I have spent the last three days trying to synthesise a six string rock guitar - mainly so I don't have to learn to play a real one myself. This I have completely failed to do. But in a productive way.
Because on the road to making something that sounds less like Axel Rose and more like a harpsichord on long wave radio, I've found acres of other plucked string instruments, several kinds of electric pianos and organs, and even a bit of trumpet.
The method is called the Karplus-Strong algorithm, and it involves cycling very short bursts of white noise while progressively taking out the higher frequencies. From such unmusical beginnings spring dulcimers, wurlitzers and thrumming upright basses.
So here's some early results, arranged in a doodle I call:
I don't have the strength to write up tonight's gig right now. So in the meantime, it's meme time. Courtesy of David.
What is your occupation right now?
I'm a freelance teacher. It's the most intellectually challenging and financially unrewarding job I've ever had.
What is your favorite color?
It used to be red - the redder the better. But then one summer I spent months researching chromakey blue for a film project - it's the deep, rich blue you sometimes see actors placed against for backdrops to be put in later. Nowadays they tend to use chromakey green, which is much better for technical reasons - and because it's easier for the actors to avoid wearing green than blue, so their clothes don't accidentally become part of the backdrop. Unfortunately, it's a horrible colour.
Next time you watch Star Trek: The Next Generations, notice the complete lack of any green in the clothing - it's all blues, reds and blacks. That's because the show used 'greenscreen' technology all the time.
So now it's choromakey blue.
What are you listening to right now?
I've had a night full of loud music, so I'm listening to silence. Or a laptop fan, the sound of keys clacking, my own breathing...without music, the world is actually quite noisy. Just ask John Cage.
But the music in my head is by Ashbury Heights, my current favourite upbeat-but-somehow-downbeat faintly-gothy-emo synthpop band.
What was the last thing that you ate?
A pittabread filled with my own special version of scrambled egg. Microwave the eggwhite for a minute, then mix in the yolk, which cooks in the heat of the white.
I've almost quoted some Sisters of Mercy lyrics in the last line.
Can you drive a stick shift?
I don't even know what that is. Should I?
Last person you spoke to on the phone?
It was either the other half of my band...or the closest thing I have or want to an 'other half'.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
Dumb questions in memes.
How old are you today?
38. Or as I think of it..."Oh my shitting god I'm nearly 40! How the frell did that happen?!"
What is your favorite sport to watch on TV?
I don't watch sports. I sometimes watch sportsmen...in the kind of lycra shorts with no underwear you only find in one other place. And that place is usually called 'The Dungeon' or 'The Pain Vault', and only opens to registered members after midnight.
What is your favorite drink?
I'm English, so I drink tea. With milk. Cow milk. I'm not sure I like it, but when I think of having a drink to relax, that's it.
Have you ever dyed your hair?
Yes, I dyed it blond. Which is to say, I shaved it as short as it would go, then dyed the roots blond...together with my eyebrows, and any slight beard stubble, just to be sure.
I was playing a nasty nazi-defending-lawyer in a stage play, and I thought I should go as aryan as humanly possible.
Chocolate biscuits. I think they're the reason I drink tea. I like dunked chocolate biscuits - I find that if I count to three, they've reached the optimal stage of maximum taste while still not breaking apart and falling with a dispairing plop into the teacup.
What is the last movie you watched?
I've honestly no idea. It was probably sci-fi, and may have been one of the better Babylon 5 movies. So it can't have been 'Legend of the Rangers'.
Favorite day of the year?
Um. A parent's birthday is usually good, because we generally mark it by going to an expensive resteraunt, and completely failing in our pretense to be the kind of upper middle class types who go to expensive resteraunts.
How do you vent anger?
I work on some project until I'm calm enough to ask why I'm angry. Usually the reason isn't as good as it first seemed.
What was your favorite toy as a child?
I quite liked my Star Wars action figures. Next door there is a septic tank which probably still contains the Sand Person I lost in it.
What is your favorite season?
I think autumn. Not too hot, not too cold, and the sky being dark at what feels like the right time for other people to be asleep, and for me to wake up.
Cherries or Blueberries?
Oh I think cherries. Mainly because you couldn't imagine someone using blueberry as a metaphor for sex - but cherries are constantly used like that. Popping someone's cherry, sucking out the cherry pip, biting the black cherry.
Do you want your friends to e-mail you back?
If they've got something more to say than 'Thanks, I got your message".
Who is the most likely to respond?
The one I sent the message to my mistake, by mistyping the address.
Who is least likely to respond?
The one I really want to hear from.
I live alone with two parents. Or in sin with a blog. Or in servitude with five dogs and three parrots.
When was the last time you cried?
No idea. So it probably wasn't over anything important.
What is on the floor of your closet?
I don't have a closet. I just have a floor. Everything's there.
Who is the friend you have had the longest that you are sending to?
People have friends for a long time?
What did you do last night?
I went to bed. Then I had an idea about implementing the Karplus-Strong algorithm to synthesise plucked strings, so I got out of bed and spent five hours working my implementation. Which is useless for plucked strings, but good for electric pianos.
What are you most afraid of?
Plain, cheese, or spicy hamburgers?
Can I have spicy cheeseburgers?
