything Ecstatic (Domino, 2005)
Another great sampling work. Kieran Hebden creates little wonders like this album allegedly using only a wave editor, Audiomulch in a PC with a Soundblaster card, connected to the speakers of an old stereo that he uses as monitors. He thanks Hot Chip for lending him the drum machine he uses in one of the songs. When asked about his favourite plug-ins, he says he never got into plug-ins that much - just listen to the album and you won't find it hard to believe - it's very creative copy/pasting and Kieran playing guitar, at times. It's also very interesting to aknowledge the influence that the sampling approach casts on the composition.
To an Audiomulch user, this album is even more strikingly beautiful in it's simplicity and directness. You can get it all wrong when you see Kieran Hebden sporting a Tenori-On in the Yamaha magazine ads, but this music's power relies on creativity, not on technical prowess, and that's just so refreshing in electronic music.

Mar 25, 2009

Belarmino 1

So, the first thing you do is quite obvious if you've checked out my latest posts. You need to convert a DVD into usable digital sound. Altough this seems conceptually very easy, I had my fair share of googling before I could get this going. And it's easy to understand why.
First off, the entertainment industry really doesn't want you to be able to do this easilly: imagine the movie soundtrack CDs you wouldn't buy when you could just rip that one title song when the credits roll in - you must go out and buy a CD with that one nice song and a lot of orchestral music that's just not conceived to be listened to without images. Well, software developers know that and they create software that allows you to rip a song from a DVD, but they want you to pay for it - wich is undestandable, since it's their work , but they also know you would really like to be able to pull this off - that's why this feature is usually locked in DVD ripping software demos. But you don't really fancy paying for a piece of software you're probably just going to use once or twice in your entire life, besides it's regular funcionalities. So, although you're not trying to do something illegal (not until you make money out of it), you're trying to do something unprofitable for an industry, wich is far worst. And the apparently simple process of isolating the digital sound out of a digital movie becomes subject matter for searching the leftfield realms of the internet for answers, just like you go to certain parts of town to obtain things considered morally inadequate. And you know how careful you must be when walking down those streets: malware, pop-ups, spam may lurk around any dark corner. Pardon my noir cinematic digression, but it's just amazing how hard it might become do to something of such conceptual simplicity, just because an establishment is not interested on you doing it. Even if they can't do anything to prevent you from doing it, you find yourself browsing funky html'ed sites for a solution, advancing on your own firewall-ish risk. So, you're down to two solutions: Or you venture outside the mainstream moral safety of well-known internet navigation, or you have the money to buy your way through the establishment, straight to your goals. The point I'm making here out of this perhaps mundane example is that legallity and morality are instruments primarilly meant to preserve a status quo and money can buy you out of their grip, if you have it and are willing to spend it. Realizing this makes me reconsider a lot of moral concerns.
Here at Duet Yourself, we try to keep things as low budget as possible - hence the Sheep-DAW set-up thread - and all this DVD-to-sound stunt is performed with freeware or open source apps. The easyest and cheapest way of doing this involves ripping the DVD to .vob format, on your hard drive and then creating wav files from the .vob's. For step one, I suggest the DVD Decrypter app from DVD Videosoft . For the vob-to-wav part, VirtualDub does the trick. To put it simple, what you'll end up with is a raw wav file per DVD chapter, with the sound from the movie.
From this point on, you're down to your aesthetic choices. I suggest you pick up a wav editor (like, say, Audacity) and get chopping bits of sound you fancy for whatever reason and for whatever purpose. Use the looping mode to keep a repeating-pattern perspective. Chop it all into individual sound files without being too specific. In fact, try it often: my experience says that on some occasion you might be very melodically-oriented and neglect a very nice beat waiting to be exhumed from a background; on some other day, you're into rythmic patterns and you'll find that neglected beat where you thought there was nothing. There's no technical or technological magic solution here, this is a trial and error thing and I don't think you can get beyond intuition.
What you need to do is to play around with the material until an idea pops up - in our performance-driven civilization, purpose is overrated to such an extent that you very easilly abandon the simple pleasure of playing around with something. What I'm mostly against in most music production publications is an underlying discourse that leads you into believing that creative sucess is granted, once you're using the right technology and it's so hard to keep up with all the upgrades that you're always feeling like you're missing out on THE solution that this month's issue of your favorite magazine promises: if only you had the money, right? Wrong! Most times you never get beyond an entry level experience with most of the tools you use and most of the old ones already do what the new ones promise with a minor difference that, most of the times, is actually irrelevant to your use of the tool anyway. I won't bore you with my view of the economics of all this - simply count the advertising pages on such magazines. There's no magic metaphysical road to sucessful music-making that you need to find with a stroke of genius, acessible only to those illuminati that already own the latest gizmo out there. Pay close attention to the music you listen to and like and you'll realize that most of it relies on technology you already use and know, with a twist. A good sample (or a good synth line, for that matter) is as good as what you do to it - and there's just so much you can do, so many options under your mouse cursor, that what you need to do is to explore really well and thoroughly and play around with the sounds. I'm going to do that with the wav files and find out where it leads me.

