Life & much, much more

Sydney revue coming up from the architecture faculty!

As some might remember, I was involved in a Sydney revue last year by the university of Sydney architecture faculty as the musical director. It was called Game of Homes (a shameless pun on the Game of Thrones series). Not only was I involved with music, it also gave me the wonderful opportunity to create a 3D animation for its opening sequence based on the original (and very well done) Game of Thrones sequence. You can view the animation sequence and corresponding revue poster in this post.

As this is an annual event, I’m happy to say that I’m again involved in it this year (as music again) and would like to present Floorless, a spaghetti western with a particularly complex pun for a title. It’s a joke on both the film Lawless, and on Flawless with an architectural twist. Get it? Nope? That’s alright. Me neither.

Sydney revue architecture

Anyway, you can tell that this is a quality Sydney revue because it has a quality poster. This means that if you’re in Sydney on the 5th, 6th or 7th of September, you should buy a cheap ticket and watch it.

Sydney revue poster alternative

It contains all the right ingredients for a successful western. These include bandits, sherrifs, the town stranger, the town drunk, the fastest shot in the West (which may sometime be the town drunk), the banjo brandishing hillbilly, the lonely harmonica player, a whip*, the mayor, Mexicans, the fine lass, and a Final standoff with capital F.

Also, there used to be an official revue website somewhere but as I can’t find it I assume that someone forgot to renew the domain and the site no longer exists.

Cheers, and see you at the event!

  • the whip may or may not be used at the actual event, and audience are recommended to not buy tickets for the front row.
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Holiday plans.

This coming Sunday (25th) the first WIPUP beta version will get released. I’ve been working hard to ensure that this first beta truly will be feature-complete and bug-free. I was quite delighted this morning when I found a few Brazillian game developers had tried out WIPUP (and a few of its live-only features succesfully) for an RPG they were making – it was all in Portuguese, but it was a great feeling nonetheless. I hope more people can find use for WIPUP and enjoy using it just as much as I have.

One of the reasons I developed WIPUP was to be used as a long-term infrastructure for myself – a way to log and see my progress through time. A phrase I like to use here is insight through hindsight. This of course means that since this is the first so-called stable release of WIPUP, I’m going to take a break from developing it (desktop clients, APIs and the such will have to wait) and resume my personal, more creative projects.

I’ve spent the past week porting over the remains of The ThoughtScore Project’s original thread on BlenderArtists to the WIPUP Project. I shall spend my time over the next week to pick up all those Blender save files that have spread across my hard disk and get ready to resume work on ThoughtScore.

I’m also starting a new composition. After every composing session I shall snapshot the score and perhaps a short clip of me playing what I’ve got so far. You can check out the WIPUP project for it.

Also if you need a webdev job, you can ask the folks at the company I’m now working for, OmniStudios.

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Playing a song as a background process in Windows

Sometimes you ask yourself how to do cool things like playing a song in the background (ie. no visible interface or application) upon login on a Windows box. Being completely unfamiliar with using DOS I wasn’t quite sure how to go about doing this, but apparently it was quite easy. So here I am documenting it for future "reference". This marks my very first time touching the DOS prompt and indeed any sort of commands in Windows, so please excuse the newbie-format of this post.

Everything is done CLI for obvious reasons – we don’t want any interface for them to turn off our song. So we need a command line music player. mplayer is also available as a command line player on Windows, and so it was my first choice. A quick download of a build without an interface and we were ready to play any song with a *.bat file containing `mplayer "music.mp3"`

The next step is to make it run without the prompt opening up. This is again easily done by executing the bat file via a vbs file with the following content. Creating a shortcut to this vbs file and dumping it in your startup folder is the simplest and most obvious way to make it play on login. Here’s the code:

Set WshShell = CreateObject("WScript.Shell")
WshShell.Run chr(34) & "C:\path\to\my\bat\file.bat" & Chr(34), 0
Set WshShell = Nothing

Now I wanted to be able to change this song whenever I wanted from a central server. Basically it would check whether or not it needs to update the song, and if it does, delete the existing song and download the new song. This is useful to give a little variety in our fun little player. Some things didn’t work quite as I wanted it to so I have probably used the most horrendous of hacks based on what I could garner from various online references.