Favorite dog breed?
Maltese are good - small, dense, and so covered in fine white hair you can't tell which end is which. I like Dachshund's too, or as everyone I know calls them "Columbo Dogs", because a famously rumpled detective owned an equally rumpled example.
Favorite day of the week?
I'm going to pick Tuesday. On the grounds that no one else in the world likes Tuesdays. They're not at the start, they're not at the end, they're not even half way through. They're the nowhere day.
How many states have you lived in?
State of independence, state of inebriation, state of decay,
Diamonds or pearls?
Hmm. Uncut diamonds or pearls in weird colours.
You thought I was going to say something about a pearl necklace, didn't you?
What is your favorite flower?
I often hear musian rustlings and scamperings around the room, but I don't often get to see the mice themselves - they're quite shy.
So a few days ago I left a pile of biscuit crumbs on my desk, and my phone camera pointed at them. Here's the result, with the backing track to a cover song I've been working on...about eating.
Cute? Or disgusting?
When I was young I had Interests. Computers, music, technology, science, whatever.
But then I was told people who had Interests weren't Interesting, and apparently that was Bad. They said I needed a Life, which would make me Fulfilled, because apparently I wasn't, which was also Bad.
So I got a Life, which is to say I got some Life Skills, which consists mainly of tolerating jerks so they'll give you what you want, and manipulating the insecure so they'll also give you what you want.
The people who'd told me a Life would make me Fulfilled now said I needed just one more thing to be Fulfilled - a Job. But it turned out having a Job was the same as having a Life, only more so.
They then told me I needed another just one more thing to be Fulfilled - a Love. So I tried out a dozen different Loves - but they all made me want to be alone. This was my fault, they said, for not trying hard enough.
I'd heard somewhere that the other thing which makes you Fulfilled is a Cause. So I tried a few - esperanto, socialism, education, all of which lasted about a decade before their hopelessness overcame their pretensions.
Having used up half my life, I realised I should have trusted myself when I was young. So now I'm going with what interests me - computers, music, technology, science, whatever.
Some things I have:
- Half an hour's worth of backing music for a gig in a week.
- A gig in a week.
- A strange curiosity to drink insanely strong coffee, just to see how it makes me feel, even though I don't like strong coffee.
- A student doesn't think to phone to say he can't have a lesson today because he's ill.
- Another student who's never less than half an hour late, and always assumes it's not a problem.
- A visceral loathing of all police officers.
- An absolutely adorable five month old puppy who looks suspiciously like a gremlin.
- Something like twenty years worth of old software in boxes, waiting to be catalogued or thrown away.
Here is...a sample of two of those things, which don't go together at all:
Something amazing happened today.
Google went down. Not only the search engine, the translator and video search too, and probably more.
It took me ten minutes to even remember there are dozens of other search engines. I was thinking there must be a problem with the local router.
Habits of thought become quickly fossilised - including faith that at some point soon, Google will start working again. Hmmm.
For the full story, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTBsm0LzSP0
I've never really been away, but I'm back.
So what have I been up to? Well...
My head has been full of drums.
- I sold off my old drum machine on ebay, after a week rising from GBP35 to the dizzy heights of...GBP36.27.
- How many variations are there on the maraca? Put it another way, how many usefully different gradations are there in the parameters which describe a synthesised maraca/rice-shaker/gourd/shac-shac sound in any one of the half-dozen drum synthesis techniques?
Put it more musically, you might perfer your maraca sound to sound crisper, duller, noisier, higher, longer or whatever in whatever piece of music you're making, so how many catalogued alternatives might concieveably be useful to you...and how do you make them?
Now ask the same about your bass drums, snares, djembes, doumbeks, congas, bongos, hi-hats, cowbells and handclaps. If like me you're using filtered white noise, you'll soon find yourself wishing there were some way to automate the process of cycling through permutations.
And if you're like me, you'll spend a week finding a way to do just that, so having worked out the ranges of initial pitch, final pitch, transition curve, filter slope, amplitide curve and length, you can program them in, go to bed, and hopefully find it's just finishing when you wake up.
At one stage I had 450 kick drums. Now I'm much more restrained with 135. With only 14 hi-hats, 41 congas, 45 handclaps and 30 variations on one kind of snare drum. 1010 sounds in all, in the current set.
Including 54 maracas.
- But if you can do it with the white noise filtering method, how about the additive method? Why not indeed.
- And then there's other methods, which just begged investigation.
All this, of course, started from the vague thought that the 53 drum samples I made a few months ago and have been using for Darqroom songs could use just a little more variety.
There's only six maracas there.
I was feeling thirsty, so I was hurrying home for a nice cup of boiled leaves with a squirt of cowjuice. And what did I find?
It wasn't exactly chilled, and it wasn't exactly a cup of tea, but it was wet and sugary like a romantic comedy, and I didn't have to hurry anymore.
Later on, after being stood up on a date (Huh!), I was wandering home feeling vaguely dejected and thinking I'd be cheered up by a big bag of deep fried potato slices sprinkled with a sodium compound and a stale fermentation product. And wishing there were some healthier alternative, when I saw this sitting on the wall.
So I got the bag of chips and had it as dessert.