Gordon's Progress

Posted: 1/11/2006 7:05:14 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Thank you for the limerick. :-)

Having just watched Steve Job's keynote address I now have only good options. 1 - Good - My iBook is reparable and I don't lose any data. 2 - Better - I lose my hard disk and can replace it with a bigger one. 3 - Best - I lose the whole machine and the insurance money contributes to an Intel Mac.

So, that and the limerick have cheered me up no end.

OK. Distraction over. Theremin stuff follows.

Listened to Best of Spellbound 2005. Really great to hear a bunch of familiar names. Kudos to everyone mentioned.

The avant-garde section was odd - mostly tracks I have previously enjoyed immensely, but they did not seem to work well together. Perhaps I was put into the wrong mood by David's somewhat apologetic introduction. And then the next batch was "real" music. OK, I heard the quote marks so I'm not offended, but still.

I have no problem with "real" music. I enjoy it, and I am impressed by people who can drill scales for hours on end and can not only reproduce other people's work but add their own special touch to it too. However, learning by rote is not for me. What I enjoy is exploration and discovery, and this is the method of choice for avant-garde music.

All this time taken not recording myself is starting to pay off. I have an increasingly clear idea of what I am doing. I even have a name for it - Beneath the Cavern of the Soup Dragon.

That's going to take a little explanation.

The Clangers (http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/classic/clangers/index.shtml) was a cartoon when I was a kid. It was an introduction to music and astronomy - set on an alien world where everything had a musical aspect to it, from the Metal Chicken that watched over the planet to the Soup Dragon, curator of the soup well deep under the surface of the planet. Also it had a completely surreal quality to it. Nowhere else in the universe would a love song sung by two handbags make sense!

In short, it was my introduction to avant-garde music, and it is there that I am starting from. But of course the Clangers was for children, so our visits to the world of the clangers were cautious. Perhaps even more wonders lay further into the depths of the planet. Strange regions that are both disturbing and wonderful.

This is the place that I am exploring, traveling by theremin if you will, and I am making discoveries. My intention is to report some of these findings once I have a good selection, in the form of an audio travelogue without narration, where, accompanied by the increasingly nervous Glow Buzzers, a party of clangers journey into new territory, discovering such marvels as the cave of wailing ghosts and the beauty of the eternal firefalls.

Posted: 1/11/2006 8:34:31 AM

From: Jax, FL

Joined: 2/14/2005

Not to back track too much but, Gordon, if you ever get a few extra quid buring a hole on your pocket you might try to find a Zoom 508 digital delay.

They are on ebay fairly frequently but they are usually a little over $100.

It has several cool delay prestes and one of them is a 4 second almost endlessly repeating delay.

In my pre-theremin days I did a gid where two other guys on the band had these as well and he set up a repeating four-second loop that built into a cacaphony of noise and then we did the unthinkable...

We left.

We went across the street for a hamburger while the noise continued and the audience grew more and more uncompfortable wondering what was going on.

It was al ot of fun.
Posted: 1/11/2006 11:32:56 AM

From: Richmond Hill, Georgia

Joined: 9/18/2005

Keep at it Gordan. Sorry about your computer--what a bummer.

Happy New Year!

Philip Neidlinger
Posted: 1/16/2006 8:23:26 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Added a couple of pix of me and the theremin to Frappr.


Have listened to myself recorded on minidisk - more hiss than I was hoping for. Will try usb headset mike when I get my iBook back with a nice new bigger hard disk in a week or so.

Have been given pause for thought by another thread. Am I an unskilled wannabe? Conclusion - certainly not a wannabe - I just want to make sounds that please me, nothing more. Am I succeeding in that? Yes. Apart from the hiss it was fun listening to the recordings. Is it music? For an appropriate definition of music, yes. Will other people like it? Well, with pretty much a billion people on the Internet, if only one person in a million likes it there must be a thousand who would say yes.

Random thought. Now Skype has video (well, on Windows it does) I wonder how long it will be until someone sets themselves up as an online theremin teacher. :-)
Posted: 1/16/2006 11:08:47 AM

From: Hillsborough, NC (USA)

Joined: 2/13/2005

[i]Random thought. Now Skype has video (well, on Windows it does) I wonder how long it will be until someone sets themselves up as an online theremin teacher. :-)[/i]

... or sets up an online video theremin :)
Posted: 1/16/2006 11:45:50 AM

From: Ypsilanti, MI, USA

Joined: 9/29/2005

Steve Albini, of Big Black/Shellac fame posted in a forum on either TapeOp or ProsoundWeb the following: "I believe almost all great art is made with some measure of disinterest in its audience. That is the boundary between creative expression and commodity production for mere consumption."

In one of my music theory classes I took many moons ago, the teacher said told the class that music only truly needs three things to be considered music: a treble clef, a bass clef, and a rythm.

In other words, if it pleases you, than who cares.

BTW, thanks for the link earlier. I've been kinda quiet lately, because I'm in the throws of buying my first house and trying to plan the basement recording studio that will inhabit said new house.
Posted: 1/17/2006 6:40:43 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Well, I may not know what art is, and I'm currently not too sure what music is, but I have a working definition for good art, and consequently good music. It is successful communication of intent. If I get what the artist meant, or at least believe I do, then it's good.

