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. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Greatest Hits, Vol. 8: the early-ish years

So, I started this blog a couple of years ago to have a way to share the music I play with people I know.  I thought that way I could better justify the time I spend playing music and I might then be driven to actually finish pieces (my hard drive was swollen with bits and pieces of songs).  It continues to be a fun way to share music that would never leave my practice room otherwise.

The playback and download stats are not stunning: a few thousand plays and a few hundred downloads, but in the process I've been able to get in touch with a whole community of amateur musicians who make music around the world.  I often hear people lament the changes in classical music, rock, or some other sector of the music world, but overall I think that music is more diverse and adaptive than it has ever been.

I looked over my playback statistics and have decided to re-post my most played 5 tracks.

Number 5 isn't really my song at all.  It's a James Brown song over which I decided to add more instrumentation.  In a strangely lucid moment, his zombie body will manage to find me and exact his revenge.

Number 4 is an instrumental track inspired by jazz fusion.  It's name is a twist of "Mr. Gone", an album by the phenomenal fusion band Weather Report.

Track 3 is a cover I did of a song by the folk band the Indigo Girls.  It's me singing and playing guitar (both at once!  That's harder than I thought it would be).

My second most played track was a group effort.  It was inspired by a missionary I knew who used incessantly the weird songs that he would make up.  I got my kids to contribute vocals and background noise. 

The most played track that I've published on the blog is a song that I wrote soon after we found out that Sarah was pregnant with Lucy.  It allowed me to preserve some of the mix of emotions that I felt at the time.

Thank you for visiting, listening, and being part of my life.