More noises

Here’s another batch of quickie tune arrangements using the Arturia V Collection synths. As before, every sound in each is made with the named synthesizer emulation, though there may be some occasional manipulation with equalization, compression and delay. “Captain Sudley” is a Carolan tune; the others are traditional.

“The Dashing White Sergeant,” Matrix 12

“Captain Sudley,” Solina

“Tulloch Castle,” Fairlight CMI

“Lai,” ARP 2600

Bonus: “Captain Sudley” on the B3 emulation.

Trivia: the ARP 2600 was the voice of R2-D2.

Along with the earlier batch, I’ve now made inexpert use of half of the Arturia collection. With a few exceptions, the remaining keyboards are of less interest to me. While I can always use a good, accurate grand piano, electric pianos have never appealed to me, and transistor organs sound cheap.

Working with these new toys confirmed a couple of observations.

1. After a while, all subtractive synths start to sound the same. Someone with a good ear might be able to tell a hardware ARP from a Moog on a recording, but once you’re using computer emulations, with all the electronic and mechanical quirks cleaned up, one sawtooth wave sounds much like another.

2. The more novel the sound, the harder it is to use. In a piece with many voices, the plainest patches work best. The Buchla Easel is an amazing noisemaker, but I doubt that I’ll ever use it much.

Funny noises

I spent much of the weekend playing with my new toys, emulations of “classic” synths in Arturia’s V Collection. Some of them are very complicated and will take a while to figure out. To get an idea of what each is like, I’ve been assembling quick arrangements of various tunes from my big page of MIDI files. Here are some of the results. Every sound in each is from the named synth (with one exception, as noted)

“Vulpita,” CS-80

“The Scolding Wives of Abertarff,” Buchla Easel (and an instance of Arturia’s Piano)

“Oaken Leaves,” Yamaha DX7

“Bakramin,” Synclavier

Generic bourrée, Moog Modular

High culture for a Sunday afternoon

A bit of ancient Marxist humor:

This was a skit from the 1924 I’ll Say She Is, re-enacted in 1931 when moving pictures finally had sound.

A bit of musical history:

Jean-Jaques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley recorded what was probably the first electronic music intended for popular audiences. Their first album featured Perrey’s Ondioline, a forerunner of the Moogs and Arps to come, plus tape loops with funny noises. In the musical demonstration during the second half of the video, note how Perrey wiggles the keyboard side to side to obtain a vibrato.

I stumbled across the Perrey video while looking for the episode of To Tell the Truth in which the panelists try to identify the real Robert Moog.1 Perrey and Kingsley used Moog’s modular synthesizer on the second album, over a year before Switched-on Bach. The music from the two Perrey-Kingsley albums is collected here. It may be cheesy, but it’s cheese of high quality. If you’ve been to Disneyland, you may have heard one of their tunes.

The formidable jazz pianist Dick Hyman was another early user of the Moog. “The Minotaur” got some airplay on top-forty radio in 1969, but the flip side was more fun:

Pop quiz: Who said this about what?

Primitive music with all modern conveniences

Continue reading “High culture for a Sunday afternoon”

18 notes per second, with a grin

What is the greatest guitar album ever recorded?1 Surfing with the Alien? Performing this week … Live at Ronnie Scott’s? The Return of the Hellecasters? Something by Danny Gatton, or Roy Buchanan?

How about The Lightning Fingers of Roy Clark? Clark may have had the persona of a hayseed clown, but he could play guitar. Here’s a sample:

It’s not as easy as it looks. If you have any interest in guitar music, you need Roy Clark in your library.

Clark died yesterday at the age of 85. Wonderduck has more.

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.

*****

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.

(Boo)

A bit of music to set the mood. You can all sing along.

*****

It’s that time of year when I recommend that everyone watch Mononoke, unless I forget. So, if you want to view something appropriate to October 31 done with intelligence and artistry, watch an arc or two of Kenji Nakamura’s first and best anime. It’s not necessary to watch the stories in order. My personal favorites are Bakeneko (“Goblin Cat”) and Nue (“Japanese Chimera”), episodes 10-12 and 8-9, though all of the tales of the simple medicine seller are worth your time.

A couple of other possibilities:

Madoka Magica — Not for casual viewing. If you try to marathon this in one evening, you’ll be an emotional wreck at the end. You do need to start at the beginning.

Hozuki no Reitetsu — Something a little lighter, set in the Japanese version of Hell. The first episode introduces the main characters, but after that you can skip around. My favorites include the fourth episode, which introduces the demure rabbit Miss Mustard, and the eighth, which examines J-pop and modern art.

And there’s always Natsume Yujin-cho.

I have no particular taste for horror and creepy stuff. Although there’s plenty, most I’ve seen bores me. The shows mentioned above caught my attention for reasons other than mere “chills.”

Toys

Here’s an interactive celestial panorama, courtesy of NASA and ESO. You can see both visible light and gamma ray views of the skies. Check out the gamma ray constellations, which are rather different from their traditional conterparts.

