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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.
Accumulated miscellaneous nonsense. I forget where I found most of these.
It’s Squawk Like a Parrot Day. Here are the Bonzos with an appropriate tune.
Saa! Kaizoku no jikan da! Let’s not forget Marika Kato.
There are many space pirates in anime, and a surprising number of the are women. Their speech sounds like normal Japanese, and none of them gargle their rrrr’s.
Girls und Panzer is on Crunchyroll, and I have the discs as well. However, for the eighth episode I always watch the fansub. One of the highlights of the franchise is the Russian team singing “Katyusha.” Thanks to imbecilic copyright laws, the song is missing from the American edition of the show.1
There are many recordings of the tune available, though none suggest tank girls in snow. I recently discovered that Alexey Igudesman, of Igudesman & Joo, composed a set of variations on “Katyusha” for solo violin. Here’s a performance by Irina Pak.
Not familiar with Igudesman & Joo? Here’s an introduction. If you don’t have time for the whole thing, skip to the Rachmaninoff section starting at around 40 minutes. There’s plenty more on YouTube.
Before there were I&J, there was P.D.Q. Bach. Peter Schickele is still making discoveries, such as the Concerto for Simply Grand Piano and Orchestra.2 Here’s a performance with Jeffrey Biegel. While Biegel is certainly up to the technical demands, he’s not quite enough of a large ham to make the performance convincing. Perhaps with a bushy beard and another 50 pounds he could pull it off.
There’s been a dearth of chickens around here lately. We’ll have to do something about that.
Anthropogenic pitch change is real.
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.)
Since you can’t do much gardening outdoors in February, you might as well read some books. One I regularly consult is Henry Beard‘s Gardening: A Gardener’s Dictionary, illustrated by Roy McKie. Beard may be familiar as the author of such works as Latin for All Occasions and Zen for Cats. Those with long memories might remember him as the most reliably funny writer at National Lampoon and as one of the scholars responsible for the volume variously known as Nuda Pierścieni, Loru sorbusten herrasta, or Bored of the Rings. He’s also an expert on bad golf.
Gardening has been out of print for years, but used copies are available for reasonable prices. Here are a few of the definitions.
1. (penology) dusty open area where hard labor is performed. 2. (horticulture) dusty open area where hard labor is performed.
Obscure order of nuns dedicated to gardening. Like other devotional orders, the sisters take the traditional vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, but in keeping with the demanding nature of their calling, the Vermiculites are the only such group with a special dispensation to drink, smoke, swear, and throw things.
Any creature that eats green vegetables without being compelled to.
Wonderful, early-blooming flower with an unsatisfactory plural form. Botanists have been searching for a suitable ending for years but their attempts — narcissi (1947), narcissusses (1954), narcissus for both singular and plural (1958) and multinarcissus and polynarcissus (1962, 1963) — haven’t enjoyed any real acceptance, and thus, gardeners still prefer to plant the easily pluralized daffodil or jonquil.
The state flower of Maryland. Shortly after being named, the designation was challenged by atheist groups who sued to have it removed on the constitutional grounds that its selection promoted religion. In a compromise that appears to have pleased no one, the plant was retained but officially renamed “Fred-in-a-phone-booth.”
Crude, but effective and totally safe type of scythe towed through gardens to flatten flower beds and level vegetable plantings.
Uninteresting larval stage of wine.
One of a vast number of free outdoor restaurants operated by charity-minded amateurs in a effort to provide healthful, balanced meals for insects, birds, and animals.
Wire barrier erected to protect garden produce against animal pests that lack wings, paws, teeth, or brains, and cannot leap, tunnel, climb, or fly.
Brochures and Catalogs
Forms of entertaining fiction published by nurseries, seedsmen, and tool manufacturers.
Rare lawn condition in which normally brown, crisp lawns develop odd patches of a sort of hazy green growth. Don’t be alarmed! These strangely colored areas usually disappear within a few weeks.
Delightful season that runs from the disposal of the last zucchini to the arrival of the first catalog.