First I needed a way to download files akin to wget. I found a small program called url2file which did just the thing. I wanted it to check whether or not a song existed on the server, and if it did, download it. However the url2file program didn’t quite play nice with that idea (it would download a 404 page instead of allowing me to tell it not to do anything), and I didn’t know how to check whether or not a file existed on a remote server. So instead I had to make do with a second "notifier" file which, if it contained a certain string, would mean that a new song was available to be downloaded.

It would download that plaintext file’s contents to a tmp file, search in that tmp file for the string we were looking for, and if successful, would delete the existing music file and download the new one to take its place. Unfortunately doing a simple `if %getnew%==yes` didn’t work (explanations welcome!), so I made do with checking the first 3 characters, which did work. Here’s the final code, with the getnew.txt file including just the single word "yes".

del tmp
URL2FILE.EXE http://foobar.com/getnew.txt > tmp
set /p getnew= < tmp
set _part_name=%getnew:~0,3%
if %_part_name%==yes del music.mp3
if %_part_name%==yes URL2FILE.EXE http://foobar.com/music.mp3 music.mp3

Tada, and worked flawlessly. Not bad for a couple hours work from scratch and not knowing anything about DOS at all.

In unrelated news, I’m looking for good bagpipe music.

Creative

Evan interpretive score released.

Remember Evan? No, not the guy – the piece. The piece named after the guy. That piano piece. Yeah, the one I composed almost 8 months ago. The one I never announced I had finished composing.

The reason is partly because I didn’t finish composing it. I slapped on a makeshift ending to wrap it up, became utterly disgusted at the formulaic tonic and then slapped on another note right after because that’s what felt right. It was exactly what the piece was about. But was the piece itself finished? In a sense, yes – the main ideas were there – but they were undeveloped little mud puddles that tried to jump from one puddle to the next. All in all – a hard piece to perform.

It’s not hard just because it has a few technical areas and a heavy chordal passage – it’s hard because it rushes the performer into a frenzy. The piece is divided into two clear sections both of what would first seem like distinctly different characters, but further study of the piece’s theme would reveal that they are not – in fact, they are one single, continuous development. In a way, it’s not the change in emotion that makes this piece interesting (though most would easily say that it is), it’s more of the restraint in emotion the performer has to show.

This restraint must be shown to let the various smaller melodies creep through the heavy banging in the middle. Simple dexterity is not enough. The performer has to understand what exactly the hurry is all about – is it an anger? Is it a frustration? Is it simple mischeviousness? One climax after another – or should they be climaxes?

Many of the melodies are admittedly not for the piano. The main theme itself in one such interpretation is much more fit for violin – long, slurred bows with the piano peeking through with light droplets to add contrast. It will end hanging – with a slight yearning, a slight sadness – or another much grander interpretation: a confident, full sound with a nimble backdrop to emphasise its majesty.

The only clearly interpreted section is the last – one of stillness. A slight murmur – a few sharp breaks of light – a heavy, determined, and resolute ending.

So a while back I had to record Evan to send off with my portfolio – obviously having not played it for 8 months and the piano untouched for a while due to other responsibilities, I will readily admit that my playing – and resulting recording, was an abomination. It was crap. An insult. There was a brief section played just right – but the rest was just note after note – a disgusting sequence of sound that didn’t deserve the 5.5 minutes of MP3 I sent off. As a result I’m not going to show the recording here until it’s redone properly.

However the score itself is another matter. As you might’ve garnered from the description above – I didn’t explain the emotion of the piece – not my emotion with it, at least – but I did give suggestions. The score is unmarked and completely interpretive. I invite anybody who wants to to play it – and yes, it is unfinished. It will probably stay that way for a while. I would appreciate any recordings of people playing it!

Click here to download it (second attachment) in PDF format.

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Free, legal music for all.

Recently searching for some new music to liven up my aging playlist I stumbled upon a web radio called Libre.FM.

No. I lied. I stumbled upon it a good several months ago. However it has recaptured my attention. Libre.FM is, like the name suggests, similar to Last.FM. Libre.FM, like the name also suggests, has something to do with freedom (libre means `free` in French).

