Cheap stuff, free stuff, silly stuff

Adobe has transitioned from innovation to rent-seeking. Fortunately, there is are practical alternatives to Photoshop and InDesign: Affinity’s Photo and Publisher. You can buy them, and actually own them, and for excellent prices, too. Currently they are $25 each. There’s also Affinity Designer, a counterpart to Illustrator, for the same price. I haven’t had time to give them thorough workouts, but I have verified that most of the Topaz plugins I use work in Affinity Photo. The Affinity site is here.

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Cherry Audio has made their Voltage Modular Nucleus free for the downloading for a while. I already have VCV Rack and Reaktor Blocks, so I’ll probably give it a pass, but if you have a yen to experiment with modular sound synthesis, it might be worth checking out.

If you have a digital audio workstation such as Logic or Cubase, here are some freebies you might find useful.

• Native Instruments’ Analog Dreams is an “instrument” emulating old-fashioned subtractive synthesizers. It’s in my armory, and it sounds convincing. I haven’t used it much, but that’s because I have more virtual noisemakers than I will ever use.

Standard Guitar is an extended-range electric guitar that works well with pedal and amp emulations. (The site is in Japanese, but it’s not hard to figure out where to click.)

Shiny Guitar is an arch-top guitar, suitable for jazz, of course, and quite a bit else.

Both the above guitars run in Plogue’s sampler Sforzando, which is also free.

If you have NI’s Kontakt, there are several other free guitars to consider here.

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I wonder sometimes just how authoritative AllMusic is. The above is from the entry on Canned Heat’s second album. Strange — I don’t recall hearing the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus on “Amphetamine Annie.”

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I recently received the above invitation. Um, yeah. Right. Just wondering: how many of these “women of excellence” need to shave?

Continue reading “Cheap stuff, free stuff, silly stuff”

Searching for further lost chords

zplane claims that its deCoda is “… the tool for music practicing, transcription and instrument practice. deCoda can decode any song so the user can learn to play it in minutes.” I thought I’d check it out.

It had little trouble with simple stuff harmonized with triads, e.g., plain arrangements of Celtic tunes. It seemed to recognize only four types of chords, though: major, minor, augmented and diminished. Sevenths were absent.

I gave it Masumi Itou’s “Soramimi Cake,” the opening of Azumanga Daioh1 and a memorable, quirky tune.

As deCoda sees it:

It looks reasonably close, catching the C / D♭ seesaw. However, there are still just four types of chords. I wonder just how sophisticated the “advanced chord and tempo detection algorithms” are. (Here’s a piano transcription of the tune for comparison, and a video with a cutesy animated score.)

Here’s a brief collection various types of chords.

In order, there is a basic G7 to C cadence; Scriabin’s “mystic chord,” first arpeggiated and then up an octave; C6/9, first with the notes spaced out and then condensed in a high octave; the “Tristan” chord, the second time as it appeared in a Beethoven piano sonata; the “Petroushka” chord[s], followed immediately by the “Symphony of Psalms” chord; the “Elektra” chord; the “μ” chord popularized by Steely Dan; and the four sus4 chords Ron Jarzombek based “Suspended on All Fours” on.

And deCoda flunks the test. Once again, all it sees are the four basic triads. It misses the seventh of G7. It calls the mystic chord (C, F♯, B♭, E, A, D) a “C” when it’s arpeggiated and an “F#” when it’s not. It gets partial credit for calling the C6/9 “C” or “Am,” since it contains both triads. Calling the Tristan chord (F, B, D♯, G♯) “Fdim” is close but not quite right. It’s at best a quarter-right on the Petroushka chord, first labeling it as “D#dim, then catching the C triad but ignoring the F# one. I was surprised that it got the Psalms chord wrong; it’s just an Em triad with the G’s emphasized, but Stravinsky’s eccentric voicing fooled the algorithm. It’s at best half-right on the Elektra chord (E, B, D♭, F, A♭), which does include the notes of D♭m, but there’s more to it than that. deCoda missed the added ninths of the Steely Dan2 chords and the suspensions of Jarzombek’s.

I was interested to learn that silence, as in the penultimate measure of the test, is a G diminished chord.

So, is deCoda worthwhile? If you have a well-trained ear, no. Otherwise, it might be a useful tool if sheet music for the tunes you are interested in is hard to find, and the music is not too complex.