Here’s a month’s accumulation of video timewasters.
For those with certain, um, unusual tastes, here’s a documentary on the Shmenge Brothers.
It looks like Batman Ninja will be, at the very least, a good-looking movie, but what interests me is the writer, one Kazuki Nakashima.
And now for some high culture:
And finally, the only version I can tolerate of a certain overly-popular baroque piece, performed by the idiosyncratic Jun Togawa.1
A couple of links to help you get into the spirit of the season:
If you absolutely must sing a carol, here are the words:
What’s so potentially offensive that Twitter places a warning label on it?
A long time ago, back before the last ice age, I came across a short piece called something like “In Space with Runyon Jones” in a collection of science fiction stories. It was a series of vignettes in which the young Jones encounters a variety of aliens while traveling in spaceships, which the editor of the anthology had gleaned from a novel by Norman Corwin. I was curious to read the rest of the book, but it was long out of print by then, and has never been reprinted. I never found it in any library or used book store.
A few years ago, I remembered the story and thought that perhaps it might be possible to locate a copy of the book online. While searching, I found that Corwin’s story had first been a radio play, “Odyssey of Runyon Jones,” broadcast in 1941. It’s available here. Once you accustom your ears to the low-fidelity sound, it’s entertaining listening. Runyon’s dog Pootzy has been hit by a car and killed, and Runyon wants him back. He braves bureaucracy, meets Father Time and Mother Nature, and eventually finds his way to Curgatory and a trick ending.
Ten years later, Corwin turned the radio play into the novel Dog in the Sky, of which I eventually located an affordable copy. In addition to expanding the episodes in the play, he introduced a sub-plot involving a Mr. B.L.Z. Bubb, a bureaucrat very interested in Runyon’s quest, and adds details of Runyon’s adventures as he travels from planet to planet. The Bubb business is never very interesting and it eventually fizzles out, but the aliens Runyon meets are what caught my attention in the excerpts I read years ago, and are what might make the book worth reprinting someday. There are quite a variety of them, including an interplanetary perfume salesman, a lonely robot, a very important businessman from Venus, and a spooky cat/woman. And a certain 62Kru:
62Kru returned to his monologue as though nothing had happened. “Love is science. Science is love. That is all the protons and isotopes know, and all they need to know. The beta ray hankers for the gamma, both are enamored of the delta, and all in turn adore the lambda.
You see, friend, we Hankerites deplore the fact that the galaxies are rushing away from each other. This is because of a misunderstanding which occurred some billions of years ago. We aim to rectify, restore and reunite the estranged universe, to bind all together under the harmonious love of the true Hruh, whose throne is everywhere and anywhere. Blasphemers and atheists have tried to prove that Hruh is really nothing but
but the true Hankerite is unshakable in his faith, resolute in his virtue, confident in the supremacy and inviolability of love, and we have already killed several million disbelievers to prove this.
Something else I stumbled across at Archive.org: the A.M. Yankovic/W. Carlos version of “Peter and the Wolf.” It’s not the best example of either’s work, but it has its moments. The recording is probably still under copyright, so it may disappear from the site at any moment.
(My favorite version is the that by the Royal Ballet School, with Anthony Dowell as narrator and Grandfather. It starts here.)
I’m alive again after an unpleasant two weeks. I’ve got a lot of cleaning and catching up to do, so I’ll continue to be scarce here.
A few things that caught my eye or ear recently:
I have a little list of words and phrases that tell me everything I need to know about the people who use them. So does J Greely.
Mozart and Chagall.
There’s a live-action version of Tonari no Seki-kun. You don’t need to know Japanese to follow the story.
Bonus link: Vulcanologist Erik Klemetti counts down his list of the ten most dangerous volcanoes. If you’re thinking of investing in European real estate, forget Naples.
The Society for Silly Yet Practical Notions has introduced what SSYPN president Sophie Moronis termed a “universal pronoun.”
“‘He,’ ‘she’ and ‘it’ are not sufficient any more, what with the proliferation of ‘gender’ identities,” Moronis declared at a press conference this morning. “No matter how careful you are with your language, you’re going to offend someone.