Libre.FM is a tag-based online radio with support for scrobbling. For those sticking with the to-be-deprecated traditional radio, this means that the music being played corresponds to keywords similar to the workings of a search engine, and data about song preferences and listening statistics are synchronised with the music provider, supposedly to provide a better service. The result is that you get an ad-free, customisable playlist where you can constantly discover new songs. Oh, and all for free.

This isn’t a new thing. As mentioned this is not unlike Last.FM, which works on the same principles except for the nature of the music. The difference is that Libre.FM’s music is all free, indie music. Each song is under a free license, and you are free to download and share everything legally. Their privacy policy ensures your anonymity and freedom online, and supports those artists who would otherwise be facing obscurity.

You won’t find your celebrities here nor your greatest hits album – but you will be exposed to a lot more music that represents the freedom, creativity and simple efforts of many people. True, some of those songs sound like absolute bollocks and probably deserve their obscurity but that’s to be expected. From a critical website UI point of view it’s pretty terrible as well compared to its proprietary alternatives. Despite these major flaws it’s definitely something to keep a lookout for in the future.

So – go and discover something new today: listen to Libre.FM.

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Sibelius, Finale, Cakewalk? Real men use Lilypond.

Some of the old-timers on this site might recognise the title’s startling similarity to the introductory article I wrote about LaTeX. I received some questions on how I created the music sheet in the previous post about my upcoming composition, Evan, and the answer is: with Lilypond.

As you’ve probably guessed already, Lilypond is a markup language, just like LaTeX. You don’t use a graphical user interface to insert your notes, rests, and whatnot, but instead just code it into a plain text file and convert it to a, let’s say PDF format when you’re ready to view it.

lily-1f1cc0c4

Music scores are complex. Much, much more complex than your word documents. You might have a good deal of fun formatting wizardry going around with LaTeX, but with music, you have notes, you have staffs, bars, stems, different symbols, different types of annotations, clusters, rests, expression markings, decoration (stuff like trills etc), and don’t even get me started on modern music. A score of a modern music piece is probably a piece of art in itself, my stemless notes, dotted barlines and lack of a time signature in my previous post being nothing compared to what’s out there. All of this has to be pieced together in a readable format, whilst still giving the composer flexibility to modify the score to put whatever they wants.

If anybody here has used the famous notation softwares out there such as Sibelius or Finale, it’s quick and easy to learn but a pain when you get to decently complex scores. You also quickly realise that the stuff you produce on there definitely looks nothing professional and mediocre at best. If you consider creating a score, for, let’s say an orchestral piece, you’d not want to continue using these traditional programs.

2009-08-26-232355_1280x800_scrot

Take for example that score above. It’s of decent complexity and created using lilypond. Attempt something like that in other programs and you’d fail horribly.

Lilypond is like LaTeX. You tell it what your score will contain, and Lilypond will work out the best way to format it. That’s the best thing – it ensures readability, something vital in any score and a real pain to do manually. Here is a simple example, as a picture speaks a thousand words:

2009-08-26-232958_1280x800_scrot

Lilypond is flexible. It allows you to notate very modern pieces with weird artifacts such as, in my own piece missing stems. Of course you may even have missing notes, or even stems that branch out or waving lines to symbolise a direction. (please, don’t just add these for the fun of it, you need to know why and when they should be used and more importantly how to use them)

2009-08-26-234829_1280x800_scrot

It’s also fast. Don’t believe me if you want to, but I would honestly say that creating a score in Lilypond is faster than other software (well, LaTeX in my opinion is also faster than Word Processors). Not only can you chunk in notes as fast as you can possibly type them (and you get used to how to input notes very quickly), you can also use variables. If you have a repeating section of a piece, you can just assign it to a variable, just like in math you can say x = 5, and whenever you want to use that section, or in math, the number 5, you just dump the variable and it does it all automatically.

One other feature some might consider a plus point is that it can output the score in midi format. My personal view is that midi should be marked illegal and anybody who uses it be sent straight to prison, because it sounds like crap and effectively slaughters the beauty of the piece, but – well, it does it anyway if you tell it to.

flat-design

It’s hard to fully appreciate the capabilities that Lilypond provides but I’d like to stress one: readability. Lilypond takes this very seriously. Just as music has evolved through the ages so has scorewriting, and Lilypond really adds that professional feel to whatever score you produce. If you create scores, I would recommend it.

