Odds and ends

VCV Rack

Back in ancient times, synthesizers such as those played by W.W. Carlos and Keith Emerson were assembled from various single-purpose modules, linked together by a multitude of short cables. To change the sound, the musician rearranged the cables and fiddled with the controls on the modules. It was laborious, but with perseverance you could make something like Switched-on Bach or Tarkus. Eventually these modular monsters were replaced by compact synths with fixed architectures, which were easier to program and to transport. Later ones added polyphony and memory for patches, so the musician could play chords and recreate sounds instantly.

Although many of the later synths were immensely useful and desirable, none ever sounded quite like their forebears. Emerson’s modular Moog in particular was legendary. During the past 20 years or so, there’s been increasing interest in modular systems. Notably, the Doepfer “Eurorack” format has become prevalent in certain parts of the electronic music world. A musician can buy whatever modules he wants from a variety of manufacturers and combine them as he pleases. Unfortunately, purchasing modules gets expensive.

However, if you have a reasonably powerful computer, you can run the VCV Rack, a virtual Eurorack. The basic rack, including all you need to make funny noises, is free, and there are many more modules you can download to play with once you get the hang of it, most of which are also free. It’s available here.

I spent several recent lunch hours fiddling with the VCV Rack, and a couple of things quickly became apparent. First, it’s not easy to get an interesting sound out of it. The early synthesists had to work hard to make their music sound good.

Second, videos are the worst way to teach anything. There’s very little text documentation for the rack, so I sat through a number of videos explaining the basics. Good grief, they’re such a waste of time. In principle, videos should be perfect for this job — you can see the connections being made and hear the sounds that result. In practice, you get a guy rambling for half an hour trying to explain something that could have easily been summarized in three minutes. Advice to anyone making an instructional video: before you plug in your microphone, make a detailed written outline of what you want to cover. Better yet, write out what you want to say and skip the video entirely.

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Charles G. Hill brings tidings from Japan of a man who “married” a holographic representation of the vocal synthesizer “Hatsune Miku.” Hill linked to a video featuring Miku’s voice which is apparently extremely popular but which doesn’t show what the software is capable of. Here are a couple that better illustrate how a pathetic dweeb could become fixated on the computer-generated image of an anime-style girl: Miku in concert; Miku on a desktop.

Vocal synthesizers, of which Vocaloids are the most successful, occasionally come in handy for those of us with lousy voices. I’ve made use of Miku myself. Others include Plogue’s Alter/Ego and Chipspeech, and Wolfgang Palm’s Phonem.

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Francis W. Porretto wonders if anyone remembers Vaughn Meader and David Frye now that their targets are gone. The First Family was before my time, but I do remember hearing one particular skit by Frye frequently at the left end of the FM dial.

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It’s been scientifically established that nearly any pop song can be improved by remaking it as a polka or surf tune. In a similar vein, J Greely recently wished that the cast of Dr. Who had turned a recent episode into a Bollywood musical. I haven’t seen that episode so I can’t say for certain, but I expect that would indeed have been an improvement. I suspect, in fact, that most television shows would benefit from being transformed into Bollywood musicals. (Just wondering: are there any Bollywood musical production numbers featuring surf guitar?)

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This is terribly unfair, I know, but Cardinal DiNardo in the picture above looks very much like how I visualize Wormtongue when I read The Lord of the Rings.1

The unbearable whiteness of whatever

So drinking milk is a sign of evil? Someone forgot to tell Takako Minekawa. Here, have a nice glass of “Milk Rock.”

(Oddly, there’s no milk and few white things in the video. Perhaps the very white video for her earlier Kraftwerk-does-J-pop “Fantastic Cat” would be more disturbing to the pathologically woke.)

Miscellaneous quotes, decline and fall edition

Fillyjonk:

… something I read in this week’s The Week that is one of the sadder things I’ve heard recently: apparently animal behaviorists have found some dogs are “depressed” because of a lack of eye contact – because their owners spend so much time staring at their smartphones….