“Artificial pronouns, such as ‘ze’ or ‘sie’ are hard to remember, and it’s not always obvious which is preferred by the particular individual referred to. Using ‘they’ as a singular pronoun irritates those who value good grammar.”
The obvious solution is a new word free of any implications of gender. The SSYPN proposes the neologism “thwop.”
It is both singular and plural, Moronis stated, and it has no gender, not even neuter. The possessive is formed by adding an apostrophe followed by the letter “s,” i.e., “thwop’s.” Otherwise all forms are spelled “thwop” and pronounced as the spelling indicates. “Thwop is here” and “thwop are here” are both acceptable constructions.
As an example of the universal pronoun’s usage, Moronis offered this sentence about genderfluid individuals:
Thwop and thwop’s friends walked to thwop’s place with a gluten-free sugarless cake to celebrate thwop’s birthday.
Moronis conceded that the content may seem vague, but declared that what the statement loses in specificity, it gains in universality.
Moronis added that “thwop” need not refer only to vertebrates on Earth, but can also be used for artificial intelligences, hive minds, tentacled horrors and catgirls.
“With this word, the English language is ready for the future,” Moronis said.
The Trump administration today issued a directive that all employees of the federal government must wear a distinctive uniform while at work.
“It would be salutory if all public servants dressed in a manner to remind themselves that they are indeed public servants,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declared in a press conference.
Men at all levels are to wear janitorial garb unless they are already assigned a different uniform, and must keep a mop and bucket where they can be seen from their desks at all times. Women are to wear long, dark dresses with a white maid’s apron, and must keep a feather duster near at hand.
Spicer noted that “French maid” outfits are not acceptable. He did not respond when asked if nekomimi were permissable.
A researcher announced today that there exist individuals who have no particular interest in matters of sexual identity.
“It’s hard to believe, but it’s true,” said Ganymede Phaen, Adjunct Professor of Uncanny Studies at the University of Kechi, in a televised interview. “We’ve observed them, interviewed them, tested them, gone to movies with them. They’re for real. They look like ordinary people, but they perceive themselves and others as male or female. When you explain the difference between ‘agender’ and ‘pangender,’ they laugh. It’s unnerving.”
Phaen noted that upon questioning, the individuals in the study revealed that they understand the general concepts of gender fluidity and expressed sympathy for victims of gender dysphoria. However, they evinced no particular interest in such matters and would often change the subject.
“I mentioned to one that the new Power Rangers movie has a character who might be gay,” Phaen recalled. “He shrugged, and asked if the story was any good.”
Phaen noted that while such individuals are rare in the college of liberal arts, there is some evidence that they may be more numerous in the engineering school. There’s a further possibility that they are common outside of the university campus, a prospect that Phaen finds deeply troubling.
“There could, in principle, be an entire culture in which non-binary gender identities are unimportant,” Phaen said. “I am currently securing funding for an expedition to explore sites where such a society might exist.” Locations under consideration include Utah and parts of Texas.
From the Heath Robinson calendar that I got instead of Ogdred Weary this year. (Right-click and open in a new window to see all the details.)
During 2016, many people died, some of whom were famous. This happens every year. 2016 was a really lousy year for many reasons, but not because a lot of celebrities died.
Most of the dead performers were adequately memorialized — the hoopla surrounding David Bowie’s departure was downright ridiculous1 — but a few were overlooked, and I discovered their deaths weeks or months later.
One whom I miss is Bob Elliott, half of Bob and Ray. I wonder if youngsters today can sit still long enough to appreciate B&R’s unhurried delivery. Here are some of their skits, some of which are older than I am.
Accumulated odds and ends:
Is Obama Catholic? No, and Dennis McDonough is an idiot.
Is the Pope Catholic? That’s a much more interesting question. Edward Feser supplies some useful background, including notes about Popes Honorius, John XXII and Liberius.
Hyperplay will provide hours — well, minutes — of fun for the mathematically inclined and the easily entertained.