All well and good, but how do I start using Lilypond?

Just like LaTeX it doesn’t matter if you’re on Windows, Mac or Linux. Lilypond works cross-platform and doesn’t charge a buck. First you’d want to hop over to their website, and proceed to the download page. Their website looks as though somebody ate the stylesheet, but nevertheless I can assure you that the program definitely has style. You’d then want to start reading the documentation.

You’d want to read that documentation carefully and ensure you understand what’s going on especially if you’re new to markup languages. Go through step by step – it contains many cross-links but I would recommend just doing it in the order it presents itself in. I cannot say the first score you ever produce with Lilypond will be up and running within 5 minutes, but you’ll get used to it, and when you do, you’ll be really glad you did.

Note (no pun intended): the images were shamelessly ripped off various parts of their site, but all with good promotional intention.

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Composition in progress: Evan

I’ve been doing composition again! School has started and that means that it’ll be difficult again to keep up with the rest of my interests. I’m quite happy to say that I’ve managed to keep the post-every-two-days going for a while, with each post actually announcing something significant that has occurred or something I did that I can share.

My cousin is going to have a wedding. I am very happy for him and he’s asked me to perform a little something during the wedding. What could be a better opportunity to compose a new piece? My past three compositions were very rushed on time and so I hope this one could be of somewhat decent quality. (that’s not to say I’m completely free to spend all my time on this, of course!)

I’m quite traditional when it comes to composition. I cannot believe people who use all these technologies and digital whatnot and hi-tech recordings during composition. When it comes to piano the computer pretty much plays no part at all. I sit there with a sheet of music paper and a pencil. Then I just mess around. Or something like that.

I only touch the computer when that sheet becomes too messy to read or I need to clarify some ideas. This obviously means that the computer-typeset score is most of the time miles behind the scribbles. Nevertheless, I have made a decent start. It’s without annotations and still needs polishing. Here is the start of it, and if any of you are musically inclined I would love to hear a recording of your interpretation on how to play it!

2009-08-24-140539_1280x800_scrot

Of course, it’s still very much a work in progress, needs polishing and development. More soon! Oh, and if you are so musically inclined feel free to improvise and send suggestions too :)

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A little introduction to MP3s

Hello there readers. Today I present to you yet another guest post by NathanKP from Inkweaver Review – please take some time to check out his website.

What is an MP3 and how does it work?

An MP3 is a file specifically designed for storing music. The term MP3 stands for MPEG layer 3 audio, the compression algorithm that is the basis of MP3. This algorithm is what encodes music and makes it possible to put it in a file such as the MP3 format. Real music is smooth analog wave forms that come directly from an instrument. When music is stored on a CD, however, it must be in a digital format or ones and zeros. Digital formats do not tend toward the accurate presentation of wave forms, so they must be approximated by using a sample rate. A CD samples the pure analog music about 44100 times a second and uses that to create a wave that is not purely smooth, but rather like stair steps. However, the human ear can’t really hear the difference without listening very carefully and training your ear. This sample rate is a type of compression, because analog music, on an LP for example, holds an infinite amount of data in each finite time period. CD sampling reduces this “infinite” file size to a mere 10mb a minute. However, that is still much too large for ordinary purposes.

MP3 is the next level of compression, able to store music data at approximately 1mb per minute. The way it does this is by simplifying the music by purposely losing some of the sounds. For one thing most humans can only hear a specific range of frequencies, in the 20 Hz to 20 kHz range. Some animals can hear sounds higher or lower than this but humans in general can’t. By cutting out sounds outside of this narrow range MP3 can greatly reduce file size.

Secondly MP3 reduces the sampling rate so that the wave approximations in the music have even more sharp “steps.” This, however, simplifies the wave forms by removing small variations. Then the music is encoded by using mathematical formulas to pull out data about the basic shape of the wave forms that make up the music.

Every kind of wave form can be approximated by a mathematical formula. Calculus and other math techniques can be used to fit math formulas to wave shapes. The math formulas have specific formulas that require much less storage space than a complex sample of music. The MP3 software algorithm uses code called a CODEC to handle this part of the MP3 compression. The CODEC uses statistical information about the shape of the wave forms to recreate them. It is sort of like graphing a complex calculus math problem. The problem might have only a few factors in it but the shape it creates can be quite complex. In this way MP3 is able to store the complex wave forms of music very efficiently.