The Z Man:

The classical period featured a celebration of human beauty. The artists strove to capture the ideal of man in those beautiful statues we still have today. The medieval period had the celebration of God and his love for man. Walk into an old cathedral and you immediately feel the essence of that relationship. Of course, our canon is packed with poetry exploring the beauty of life, all of which was composed in a prior age, by men who are strangers to us now.

Walk into a modern building today and you know what it is like to be in the chute at a slaughter house.

William Torrey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education 1889-1906:

Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.

and

The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places … It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world.

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Continue reading “Miscellaneous quotes, decline and fall edition”

The sylph with the hairy chest

A pas de deux from the 1935 ballet Светлый ручей (The Bright Stream), with music by Shostakovich, libretto by Adrian Piotrovsky and choreography by Fedor Lopukhov, re-choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky for the ballet’s 2004 revival. There’s a story behind the ballet, and not one with a happy ending: “A work meant to be light, entertaining, and uplifting had proved the downfall of its creators.”

Are there straws in Vatican City?

Pope Frankie in perspective:

On September 1, 2018, this successor of Gregory I, who saw Latin civilization crumbling, and Leo IX, who grieved at the loss of Constantinople, and Pius V, who pitied souls lost in the heretical northern lands, implored and lamented: “We cannot allow our seas and oceans to be littered by endless fields of floating plastic. Here, too, our active commitment is needed to confront this emergency.” The struggle against plastic litter must be fought “as if everything depended on us.”

(Via William Briggs.)

From Leigh Brackett to Rian Johnson

David Breitenbeck:

I don’t want to make a generalization, but it really does seem like the quality of film and filmmakers has steeply declined even in the thirty-odd years since Return of the Jedi. Even absent George Lucas’s quixotic attempt to write and direct the entire prequel trilogy himself after decades of comparative idleness, we have a huge, multi-billion dollar company like Disney staking a massive investment in these films and the best they can come up with is the uneven Rogue One. The quality of writing and storytelling in these later films is nothing short of an embarrassment, at times offensively so, and now we don’t even have the excuse of George Lucas trying to make it a personal project. This is a branch of the top entertainment media company in the world throwing enormous amounts of money and promotion at a project with The Last Jedi as the result. Meanwhile, some forty years ago, that same ‘branch’ made The Empire Strikes Back.

Something certainly changed in the meantime, whatever it might have been. Somehow we went from Leigh Brackett to Rian Johnson.

Armando Simón:

This invisible crisis in literature becomes self-evident if we list all of the great fiction writers in fifty year increments….
In fact, the evidence practically shouts out at you. The pattern that emerges is surprisingly that of a bell shaped curve!

1800-1850
Washington Irving, Fenimore James Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

1851-1900
Edward Hale, Harriet B. Stowe, Henry Longfellow, Walt Whitman, Joel Harris, Mark Twain, Mary dodge, Louisa Alcott, Bret Harte, Henry James, Horatio Alger, William D. Howells, Kate Chopin, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville.

1901-1950
Upton Sinclair, Booth Tarkington, Owen Wister, Sarah O. Jewett, Edith Wharton, O. Henry, T. S. Eliot, Zora Hurston, Richard Wright, Christopher Isherwood, B. Traven, Margaret Mitchell, John Steinbeck, Walter Clark, Walter Edmons, Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, Willa Cather, Sherwood Anderson, Thornton Wilder, Sinclair Lewis, Cronell Woolrich, John Marquand, William Saroyan, Ezra Pound, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, Carl Sandburg, Sara Teasdale, John Dos Passos, Clarence Day, Thorne Smith, Pearl Buck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Robert Penn Warren, H. P. Lovecraft, Jack Schaefer, Marjorie K. Rawlings.

1951-2000
Anais Nin, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Robert Frost, Mario Puzo, Shirley Jackson, Charles Jackson, James Thurber, James McCain, Leon Uris, Robert Ruark, James Michener, Ayn Rand, Joyce Carol Oats, John Toole, Robert Heinlein, Saul Bellow, Isaac Asimov, Raymond Chandler, Taylor Caldwell, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Tom Wolfe.