(Sometimes a clue helps - this is what titles are for. First time I heard The Man From Uranus on Spellbound it was an OK piece, kind of floaty and spacey and a bit queasy, but that was it - until I heard the title - Floating Dead Astronaut - and I laughed out loud because it fitted absolutely perfectly. It may have helped that I had recently read Fremner by Russell Hoban, which starts with a floating ought-to-be-dead astronaut and is rather unusual. If I ever meet TMFU I'll ask him if he had Fremner in mind.)

Now. Oh boy, have I found a great game. Go get your theremin warming up...

... now go find a pen. Choose one that's really nice to hold...

Now go and stand in front of the theremin in playing position, and draw a smiley face in the air with the pen in your pitch hand. Use your volume hand to mark out strokes of the pen. Go on. Big round face, eyes - one, two - descending line for the nose and a fat swoop of a smile. Now cross it out and draw a child's home, square house, triangular roof, radiating lines from the sun, bubbly clouds and picket fence. Try shading some of it in.

Now draw some sound pictures of your own.

(I like drawing with a reasonably fast delay just to fill out the sound a bit like having a broad [i]italic[/i] nib.)

Is that fun or what!

Also, can anyone remember that quote from Dune when Paul teaches Weirding to the Fremen - at least in the Lynch film - something like "Every thought has a shape, every shape has a sound." It seems apt.

Edit: Found it. "Some thoughts have a certain sound, that being the equivalent to a form."
Posted: 1/25/2006 8:16:14 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Finally everything was ready at once. The real world took a back seat for a day and I was in the mood.

Oddly enough the best recording, and hence the one I used, came from the tiny mike embedded in the lid of my iBook.

Here is Beneath the Cavern of the Soup Dragon (http://www.soundclick.com/bands/pagemusic.cfm?bandID=475314).

(I think it's best played at a fairly low volume (a cruel person might say the lower the better :-) on headphones.)

Some chat about recording it in a day or two. I'm tired now.

Posted: 1/26/2006 8:29:58 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

And of course, with the music comes the video.


BTW - the sound quality is better on the video that the mp3 because soundclick limits you to 128kbps for free and it really needs 192kbps to avoid distortion. Does anyone know a venue where I can drop a 192kbps version?

Posted: 1/27/2006 6:44:28 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Firstly, Happy 250th birthday Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Theophilus Mozart aka Wolfgang Amadeus. I wonder what you would have composed for the theremin had you had the opportunity.

I'm sitting here with that pleasant just-finished-a-project emptiness about me, listening to BtCotSD on the good headphones because the sound breaks up a bit on small speakers - parts of it go crackly and buzzy - I don't really know why - I'm open to suggestions here - tricks of the trade.

On the whole I'm quite pleased with the results - I can listen to it and enjoy it - it doesn't make me cringe. I get a fairly strong feeling of exploring caves from it - I'm particularly pleased with the wind-blowing-through-tunnels sound in the background and the way some of the other voices emerge out of it. I'm happy with the voice of the soup dragon (the low, slow saw/whale-song) although he does hit a couple of wrong notes at the bottom of his descending theme. The clangers (the higher, softer notes) are further back in the mix than I originally envisaged but that's OK - there was something of a danger of them becoming cutesy and comical - instead they are dwarfed by their surroundings. I think I overdid it a tadge with the laser blasts and long descending glisses - some of them work but I could have been more restrained in their use. The half-heard snatches of melody on the wind work for me. I think I could have brought them forward more in the mix. There is a rather ponderous section before the end - that could have been shorter - I originally had about four minutes in mind - six and a half seems a bit self-indulgent. The beginning could have been a bit simpler - i.e. without the laser blasts - and the end a little less abrupt - but not much less - it leaves a fair lost-and-alone-as-the-camera-pulls-back-to-blackness impression.

Now the recording process. First of all I laid down four minutes of cluster drone. Well I thought it was four minutes - turned out later the clock in garageband was counting every two seconds so I actually made eight minutes' worth. Then I turned to garageband, added another delay and more reverb, muted about five spots where the sound was wrong and shaped it so it was loud in some places and quiet in others. That gave me something to listen to when I laid down the next track, the voice of the soup dragon (saw-wave and short delay) followed by some long descending glisses and plenty of silence. I actually only recorded about three minutes of this and then looped it through the rest of the piece so it goes dragon - gliss - dragon - gliss - dragon - again adding structure. Again back to garageband for a couple of tweaks - gate (to give it more punctuation) and chorus then on to the third track - the clangers and the ill fated fire-falls section which I edited out completely later, just didn't work at all. Finally the last track - mostly the ethereal snatches of melody, some extra clangers here and there, some more cluster drone to beef up the ending and again with the laser blasts to try and get the fire-falls working. In garageband a bit of chorus, and, as with the dragon, about 50% pitch correction, just to make sure it's tuneful. (On this track I went for F# minor - it sounded right - the dragon was tuned chromatically)

To finish off I started to reduce the noise and take out glitches and chunks I didn't like in garageband but soon moved over to a piece of shareware called Amadeus II which has better tools for that sort of work. (I left in a few of the unexpected noises - I quite liked them.)

Auditioning stock footage for the video was fun and time-consuming. I chose the piece I did because it seemed in many ways like a clangers episode but with live action. So here is the back-story. Beneath the Cavern of the Soup Dragon lies, of course, the soup kitchen (so the soup well is really a dumb-waiter - aha!) where her cooks are held in thrall by the science-fiction satellite that floats around emittin

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