Of course this is a very lossy technique. Not only is the frequency limited, and the sample rate reduced, but the music sounds itself are merely a mathematical approximation. However, most people can’t really hear the difference between MP3 music and CD music, or even pure analog music of an LP.

MP3 Software

There are a plethora of different MP3 players on the market. As far as free software for computers goes the very best are VLC player, a very light player that is easy on computer resources, and WinAMP, another free MP3 player that has been around for a long time.

Note from Dion Moult: I would also like to recommend “mplayer”.

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Back to rock your world

Yes, I’m quite literally back from my month long excursion around the world! I will post about that another time, but I’m jet-lagged and tired because my A levels will be starting in a short while. So, I believe it’s time to let you do the work. (I know you love my stuff, but I love your stuff better). *modest blush*

Ok. Here’s the thing. I want to compose something grand and epic for the ThoughtScore. This’ll become the official film music for it. It’ll be orchestral, grand, epic, awesome, *checks thesaurus (of sorts)*, great, fantastic, awe-inspiring, fabulous, superlative, magnificent, incredible, so on and so forth.

Here’s where you come in.

I want you to give me four notes. Four notes that you feel like. Notes like C, D, E, F. You’re allowed to give sharps and flats. And from those four notes, I shall create, little by little, (and update you on it), this film music. I shall record my piano brainstorming session for you to check out.

Leave your notes as a comment to this thread. I will choose one to start off with, then other suggestion I will likely use for other themes.

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Music Composition: The Spice of Life

It’s that time for my third of three music compositions. This one featuring a wonderbar double bass player and myself cranking on the piano a jazzy snazzy tune to brighten up your day.

I would suggest you pile up the volume for your bass otherwise that double bassist is going to be quieter than that bloke in my math class I never knew until graduation. Also please excuse the double bassist not-so-jazzy-sounding-playing as he is actually a classical player and isn’t used to Jazzy pieces. (Yes, classical and jazz D.B players are very different).

Full of fun and ad-libbing in this piece! Lots of jumping octaves for the piano, lots of chromatic scales to brighten up the day (for both piano and DB), and this piece contains some nice chord combinations that would frighten some pianists. Syncopation is seen throughout, yet the piece maintains a classical jazz feel to it nonetheless.

A nice break sometime in the middle where the DB player gets to touch his bow (he’s plucking the rest of the time), and I get to rest my hands from jumping around all the time.

CLICK: “The Spice of Life” Music Composition

You know you want to hear it.

Of course, there is a lot of potential development, extended melodies, more variation, etc. However, this being my first for a double bassist and also note that this was the very first rehearsal with the bassist: it was a go there, show score, play, record – so on the whole I think it turned out pretty well. This piece in fact I had a lot of trouble due to a brain block being unable to decide how to extend it in a way that would have a nice solo for the piano and the bassist, so also due to time restraints (examination), this was scrapped and instead the instruments tend to complement each other a bit more than I intended to.

Again, my music analysis goes back to this being a very fun piece to play (though quite challenging – I might release the score later) – as in, really fun. Lots of jumping around, and it also gives areas where you can change it to whatever you want, as is the custom in most jazz pieces.

A final reminder to turn up your volume and especially bass speaker (or equivalent) as if you don’t hear the bass it might sound like somebody’s plucking a rubber band instead. (not a very nice sound). Of course, the usual note: yes, I composed this piece myself and I’m playing the piano.

…and if you missed the two previous compositions, you might be interested in hearing “Surprises“, a very modern and abstract piano solo, and “From Midnight Until Dawn“, a very lyrical and emotional piece featuring a violin.

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Music Composition: “From Midnight Until Dawn”

Since quite a lot of people enjoyed my first composition “Surprises”, I’m going to post up my second composition. (Now recorded with proper stuff, not my phone).