If you’d like to annoy nearby people with funny noises, you can play WebSID, an online emulation of the SID chip in old Commodore computers. It works with your’s computer’s qwerty keyboard.

Winfield, at last

At the Beautiful Music booth

I thought I’d grabbed just a few snapshots at this year’s Walnut Valley Festival two weeks ago, but when I got home I discovered I had over a thousand frames. I finally sorted through them all. Here are a couple; there are more here and here.

Contra dancing

The fiddler in the contra dance band Friday evening was Roger Netherton, whom I’ve mentioned here many times. His first CD is finally available. If you like old-time fiddle or just enjoy good music, check it out.

Psittacosis

It’s Squawk Like a Parrot Day. Here are the Bonzos with an appropriate tune.

Addendum: If it’s pirates you want, here’s a set of variations on a tune named for Gráinne Mhaol, alias Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Ireland.1

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.

Fiddles in snow

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.

Surfin’ Suomi

Alfred M. Yankovic and Brave Combo have conclusively demonstrated that virtually any popular song can be improved by polkafying it. It’s also true that rendering a song as a surf instrumental almost always makes it better.1 Charles Hill posts a couple of surf transformations that are superior to the originals and links to a third. My favorite re-arrangement, though, is this one by Laika and the Cosmonauts, yet another eccentric band from Finland. They call it “Sauna Soul” for no obvious reason, but you probably know it by another name.

Kilts and daggers

It’s Tartan Day today, so here’s a Scottish fiddle tune, James Scott Skinner’sFingal’s Dirk,” in a not-quite-traditional arrangement.

Technical stuff, for those interested: This arrangement was assembled in Logic. The guitars are two instances of the AAS Strum GS-2, run through NI’s Guitar Rig; the bass is the String Studio VS-2; and, the percussion is Logic’s Ultrabeat.

(Want to make music on your own computer? If you have a Windows machine, you can download Cakewalk for free. Add a cheap MIDI keyboard (preferably velocity-sensitive, with pitchbend and modulation wheels) and download a few freebie VST soft synths (u-he has a generous selection, including Zebralette, Tyrell N6 and Triple Cheese), and you will have more more synth power at your fingertips than Keith Emerson could dream of during his glory days, for peanuts.)

A whole lot of notes

Back in the 19th century, virtuoso pianists took themes from popular operas and arranged them into fantasies to showcase their pianistic prowess and dazzle audiences. These operatic paraphrases fell out of favor in the austere 20th century, and nowadays the only one you might hear is Liszt’s “Réminiscences de Don Juan,” based on themes from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It’s a shame. They may not be great music, but they can be fun.

In this 21st century, something similar is evolving in Japan. Here’s a piece based on Yuki Kajiura’s music for Madoka Magica, arranged and performed by “Animenz.”

Here’s a more ambitious piece, based on themes from Gunbuster, performed by Yui Morishita, a.k.a. “Pianeet.” (It’s not clear whether it’s his own arrangement, but I suspect that it is.)

And another theme from Madoka, arranged and performed by Morishita.

Morishita is particularly interesting. Besides playing anime music, he is also an Alkan specialist. The reclusive Charles-Valentin Morhange, who changed his name to “Alkan,” was of the same generation as Liszt and Chopin and wrote notoriously difficult piano music. Morishita has recorded three CDs thus far of Alkan’s music. I’d like to embed here the video of his rendition of Alkan’s “Le chemin de fer,”1 which has particularly good sound and shows the finger gymnastics from several angles, but for no obvious reason I can’t.

You can find more of Morishita performing both anime tunes and Alkan on YouTube. I think he just might have the chops to make proper Lisztian paraphrases of anime themes that any fan of piano music will enjoy, and I hope he does. I’d really like to hear a good “Noir” or “Cowboy Bebop” fantasy.

For those who are interested in extreme piano, there is an Alkan Society. Unfortunately, it’s based in Great Britain, and its events are a wee bit inconvenient for Kansans to attend.

Here’s a recent article on Jewish comedian-musicians, which oddly spends quite a bit of time discussing Alkan.

*****

Who am I?

You are Johann Sebastian Bach. The smartest person you know, you don’t suffer incompetence easily and are more than willing to tackle difficult projects yourself rather than trust them to others. Highly intellectual, you crave order, discipline and structure – let’s be honest, you probably have your picture next to “perfectionist” in the dictionary. Unfortunately, your brilliance is likely to go largely unappreciated by those around you, and you’re going to have to wait for future generations to recognize your genius.

Yeah, right. Who do you think you are?

(Via Robbo.)

*****

… and now for something completely different. Alkan didn’t just compose for piano.

Libretto:
As-tu déjeuné, Jaco? (The French counterpart of “Polly want a cracker?”)
Et de quoi?
Ah.

Too much culture

Here’s a month’s accumulation of video timewasters.

One of my Christmas gifts was Eight Days a Week, an account of the early years of that band from Liverpool. It reminded me of the story of a certain other band. Bonus: Neil Innes vs. the Beatles.

A biography of one of the great British eccentrics. (Here’s an uninterrupted performance of one of the musical numbers.)

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