For the birds

Here’s a medley of three traditional Spanish Christmas carols, “El Cant dels Ocells,”1 “Fum, Fum, Fum” and “Campana Sobre Campana,” done with a handful of sampled instruments and soft synths. The first two are from Catalonia, the third from Andalusia. As usual, I’m not entirely happy with it, but today is the deadline for posting holiday stuff. (It shouldn’t be — properly, one should sing the carols during the interval between Christmas and Epiphany — but by December 26 most people are sick of the songs.)

Tangentially related: Christmas cards from Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol.

Modular chicken

I was curious to see what you would get if you took an old fiddle tune and gave it the Terry Riley treatment. Here’s “Cluck Old Hen,” chopped into little phrases, the pieces treated like the elements of Riley’s “In C.”1 All the sounds are the AAS Chromaphone.

And it’s okay, I guess. “Cluck” is not a complex tune (though a good fiddler will add some piquant slides and double-stops), mostly four-square rhythmically and only slightly odd melodically. The result of the manipulations is pleasant-sounding but not really interesting in itself, like wind chimes.2 It might be useful as background music, but it’s unlikely to hold the attention of an active listener for long. Riley’s piece sustains interest as well as it does in part because the 53 phrases it’s made of vary widely in length and rhythm, producing complex patterns when combined.

One minor point: This was the product of an evening’s work from beginning to end. In contrast, writing music the usual way, note by note, measure by measure, takes much longer. Sometimes a mere eight measures is a very good evening’s work.

For a very different version of “Cluck Old Hen,” see The Waybacks.

Halloween playlist

Planning a Halloween party for the weekend, or want something to listen to while distributing candy to the little extortionists next week? Here are some tunes for you.

Laika and the Cosmonauts, “Psyko

Fredösphere, “Abraham Lincoln Was an Invader from Space

Yuki Kajiura, “Sis Puella Magica

The Pretty Things, “Baron Saturday

Hedningarna, “Räven (Fox Woman)

Gjallarhorn, “Hjaðningaríma

Raymond Scott, “New Year’s Eve in a Haunted House

Oingo Boingo, “Pictures of You

Don Ross, “Dracula and Friends, Part One

The Klezmatics, “Beggar’s Dance

Brave Combo, “People Are Strange

Procol Harum, “Juicy John Pink

Split Lip Rayfield, “The High Price of Necromancy

Tonio K, “How Come I Can’t See You in My Mirror?

Van Der Graaf Generator, “Killer

Steeleye Span, “Elf Call

Haystacks Balboa, “The Children of Heaven

Denki Groove, “Mononoke Dance” (The full-length version is here, but I think it’s better shortened unless you’re dancing.)

Oingo Boingo, “Little Guns

Onmyouza, “Onikosae no Uta

Procol Harum “The Devil Came from Kansas

William Bolcom, “Poltergeist Rag

Mayumi Kojima, “Poltergeist

Tom Smith, “I Had a Shuggoth

Don Ross, “Robot Monster

Hedningarna, “Tina Vieri

For more suggestions, see Eve Tushnet, here and here.

Fifty years ago today

The golden age of progressive rock began on this day in 1969 with the release of two classic albums, Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats and King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King.1

Also released on that day was the Kinks’ Arthur. It doesn’t quite qualify as “prog rock,” though it was a “concept album.”

I suppose I ought to comment about the historical significance of these works, with analysis of the musical techniques employed and explication of lyrics2, plus some personal notes…. Nah. The music speaks for itself.

Wayback and forward

Jorma Kaukonen’s Catholic joke, via Stevie Coyle1 of the Quitters:

Q. How many Catholics does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. (Raises hand, extending three fingers) One.

I discovered a couple of acts worth investigating at this year’s Walnut Valley Festival. Muriel Anderson, who wrangled chickens for Chet Atkins, plays a hypertrophied harp guitar that combines guitar, bass and music box into a single instrument. Feel like dancing? Can you count thirteen?

Continue reading “Wayback and forward”

Not exactly Spanish castle magic

Fillyjonk triggered one of my stranger memories. A long, long time ago I spent a summer in Spain. One day my group traveled to Segovia (by bus, not dragonfly) to see the Alcázar. It was a spectacular place, everything a Spanish castle ought to be. My most vivid memory, though, is not of the Alcázar itself. I spent some time on the terrace at the top of the tower surveying the region. While I was there, someone with a tape recorder played two songs over and over, loudly. One was “American Woman,” and the other was “Spirit in the Sky.” I felt a certain slight dissonance between what I saw and what I heard.1