Saturday, July 26, 2014


My friends Matt and Treesa Gold play in an amazing band called Goldrush.  Last week I got to hear them live for the first time, which was a real treat.  They're sound isn't what you'd expect to get from a double bass, violin, guitar, and drum set.  Prabir's songwriting is intelligent and playful.  The guitar work is very good, but understated,  giving plenty of space for the violin and double bass.  The resulting voicing is more sparse than I'm used to, making the actual chords and movements between them less obvious than normal, like some tantalizing harmonic strip-tease.  But when I say "sparse" and "understated", don't think I mean "delicate".  As they play, they control you.  They'll kick you around and you'll like it.

Here's a link to iTunes where you can get their first album, "Greatest Hits".  You're a good person.  You deserve to have their music in your life.  And here's a picture of them doing their thing:

Just like after any good show, I returned home wanting to play.  I started on a cover of their song "The Exit Song", using a very different instrumentation from the original, but the project proved too ambitious for the time I had and I got less than a minute's worth done.  It was fun, though, so I'm posting it anyway.  I made it using a tack piano (piano with metal thumb tacks in the hammers), Hammond organ, fretless electric bass, ukulele, lap steel guitar, cracklebox (one of these things), Shruthi-1 synthesizer, tambourines, and a wooden plank that I slapped with my hands, since I don't have any drums. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Wire organ

In the late sixties, Wendy Carlos released an album of Bach music played only on a large Moog modular synthesizer.  Modular synthesizers were large panels of separate electronic modules (oscillators, filters, etc) that could be connected together to produce sounds.  Here's a picture of one:

It was really all just electronics lab equipment tweaked a bit for sound production.  Electronic music was a child of recording technology.  Once it was possible to convert sounds to electrical signals for storage later, it was only a matter of time before someone would try to make sounds starting with just the electronic signals.  Here's a link to Wendy Carlos' version of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3:

While it seemed shocking to some music aficionados at the time, it was a pretty natural use of the synthesizer.  Bach had written a huge body of work for the organ, and the pipe organ is very much like the synthesizer.  It's got different ranks of pipes made from different materials in different shapes to mimic orchestral instruments.  The names of the pipe styles even come from the German names for the different instruments that they mimic.  I recently built a single-voice synthesizer from a kit designed by mutable instruments.  Here's a picture of the Shruthi-1:

It's not nearly as imposing as the Moog modular, but it's still a lot of fun.  Here's a recording I made of a Walczynski organ prelude that I mad on my Shruthi-1:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In other news...

This post doesn't really fit on the blog, but I don't have a better place to post it and some other DIYer out there may want to do something similar.

My wife inherited a nice Evenheat glass fusing kiln.  The only problem was that the 20-year-old temperature controller wasn't working.  After finding the manual for it online, she decided that she wanted something more flexible and user-friendly anyway.  I convinced her that it would be relatively simple and inexpensive to build a better temperature controller from scratch.  A replacement controller was available from the manufacturer and other compatible controllers are likely available, but it seemed like a good excuse to play with an Arduino board. 

After more time than I'm willing to admit, it's up and running!  Behold the Meltinator 9000:

And here's the obligatory cheeky initialization screen:

The kiln controller uses:
-an Arduino Uno board
-an Adafruit Arduino display shield
-an Adafruit protoshield
-a K-type thermocouple reader board (MAX31855 based)
-a resistor, BJT, and diode to drive the relays

Schematics would be overkill for this one.  The circuit to drive the relay was like the version linked below, but with the resistor value adjusted for the resistance of my relay coils.

Luckily, the new kiln controller fits nicely in the old enclosure.  That made life a lot easier.  Flipping through 19 bazillion pages of a Mouser catalogue to find the right enclosure and switch caps is no fun.

The software allows for 25 different fusing schedules to be programmed.  Each schedule has 10 steps.  Each step has a target temperature, a temperature rate of change, and a hold time.  The user can add time to the hold cycle of the current step during execution of a schedule, if needed. 

The software for the kiln controller can be found at github here.  Use at your own risk.

I ran a two-step test program earlier today and kept an eye on it to make sure the house didn't burn down.  First, it ramped up to 1500 degrees Farenheit at a rate of 2550 degrees per hour.  Then it cooled down to 500 degrees at a rate of 1000 degrees per hour.  Heat-up worked just as planned.  Cool down was slower than anticipated; the kiln is better insulated than I had thought.  I may need to prop the kiln lid open slightly during cooling if I want the controller to be able to control cool down accurately. 

To wrap things up, here's a picture of some of the stuff that Sarah makes in the kilns.  She's gotten really good!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Poor old piano...

I found an old page I made for a summer project in college around 2004 or so.  I'm not sure how I managed to get permission to work on this thing, because it involved taking over a lab in the engineering science building, getting stuff built by the machine shop without funding, and getting the music department to donate an old piano.  It ended up being pretty fun, though.