2001-2018
*no entry

What is most alarming is that there is no new generation of high quality writers in sight to take up the torch. All of the writers that came into prominence in the last period are already dead, or like I said, have one foot in the grave.1

Are these observations accurate? It’s easy to believe that western civilization is in rapid decline, but I’m too disconnected from contemporary American culture to say if that’s actually the case.

Today’s quotes: straws and charity

Joe in Indiana:

Seriously, of all the plastic waste in the world, why straws? Little plastic tubes must be a fraction of nothing in the giant landfill we call Earth. How about getting rid of the plastic packaging that surrounds just about everything as an anti-theft measure these days? You can’t cut it, tear it, pry it apart, or even bite it open. We bought a new toy for the granddaughter and by the time we got it open she was too old for it.

Ken the Brickmuppet:

… there’s no greater expression of charity than forcing other people to sacrifice.

Real or not?

It’s hard to tell. The screencaps above I believe are genuine, but the pictures below might be fake. Then, again, perhaps London really is turning into an updated suburb of Scarfolk. In either case, it would be difficult to top these, and I haven’t had the time to work anything up.

Posts from previous years appropriate to the first day of the fourth month are archived here.

(I’m posting this a day early because tomorrow is Easter.)

“There is no conspiracy”

First Things? Really?

Yeah, right.

Carelessness and stupidity are insufficient to explain how this thoughtful religious, largely Catholic, magazine can be labeled a source of “hate” and “violence.” It’s extremely difficult to believe — impossible, in fact — that there wasn’t some active malevolence involved.

(Via Kim du Toit.)

Today’s quote: post-Catholic Schools Week edition

Joseph Moore:

I’m also strongly opposed to the very idea of a classroom – a schoolhouse is a better idea, and even then, it should not be viewed as a place where children are managed. The example of my children might be informative: our oldest 4 (#5 is 13) all attend or did attend college, all are outstanding students – A students, magna cum laude, that sort of thing – and none of them took any formal classes at school or at home until, of their own volition, they signed up for classes at the local community college when they were teenagers. Having NO K-12 experience as commonly understood didn’t slow them down AT ALL.

I did hard time in attended four different grade schools and three high schools, some Catholic, some public,1 so I may have a somewhat broader experience of education in the United States than most people. At the Catholic schools I sometimes attended Mass, and there were religion classes, but in general there was no significant difference between parochial and public. There was occasionally a little actual education here and there during those twelve endless years, but mostly what I learned was to sit still and feign attention. There was also a lot of busy work. I eventually concluded that the purpose of school was not to “educate” students, but to keep them off the streets until they were old enough to get jobs. The American education system is the greatest achievement in the history of day care.

It still makes me angry how many years I was required to spend the best part of each weekday doing nothing. I could have been reading, damn it. My brother didn’t have my patience with pointless nonsense. After fourth grade, he quit doing any schoolwork at all. He was eventually asked to leave his Catholic high school, where his GPA was third from dead last.2 He promptly took the GED, without any preparation, and scored in the 98th percentile overall, getting a perfect score on the verbal part.3

An aside: The second grade school I was sentenced to was 30 miles from home. My home was the second stop on the bus’ route in the morning and the second-last stop in the evening, so I spent two hours every day confined with a bunch of cranky kids in a noisy vehicle with bad shocks. An under-used argument against busing students to schools other than where they would ordinarily go is that busing itself is intrinsically abusive.

I may not have been cynical enough. Joseph Moore has written five-part series on the history of Catholic schooling, putting its development in the context of the Prussian model of education, Irish immigration and graded classrooms. It’s worth reading. The first installment is here.

Just wondering

  • Is there any significance to Valentine’s Day being Ash Wednesday this year, or April Fool’s Day Easter?
  • The celebration of “Disney princesses” is a major international industry. Where are the Disney princes?
  • Is it possible to be both a good person and a successful politician?
  • The nearest grocery store recently put its carrots in a bin labeled “organic.” Do there exist inorganic carrots?

ANN No

Like hell I’m giving these jackasses my phone number. It looks like it will be about two weeks before I visit Anime New Network again — if I bother. The encyclopedia is sometimes useful, and perhaps 10% of the news is actually noteworthy, but the rest is just a waste of pixels. I can do just fine without it.