Mar 23, 2009

Daedelus - Exquisite Corpse (Ninja Tune, 2005)
This is sampling work at it's best. While Dj Shadow's Endtroducing is clearly a dj's technical prowess, Daedelus' work is a compositional one. There's no intention in hiding the seams of the copying/pasting to make it all sound like "normal music", those seams are actually aesthetically upheld and used musically in a natural flow somewhere between experimental electronica and old school hip-hop, in a travelling shot encompassing a multitude of styles from apparently disparate origins.

Belarmino 0

Belarmino Fragoso was a portuguese boxer and essentially a lisboner, made famous by Fernando Lopes' portrayal in the 1964 movie Belarmino. Lopes worked in RTP and was part of a bohemian circle that comprised several painters, journalists, musicians, novelists and poets that trudged the Lisbon night, concealling their activities from the fascist regime that would easilly find them subversive, if they were to traspire outside the intellectual spheres. Belarmino Fragoso was, at the time, a sympathetic bouncer at a cabaret - the Ritz - and quite a character, that Lopes overheard complainting about a case of mistaken identities in a boxing match involving himself and saw the opportunity for a film to be made. Lopes set out to shoot Belarmino with his family, training at Sporting Clube de Portugal, fighting, chasing girls, drinking wich he mixed with interviews conducted by journalist/writer Baptista-Bastos, in a melancholic portrait of a decaying boxer where fact and fiction collide, much like Belarmino's first person description of his own boxing feats. The film was shot in the gorgeous Augusto Cabrita's black and white cinematography, boldly revealling Lopes' nouvelle vague aesthetics and neo-realistic leanings and presenting Belarmino as a tragic and somewhat ridiculous character, a working-class hero to be. The soundtrack was composed by Manuel Jorge Veloso and Justiniano Canelhas and performed by the Hot Club Quartet, a pionner jazz club and school regularly attended by Lopes himself and friends.
I was blown away by the movie when I saw it. It's very daring, even by today's standards, in it's post-documental style. Belarmino is indeed a great character and a natural showman, whose leg-game and truculent ways in life are paradigmatic of a sort of lisboner trait. What's also very noticeable about it is the soundtrack and the sound design: it's not only the very contemporary jazz music, but the way Belarmino's Lisbon is acoustically poured into the movie. Since I saw Belarmino, I thought of a project and a bit of a technical challenge that I always wanted to try: creating music, using only a given source of sound, and restraining from using anything else but that source of sound. Naturally, it couldn't be music or it would be a mere remix, it had to be a multifaceted thing that would allow a certain versatillity and the opening scene from Belarmino did it for me.
So, what I'm proposing myself to do under your blogspherical attentive eye is to go from film to music, in a sampling and sequencing endeavour, revealling all it's technical, creative, ethical and semiotic difficulties, solutions and mis-haps. And if you're wondering if I fully know what I'm about to do, let me tell you that I don't - and that is just what's so nice about it.

