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

Not thrilled

Charles Hill recently posted a video that purports to list fifteen albums that are in the collections of everyone who bought records back in the age of vinyl. Surprisingly, I have four — but only four, and Thriller is not among them.

I thought it might be fun to do the opposite: compile a list of LPs in my collection that almost no one else has. I’m including only albums on vinyl; if I were to include CDs and digital files, I could easily list hundreds, maybe thousands, of obscure recordings. Here are ten records, all worth hearing, that I’ve never seen in anyone else’s music library.

Rare Air, Hard to Beat

Continue reading “Not thrilled”

Fiddling around

Tomorrow is World Fiddle Day, or something like that. Here’s Roger Netherton with some fiddle music.

More of Roger and his friends here and here.

Update: Roger’s in Japan now. Here’s a video of the old-time session last night at the Armadillo Music Bar in Nagoya. After a bit of talking, Roger starts off with three solo pieces such as he would play in a fiddle contest. Then he is joined by several other musicians for the rest of the set.

A few words from Lucy

Miku may finally have competition.

The Yamaha Vocaloids, particularly Hatsune Miku and her colleagues at Crypton, have been the gold standard in synthesized vocals for over a decade. None of the alternatives I’ve looked at combine musicality and intelligibility as well. 1

That may change soon. I just stumbled across the Emvoice One beta and gave it a try. Its capabilities are limited — it doesn’t receive MIDI data yet, all note entry and editing must be done by clicking on a piano-roll, and the one available voice, “Lucy,” is not particularly melodious — but it already sounds more musical and enunciates more clearly than Plogue’s Alter/Ego. Here’s a quick five bars of Lucy with a bit of compression and reverb.

This might be worth keeping track of.

By the way, if you use Alter/Ego, the “NATA” voicebank is now free for the downloading.

Caledonian strangeness

Today is Tartan Day in North America. (In Australia, it’s July 1.) Here’s a medley of melodies that were once Scottish: “The Piper’s Weird,” “Bonnie Thackit Hoosie,” “Marnock’s Strathspey” and “Mackenzie Highlanders.” I don’t have a good set of bagpipes on my computer, so I had to make do with other virtual instruments. That may or may not disappoint you. The first two tunes are from James Scott Skinner’s collection The Harp and Claymore. Skinner uses “weird” here in the sense of “destiny” or “fate,” though the more common meaning may also apply.

The king is dead

Dick Dale, the king of the surf guitar, died Saturday at the age of 81. I discovered his music late, when I listened to his comeback CD Tribal Thunder out of curiosity. Ever since then his spring reverb-infused twang has featured regularly in the various playlists I put together.

Dale never hit the top 40. His biggest hit, “Let’s Go Trippin’,” only went as high as #60 on the charts fifty-eight years ago. So what? Quality is at best weakly correlated with popularity.1

His signature tune was the eastern Mediterranean tune “Miserlou.”

Dale often did covers of other people’s music. When he performed them, they became Dick Dale songs, no matter who wrote them. The following were once Link Wray and Johnny Cash tunes.

Odds and ends: musical edition

The one memorable part of the otherwise disappointing series Ghost Hound1 was the opening theme, Mayumi Kojima’s “Poltergeist.” It immediately became one of my favorites. I don’t understand a word Kojima sings, but I don’t need to; the music tells me all I need to know.2 I recently came across a video of the song with the lyrics translated. Does knowing what the words mean add to (or subtract from) the value of the song? In this case, I don’t think it makes any difference. Judge for yourself.

If you want to hear more of Kojima, you face a challenge. Aside from “Poltergeist,” none of her most listenable songs are on YouTube. Your best bet probably is to locate a copy of A Musical Biography, a best-of compilation.

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I tracked down a couple of tunes mentioned in an episode of Hozuki no Reitetsu. Yutaka Ozaki’s “15 no Yoru” is probably best appreciated by adolescent drama queens, but the other, “Giza Giza Heart no Komoriuta,” by the Checkers, is not bad at all. (Epileptics beware: jerky video.)

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A long time ago, back before the last ice age, I received Malcolm Hamilton’s recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier as a Christmas present. I discovered a few days ago that most of the six-record set is now available as free downloads. The sound is very good for being digitized from vinyl. I can’t give the set an unreserved recommendation, though. At least two of the prelude and fugue pairs are missing, and there are occasional skips — true to vinyl, perhaps, but annoying. Still, the performances are good and the price is right. You can also listen to them on YouTube.3

If you prefer piano to harpsichord, Kimiko Ishizaka has released Book I of the WTC, completely free of any copyright and downloadable for any price you care to pay (including $0 if you’re a cheapskate).

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And now for something completely different: Jordan Peterson, performing with the Muppets.