This is a duet between piano and violin. Again, I composed the whole piece myself, and I am the piano player. For this piece I was going for a very lyrical and flowing melody full of emotion. The echoed sounds at the beginning are meant to symbolise the striking of a clock, followed by the soft chimes that one hears from such grand clocks. The violin goes for a more saddened approach, backed up by the piano giving a very rich harmony. Though sounding very simple, the violin is actually horrendously difficult to play, and requires much understanding and feeling into the piece. I myself feel that the piano playing is not expressive myself.

The constant changes of harmony throughout are meant to express restlessness during one’s sleep, where a climax follows to express waking up, and calming down again. The melody then becomes more mischievous, tricking the user into expecting long flowing phrases by the violin, but instead dying out rather suddenly. This leads to a more happy tone, which again fades out into the original chiming of the clock. The ending then features a very special melody change at the very last chord, giving the piece a very interpretive feel.

Short and sweet, I really enjoyed composing this piece.

CLICK: “From Midnight Until Dawn” Music Composition

You know you want to hear it.

All feedback is very much welcome! Whether or not you liked the style of the piece or if you have any suggestions, I’d be happy to hear it!

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Music Composition: Surprises

As many people know (wow, ego flaring!), I do animation, artwork, graphics design, programming … and also, music. To be honest, the main reason online people don’t know I do music is because I never bother to record myself playing. However, suffice to be said that I play the piano, violin, and I do music composition.

Last sometime, I was required to compose three pieces for an exam. Since they were required to be recorded, I have digital copies and I’m able to show them online! Unfortunately, I rushed all of these compositions (I took music as an extra subject – so no actual time allocated to study/work for music exams) and I think they could’ve been much better. However, needless to say I satisfied the criteria for the exam (if not surpassed) and it’s all gone and done with!

Here is the first piece for your listening pleasure. It does not contain off-key wailing and the sounds of dying animals like my infamous music jams. Therefore, you are not required to use ear-plugs when listening. The title of the song, is “Surprises” – thought up within 5 minutes of having to submit piece titles. Each piece had to have a unique style, and at least one piece had to have an accompanying instrument. This piece has no accompanying instrument, has a very rhythmic and modern feel to it, and is meant to be played as a joke, meaning that the undeveloped ideas (again, due to time restraint) in the pieces are intentional (hah!) in order to induce some interest in the piece.

What am I waffling on about?

CLICK: “Surprises” Music Composition

You know you want to hear it.

All feedback is very much welcome! Whether or not you liked the style of the piece or if you have any suggestions, I’d be happy to hear it!

Note to self: I need to work on an orchestral piece for my movies!

Edit: yes, I composed, performed (I’m the piano player), and recorded (with a phone recorder – sorry for the terrible quality) all by myself.

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Music Jam – This is my banana!

Many people like to have session they call “jamming” where their friends meet in in a stereotypical basement, grab some drums, a guitar or two, some microphones, and probably an electronic keyboard.

Using that as a guideline, some friends and I decided were bored one day, and met up in a tiny room (think bathroom), with an upright piano (yes, there are non-electronical pianos too). The urge to create music filled our heads, and soon we had created an instrumental backdrop to the most popular Fruit and Vegetable song.

The result? Here you go. This is 100% ad-libbed (that means made up) on the spot. Completely spontaneous. Do not mind the out of tune bits, because none of us really knew where the tune was going.

CLICK: Banana Song Jam

You know you want to hear it.

The lyrics are as follows:

This is my banana, tra-la-la-la-la. (hand action depicting really large object)
This is your banana, la-la-la-la-la-la, (hand action depicting really small and short object)
CHOP your banana, la-la-la-la-la (violent slice of hand through the air, accompanied by a short jump)
and you have no more banana! (victorious pose – use imagination)

There are variations on the type of fruit and method of mauling it, including but not limited to: rambutans (peel), papayas (squeeze), kiwi fruit (shave), coconut (smash), sugar cane (suck), cucumber, etc.

This is completely work-safe and has no sexual connotations at all, no matter what you may imagine.

If you are interested of some of our earlier tries, you can listen to take onetake two, and take three.

I swear, one of these days I’m going to compose a proper song for this. Feel free to give suggestions on what you might think will make the song more enjoyable.

Note: a school teacher walked in during the final jam. Needless to say she walked out pretty fast again.

Note 2: Yes, I played the piano the whole while. Again, I had no idea where the song was going.

Note 3: There were about 4 other people singing.