Mar 19, 2009

Modular week ...

That's right...
Just after my last post regarding a promising future in Bidulation, I came across another amazing new pearl in modular-enlightenment:
pd just got easier .... go to CDM and prepare yourself for a new FREE BOOK (and easy to understand) on how to use pd properly....

pd is a stripped FREE version (kind of) of MAX (based on the same kernel, I think) created by Miller Puckette (if you're aiming at the phD in electronic music you should also check out bang|pure data and The theory and technique of electronic music).

So.... being that most Audio/MIDI data can be managed and manipulated by pd, and if you can live without all the widgets that MAX/MSP allows... this can be a very eligible alternative (and cheap) to the €599 Cycling74 endeavour.

That's all for now!!

Mar 18, 2009

New Bidule resource! -HOT!!-

Dear all,

In a now usual flash-post, I'd just want to post a new link to PlPheads at NoisePages..
This dude goes by the name of Primus Luta (quite the esoteric type eh?? ;-D ) is going to/has post some tuts on Bidule... He seems quite nice and is making a big commitment in raising expectations around the use of the Canadian Mod-Freak (aka Bidule).

Go Luta, go Luta GO!!!!
(this is not irony... it's desperation regarding the hours that I've spent knocking my head against the wall trying to formalize my nobel-deserving ideas on Bidule)

There are some screencasts already available for your modular delight here.
Go check it out and don't forget to drop a line of acknowledgment!!!

Mar 16, 2009

Faced with a new technical challenge, I came across another Sheep-DAW classic, at least in my book. Let's say you have a DVD from wich you want to extract the sound for, say, educational use (cough!). This seems like a very simple concept to grasp but, as I found out, not a simple one to put to pratice. Before you start to wonder wich cable to buy to connect your DVD player to the input socket of your computer's soundcard, hold your horses. Thou shall not waste your precious money, I tell thee! You just need your DVD-R drive and the googling I'm about to save you.
Want you want to do is to rip de DVD into your hard drive and convert the resulting .vob (video) extension files into wav files. To rip de DVD on to your hard drive, you'll need the DVD Decrypter app from DVD Videosoft, wich is malware-free (AVG scanned) and as freeware as they come. It's not open source, wich I find suspicious, though, so DO scan it senseless with all you can throw at it. This simple app just creates the vob files in a designated folder. There are not that many options: It's pretty much video origin specification, destination folder specification and go! The DVD I ripped was converted into eight different vob files and I don't know how or why. It doesn't really matter much if you're not ripping the DVD for the movie content, though it would be nice to undestand why.
So now you have vob files wich are only good for watching on your media player or for burning back to DVD. You'll need the small open source wonder that is VirtualDub and an encoder needed for it to do it's thing. The encoder is an executable updater, not your regular .dll, so you'll just need to unzip the folder, double-click the .bat file and you're good. Virtualdub is pretty oldschool and doesn't need installation: just unzip it and the executable file IS the software, not an installer - keep that in mind, for your own folder arquitechture concerns.
What VirtualDub does is converting vob video files into almost whatever format (yep: avi, divx, wmv, mpeg, the whole shebang) and with a lot of compression options in the video and sound department that, frankly, I never really explored because I always went straight to the 'save as wav' option that's sitting on the 'File' menu, waiting for a music producer to drool over it. I did preform a vob-to-avi conversion once and it worked out fine.
And that's it. No fuss DVD to digital video and digital video to digital audio conversion. All free. File it under Sheep-DAW.