The idea was to cause the strings to vibrate under the influence of magnetic fields, like an e-bow does for the guitar.  A synthesizer was used as the signal source.  It's output was amplified by an old PA amplifier.  Instead of being connected to a speaker, the output of the PA amplifier was run to an array of electromagnetic coils that were placed about a quarter of an inch away from an octave of piano strings.  The cores of the coils were machined from iron rod stock about an inch in diameter.  The wire gauge, number of windings, and parallel-series wiring of the coils were selected to match the 4 ohm impedance for which the PA amplifier was designed.

The resulting sounds were interesting.  The strings acted as an ethereal reverb and only resonated when the magnetic fields alternated at harmonics of the strings.  Slowfreqchng.mp3 is a recording of a single chord with the pitch bend wheel on the synthesizer moved very slowly.  I've also got a couple of other clips below of me playing with the setup.  Note that all of the recorded sounds are being produced by the piano strings and body.  No effects were used.  Sadly, my recording equipment and skills were pretty limited at the time, so the recordings were made with a single Sure SM-48 microphone and there's significant clipping.  The magnets were close enough to the strings that occasionally they made physical contact and rattling resulted.  I think I still have those coils in a box here somewhere...

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Finally we have some nice weather!  It's warm and sunny.  The plants are blooming.  Despite my nose's refusal to enjoy it all, things really are beautiful.  One of my favorite things to do is sit in the front yard and play guitar at dusk while the kids run around.  Here's an instrumental track of me improvising on the guitar one evening this week.  Being an improvisation it wanders around a bit and is a somewhat inconsistent, but it was fun.

On a different note, this used up the last of my upload minutes on my free SoundCloud account, so I'm not sure if I'm going to be posting more stuff or not. If there's another good place to host music files that you know of, let me know.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Break it down!

When most of the people I know hear "Break it down!" the first image that comes to mind is probably this:

For a few of you, it might actually be these guys, the Kidz In The Hall (the rap group, not the hilarious Canadian sketch show).  The video for their single "Break It Down" appears to be advertising black lingerie for anorexic women.  No, you don't need to watch it, just believe me.

For a few others of you, this might actually be what comes to mind first:


Well, I'm not referring to any of those things.  I'm talking about the song "Break It Down Again" by the New Wave band Tears For Fears.

What's "New Wave" you ask?  Umm, well, it's kind of like one of those you-had-to-be-there jokes.  If you've got to ask, it's probably not worth finding out.   They wear sweaters in their cover art.  That should tell you something, right?

I thought that it would be fun to cover one of their electronic songs using mostly acoustic instruments.  Included in this track are guitar, mandolin, bass, alto and soprano recorders, piano, organ, and some percussion toys.  I gave up after the first verse and chorus.  That was enough for me to see what my experiment would sound like so I moved on to other projects.   Hope you like it:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Wait, now what was the question again?

As recorded by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the massive and great super computer Deep Thought determined the answer to the greatest question of all: the great question of life, the universe, and everything.  I quote  the dialogue from Mr. Adams' book between Deep Thought and the lucky scientists who were able to first receive the answer after 7.5 million years of processing:

"Good Morning," said Deep Thought at last.
"Er..good morning, O Deep Thought" said Loonquawl nervously, "do you, that is..."
"An Answer for you?" interrupted Deep Thought majestically. "Yes, I have."
The two men shivered with expectancy. Their waiting had not been in vain.
"There really is one?" breathed Phouchg.
"There really is one," confirmed Deep Thought.
"To Everything? To the great Question of Life, the Universe and everything?"
Both of the men had been trained for this moment, their lives had been a preparation for it, they had been selected at birth as those who would witness the answer, but even so they found themselves gasping and squirming like excited children.
"And you're ready to give it to us?" urged Loonsuawl.
"I am."They both licked their dry lips.
"Though I don't think," added Deep Thought. "that you're going to like it."
"Doesn't matter!" said Phouchg. "We must know it! Now!"
"Now?" inquired Deep Thought.
"Yes! Now..."
"All right," said the computer, and settled into silence again. The two men fidgeted. The tension was unbearable.
"You're really not going to like it," observed Deep Thought.
"Tell us!"
"All right," said Deep Thought. "The Answer to the Great Question..."
"Of Life, the Universe and Everything..." said Deep Thought.
"Is..." said Deep Thought, and paused.
"Forty-two," said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.” 

Today's recording is of me playing an instrumental improvisation over the chord's from Dave Matthews' song #41.  I'm playing several acoustic guitar parts (4?) and a fretless bass.  

If it seems like something is missing, you're right.  It's that last little bit, that last single integer, that would have brought meaning to life, the universe, and everything.  Sorry.  I got sleepy.