Monthly Archives: November 2007

Quote of the Month

Posted by PH on November 27, 2007
Digital Literacy, Quote of the Month / No Comments

When reading a book or even a sentence, there is a beginning step. A book and a sentence both have a beginning that is formally denoted. There is a middle, and, hopefully, there is a solution to a problem that is posed. The reader is recognizing symbols and making associations. The reader controls the pacing, the level of participation, and the dwell-time. But, essentially, the part that interests the reader are the symbols and finding the solution to the problem: that is, making meaning.

Launching an application follows the same steps as reading, with the user of the program recognizing symbols for the sake of solving a problem. The user determines the pacing, the level of participation, and the dwell-time, but in the end is only concerned with the symbols and the solution to the problem.

Simply put, running an application is an interactive form of reading.

Mark Meadows

[Quote adapted from Meadows, M. (2003) Pause & Effect: The Art of Interactive Narrative. New Riders (pp.25-26).]

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Roots & Galoots 2

Posted by PH on November 26, 2007
Music & Technology / No Comments

The second day of the surround recording sessions at Swansea Metropolitan University with the final year students of the BSc Music Technology course produced this fine version of The Devil’s Dream/Mason’s Apron, as performed by Roots & Galoots:

[As usual, just recorded straight to my N70].

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Asa-Chang & Junray

Posted by PH on November 25, 2007
Music & Technology / No Comments

I came across Asa-Chang & Junray on one of my favourite blogs – Momus’ Click Opera. The group seems to consist of three people: Asa-Chang, ex-hairdresser and make-up artist, ex-member of the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, and percussionist; guitarist and programmer Hidehiko Urayama; and tabla player U-Zhaan. They formed in 1998 and appear to be still going, although it’s difficult to say for sure: they have a MySpace page but it hasn’t been updated since February, and the link to the ‘band website‘ goes nowhere of the sort…

Here’s the video of their best known track, Hana, which dates from 2001:

The video is technically very simple, and yet remains enigmatic, elegiac, and mysterious. There’s a marvellous use of colour and an exquisite economy of means which serves to heighten the implied drama. The emotional impact of the relationship—apparently unravelling backwards in time—is counterpointed by the metronome ticking relentlessly across the bottom of the screen…

The music itself is based around a string sequence which sounds on first listening as though it’s a recording of a real strings: having listened to it more closely I’d say they used either a good orchestral sample library with some synth backdrops, or solo violins/violas dubbed over a synthetic backing. Either way, it changes subtly all the time and this organic quality means it doesn’t get boring despite playing the same chord sequence for over 6 minutes. Nicely done!

The vocal/tabla pairing is one of those things where you think “Why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?” Presumably the idea originated in the tabla bols, onomatopoeic oral patterns that tabla players use to learn specific rhythm/sound combinations. Whatever, it somehow creates the effect that there has been a fundamental shift in the internal organization of the music that leaves the cut up voices and tablas free to create explosive bursts of kinetic energy and meaning across the poignant ground of the strings.

All in all, then, absolutely superb. I then went looking for more and found Tuginepu To Ittemita (2003):

I love this video: it’s so simple and yet so effective. The use of colour is exquisite. I also found Senaka (2004):

Again, the economy of means is just mindblowing. The music and visuals are both soft, sensual, organic, flowing, and undemonstrative, and show up the vast majority of contemporary ‘pop videos’ as being boorish, moronic, brutish, crass, dumb, and about as sexy as a blow-up doll.

I think what particularly impresses me about Asa-Chang & Junray is that they seem to have some kind of overall vision, and that everything they do adheres to that vision. The word ‘compromise’ doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary.

At Post Everything I had a good listen to most of stuff off their two albums, and to be fair those featured here represent their best work. Nonetheless, these three tracks and their videos resonate with me emotionally in a way that no other new music has done for… I dunno, years and years.

They seem to be able to effortlessly synthesize whole worlds of opposing musical force: the organic and technological, the modern and ancient, the tonal and dissonant, the rhythmic and the floating. They are somehow able to integrate classical Japanese and classical Indian musics with Western pop, bebop, Stockhausen, and laptop glitch electronica in a completely natural and seamless manner. Their music is fabulous, exotic, and avante-garde, but remains totally satisfying emotionally. No mean achievement.

And no, I don’t have any idea what the songs are ‘about’.

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Roots & Galoots 1

Posted by PH on November 20, 2007
Music & Technology / 1 Comment

Around this time every year I organize a set of recording sessions for the final year students on the BSc Music Technology course at Swansea Metropolitan University. The idea behind these sessions is to record a band ‘live in the studio’ in full 24-bit/96kHz surround. The past couple of years I’ve booked Gypsy Jazz but they weren’t available this year, and so on the advice of my colleague Pete Williams I booked Roots & Galoots, a Bluegrass band based in South-West Wales.

I have to say that initially I was a little dubious because, with three vocalists, I felt that it might be difficult to achieve any decent recordings in the time allotted—each group of 3 or 4 students gets 3 hours to do the recording—without recourse to setting up a PA etc.. The whole idea of it is that it’s basically an acoustic session. Anyway, it turned out very well. Roots & Galoots were highly skilled musicians and very professional in their approach, and you can see from the following video how they managed to balance themselves up:

Brilliant! Like a ‘real’ recording session from the 1950s (or earlier). No overdubbing, no drop-ins, no MIDI, no samplers, no editing, and no place to hide for either musicians or engineers. Just good musicians recorded straight with good equipment. Deep, deep, joy.

[Note: the video was recorded with my Nokia N70. No post-production apart from trimming the start and finish.]

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Posted by PH on November 05, 2007
Music & Technology / 1 Comment

I have previously posted several items about multi-touch interfaces: Jefferson Han’s work here and here, and the Microsoft Surface here. I was therefore quite excited to come across Reactable, described by its developers at the Pompeu Fabra University of Barcelona as a “musical instrument with a tangible user interface”.

However, that’s actually a pretty daft description of it (in oh so many ways): it’s simply a multi-touch interface to a virtual studio built using PD. It’s constructed in the same way as the Microsoft Surface, with the touchscreen positioned above a camera and projector. Here are the Reactable ‘Basic Demos’ 1 & 2:

Pretty neat. I can see there might be major problems using it—e.g. interfacing, playing a tune, remembering patches or sequences, and it’s not exactly portable—but I would love to see something like this as (part of) an interface to a commercial synth or something like Reason.

It’s the future.

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