Another Sheep-DAW must is Audiograbber. Audiograbber is a traditional CD ripper. It used to be shareware but it's gone freeware in 2004, wich means no please register windows, no experimental periods, no limited functions till you pay for it, you download it and it's yours. So why is it useful for music production? Two reasons: the line-in sampling mode and the mp3 compression (yep, you'll need to get the lame enconder somewhere else).
The line-in sampling is the most user-friendly way I've seen of doing a very obvious thing: getting your computer to record incoming audio in stereo wav format from the input socket of your soundcard. This seems like a very simple task, but most software has recording time or storage limitations (other than your hard drive capacity, obviously) till you pay and/or register - not with Audiograbber. Windows has a little app that does this (in mono) that has remained unchanged since v3.1 through to XP, that only records a minute of audio. Audiograbber was very obviously designed for ripping your entire music collection (be it CDs, LPs, cassettes, whatever) into mp3 format and the ergonomics show just that: it can start (and stop) recording on user order or on incoming sound over a used-defined decibel threshold, it automatically creates a different wave file if a user-defined period of silence goes by, it has different volume settings for incoming audio, recording and output, it has real-time recording monitoring (lag depends on your RAM resources, obviously), it has compression and peak-correction settings and it all can be set on automatic no-brainer mode if you're not into working out the details.
When I started doing field recordings, Audiograbber was right about the only free way of getting sound from your Minidisc into your computer and, as far as I know, this is still the cheapest and most clever way of doing it. For recording stereo sound to a digital medium, nothing is cheaper than a second-hand Minidisc that people on e-bay are dying to get rid of for peanuts since the portable mp3 player explosion. A DAT recorder is the quality option but it's more expensive (around ten-fold!) and you won't find DAT tapes on your supermarket like you find blank Minidiscs. New digital recorders are not only far more expensive than your regular second hand Minidisc, but they also come with built-in microphones, wich compromises versatility. And Minidisc microphones are pretty good for their price. If you're going down this road, Audiograbber is your only free, unlimited software option, as far as I know.
The other Audiograbber highlight for me is the mp3 compression. Most MySpace-like profile pages have storage limitations and you can't put up a regularly compressed mp3 file over 5 minutes long. Audiograbber allows you to compress the mp3 in diferent sampling rates, so that you can fit longer mp3s into less space, with a compromise on quality, obviously. All of this can also be set on automatic no-brainer mode, if your not into working out the details. It also converts mp3 into wav and the other way around too. A Sheep-DAW must, I tell you.

Mar 15, 2009

A Sheep-DAW staple must be Audacity. It's your regular WAV editor and it's as open source as they come. Audacity supports VST plug-ins and has a bucketload of built-in effects of variable quality and usability. The mild-mannered open source community provides the informal support every software user should feel confortable with in our dear post-modernity. Audacity converts to-and-fro wav, mp3 and ogg (you'll need to get the lame enconder somewhere else, obviously).
It's spartan no-bullshit GUI is intuitive and has just what you need. I wouldn't recommend translated versions, though. In the portuguese one it seems like they google-translated the terms and it's simply more confusing than the english original for pretty much everyone (yep, that bad). The looping function is a bit dumb and won't update de loop's left and right locators position sound-wise, if you move them - you'll have to stop playback and re-start, wich bums me out a bit. Another programming flaw (at least in my version) is the window management: it's one Audacity window for one Audacity project and/or wav file, so you can't really close a project file without exiting the program. Although there's a close option in the file menu, it's really an exit. It's a bit crappy when you're working on several files in one go and you have RAM restricitions, so no batch processing. And that's pretty much it, in the cons department.
In the pros, it's free, it's legal, you can (and should) share it, and besides the cons, I never needed any other wav editor.

Mar 6, 2009

Long time no see, right? At least Duet Yourself-wise...
I barely had the time to double-click on a music app lately, due to increasing Duet Yourself-irrelevant issues that I have. But I did stumble across this very nice little app that turns You Tube into a potencial mega sample bank. And it's free, so file it under Sheep-DAW.
I think (but I'm not sure) it was Woody Allen who said that people should create art about things they intimatelly know about. YouTube and internet videos are such a part of our lives and of our sound world, that it becomes only natural to use it as part of our creative work.
I've been into watching cigarette ads, lately. Portugal was one of the first countries in the world to ban tobacco advertising, so it seems to me like such an extraordinary thing to be able to watch these gems of vintage marketing. I've been a smoker for a long enough time to have my own experience-based ideas about smoking and cigarettes, so I'm sort of imune to the ideas yielded by tobacco marketing. To me, tobacco marketing becomes a sort of abstract marketing, wich is fascinating. Their naive discourse is not any different from, say, a toothpaste ad from the same era and that is what's so obscene about it: people openly endorsing tobacco on prime time television reveals not only a time and place where values were completelly different but also shows us how marketing will always capitalize on a moral paradigm, whatever that will be. In revealing the mercenary nature of advertising, these ads become almost subversive. The portrayal of men, women, moral values, sexual atractiveness or social sucess reveals an underlying ideology so far-off of the political correctness of today that it astounds us that only a few decades have gone by.
I seem to be drifting a bit off-subject here but cut and paste techniques in whatever art form are great ways of exploring this contrast. For example, in Music has the right to children, Boards of Canada based their aesthetics on vintage children's TV to create a very appealing contrast between old and new. I'm not encouraging anything illegal, but please do check out these cigarette ads in a (cough!) musical way: Kool, John Player Special, more Kool, Salem, Kool again, Winston, Newport or Peter Stuyvesant. Check the related videos and you'll just keep getting more of them. A jingle is a very expressive and invocative piece of music, in an almost haiku-like way. Some of them work, some of them are just down right ridiculous, some of them work in a down right ridiculous way but they're all infectious and there's a compositional lesson to be learned here. The simplicity and directness of the music is also sort of subversive, not only because of what it endorsses but also in the sense that it does away with non-imediate music wich is the pop paradigm taken an extreme. The lullaby-ish flavour of jingles hit you below the rationale belt and the imediate recognizability of these pieces of music is a must.
So, what I am suggesting here is a structuralist approach (Hjelmslev style, if you will): download these for your own private (cough!) educational use and dissect these songs until you find the patterns. For an example, I noticed that these songs use that sacred rule of having something drastically changing in every bar, but the melody of the next bar usually kicks in during the rythmic fill of the previous bar - this is very clear in the lady be Kool song - it's almost like there's an interest on keeping the music appealing and with permanent novelty but without compromising a certain needed flow. In this song, there's also a semi-tone climb for momentum's sake, during the repetition of the whole pattern - novelty vs flow again. This ad relies so oubviously on the jingle, that the voice-over spoken word is just plain absurd, almost surrealistic, as if it's existence (a masculine voice saying something) is all that is required.
The semiotics of functional music, especially on a medium like TV, are very revealling of today's compositional paradigms. And with that little app, YouTube is yours for the (audio) taking.

Pre-DAW set-up considerations

Before installing your ubber-setup with all the newest 38872 VSTi and the latest alpha version of your sequencer/host of choice, there's always some homework that usually pays off if thought in advance.
There are lots of articles and blogs that discuss this subject with more depth - please google them out and search for yourselves....
In this case I'm trying to post some essential and near-imediate guidelines in setting things up with the least cost/hassle possible ... trying not to fall in the typical DAW "go-with-the-flow" herd caveat.
It's not that hard to be original these days in these matters..
Just find a FREE ATARI ST emulators and explore the wacky sequencers that "they" were testing, let's say, some more than 10 or 15 years ago... (more on this on future posts)

And yes, it can be done!

I found two articles (both from CDM) that explain the best FREE utilities that one should keep at bay when preparing your computer for semi-serious music production.

First of all, the most generic non-musical apps that you should keep in a usb pen, just in case.

Secondly, and more appealing, there are the FREE music-ish apps that you should never leave home without.

Again, I'm sorry for the short posts....